Julia Ibbotson is the award-winning author of The Old Rectory: Escape to a Country Kitchen, first published to acclaim in the USA and now re-launched with a new cover by her new English publisher in the UK. She is a writer, researcher, ex-school teacher and currently a university academic.
In The Old Rectory, she has combined memoir, history, research, story and recipes, a combination that has won a number of international book festivals in the biography category, gained 5 star reviews on Amazon, and has been widely featured, along with her house, in the media.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book. When did you start writing and what got you into memoir?
Well, the memoir arose organically from my situation at the time, renovating a Victorian rectory in the middle of England, with all its trials and tribulations. But I started writing stories as a child (I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t scribbling some story or another). I wrote my first novel at the age of 10 although it (thankfully!) remains unpublished. It was about my passions at the time: farms, the countryside of England, horses and dogs. And of course adventure! I became an academic and only wrote research texts for many years, then it all happened with buying the rectory, researching its history and the history of cooking over different periods that the house has lived through. I love cooking for family and friends and the kitchen is, to me, the heart of the home. Suddenly I had the ingredients of a book, my first memoir. I loved reading books about renovating houses: A Year in Provence, A Villa in Tuscany, The Olive Farm, and so on. And I thought: why not one set in the English countryside? But I have to add that my favourite genre (and the one I’m returning to in my new trilogy) is fiction, contemporary/women’s/romance. The first novel of the trilogy is called Drumbeats and is set in the 1960s in war-torn West Africa and is a “coming of age” romance. It will be out later this year, so look out for it!
Did you have a mentor who encouraged you?
Not at first. It was all my own internal passion for writing creatively. In fact I felt quite shy about it for many years. I didn’t get much encouragement from home, just polite tolerance, but I suppose I’m very determined! But once I started writing seriously to publish, I networked and as a result I had many encouraging comments from various people in the USA (my first publisher was located in Indianapolis) and in the UK where I live. The international writer community is very embracing and my group of “mentors” grew and grew.
Did you have any struggles or difficulties when you started writing?
Let’s assume that my “start” was with the memoir, so yes, I struggled to find the time. I was working full time and renovating an old house with my husband. Although this provided the inspiration for the book, sitting down at my laptop and focusing on writing in a structured way, on my own (my other work is collaborative) was hard and lonely at first. Also because my writing for years had been research reports and the like, I was suddenly writing in a very different style. But a struggle that I still have, is stopping and dragging myself away from my computer once I’m really into the writing – to get back into the real world, to make dinner or be with my husband in the evenings! Often my husband can be heard to call, “Do you realize what time it is?!”
What was your inspiration for The Old Rectory?
My husband and I went to international academic conferences on educational research in Australia and then the USA, and when I told colleagues about our Victorian house, its restoration work, the village and the stories from its history, they begged me to write a book about it – so I did!
What do you tell your muse when she refuses to collaborate?
“Let’s put the coffee maker on and go for a walk in the garden!” We have a large garden so by the time we get back to the desk, armed with coffee, all is well. Usually….
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to write. Can you relate to this?
Oh goodness, yes. I open up my laptop, go to my last session and think about what comes next. I always have a plan and structure drawn up. Then while I’m thinking about it, I go into the room where we have gym equipment and cycle, twist and powerplate, then do my yoga mat exercises. By then I am more balanced and calm about what I need to do.
Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?
I try to! I have specific days and times when I write. But I have to work hard at not getting distracted by emails, Facebook, Goodreads, etc. I try to set myself a planned schedule for those things and admin, marketing, publicity, etc, then I can focus on the writing with a clear mind.
How do you celebrate the completion of a book?
With a glass of bubbly and chocolate fudge cake! And I treat myself to a spa indulgence at a lovely hotel nearby.
How do you define success?
Being satisfied that you’ve done the best job you can at that point in time.
What do you love most about the writer’s life?
Being independent, being in control of my own work, being able to let myself go into another world, and, because I work from home, being able to go out into the garden if I get “writer’s block” to walk in the sunshine, watch my plants grow and balance my mind again without any pressure. In my other life as a university lecturer, I don’t think I have any of these.
Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about and your work?
Yes, absolutely; please find me here.
Where is your book available?
Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
The memoir is my first inroad into authoring professionally; my trilogy represents what I really want to do, to leave a legacy of work…so please look out for my novel Drumbeats, the first of the trilogy, coming out soon – and lose yourselves in the romance and tragedy of the war-torn tropics in the 1960s! It’s been good to talk to you! Thank you.