A debut novel from 61-year-old Julie Owen-Moylan – and expert advice on getting published
Author Julie Owen-Moylan has just published her first book, That Green-Eyed Girl, at 61. She’s been writing all her life but only in her 50s did she consider it might become a career; finally securing a book deal with Penguin Michael Joseph in 2020. ‘Most of it happened during lockdown. I didn’t meet the publishing team until recently,’ she tells me over the phone, ‘It hasn’t quite sunk in yet, but I’m officially an author!’ When we speak, Julie is travelling back to her home in Cardiff after the London book launch, last week, ‘We had a wonderful party with lovely guests and kind words. I cried at the speeches – and loved every minute.’
On leaving school, Julie worked in a chip shop and then trained as a hairdresser, ‘ I went to a terrible school and it was the nearest I was going to get to a career in the creative arts!’ she jokes. ‘Coming from a working class background you know your place, you receive a message about what you should be doing as a young woman. “This isn’t for the likes of you. Work is to be endured, money is hard won.”
Overcoming ingrained attitudes is not easy. And this is something I can totally empathise with, having had a similar education and upbringing. But, perseverance, talent and resilience do pay off. Several years down the line, after travelling abroad and taking on numerous bar jobs, Julie went to college and then onto university. ‘ I always loved books and could write – I had potential but there was no way of articulating or understanding it. There’s a paucity of ambition. Reinforced by the messages. It’s been a long old journey – but I got there in the end.’
After working in further education (lecturing in business management) and running her own training company, on her 50th birthday, Julie gave herself the gift of a part time Master’s Degree in Creative Writing. ‘When my tutor marked my dissertation, he declared the section of a novel I’d submitted as publishable quality and I was ecstatic believing it was just a matter of time before the literary world fell at my feet. Then I failed…again…and again.’
Having her manuscript rejected by 70 publishers, Julie began to doubt herself, ‘ I’d carried around a committee of people in my head telling me “this isn’t for the likes of you”. They popped up again. I was too old, not good enough… But then I realised that the only thing holding me back was me. It took me a while to replace the committee with a better message. There is no reason why age or background should get in the way.’
To increase her chances of being published, meet other authors and literary agents, she signed up for an online course at the Faber Academy. Then finally, after completing the course, Julie Owen-Moylan’s book deal came about. That Green-Eyed Girl is historical fiction. The story spans the 1950s to 1970s, and features two teachers, a lesbian couple living together in New York, ‘ At a time when it was illegal, they could’ve been locked up, given electric shock treatment,’ continues Julie, ‘I like to shine a spotlight on these things, to write from a feminist angle. To get people to think “what would I do?”‘
With her second novel in the editing stages, Julie is currently researching book number three. ‘I like writing stories, creating characters, complicated women. I like to point out all the restrictions women faced – things have changed so much in my lifetime: it was illegal to go into a bar on my own until I was 22, you couldn’t get contraception or a credit card, it was legal to get raped within your marriage. When I look back, I think “Fucking hell, how ridiculous.” I like showing people what it was like – it took a long time to change those attitudes, there’s a lot we take for granted now.’
Success may not have come easy but now Julie Owen-Moylan has been recognised and published, this is the start of a confident new chapter. She’s about to embark on a short book tour and numerous publicity events, including Hay Festival. ‘This is the beginning of my career as an author. I want to be as good as I can be, to create a body of work I’m proud of. And I know there’s going to be a good follow-up because I’ve written it.’
Expert advice to prospective authors from Julie Owen-Moylan:
If you really want to do it, write something for you. Something that makes you happy. Something you want to read.
Make your own fashion, don’t try to follow trends. Make your own path.
Don’t submit too early. Stick it in a drawer for a month and come back to it. Improve your work rather than sending in an early draft.
You will probably get rejected. I did. But when you get knocked back, pick yourself up again and keep going. Once you start, you have to keep going – particularly if you didn’t get a deal till you were 60!
Julie Owen-Moylan will be signing books in Cambridge and Swansea, as well as appearing at the Hay Festival and other events. More details HERE.