Why did you start writing? Was there a specific moment when you decided to put pen to paper or words to a screen?
I had a moment of revelation in the woods when I was a child sitting under a cork oak in Cape Town, South Africa. It came to me that I would be a writer. I cannot explain that moment but it was in some strange way transcendental.
Years of a catastrophic education followed and I became a very unhappy biscuit salesman. Then one day my sister Jay suggested that I do a journalism degree. Both of us had read voraciously throughout our childhood and loved writing. After three years at Rhodes University as a ‘mature’ student I received my degree and went to work as a journalist earning my living by writing.
Years passed and I moved into PR and Marketing, writing for clients. And then one day, having loved and ridden horses all my life, I had to have a horse put down as his feet were collapsing with a disease. It was a brutal shocking business and I wrote down my feelings about it. Once again my sister made a life changing suggestion, saying I should write about my love of horses and fishing, and so my first book ‘A Fisherman in the Saddle’ was written and published.
What has been your hardest challenge this year?
In a very strange way this year has been a blessing, providing as it has, much time to think, freed from much frenetic running around. Out of this period of contemplation has come my latest book ‘Life in a Time of Plague’, about surviving the Pandemic. I suppose the hardest thing has been the growing understanding that with a number of serious health issues at 70, I would surely die if I contracted Covid-19, and this spurred me on to write the book in three months. Maybe the greatest challenge was the need to channel my anger at the incompetent and dishonest Boris Johnson Government. Writing the book helped greatly.
The book market has never been so tough as it is now. What advice would you give to aspiring authors to stand out from the crowd?
Don’t try to stand out from the crowd. That is not a good starting position. Write your truth the best that you can and everything will flow from there. That said, once the book is written you will need to market it and so will have to find a story that sells the book. This may or may not be the story of the book, but may be something about yourself and how you came to write the book.
Author writes book is not news. You have to find the thing that will switch on media attention and then get that message out there relentlessly.
What’s been your favourite book that you’ve read this year?
‘Notes from Walnut Tree Farm’ by Roger Deakin, which I re-read this year with as much pleasure as the first time I read it. His writing about nature and living in the country is for me the nearest thing to understanding what makes for a good life. It is profound, beautiful, real and true and one of those books you just don’t want to finish reading. And that is true of all his writing.
Other than your own, which BLKDOG title would you recommend?
If you have children who struggle with aspects of life then ‘The Vulture King’ by Nikki Turner may offer some help in a wonderful read that your children will love.
And ‘Always in the Dark’ by Diane Harding, not an easy read, but a haunting memoir of a childhood mystery that unfolded painfully and with it came a devastating understanding about the context of her life.
A mystery basket turns up on your doorstep. Would you prefer it contained a dog or a cat?
Both dogs and cats have enriched my life so I would be grateful for either, but on balance `I would have to opt for a dog as it needs exercise and that will take me into the countryside, help me stay fit and provide companionship that is sometimes as good or better than human company.
Do you have a book in your mind that you know you’ll probably never actually write?
I have wrestled with a novel over the years, unlike my non-fiction books which almost seemed to write themselves. It is the story of love across the ‘colour-line’ in Apartheid South Africa where I grew up. The Immorality Act enshrined this inhuman business into law, that there could not be love and marriage between whites and other races.
Which famous author do you most admire?
I would struggle to choose one but the shortlist would include:
Steinbeck, Hemingway, John Fowles. Cormac McCarthy and Tim Winton.
Which book have you read which you feel deserves much more acclaim that it has received?
‘The Magus’ by John Fowles. If there is one book that made me wish to write it is this book.
One of your books suddenly sells a million copies, how do you react?
With joy! And then start to plan how to use the time that financial independence now provides. In my case that would mean more writing, more riding, more reading and some travelling.
Julian Roup is the author of Life in a Time of Plague: A Coronavirus Lockdown Diary, for more information on this title click here.