Sunday 6 April 2014

Writer Interview: An American in London: - Julia Platt Leonard

Today my guest is Julia Platt Leonard, a talented and upcoming writer  in the field of children's fiction: a name to look for. 

Julia  lives in North London but has meaningful roots  in Tennessee and Virginia in the USA. And Santa Fe in New Mexico. Like her namesake, the legendary Julia Child, our Julia is a dedicated  and talented cook. When we met for tea and cakes there was an  air of celebration in Julia's very urban kitchen, because it had just been fitted with a much
desired Aga...

Reading corner in
Julia's kitchen 

Wendy: What is the primary joy of writing in your life?

Julia.I love the eureka moments when I suddenly get it – when I understand a character or figure out how to solve a niggling plot point. And there are times when I become so absorbed that I lose track of time and find myself lost in the story. That is bliss.

Wendy: Does being American writing in England have an effect on your approach to writing?

Julia: I think it does. When I wrote my first novel Cold Case, I thought long and hard about where I would set it and chose Santa Fe, New Mexico because it’s a place near and dear to my heart. I didn’t feel ‘ready’ to base a story in London but when I started my second book, Stealing Time, I felt I was ready to have London as my setting.

Wendy: Do you have a specific feeling for the nature of your audience.

Julia: That’s an interesting question. I’ve been told that Cold Case appeals to boys and reluctant readers because it’s very fast paced with short chapters and lots of action. But it’s got a strong girl’s audience too – possibly thanks to Oz’s female sidekick Rusty –  so hopefully there’s a bit to appeal to lots of different readers.

Wendy: Have any books inspired you in the process of becoming a writer?

Julia: I was a voracious reader as a kid and still am today. I love lots of different types of books – mysteries and thrillers especially. The books I remember from my childhood with incredible fondness include To Kill a Mockingbird, A Wrinkle in Time, the novels of Daphne Du Maurier and Rumer Godden.

Wendy: When did you first know you were a writer?

Julia: I don’t remember a moment when it hit me – I suppose it was a gradual process. It started with a love of reading and that magical feeling when a book transports you. I can’t count the number of times I’ve missed my stop on the train or tube because I’ve had my nose in a book. At University I was an English literature major in the U.S. so I did a lot of reading and writing. And my first job after graduation was as a television reporter.

Wendy: What other aspects of your life find a place in your writing?

Julia: When I decided I was going to write a kids’ book I decided I wanted it to include things I love. I came up with a short list of three: 1) it had to be a mystery because I love reading mysteries, 2) I wanted it to include food since I’ve worked as a chef and, 3) it should be set in Santa Fe since that’s a place I love. The book I’m working on now has a lot of references to Charles Dickens who is probably my favourite author.  

Wendy: Do you have a writing routine?

Julia: I find I work/think best in the morning so I try to start writing as soon as I get back from the school run. If I can write for two straight hours that’s a success. I’ll tend to read through what I wrote the day before and make revisions and changes and then write another chapter. My chapters tend to be quite short
Julia in her study
so it’s doable if I keep myself off email and Amazon!

Wendy: What role does editing play in your writing process?

Julia: It’s funny because when I finished my first draft of Stealing Time, I thought ‘I’m done.’ But that’s a short-lived sense of satisfaction because to be honest, the hard work is ahead of me. The first draft basically gets the bones down on the page but then both the plot and characters need to be fleshed out.

Wendy: What is the best advice that you have received about your writing and who advised you?

Julia: I was lucky enough to take Children’s Writing classes at City Lit here in London. It was the best investment I ever made. I was taught by both Elizabeth Hawkins and Sophie McKenzie. The message from both of them was that writing is a job and you’ve got to put in the time to see the results. The difference between what gets published and what doesn’t is often sheer tenacity. And I find that the more time you spend with your story and characters, the better and richer they are.

Wendy:What advice would you give to writers in the first stage of writing their novels?

Julia: Get a rough idea of your plot before you dive in. Can you write a book without knowing where it’s going? Probably but you’re making your life as a novice writer even harder. Second, dedicate time during your day for writing. If you’ve got another job – like I do – or family – again, that’s me – then this can be difficult but it’s really essential.

Wendy: How long does it normally take you to write a novel? Has this changed?

Julia: It feels like forever! I’ve been working on Stealing Time now for a couple of years. Part of that is because I’m balancing writing with other work and a young daughter. But at some point, I think a book has a life of its own and you have to climb on board and stay with it until it’s done.

Wendy: What are you working on now?

Julia: I’m working on Stealing Time, an 11+ novel about a girl named Flint Dreadnaught who inherits a mysterious watch from her aunt. When a nefarious man named Witherwick steals the watch she risks her life to get it back. There’s a bit of time travel, a Victorian boy named Wilkie and a cameo by the novelist Charles Dickens.

Wendy: Tell us about your latest published novel.  

Julia: Cold Case was my first book. It’s an 11+ murder mystery about a boy named Oz who goes into his family’s restaurant early one morning and finds a dead body in the walk-in refrigerator. When his brother is accused of the crime, Oz must find the real murderer. There’s a great girl sidekick who helps him named Rusty

Wendy: What, for you are the best characteristics of a good editor?

Julia: A good editor finds the points where the reader stops being immersed in the story because of a flaw with the plot or the characters. He or she points those out, offers suggestions but doesn’t try to re-write it for you.

Wendy: Do you see any difference between American and British writers?

Julia: I’m sure there are but writing and reading has become so global that as a reader, I’m most interested in finding a good story – one that I can sink my teeth in.

Wendy: If possible can you give us a few biographical elements about Julia Platt Leonard and her life?

Julia: I came to writing after careers as a television reporter, advertising executive, and professional chef. I'm from the U.S. – a Tennessee native with stops in Ohio and North Carolina before going to college at the University of Virginia. I've lived in New York and Boston but have called London home for the past 16 years where I live with my husband and daughter and our cheeky collie-pointer cross, Olivia. I write (occasionally) about writing at as well as on my food blog

Thank you Julia. There is so much here with which I - and other writers, I feel - will identify. I too have always rated Rumer Godden and Daphne du Maurier for their great story-telling skills and their insight into the inner child. And I have just published a novel whose heroine is called Olivia. But she's not a dog.

I loved Cold Case and am so looking forward to reading Stealing Time. Flint Dreadnaught sounds like a great heroine... 


  1. What a fascinating interview Julia. And a relief to read of another writer who needs time to complete a novel. I so envy those who can write a book a year, or in some cases two books a year. I need at least 18 months, or even longer. Life does seem to get in the way. I've never attempted a children's book but it is really interesting to read of your own thoughts and experience. I hope you continue to enjoy living in England.

  2. Thank you Margaret. Like yours, I feel this interview showcases a great professional,. I am learning a lot,,, wx



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