An Interview With D J Connell

D J Connell is a New Zealand novelist who currently lives in London. She has lived and worked in various countries including Australia, Japan and the UK. She wrote for many years as a journalist and copywriter before moving to Europe a few years ago to commit to writing novels full time.

Her first novel, Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar, was written in Paris, France. The book was released in New Zealand in March to great reviews and media attention. It is being released in Australia in May and in the UK in July. A French version will be published by notable French publishing house, Editions Belfond, at year end. The book has also been optioned for a film by Sarah Radclyffe Productions of the UK and Macgowan Films of Australia.

Her second book, titled Sherry Cracker Gets Normal, will be released next year by Blue Door, an imprint of HarperCollins UK. Blue Door bought her first two novels in 2009 in a deal negotiated by Sophie Hicks, managing director of Ed Victor Ltd, a top UK literary agency based in London.

D J Connell currently does not have a website or blog but Julian Corkle has his own Facebook page which is open to the public. You are cordially invited to befriend him.

My blog interview with you came about under rather unusual circumstances. Would you care to tell readers the story?

I was in a pub in West Hampstead, London, with a writer friend from Paris when a woman leaned over and asked if I came from New Zealand. The woman, Deborah, had overheard us talking about the upcoming release of my book. She gave me your email and encouraged me to contact you. Kind!

With a major publisher behind your first novel and film rights optioned, Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar looks like an overnight success – but overnight successes are usually the product of years of hard work. How many years’ work has gone into the success of Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar?

Perhaps I should first outline the publishing system in Britain. To get published, you generally need an agent. If you don’t have contacts, then the only way into a literary agency is through the ‘slush pile’. This entails sending in a synopsis and the first 50 or so pages of the book along with a cover letter.

I didn’t have any connections so I had to do it the hard way. I sent in samples and got back six positive replies from agents asking for a full read. I was new to the game and had no idea that this was a brilliant response.

So, when the first agent declined after a full read the second told me that my manuscript needed work, I began to panic. When the third offered to represent me, I immediately accepted. However, this agent was new to the game and was not particularly well connected. To be fair, my novel also needed work.

When the agent didn’t manage to sell it, I put my head down and kept writing. I spent a few years in a very dark place not knowing whether what I was doing was worthy or marketable. It was a very challenging period. I’m not sure what kept me going but I do know that my ego got ground to dust in the process. My family was very worried.

After the first agent and I parted company, things suddenly began to move for me. I was introduced to my publisher, the marvellous Patrick Janson-Smith, and my current sharp-shooting literary agent, Sophie Hicks.

So, no, there was no overnight success. It was a long, ego-crushing process. I was living off savings and was down to my last 1,000 euro when the contract came through. I would like add, however, that I also learned a lot about the importance of being fully committed, determined and focused.

Do you think that the humour in Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar derives mainly from the characters, or from the situations you put the characters in?

My writing is character-driven. Once I nail a character and know what will work for him/her then the situations almost write themselves (then require a lot of rewriting and editing).

Take Julian, for example. He’s a show off with a habit of telling whoppers. So my job was to put him in situations where he was going to trip himself up or make a fool of himself. But the trick was to do this without losing reader sympathy. He’s a fool but my challenge was to make sure that no matter what the situation or his crime was, he remained a loveable fool.

Humour is deceptively complex to write. It’s all about the set up and the payoff and involves the unexpected and the absurd. The reader expects or hopes Julian will do one thing but being the fool that he is, he usually does the other.

How did your recent return visit to New Zealand go, and what has been the reaction to Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar and its success in New Zealand?

It was a wonderful trip. My book got an excellent reception. I did quite a few radio and print media interviews and was even on TVNZ’s Good Morning show with Sarah who gave the book a lovely endorsement. The New Zealand Woman’s Weekly made Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar Book of the Week in its April 19th edition and it received two excellent reviews on the National Programme. An interview with Kathryn Ryan aired on the National Programme’s Nine to Noon on April 26th and is currently available as a podcast.

I also managed to visit many bookshops and talk personally to booksellers who were very welcoming and positive about the novel. There’s nothing quite like walking into a bookshop and seeing your book on display.

I mentioned earlier that Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar has been optioned to be filmed. Can you tell us a bit more about who has optioned it, and where things are at with the film adaptation? Will you be writing the screenplay?

Sarah Radclyffe Productions and Macgowan Films are independent film companies that are renowned for making phenomenal films. Between them they have made such cutting-edge films as My Beautiful Laundrette, Death Defying Acts, Two Hands and more recently The Edge of Love. They are currently working together on South Solitary in Australia. At the moment, all I know is that the film will be made in Australia and that they plan to start next year.

Unfortunately, I am not a screenwriter so I won’t be writing the screenplay. I would love to be involved but that will be up to the producers and their team.

People ask me if I fear that the book will be destroyed as it is made into a film. Strangely, I don’t. First, I have a lot of faith in the two production companies and second, I am happy to see the story that I’ve created become another person’s creative project. I’ve written a book that I love. I hope that the filmmakers will make a film that they will love, and that others will love, too.

Are there writers who have had a particularly strong influence on your writing, and which writers do you most enjoy reading?

I’m not sure who has influenced me but I can give you the names of some of the writers that I love (please note that these are just the tip of the iceberg): Jane Bowles, William Trevor, Evelyn Waugh, J D Salinger, Albert Camus, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, Annie Proulx, many of the Russians such as Gorky, Gogol and Dostoyevsy. More recently, I’ve been reading Alice Munro and Anne Enright. Wonderful stuff.

Do you have other books in the pipeline, and if so, are you managing to find time to write them amid all the publicity work for Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar?

I am currently refining my second novel, Sherry Cracker Gets Normal, for publication next year. I have a third and fourth in the pipeline. I manage to write by living in a very disciplined manner. I get up at 5am every morning and begin my day with a pot of tea and two cats for company. I don’t drink alcohol and I don’t have TV. I don’t even own a car. My life might sound boring but I am doing what I love and there is no better high than creating something that works and brings joy to others. I write to make people laugh. In my opinion, there’s not enough of it. Humour is underrated.

Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar is available at most bookshops, and online shopping sites such as Fishpond, Mighty Ape, and Amazon.