Even the best of us can have a confidence crisis at times, as Jenny Williams found out when she met author Julia Gregson
There aren’t many of us who can claim to have progressed through life without suffering a lack of confidence in something at some stage. But you don’t expect an international bestselling novelist and former model to have suffered with a confidnece problem.
Author Julia Gregson is open about her own insecurities, “I did have a confidence problem for a long time,” she admits. But it is, at first glance, hard to understand why.
Once a successful full-time journalist and former house model for Hardy Amies, Julia has had a rich and varied career to date. She worked as a foreign correspondent for Sungravure (a consortium of Australian magazines), travelling to Vietnam and India, been a freelance journalist for such titles as Rolling Stone and Cosmopolitan magazines and interviewed the likes of Dalai Lama, Muhammad Ali and even Bob Dylan.
Now a full-time writer and settled in the Monmouthshire countryside, the 61-year-old’s most recent novel, East of the Sun, has enjoyed great success, being awarded the Romantic Novel of the Year award 2009 in February and being picked for the Richard and Judy Book Club last year. She is currently writing her third novel due for release next year. How could it be possible to lack confidence?
“When I was working for Rolling Stone, I had this period of thinking, ‘I can’t do this, I’ve gone beyond what I am capable of doing’,” she explains, holding her palms out.
“The same happened when I started writing short stories. There’s always a mental block with me that has to be overcome but equally I have to overcome the mental block or I become stale with what I’m doing.
“I wish I didn’t have it,” she exclaims, “But I think it’s incredibly common. I think everyone has it.
“I was talking to a friend of mine who is an extremely famous and successful writer the other day,” she continues, “and I said to him, ‘Well, it’s alright for you, you’re incredibly clever’ (he’s got a double first from Cambridge),” she adds.
“He said, ‘Are you joking? I’m frightened every morning. That’s my first emotion of the day!’ I find it comforting to know it’s normal,” she laughs.
Julia has managed to use these struggles to her advantage despite still sometimes finding writing difficult. “I find writing incredibly challenging in ways,” she says, “But I think what’s changed is I accept the struggle is part of the journey. I don’t turn it against myself and think I’m hopeless or obvisouly can’t do this.”
Julia has been persistent. Even when her debut novel only sold around 7,000 copies, Julia didn’t give up, going on to write East of the Sun, which sold over half a million copies in six months. It was also picked by the Richard and Judy Book Club. Julia says this was fantastic feeling. How did she celebrate? “I was in my pyjamas at home when the phone rang. My agent said, ‘I have some fantastic news,’ and my husband and I were dancing in the kitchen.”
But her success hasn’t been without its low points. When Julia’s first marriage broke down, she used her career to help her turn her life around, taking on a challenging new job with Sungravure.
Much like many of Julia’s characters, who leave their homelands for other places – such as The Water Horse protagonist, Catherine Carreg who runs away to London – Julia believes in challenging yourself. “Every now and then you need to shake it up and scare yourself,” she claims.
But her success hasn’t been without self-doubt. “When I was clearing up my notes from East of the Sun,” she says, ” I found a letter to my agent, which read, ‘I am so sorry to let you down but this is hopeless, I don’t think I can finish it. I’m not getting anywhere’. I thought, ‘Oh my god’, I’m so glad I’m on the other side of that.”
And the ‘other side’ seems to be the older side. Now approaching retirement age, Julia believes her increased confidence has come with experience. “There’s something about going through the process over and over again and learning what your weaknesses are,” she says looking to one side, “It’s like a muscle learnt to work or like anything else you learn to do; the more you do it, the more instinctive it becomes.
“I did have a confidence problem for a very long time but I definitely think my confidence is much higher,” she says resolutely, “I know that however stuck or bad I can feel, I’ll get it more or less right in the end.”
Julia’s third novel Jasmine Nights will be published in August 2010.