It is my pleasure to introduce you to an amazing woman originally from “down under” (and heading home soon.) Juli Townsend is a mother, wife, sister, friend and writer. She is also a nurse and a midwife and admits that she can be a little obsessive about birth and health issues. Her novel, Absent Children, is a story about love — the love between a man and a woman, and the love of parents for their children, present and absent. The log line reads: “Two births, two tragedies. A family battered but resilient and searching for the answers they need to bring them solace and help them heal.”
Joanne: Juli, your story sounds so intriguing to me since one of my grandchildren was born at home with a midwife. What was the inspiration for Absent Children?
Juli: The inspiration for Absent Children came from my work as a midwife with mothers who chose to give birth to their babies at home. In a society where the medicalized model of care dominates how and where most of us give birth, and women’s choices around birth are becoming limited, I wanted my readers to gain a better understanding of why birth can work well when it occurs in the home. Home birth can be an amazing, spiritual, loving, and peaceful experience, but very few people understand it is also safe for healthy mothers and babies.
Absent Children is not a story about home birth, but many of my readers have told me how the snippets of information relating to birth gave them a greater understanding of why a mother would choose to have her baby at home. It is a fictional story with fictional characters, but the birth related events in the story were all drawn from my personal experiences as a midwife.
Joanne:. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer and was there a particular inspiration to get started?
Juli: I have always admired writers who created characters I cared about and secretly wished I could write like them, but never believed I was capable of doing so until after I moved from Australia to America with my husband in 2003. Unable to work in my profession as a midwife, I began writing by creating fictional stories based on my real midwifery experiences, and in the process, discovered a way to combine my passion for midwifery, with my newfound love of writing.
It is now ten years since I took up writing, but it wasn’t until I published my debut novel, Absent Children, that I first called myself a writer.
Joanne: Why did you choose to go the self-publishing Indie route in lieu of traditional publication?
Juli: I self-published using Create Space Publishing for multiple reasons, the first of those related to the time I spent agonizing over each word in my feeble attempts to create the perfect query letter. Self-publishing has been easy in comparison, and far more fun!
A traditionally published friend chose to self-publish her last two novels because she liked having more control over the process, but she also felt she did most of the promoting for her first two books and failed to see the value in the traditional publishing route. She’s been very successful.
There are drawbacks. Self-publishing doesn’t carry the same prestige as traditional publishing, but the publishing world is changing, and I believe the average reader is becoming more discerning. Amazon’s Search Inside option enables readers to get a feel for the writing style in a book, and see if the story appeals to them before they buy.
Joanne:. Do you always write in the same POV or narrative or do you switch it up in different stories?
Juli: I wrote my first book in third person, past tense, but used first person, present tense for Absent Children. I love the way first person can really draw a reader into a character’s life with an intimacy that is sometimes lacking in third person, and present tense can work to make a story more compelling when well done.
I also alternated the chapters between the female protagonist and the male protagonist, because I enjoy playing with the differences in the way men and women think.
Joanne:. Authors and publishers are always talking about finding your “Voice”. Exactly what does that mean to you and how did you find yours?
Juli: I think this is something writers worry about too much, I know I did, but it wasn’t until I stopped worrying about it and wrote from my heart that I found it. You’ll never find it if you don’t write words that come from you.
Joanne:. Author, Jennie Nash was quoted on Writer Unboxed that she reads other novels to study structure. Do you follow a structure pattern such as staying in chronological order, or alternating points in time or different POV’s
Juli: I didn’t know that about Jennie Nash, but before I wrote Absent Children, I re-read a book I’d enjoyed simply to figure out what the author did that worked. I analyzed it, pulled it apart, chapter by chapter, and came to the conclusion that she always left me wanting to know something more at the end of each chapter. It wasn’t always the obvious cliff-hanger type of question, sometimes it was very subtle. For instance, the story began with a hint of something mysterious from the protagonist’s past, enough to spur the reader on and wanting to find out more. Then the information was leaked out little by little, always leaving something else hanging and unknown.
The trick is to keep the balance, so that by the time the first secret is exposed, a more urgent one has been created to hold the reader’s attention.
Armed with my new understanding, I then wrote a chapter outline, keeping in mind what I had learned. When it came to writing the story, I mostly followed my chapter plan, but there was the odd occasion when the characters veered me off course. Sometimes, letting my characters lead the way resulted in fantastic and memorable scenes.
Joanne: What advice would you give to new writers just getting started with their first manuscript?
Juli: I think the most important requirement, is to have characters and/or a story you care about enormously, so much so that you are compelled to write it, to make it the best you can, and share it with the world.
Read about writing and write.
Learn about writing and write.
Read widely and write.
Find critique partners and pay attention to what they say and then rewrite.
Read aloud what you’ve written and rewrite.
Read a paper copy of what you’ve written and rewrite.
Find a beta reader to share with and rewrite.
Pay an editor to edit what you’ve written, rewrite and then publish.
It amazes me how many non-writers are unaware of the work involved in writing long after you’ve written the first draft.
Joanne:. Are you currently working on a new manuscript? If so, can you give a sneak peek into the premise of your story?
Juli: My next novel, The Mother in Me is a story about the bond between mothers and their daughters, a bond that appears unbreakable unless the harsh realities of life stretch and strain it until it seems lost forever.
Crystal is an angry young mother, who rejected her own mother. When the Child Protection Services become concerned about her mothering skills, her greatest fear is that they will take her baby away from her. However, there is another danger lurking in the background, one that threatens her very life, and she’s barely aware of it.
Thank you Juli. This has been a pleasure.
Readers, here is the first page of Absent Children
I’ve thought about suicide a lot lately. I’ve never taken it to the next step, never done anything about it, but I’ve spent hours pondering the hows. I think I’d like to leap from a tall building.
The hospital where I work is undergoing renovations and the eleventh floor is closed while the work is in progress. A week ago, during my dinner break, I rode the elevator up there to see the changes. The workmen were finished for the day, leaving the entire ward eerily deserted and dark. I turned on the lights, illuminating the ladders and drop sheets scattered throughout the private section. Making my way into one of the empty single rooms, I inspected the bathroom and then walked out the door leading to the balcony. The cool air felt refreshing as I stepped to the metal railing.
Peering over the edge, the thought of jumping seized me. I was seduced by the idea of those few seconds of flying, the utter freedom of moving through the air without any support.
Ten minutes later, remembering my patients in the Coronary Care Unit were due for their six o’clock medications, I pulled myself away and returned to work.
Since then, I often imagine myself balanced there, my feet under the metal railing that runs across the top of that concrete wall. I stare into the infinity of a pale blue sky. Then, like an Olympic diver, I step up onto the railing, stretch my arms over my head, bend my knees, and push off into the air.
As I fall, my body is straight, taut, and my arms spread like wings. Sometimes I imagine gliding over the road and above the homes on the other side, enjoying the patchwork view of the backyards as I gradually draw closer to the ground. Other times, I waft down, first to the right, then the left, like a leaf fluttering from a tree.
I read a book once about a guy who climbed to the rooftop of a tall building with the intention of jumping, but someone else beat him to it. He heard the other man scream, “Noooo,” the cry growing fainter as the seconds passed. Then a thump followed by silence.
That’s disturbing. There’s no changing your mind once you take a leap like that.
If you would like to order Absent Children or learn more about Juli, follow the links below.
US Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/cu2vrls
UK Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/cntuhv9