Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Q&A with Julia Kelly


Photo by Scott Bottles



Julia Kelly is the author of the new historical novel The Lost English Girl. Her other novels include The Last Dance of the Debutante. She has also worked as a producer, a journalist, and a marketing professional, and she lives in London.


Q: You write that the inspiration for The Lost English Girl came from the name of one of your family members. Could you say more about that?


A: The inspiration actually came from an old family story that my mother’s aunt had a child with a man who she married and then never saw again. As I asked more questions, I found out that, while my aunt was Catholic, her husband was Jewish, and the families didn’t approve of an interfaith marriage.


However, having a baby outside of wedlock was unthinkable in Liverpool at that time, so the couple married to legitimize the child but separated on their wedding day. Sadly, as far as we know, they never saw each other again.


Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the novel said, in part, “In chapters alternating from Viv’s, Joshua’s, and Maggie’s points of view, Kelly unearths her characters’ deepest secrets and emotions.” How did you create your characters, and how did you decide on whose point of view you'd include in the story?


A: I always find that characters evolve as I write. I usually start out with an idea of who I think a character is and what their motivations are, but I’m always looking for ways to dig in and deepen my understanding of them. That usually comes from trying to think as the character would think and pinpointing emotional turning points and moments of growth for them.


It was never a question that I would write The Lost English Girl from three characters’ perspectives because I wanted to get at those big emotions and find out what motivated these people to do the things they did.

In particular, Joshua’s POV scenes were so important to get right because he makes a huge, life-changing decision that affects the futures of so many people in the first few pages of the book. I wanted to take readers on a journey in which he develops into a completely different man than the teenage boy we meet in the first chapter.


Q: How did you research the novel, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: Liverpool is a city with a very proud history, and rightly so! It’s a fascinating place that has much more to it than the Beatles and Liverpool FC.


There have been many accounts written about life in Liverpool during the war, including memoirs of children evacuated from Liverpool to places like rural Wales. I managed to get ahold of many first-hand accounts thanks to the search room at the Liverpool Central Library.


I also spoke to family members about old stories of what life was like before and after the war. Those conversations were invaluable for little details like describing laundry day.


Q: As you mentioned, the novel is set primarily in Liverpool--how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: I really try to tie whatever I’m writing to its setting. I would hate for someone to read one of my books and feel as though they could lift the plot and drop it into another location without losing something.


Setting this book in Liverpool was vital not just because of my family’s history, but because the city colors everything from people’s attitudes to their way of life.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m always working on something new, but this year I have two manuscripts I’m tackling! One is the second book in my Evelyne Redfern historical mystery series, and the other is another World War II historical novel that is scheduled to come out in 2024. Unfortunately, it’s so early that I can’t say much more than that!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Julia Kelly.

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