Julia Brannan

My next interview is with one of my favourite authors, Julia Brannan. I read Julia’s Jacobite Chronicles earlier this year and fell in love with the history and the characters. If you haven’t read these books yet, I recommend that you do so with alacrity.

I had the opportunity to meet Julia last March in Paris, and we spent an enjoyable evening talking about her books and about Outlander over dinner.

This interview is not strictly part of the “Outlander- the fans who make it” series, but Julia is also an Outlander fan and her books are well written and eminently readable for Outlander fans.

  • Please tell us about yourself.

Hi! I’m really honoured to be asked for an interview by Roma! My name is Julia Brannan, I’m 58 and at the moment I live in South Wales, in a small village, but next year am moving to Scotland, which I’m really looking forward to!

I’ve had a lot of professions, including teacher, gilder, call centre worker and civil servant, but as of last May became a full-time author, which is a dream come true for me. In my free time I love reading other people’s books, travelling, walking, and keeping fit.

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  • Please tell us about your book series “The Jacobite Chronicles”

The Jacobite Chronicles is a series about the British Jacobite Rising of 1745, in which Prince Charles Edward Stuart tried to restore his father to the throne of Great Britain, but it also deals with some of the lead up to it and part of the horrific aftermath. At the centre of it is a love story, but the historical part is very important to me, which is why I class it as historical fiction rather than romance.

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  • Which character was the toughest to write? And which was the easiest?

Wow, what an interesting question! In a way the historical, that is the real characters, are the hardest to write for me, because I feel honour-bound to represent the person as accurately and fairly as I can, which initially I thought would mean just reading a few biographies. For instance with Prince Charles; I read about six biographies of him, and all of them represented him a little differently, or in one case extremely differently. So I took the main characteristics and events that the majority agreed on, then I looked at particular incidents of his, how he reacted, and the interpretations of his actions by first-hand observers. And by doing this I started to get a real feel for what he was like, so that in any actions he takes in the books that are not based on actual historical events, such as meeting Sir Anthony in Rome, for example, he behaves in a way that would have been feasible for his real life character to do. It’s an interesting process, but it does involve a lot of hard work.

As for the easiest, I would say Sir Anthony, in the main because I had so much fun with him and with other people’s reactions to him. He was so enjoyable to write, because he’s very thick-skinned, doesn’t care or even really notice if people don’t like him, and has a sarcastic wit and ability to put people down that appears completely innocent. He’s impossible to squash, and because he was so much fun to write, he was relatively easy to write, even though he’s really a very complex character. But with all the fictional characters, once they start to take a proper form, and I feel that they’re someone separate from me with a real personality, then they get easier to write.

  • How long does it take you to research the books?

I researched solidly for about twelve months before I started writing the Jacobite Chronicles. I started looking at the period while trying to solve a mystery about my family history, and then decided to write a single historical novel about the ’45. But when I started researching I realized three things: 1) how fascinating and complex a period the 18th century was, 2) how little I knew about any of it, 3) that I love reading historical novels with accurate historical details in, and that in order to write convincingly and well about the period, I would actually have to know the era well enough to feel completely at home there. And I became completely obsessed.

When I was researching for Mask of Duplicity the internet was not as advanced as it is now, so I spent time travelling around – for example, I spent a week in a library in Manchester reading every newspaper from the 1740s I could, just to get a feel for how people thought, and what they were reading for news. Now I can access that with a click of a mouse, so I can research more quickly. But there was something lovely and richly atmospheric about sitting in an ancient and beautiful library!

I’m now researching for my next series and have been background reading for a few months now, in between writing the next book, and am starting to feel more at home there.

  • Would you like your books to be filmed and made in to a series?

I would, very much, not least because it would introduce a whole new group of people to this fascinating period, and on a mercenary level, would make me richer! But I would really want a company who cared about representing the characters and period accurately and with sympathy. I know changes always have to be made from the books, because it’s a different media, but I would want the history to be accurately represented, and the characters in the story well. Of course, when you sell the rights as an author, you usually lose all control. So I would hope to at least be an adviser. It’s just a dream right now, though!

  • What do you have coming up next?

I’m currently writing the back stories of some of the minor characters in the Jacobite Chronicles, starting with Sarah. But I’m also going to write Alex’s story, which will include Duncan’s and Angus’s too. Whilst doing that, I’m researching and plotting another series – which is a sort of prequel to the Jacobite Chronicles. (I figured if Star Wars could do it, so could I!)

