Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Music, World War II and a Russian Billionaire: Meet Julie Thomas

After Robert Collins’ and Kevin Ashman’s excellent guest posts about how history has influenced their books, I am pleased to be continuing this topic with author Julie Thomas who is talking today about her wonderful book, The Secret Keeper, and the amazing World War II story behind it.

Julie Thomas
Hello to all of Katheryn's readers from far-flung New Zealand and thank you so much for sharing a few minutes with me.

I have three books uploaded to Amazon and Smashwords, one is a novel, one is a book of short stories and one is a book of my late father's letters home from WWII, he was a Spitfire pilot in the UK and the Middle East. Today I am talking to you about my novel, The Secret Keeper. It's had five five-star reviews on Amazon and one on Smashwords and is free! It's number one for free Jewish fiction on Amazon and I suspect I am the only Gentile on the list. I uploaded it in early September and so far have had around 8,000 downloads.

What is The Secret Keeper about?

It's about a precious 1742 del Gesu violin and the people who loved her and lost her, found her and reclaimed her. It's also about Daniel Horowitz, a 14 year old American kid who loves to play baseball and yet stands on the verge of a career as a violin virtuoso. When his parents forbid him to play the sport he loves, he refuses to play the violin. His great-grandfather, Benjamin, was a banker in Berlin before the war and had his bank taken, his house looted by the Nazis and his family thrown into Dachau. Daniel's grandfather, Simon, was 18 in 1939 and he survived Dachau by playing the violin for the camp guards. In 1945 the violin was stolen by a Russian General and taken back to the Soviet Union. Now it belongs to a billionaire Russian ex-pat who is also a magnificent patron of the arts. The novel follows the quest to reclaim the violin and to persuade Daniel to play it. It also explores the question of ownership and proving a family history.

What inspired me to write it?

I read a magazine article about the thirteen violins that Guarneri del Gesu made in 1742, amongst the best violins ever made. Twelve of them are accounted for and one is still missing, believed looted and destroyed during the war. This is my account of what might have happened to it. I also have a nephew who is a brilliant violinist. His late mother was a music teacher and when he was 14 he wanted to play cricket, but his mother considered it too dangerous for his fingers. I wondered what would have happened if he'd refused to give up sport for music. The idea grew from that. The conductor is based on Placido Domingo, not only a magnificent singer but also a wonderful conductor, and is a kind of tribute to him. I researched as I wrote and it took seven years to complete. There are many historical figures woven in, Stalin, Marshall Zhukov, Dmitri Shostakovich etc. and the chapters set in Dachau are meticulously researched. The liberation chapter is based on a letter written by an American serviceman who was there that day.

Why do I write?

I can't remember a time when I didn't write. I was born with a serious heart defect which was corrected by surgery when I was four. I spent the first four years in bed and was a prodigious reader from a very early age. I recently found notebooks written in large print when I was about eight, featuring "my novel" about a Russian princess in a troika in the snow. I wrote a novel at 21 and another at 28, but The Secret Keeper is the first I have felt I could let others read. I've also written poetry, many short stories, advertising copy, company reports, and magazine and newspaper articles and have worked in the media for over 25 years, in radio, TV and film. I've written six feature film scripts and one short film and now it is time to write more books! So I recently semi-retired and moved two hours south, to the country and I can focus on writing fiction.

What am I doing now?

I've nearly finished the second draft of a novel called ‘In Vino Veritas’. It's loosely based on a film script I wrote and is a black comedic drama set in a winery. It has at least seven murders, including one with a bottle of Petrus as the murder weapon. I'm hopeful that it will be ready for Amazon and Smashwords in about a month. I love my main character very much and am hoping he will become someone I can base a series around.

Advice on writing

Writers write. It's as simple as that. If you're having trouble just write about your day, your thoughts, your opinions, free write anything really and the creativity will start to flow. Choose words at random and make up lists of sentences containing that word, choose a one word answer and make up lists of questions. All these are creativity exercises.

Be disciplined. Create a writing time and physical space and do not let anyone or anything impose on you when you're there. Don't research, don't surf the net, and don't doodle, just write.

Remember you also need thinking time. I firmly believe in the power of the subconscious. I give creative problems to my subconscious and then I sleep or day dream or mediate and leave my brain free to bring the answer to me. It's amazing how many times I wake up refreshed and with the path laid out before me.

Thank you for spending a few moments learning about me. I invite you to find me at the links below and you will learn a little more!

Blog http://thomasbrowne.wordpress.com


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