Julia Kelly: Determining a Book's Personality

Bestselling author Julia Kelly explains how she developed the plot and pacing of her latest historical fiction novel The Last Garden of England and why writers should read outside their genre.
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Julia Kelly is the internationally bestselling author of historical women's fiction books about the extraordinary stories of the past, including The Light Over London and Whispers of War. Her most recent book The Last Garden in England is now available wherever books are sold. Her books have been translated into 11 languages. In addition to writing, she’s been an Emmy-nominated producer, journalist, marketing professional, and (for one summer) a tea waitress. Julia called Los Angeles, Iowa, and New York City home before settling in London. You can find more information at Juliakellywrites.com.

Julia Kelly

In this post, Kelly explains how she developed the plot and pacing of her latest historical fiction novel The Last Garden in England, why writers should read outside their genre, and more!

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Name: Julia Kelly
Literary agent: Emily Sylvan Kim
Title: The Last Garden in England
Publisher: Gallery Books
Release date: January 12, 2021
Genre: Historical fiction
Elevator pitch for the book: From the author of the international bestseller The Light Over London and The Whispers of War comes a poignant and unforgettable tale of five women living across three different times whose lives are all connected by one very special place. In this sweeping novel reminiscent of Kate Morton’s The Lake House and Kristin Harmel’s The Room on Rue Amélie, Julia Kelly explores the unexpected connections that cross time and the special places that bring people together forever.
Previous titles by the author: The Light Over London and Whispers of War

The Last Garden in England

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What prompted you to write this book? 

I’ve always had a love of gardens, in part because I grew up gardening with my father. However, even more than that, I think there’s something mysterious and ephemeral about gardens. Gardens are organic things that are constantly changing throughout the seasons and years. It seemed like the perfect setting against which to place five different women across three different times and explore how their stories weave together as mysteries unfold on the page.

(Writing with Wonder: Weaving Time and Place with Story in Historical Fiction)

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? 

In 2019, I pitched the idea to my agent at the end of a long phone call of ideas that weren’t quite right. When I began to explain the idea of building a story around a garden at its creation, during WWII, and after it’s been abandoned, she told me I had something. From there, I wrote up a synopsis and my editor gave it the green light shortly after.

Each book I’ve written has a different personality when it comes to the draft, and this one was a slow, steady book. I wrote the three timelines as three distinct novellas before weaving them together, which took about five months. I handed in developmental edits just after the UK went into its first lockdown, and I turned in the final galley pages around June. All in all, it took about 18 months from pitch to publication.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title? 

The biggest—and very welcome—surprise actually came in the promotion of the book. I live in the UK, but my primary publishing markets are the US and Canada. The move to virtual events on Zoom, Facebook Live, and other platforms has been a huge help in connecting me to readers who I likely wouldn’t have otherwise been able to interact with as I was promoting this book. Nothing is quite like meeting readers face-to-face, but virtual events have been a real boon.

(16 Things All Historical Fiction Writers Need to Know)

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

This was my most technically ambitious book by far with three timelines and five POV characters. The stories build on each other, so what a character in 1907 does affects those in 1944 and the present-day stories. Taking on a project like this and figuring out how to write and map all of those moving parts was a challenge, but a welcome one! I’m a fairly visual person, I so ended up using a blank kitchen wall and three different colors of Post-It Notes to map the story out, which was a big help in pulling everything together.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book? 

One of the most satisfying feelings I’ve had as an author is when readers tell me that they learned something about women’s history from my books. Whether it’s writing about how gardening afforded women opportunities for a creative livelihood in 1907 or the ways that women contributed to the war effort on the British Home Front in 1944, I hope my book gives people a new perspective on a familiar aspect of history.

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If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be? 

Read everything you can get your hands on. Read in your genre. Read outside of your genre. In particular, I’m fond of genre fiction as a reader and as a writer because of the incredible things writers prove are possible while working within their respective genre’s constraints. Look to romance for examples of how to build characters with deep motivations. Read mystery to understand foreshadowing. Pick up sci-fi and fantasy books to study great world-building. Opening yourself up to different types of stories can give you so much insight into your own work.

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