The next series will go back in time to the 1680s and the start of the Jacobite movement, and will include characters featured in the Chronicles, such as Ealasaid  and Graeme, amongst others. Again, it’s a fascinating and complex period of history, with some truly larger-than-life real characters, and I can’t wait to write about them. I’m hoping to start that series next year, although my house move may delay things a little there. I’m thinking it might be easier to write about Scotland when I’m living there, and a lot of the next series will be set in the Highlands.

I also keep getting little scenes in my head (which I’m now writing down) for a series about what happened after the Jacobite Chronicles, which I know will please some of my fans! But I’m not planning on writing that yet, not least because I’m so deep into my earlier research and starting to really feel the period now.

  • Your book series has an authentic, loyal and passionate fan base. What, according to you, makes the fans so passionate?

I really don’t know what makes the fans so passionate, but I’m deeply touched and thankful that they are! When I published I hoped that people would enjoy reading my books, but the extent to which people have become involved with the characters is amazing, and I’m so grateful for it. The only reason I can think of is that I am very passionate about the period and the characters, and put everything I’ve got into my writing, so maybe that comes across. But I think the fans are the best people to answer that question!

  • What do you like most about the interaction with your fans? What, if anything, do you like the least?

I love the feedback people give me, and the reviews too. I love writing, but it is hard work, and some days I just don’t want to spend hours sitting in front of a computer! But if I go online and read someone’s lovely comments about my books, that gives me a boost, which is enough to get me upstairs to my writing room. (And once I’m there, I’m fine). Writing is a lonely profession too, and even though I’m an introvert by nature, I love connecting with people who are enjoying reading my writing. There’s nothing not to like about that!

  • What, according to you, is the power of a fanbase?

Apart from the enthusiasm, which passes onto me, and makes me feel wonderful and appreciated (which is powerful on its own!), fans spread the word about my books, which can be far more successful than an advert. I’m much more likely to read a book if someone I know has recommended it to me, and I’m sure other people are the same. I can often tell when a fan has recommended my books in a big group, because I get a sudden surge in sales of book one. And that’s a great feeling. I just wish I knew who was responsible then to say thank you! But I’m really appreciative of my fans, because without them I wouldn’t be a full-time writer, which for me is a dream come true.

  • What is your best fan encounter? And the worst?

I haven’t had a lot of fan encounters, and that’s my fault, because I’ve avoided going to book signings so far. In the main this is because most signings seem to be for erotic romantic fiction, and my books don’t fit that. Or they’re on the other side of the world and I can’t afford to go! I have met a couple of my fans though, on an individual basis, and they were lovely. I was a bit nervous beforehand, because I hoped I wouldn’t  be a disappointment to meet, but either I wasn’t, or they’re too nice to tell me I wasn’t!

I haven’t had a bad fan encounter yet.

  • What is the nicest gift fans have sent to you?

I haven’t had many gifts – I don’t really expect them, to be honest! Liking my books is enough of a gift. BUT I did have a lovely scarf from someone who is a wonderful fan and person, but I won’t mention her name in case she’s embarrassed 😉 And another fan sent me some lovely Celtic things out of the blue, including a metal bookmark which I use every day, and a piece of knotwork I have hung in my room. I’m really touched that people would want to send me things!

  • What is the nicest thing a fan has said to you?

Wow. That’s difficult. I had someone compare me to Dorothy Dunnett once, in terms of providing historical detail and rich characters, which I thought of as a huge compliment. I had another person tell me that she was going through a very difficult time, and that my books were keeping her going through it, which touched me deeply. And the fans who tell me my books have inspired them to read about the history of the period, I find that a great compliment too.

  • Have you ever felt an encroachment on your privacy by fans? If so, how do you handle that?

I haven’t felt an encroachment on my privacy as yet, no. I really appreciate my fans, but if I thought someone was stepping over a line, I would, as tactfully as possible, let them know. I appreciate honesty, and prefer to be honest with others if I can. And I do value my freedom and alone time, which I’m quite open about.

  • You have said that you are shy and an introvert. Does it make you nervous to meet your fans?

I am definitely an introvert, but I’m not really shy. I’m like a lot of introverts, I think, in that I like social contact, but I recharge by being alone, whereas many extroverts like being alone, but recharge by social activity.  I enjoy meeting people, but I also need a lot of time to myself, and my life is set up to allow me that time. I’m only nervous about meeting fans because I don’t know what they’re expecting! I don’t feel particularly special, and don’t want them to be disappointed when they meet me.

