The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Julie Cohen

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Julie Cohen


Summary: Julie Cohen's Nina Jones and the Temple of Gloom is funny, quirky, compelling and intelligent - chick lit at its best - so we jumped at the opportunity to interview her.
Date: 22 March 2010
Interviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng

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  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Julie Cohen: I'm lucky enough to have friends who are voracious readers. So when I close my eyes, I just see my friends. Which does make it very pleasant to write.

  • BB: Your latest novel, Nina Jones and the Temple of Gloom, has a great title - how did you come up with it?

JC: It was sort of a mistake. I had this idea for a book about a chick-lit heroine finding herself in a crumbling gothic mansion, so I rang up my editor to talk it over with her. It's sort of like Bridget Jones meets Northanger Abbey, I said to her. We can call it something silly like Nina Jones and the Temple of Gloom.

I was joking. The heroine's name was Nina Chatham. That's great! my editor cried. I love it!

So I changed Nina's name and that was that.

  • BB: Which of your many characters do you most identify with, and why?

JC: I think there's a point in every novel, and ideally lots of them, when as an author you suddenly climb right into your characters' skins and live there. You understand everything they're thinking and feeling, and you identify with them so much that it can be quite painful. This happens to me with every one of my characters, the main ones and the secondaries too. It happens even with the characters I don't like very much.

That said, I think my friends would probably say I'm most similar to the female comic-book-artist geek heroine of my last book, Girl from Mars. Except I don't have blue hair. At the moment.

  • BB: You seem to have a bit of a penchant for handsome you deliberately decide your heroes' careers before writing them?

JC: Ahh well the chef thing is a bit of an obsession. I've done four so far, though they're all quite different from each other, and only two of them were real heroes. I just fancy handsome men who can cook well. And who have really nice hands and forearms. And wear white. And—er—I'll shut up now.

Usually I do decide my characters' jobs before I write them, and I like to choose something interesting and different, especially as it often means I get to do some fun research. In addition to the chefs, in the past few years I've written about a comic book artist, a screenwriter, a zoologist specialising in bats, a private detective-turned-aromatherapist, a rock star, a stunt woman and an ice cream manufacturer.

  • BB: What's your favourite thing about being a writer?

JC: You can stay in your pyjamas all day if you want to. And then, when you do interviews like this one, you can pretend you're wearing a Dior gown and Louboutin heels as you sit at your computer typing your latest novel. Though I think I might have just given myself away, there. Drat.

  • BB: If you weren't a writer, what else would you like to be?

JC: I'd probably still be a teacher, which was what I did for ten years before giving it up to write full time. I'd love to say rock star or hat designer or famous artist, but I don't seem to be very good at much except for writing and teaching, so it's fortunate that I like them both.

  • BB: Are there any particular books or writers that have inspired you?

JC: I'm from Maine, and everyone's hero in Maine is Stephen King, because that man can tell a story. I decided I wanted to be a writer aged about eleven, after reading Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea trilogy, I decided I wanted to write funny after reading Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker books, and I decided I wanted to be a chick-lit writer after reading Marian Keyes' Rachel's Holiday.

In real life, my childhood friend, Kathy Love, has also become a novelist and she inspires me daily. And I belong to the Romantic Novelists' Association, who are a remarkable group of supportive, welcoming, talented writers.

  • BB: What are you reading at the moment?

JC: The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer. I'm on a Regency kick, as research for the book I'm writing. I've been reading Heyer and Jane Austen, and Regency romance writers such as Julia Quinn, Nicola Cornick, Janet Mullany and Louise Allen.

  • BB: What's next for Julie Cohen?

JC: My first book with Headline Review, Getting Away With It, is published in October 2010. It's the story of a rebellious stunt woman Liza Haven, whose life goes horribly wrong after an accident. She goes home to the town she hates, only to find that everyone there thinks she's her perfect identical twin sister, Lee — because Lee has disappeared, leaving Liza to deal with the family business, their ailing mother, and Lee's worryingly attractive boyfriend.

  • BB: Thanks, Julie and good luck with the new book. Of course anyone wanting to know more about you can always visit you website.

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