My friend JG Murray recently won the Deviant Minds competition with his thriller The Bridal Party, the deliciously fun and spooky tale of a hen party gone nightmarishly wrong. The book is published by Corvus and you can get it here.
It’s not a genre I’d normally go for, but from the very first pages of The Bridal Party you know you’re in good hands. The characters are vividly drawn, the pace is gripping. And best of all, it’s given me a great excuse never to go to a hen party ever again.
To celebrate Julian’s first book coming out, we caught up and cast an eye back over the last ten years – what we've learned, how we’ve kept writing, and the bumpy road to publication.
"That’s how a lot of thrillers come about. Take a normal situation and then go, ‘But what if… murder?’"
S.E. Lister: So I’ve nearly finished The Bridal Party – it’s an absolute page turner, and I’m genuinely spooked. Tell me a bit about where the book came from.
J.G. Murray: I’d been slaving away at a novel off and on for maybe a decade - pouring my heart and soul into it – and I needed some light relief. I used to do murder mystery weekends with my friends, and I started thinking, wouldn’t it be weird if somebody actually died, and we all started suspecting each other?
JGM: Turns out, that’s how a lot of thrillers come about. Take a normal situation and then go, ‘But what if… murder?’
There was this competition, Deviant Minds – I had fun with the first few chapters, and sent them in thinking I’d forget about it and go back to my main project. And still now I’m absolutely shocked that I won. Part of the prize was to get a one-book deal with Corvus, and to be set up with an agency.
SEL: Is The Bridal Party really different from the thing you’d been pouring your heart into for ten years? Do you think of yourself as a thriller writer?
JGM: I’d been working on a detective series for younger readers about a folklore detective, so some of the local legends and superstitions I’d been researching came in useful for The Bridal Party.
And no, not really! I think our university experience encouraged me to be less of a pretentious emo kid and try my hand at everything. My road into publishing has been like, ‘I don’t know what I am, I’m just going to try it out.’ So I’ve written poetry, a ghost story, science fiction, a thriller…
SEL: What for you is the common thread when you’re writing these different kinds of stories? Is there a central thing you’re trying to do, common themes you find yourself returning to?
JGM: It tends to be linked to identity, and how it’s fixed. Locality, community, our loved ones – how healthy or unhealthy that can be.
SEL: I won’t try and psychoanalyse you too closely. You mentioned our university days – you described yourself as an emo kid – what was your main takeaway as a writer from that experience?
JGM: It loosened me up. It was a necessary thing to go from being a big fish in a small pond, to being surrounded by people who reflect you in all sorts of ways. It’s a wake-up call for your ego, and it freed me up.
"However much we learned at university, we would return to a childish way of approaching writing."
That’s what I remember from that time, not anything I learned, but the panic and the terror.
JGM: Could that have been formative for the crushing process of actually trying to get published?
What happened after university was that the strategy I developed was being absolutely blinkered to reality, and that is the only way I’ve found to work. It’s done with a bit of a wink at myself. I’m not actually deluded, but the only I’ve found to write books and get them published is to be in denial about how hard it is, about when it’s disappointing, about what it means for me practically. Because for me the only way to do the work is to be in a safe bubble where there’s only me and the work.
JGM: One of the things I remember China Mieville saying when he taught us was that however much we learned at university, we would return to a childish way of approaching writing. I definitely identify with that.
Can I ask, there was a lack of guidance about the industry on our course – do you think that would have been useful?
SEL: The jury’s out as to whether it would have helped or scared me away – but I think yes?
This probably says more about me than the course, but I don’t remember a single thing that we actually learned. Do you…?!
JGM: I get this more now that I’m an English teacher myself: being taught writing, it’s not about knowledge - it’s a skill. And at the end of our three years I could definitely see the improvement in other people even if I couldn’t see it in myself. I remember there being a process, something in the room that was building.
"My writing group bruises the ego, but it soothes as well."
JGM: I take it you’re not in a writing group now, then.
SEL: No, that might puncture the bubble of denial. Are you?
JGM: Yes, and I really do find it beneficial. It’s almost purely technical – we don’t just read out chapters to each other and clap. People give you detailed notes, and sometimes it’s soul-crushing. But it prepared me for getting line edits from my publisher. And everyone goes through the same thing, from the experienced professionals downwards! So though it really bruises the ego, it soothes it as well.