  • You are a fan of the Outlander books and Diana Gabaldon. What do you like most about the books?

I read the first two books many years ago, not long after they were published, and really loved the way Diana Gabaldon wrote. She has a way of drawing you into her world so that you become completely immersed, and effectively live in that world and time whilst you’re reading. Finding books like that is a rare and wonderful treat. After I’d read the second book, there was no third out at the time, and then life took over. Once I started researching to write my own series (in around 2006), I avoided reading ANY fictional books set in the same historical period as I didn’t want to unconsciously plagiarise.  Now I’ve finished my first series, I’ve read Diana’s first four books, and loved them. But since I’m now thinking to eventually write a follow-on to my Jacobite Chronicles, I’m on stop with Diana again at the moment, which is incredibly difficult, as I really want to read on! As for Diana herself, she comes across as a genuinely nice person, who cares about her readers and supports other authors, which is lovely.

  • Which character in Outlander is your favourite? Please explain why.

Being predictable, maybe, but I really like Jamie (in the books, and I wish they would be faithful to Diana’s writing of him in the TV series). In some ways he’s the standard hero, tall, handsome, courageous, adaptable, caring. But he also makes mistakes, and is vulnerable too, which makes him very human and real, and intensely attractive, because he’s complex. I was going to mention a particular part where I feel that, but it’s in book four and would be a spoiler to people who haven’t read it!

For those of you who have read the books, or don’t mind spoilers, here is the part:

I really feel Jamie is out of his depth when he attacks Roger and gives him to the Iroquois. His whole way of dealing with it (even though he’s doing it because he thinks Roger is evil) is as a very authoritarian 18th century Highland father, and would have been acceptable then. But of course to Brianna it’s barbaric and primitive, and would have been even if Roger had been the baddie, to a 20thC way of thinking. He’s really floundering around, out of his depth and out of his cultural understanding. And that’s the first time you really see him completely at sea, AND that Claire has probably coped with complete cultural change better than he would if he’d been dropped in our time. Also that, some of the reason she has coped is not because she’s stronger than him, but because she’s had his support and guidance, whereas he doesn’t even ask for hers in this situation, because he’s so sure of himself, and so sure of taking such decisions. And his reactions, his hurt at Brianna’s rejection of him etc is really heartbreaking. That endears me to him, makes him intensely human and believable. Because in many ways he’s so powerful that there’s a danger of him becoming completely unreal and not believable – scenes like this stop that happening.

  • What keeps you connected to the Outlander fandom?

There are a lot of Outlander fans who enjoy reading my books. Mine aren’t time travel, but are about the same time period (initially), and so Outlander fans are familiar with the historical period my books are set in, although I deal with it differently. Because of this they have a lot of interesting questions to ask me, which is lovely! They also have an intense love of Scotland, as do I – it’s my heartland, and the land of my ancestors. (The ONLY reason I wasn’t born there is because my mother lived in England at the time, and was too sick to go to Scotland to have me as she’d intended to.) So we have a lot in common.

I think the combination of  intense interest in the historical period and the country, along with the deep loyalty of the fans to both Diana and those involved in the TV series is a beautiful thing. I think as well, that the cast and Diana really come across as enjoying the whole experience of the TV series and the fans’ obsession with it, and are very warm and approachable to the fans, which is lovely. It’s like being part of a clan, and the Outlander fans who are enjoying my books are including me in their clan to a point, which is an honour!

  • Please tell us what a typical day for you looks like?

A typical day, as in what I intend when I get up, rather than what often happens (!) is, I wake up late in the morning, and then read a research book of some kind while having breakfast and copious cups of tea. I’ll usually read for 2-3 hours. Then I meditate for a while. Meditation is something I do every day, as it’s changed my life dramatically for the better!

After that I’ll usually do household tasks, gardening, shopping etc. If I’m meeting friends etc I try to do that during the day if possible, because I write in the evening.

Then if I can, I’ll go for a walk in the beautiful countryside where I live. I love walking, partly because I like to keep fit, and partly because I get a lot of my writing ideas when walking. Because of this I always take a pad and pen with me, and can often be seen standing under a tree or on top of a hill, frantically writing! I did try dictating to my phone, but having had the battery die on me multiple times, which left me jogging home frantically mumbling plot details to myself so I wouldn’t forget them, while passers-by gave me a very wide berth, I decided the paper and pen option is better.

