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Inside The Playground With Julia Kelly

Writing.ie | Magazine | General Fiction | Interviews
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Pure panic inspired my new novel, The Playground. I had attempted to write another novel, the second of a two book deal with Quercus, and it hadn’t worked out. During a tearful telephone conversation with my agent (who was telling me all the things that were wrong with the book) I stared out my sitting room window and watched children in the playground across the road. She asked if I had any other ideas. Needing to say something and needing to honour my deal, I said that I could maybe try writing about the playground. I talked a little bit about things I found interesting as a new mother: that primal instinct to protect your child, how everyone gives you advice that is so often conflicting, how people are expected to be parents when they haven’t quite grown up themselves and so on. My agent loved these ideas, loved the title, told my publisher, who was equally enthused and that is really how it began.

This novel came, like so many good things that seem to happen in life, from difficulty and disappointment.

During the writing of the book — which was every bit as slow and as hard as my first novel, I had several other crises. I lost my wonderful mother, who died while swimming in the Galapagos, and a longed for baby when I was seventeen weeks pregnant. Despite these very sad times and the delays they inevitably caused, somewhere during the writing of The Playground I began to trust my own instinct and became a little more confident about my work. With my first novel (With My Lazy Eye, 2008) I needed constant feedback and reassurance from my partner and close friends before submitting drafts to my agent and publisher. With this novel I began to rely more on my own judgement.

While I think it is still extremely helpful to have other people read over your work, I go by my gut feeling more often now, always reading aloud before sending anything off, to see if my sentences work and my descriptions ring true. I also feel that some of the things I struggled with in my first novel — dialogue for instance — have begun, with practice, to become easier and more natural to me.

Julia_Kelly_A good editor is vital for seeing a book from draft to final proof stage and when I submitted The Playground, it was a little lopsided; it had a strong first half, a weaker second — but with the careful guidance and advice of my brilliant editor at Quercus we worked together to get the second half as tight as the first and The Playground, against the odds, made it to the shelves.

And after four years of work, I emerged squinting from the dark of my room into the bright glare of publicity. The extremes of this career — spending so much time on your own and in your own head and then having to suddenly be all showbizzy and confident, is another thing I find hard. The last time round TV in particular, terrified me. I had been so apprehensive about one pre-recorded show that I asked for my questions in advance, wrote my responses on A3 sheets which the interviewer had to then hold up so I could read them out while I was being recorded. Initially the cameramen and interviewer went along with my plan, I think they thought it was quirky/cute. Several hours later, wanting to go home that evening and with my interview still looking ridiculously stilted and stiff, they were somewhat less amused.

Being treated like an expert, being asked to give master classes, talks and readings when you don’t fully understand the mysterious process of writing a novel, is also a little unnerving. Rather than having a clear idea of what my novels have been about, it is other people who have told me, with this novel and my last, what they think it is that I’ve been trying to say.

Press photographs were another problem last time round. The look I was going for was sort of Joan Didion, New York, 1950s — pensive, gaunt, staring away from the camera. The look I got was less Joan Didion, more Miss Piggy — I was always told to dress up, to beam at the camera, to be blow-dried and made up. From now on I’m going to go casual and tell the photographers that I just want to look like myself.

It took two double vodkas and a Xanax to get me through my first launch speech which I practiced aloud for days. This time, though faltering and very much looking forward to it being over, I was able to speak without the help of alcohol or drugs and even felt relatively comfortable. I am still on the steepest of learning curves but I feel that I am slowly getting the hang of this job.

(c) Julia Kelly

About The Playground

Eve is putting her life together again.

Her partner has walked out on her. She’s moved into a tiny flat on the outskirts of Dublin. She has no job. But she does have her beloved baby daughter – and there’s a little playground across the street.

It’s a tired spot for teenagers and tramps, but Eve is determined to make this new life work. Alongside her interfering lodger and a group of local mums she swings into action to make the playground the heart of the community.

But not all games are innocent – and not all friends are true. When a terrible accident is blamed on her, Eve must forge her own independence – and realise that the playground is not a place to hide from adulthood.

The Playground is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here.

About Julia Kelly

Julia Kelly was born in 1969, studied English, Sociology and Journalism in Dublin, and escaped to London for the mad, bad years of life. She now lives in Bray, County Wicklow.



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