Juliette Forrest is the creator of the fire-cracking TWISTER and the deliciously chilling THE TRUE COLOURS OF CORAL GLEN - two novels bursting with sparky, energy-filled - and sometimes spooky - characters.
Juliette Forrest has worked for some of the UK’s top advertising agencies, as both a copywriter and an art director. Luckily for children everywhere, a couple of years ago she decided to turn her talents to writing middle grade fiction. Her debut novel TWISTER was published in February 2018 by Scholastic UK . Her second, deliciously-chilling Middle Grade – THE TRUE COLOURS OF CORAL GLEN hit the shops in July 2019.
As well as winning several industry awards for her TV, radio, press, poster and ambient media campaigns she was delighted to receive a New Writers Award from the Scottish Book Trust in 2014. She was also the 2019 winner of the Caledonian Book Award.
Juliette lives in Glasgow with Vince, her rescue dog from Cyprus.
When and how did you start writing?
I’m a copywriter by trade, so I’ve been creating advertising concepts for TV, radio, posters, press and cinema for many years now. When I decided to become a freelancer this gave me more time for my own creative projects. This was when my own writing took off.
Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?
THE ENCHANTED WOOD by Enid Blyton transported me to a world I would have given my eye teeth to visit. I also loved the adventure books by Willard Price, especially AMAZON ADVENTURE. I’m quite sure it’s the reason I’d love to go on an expedition there – although I’m not as brave as Hal and Roger Hunt. They would never have screamed if a giant bug landed on them. MY FAMILY & OTHER ANIMALS by Gerald Durrell was the first book I really related to. Here was this dysfunctional family, surrounded by gloriously eccentric characters and a myriad of animals. Written with such warmth, it was impossible not to fall in love with it. And I have to mention the illustrations of Jan Pienkowski from A NECKLACE OF RAINDROPS by Joan Aitken. They are magical.
Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?
The first key moment was joining a Saturday morning writing class at Glasgow University. The teacher, Ian MacPherson, was so inspiring. It was him who suggested that a short story of mine could be eked out into a novel. The biggest break for me was winning a New Writers Award from The Scottish Book Trust. I couldn’t believe my luck. It was a nod that I was doing something right, boosted my confidence and spurred me on. Part of the award was a mentorship with Julie Bertagna. She was amazing and so generous with her advice and support. I don’t think I’d be in this position now without all these wonderful people helping me along the way.
Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?
Although I was signed relatively quickly, this was the hardest part of the process for me. I compiled a list of agents from The Children’s Writers’ and Illustrators’ Yearbook. (You can find a copy of this in the library.) Julie Bertagna had also very kindly given me a few names too: including the rather lovely Polly. I researched the agents thoroughly and wrote different cover letters for each submission. Over the next few weeks there were a flurry of rejections. One even commented that I should have worked with an editor before sending the manuscript out. This knocked my confidence terribly. Just as my heart began to sink, Polly got in touch. I was over the moon that I had found my creative champion.
Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?
To quote Maggie O’ Farrell, I ‘write around the edges’. I’m not in a set routine. I tend to grab moments here and there. I’m self-employed, so if the phone stops ringing I can use any free time to write. When work is busy, I always get a terrible yearning to get back to my own writing.
My ideal writing day would be getting up very early in the morning with a coffee and sitting at the kitchen table in my dressing gown until lunchtime. The reality is the dog pads into the room with new, ingenious ways to pester me for a walk. When we go to the park, I’ll be busy figuring out some problem to do with the plot or running through dialogue in my head. So much so, I won’t recognise friends until they wave a hand in front of my face. I’m quite sure they must think I’m a sandwich short of a picnic.
Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?
When I decided to go for it and write a novel, I turned into a big sponge and soaked up all the information I possibly could. I knocked on the doors of writers’ groups and associations, visited book festivals, took authors’ workshops and attended industry seminars. I researched the market and read as many children’s and YA books as was humanly possible. I still read as many children’s and YA books as is humanly possible. One of the most valuable things to me was setting up W.I.N.E. Nights (Writers In Need of Encouragement) with a great friend of mine. I trusted their feedback and it was a luxury to have another viewpoint in on my work.
Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you've developed as an author?
In advertising, every brief you are given is a problem to solve. You wouldn’t write one concept to crack it. You take your time and think around the problem. You look at it from every conceivable angle, creating lots of concepts in the process. The more ideas you come up with, the more likely you’ll hit on an ingenious solution. I find this thinking works well for storylines too. You might end up with lots of possible plot scenarios, but then you can be sure of selecting the best one.
I’m still learning how to write books. I know that some novelists plot their story out. Meticulously. I don’t. I feel bad that I don’t. That I’m less of a writer because of this. I suspect a part of me wishes I could be more organised. It seems safer. More professional. I have a rough idea of what needs to happen in each chapter and I feel my way through it. I find the magic happens when the characters come to life and take over. That is when I get surprised. And if I’m surprised then hopefully the reader will be too. It is interesting to read about how other writers go about their craft, but stick with what works for you. That’s the important thing. And remember there is no genius except for the genius of hard work.
Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party?
I have a feeling this would be more of a drinks party than a dinner party, but I would serve up nibbles. I’d invite John Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dylan Thomas, J. D. Salinger, Margaret Attwood, Daphne du Maurier, David Sedaris, Dolly Parton, L. Frank Baum, Enid Blyton, Malorie Blackman, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Robert Louis Stevenson, Gerald Durrell and David Attenborough.
Which fictional character do you wish you'd invented?
The Wicked Witch of the West. I’m a grown woman and she still gives me the heebie-jeebies.