Once home I catch up on social media, and do any other writing-related things, such as promotions etc.

I usually settle down to write in the early evening, and then will write until around 1-2am. I write my best in the evening, so I run with that. Then it’s bedtime!

  • Please tell us a bit about your writing process?

With historical fiction, you really already have part of your plot in place, because you’re writing about events that really happened. Once I know the main events I’m going to address, I write a very rough outline of the series.

Then I start reading everything I can get hold of about that period and the events, so as to become as familiar as I possibly can with it.

After that ideas wander into my head randomly, or I’ll read something in a research book that sends my mind spinning off on an imaginary scene, which I’ll usually write out in some detail.

Once I’ve done the main research, then I’ll write out more detailed plots for the books, index cards for the main characters, and after that I’ll start writing, with my 5-6 page plot to hand. However, what happens then is that the characters develop independent lives and take over, so my initial plot can often change dramatically as the story develops. I also keep researching as I’m writing, so that can change the story as well.

  • Why did you decide to self-publish instead of looking for an agent/ publisher?

I did have an agent! I wrote the first two books in the series about twelve years ago, and sent them out to agents everywhere. One agent in London picked them up, which was wonderful, because she was the first professional person to tell me I wrote well, which gave me a big confidence boost. She started sending them out to publishers, but then the credit crunch and recession hit, and publishers were not taking risks on new writers.

In 2010 I started copyediting and proofreading for a few indie writers, and it was one of those (now a good friend) who encouraged me to try self-publishing, as she was doing very well from it. It seemed to make sense, as the books were just sitting on my computer doing nothing, so I thought I might as well try!

I contacted my agent and got her to release me from my contract, and decided to give it a go. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done! It’s very hard work, but I have complete control over everything, which I love, although it’s a big responsibility.

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a writer?

The advantages to me are based around freedom, which is really important to me. I can choose when I write, how I write, and what I want to write about. I can indulge my great passion, and people pay me for it! I’ve also met a good number of fascinating people through my writing, both fans and fellow authors, and for me I’m living my dream, and I know how privileged I am to be able to do that.

The disadvantages: it’s extremely hard work, and you have to be completely dedicated, obsessed even with it in order to have any chance of success. You can spend years writing and get nothing from it, monetarily. You can gather all your courage together and publish your book, put your precious, hard-crafted baby out there to the public, and have that public brutally dismember your book and your hopes. Writing is a very lonely profession, and self-publishing is a huge learning curve, which is extremely daunting. You have to be really determined to stick with it. It’s not the easy, glamorous career a lot of people seem to think it is.

If you’re willing to be really dedicated, it can be extremely rewarding. Or  extremely soul-destroying.

  • If you were to time travel, where would you go?

No hesitation – I would want to go to the 18th century, and especially I’d love to meet Prince Charles Edward Stuart, to see what he really was like, and Cameron of Lochiel, who I admire enormously, and would love to talk to. I’d love to see how the Highlanders really lived, before the clan system was so brutally destroyed.

I’d also like to go back to the 13th century and meet William Wallace, because we know so little about him, and he must have been an incredibly charismatic man, to bring together so many people, when he was not born to a position that could command obedience…so he inspired them by his personality, not his birth.

  • What do you like and dislike about Social media?

I like the ability to be able to communicate with people from all over the world, to exchange ideas and share interests. As a writer, it’s an invaluable way of promoting my books, but also a great way of communicating with readers on a personal level, and getting to know them, which is wonderful.

It’s also a way of communicating with other writers, and sharing advice and tips about writing. I’ve made some really close friends due to social media, who I would never have even met otherwise.

On the negative side, you have to be really disciplined in your use of it, because it’s a time thief! It’s really easy to fritter away hours looking at pointless rubbish, and it’s also destroying face-to-face communication, as people sit together, but don’t talk to each other, instead staring at social media on their phones.

I think there’s also a lot of falseness, of feeling you must project an image that your life is always exciting, which is ridiculous, but even so makes others feel their lives are inadequate.

There’s also a level of anonymity to it, which allows cowards and bullies to behave in the most appalling way to others, ways they would never dare to otherwise. I guess social media is like most things – it has the power for great good, and for great evil, and users have to be very aware of that, and act appropriately.

 Here are several ways to contact Julia:

Website: www.juliabrannan.com

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Julia-Brannan-727743920650760/

Amazon author page:  Author.to/JuliaBrannanAmazonPage

Twitter: @BrannanJulia

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