I’m pleased today to have Julie K. Rose drop by for tea and cookies (and bringing a cake recipe by too that sounds lovely) and to talk about her newest book, Dido’s Crown, as well her life and writing! I hope you enjoy our conversation. If you missed my exciting review of Dido’s Crown earlier this week, you can see it HERE. It’s a wonderful story, set in 1935, of a woman caught up in espionage in Tunisia!
Hi Julie! Welcome back to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m so excited about your newest fictional endeavor, Dido’s Crown. As I prepare our seats and refreshment, tell me, what’s behind that name?
Julie: Hi! I’m so excited to be back. You always have the best refreshments, and conversation! In terms of the name, it’s tied to an important plot point in the book, so I don’t want to say too much. That said, it ties nicely to Tunisia – Dido was the founder and first queen of Carthage, modern-day Tunis. And I like the suggestion of Dido’s complicated and melancholy story.
Erin: Yay!! Yes, it does.🙂 We will let them all find out by reading the book! How exciting has this been for you to release another book? It’s so hot here in Ohio – I mean it’s not autumn weather at all that we are used this time of year. We will be wearing swimsuits for Halloween. And with a serial killer being arrested here it’s been a bit stressful. So I’m up for relaxing in my comfy library chairs with you while we talk about Dido’s Crown. And I’m thinking mojitos today – they are my favorite. We can do mint and other assorted flavors…..blueberry…cherry…. You’ve packed for a weekend stay right?
Julie: Of course I did! Sitting together, chatting about books sounds just like the antidote to the world that I need this week.This world is completely nuts, so art is more important than ever. It helps us remember how to be human, you know? I’d actually love a cup of hot, sweet mint tea if you don’t mind. Puts me in a North Africa kind of mood.
Erin: Okay, mint tea is one of my faves for Fall and Winter and since the air conditioning is on late for this time of year I’ll make some and it won’t make me too hot. My ex-husband was from Egypt and hot tea was a must drink (or Turkish coffee). We can save the mojitos for another day since you’ll be staying awhile. I’ve baked up some spice cookies in the Dutch tradition though! I suppose that is not very North African.. They just sound good today and I think you’ll like them. They smell like Fall or Christmas and I’m anticipating those seasons. I’ll pour the tea and we’ll get started! Oh –I always ask you to share a recipe when you come too! Do you have one you’d like to share on this trip? May I can make that for us for later.
Julie: Oooh spice cookies are the BEST.
I do have a recipe! This is for Tunisian Orange and Almond cake. Tunisia is a country of real contrast, and the northern climes are home to vineyards and orchards – very similar to the climate here in the Bay Area. Orange cake plays an important role right in the first chapter of Dido’s Crown.
This is adapted from Reza Mahammad’s recipe, found here: http://www.foodnetwork.co.uk/recipes/tunisian-orange-almond-cake.html
- 1 cupsuperfine sugar (not powdered)
- ¾ cup ground almond
- ¼ cup panko crumbs, slightly stale breadcrumbs or cake crumb
- Finely grated zest of 2 unwaxed oranges
- Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 cup sunflower oil
- 4 eggs
- For the syrup:
- Juice of 2 oranges
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 90g caster sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 cloves
- 2 star anise
- ½ tbsp orange blossom water
- Powdered sugar for dusting
- Line and grease an 8″ spring-form cake tin.
- Mix together the sugar, almonds, panko crumbs, both zests and baking powder.
- In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs and the oil.
- Pour onto the almond mixture and mix.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and place into a cold oven. (At this point make the syrup)
- Turn on to 355°F and bake for 40-45 minutes until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Cool in the tin for 5 minutes then turn out onto a plate.
- While the cake is warm, pierce it all over with a wooden skewer or toothpick and pour on some of the syrup.
- Keep spooning over more syrup every now and then until it’s all been absorbed.
For the syrup:
- Make the syrup by adding all the ingredients except the orange blossom water into a saucepan. Bring gently to the boil stirring to dissolve the sugar whilst allowing the liquid to thicken to a syrupy consistency.
- Add the orange blossom water and remove the spices which can be used to decorate the cake.
- Set aside till cake ready. To serve, dust with icing sugar and serve on a cake stand with Greek yoghurt or crème fraiche and summer berries.
Erin: Yum!! Yes I’ll definitely make that for us for tomorrow! Thanks for sharing that!
Dido’s Crown is a 1930s novel of intrigue that you describe as being inspired by Indiana Jones and John Le Carré. Two of my favorite things! Plus The Thin Man! I was thrilled when I found out your wrote a story about a woman who takes on a mystery during the political international landscape of 1935! Where did you come up with this idea?
Julie: I’m not sure if I can pinpoint how and where I came up with the concept. I knew I wanted to set a book in Tunisia; I’ve always been fascinated by North Africa, and Tunisia has an amazing history. So I knew I would set at least some of the book there. The plot itself definitely took more time and evolved over the years that I wrote it. It was initially going to be focused on Tom and Will and their time just before WWI, and at that point, the British Secret Service angle hadn’t appeared – it was initially about these two scholars at Oxford. I wish I could remember the moment that Mary showed up, because she of course changed everything.
Erin: Your novel travels around the globe with Mary. How did you research the locations during these time periods and bring them with such vivid description to the page?
Julie:Modern travel guidebooks were actually incredibly useful as a starting point, as I’ve not yet had the chance to visit Tunisia. YouTube was also great – lots of videos of modern Tunisia helped me understand the lay of the land. YouTube was also surprisingly helpful in terms of films of Tunisia at the time. And of course, the normal research you’d expect – contemporary and scholarly sources.
Erin: What background research on the history of this time period did you do and how factual is the foundation your fictional story rest upon?
Julie: Ahhhhh research! The 1930s was a really interesting time for Tunisia, politically speaking, so there was a lot of great scholarly research to tap into. As a matter of fact, I’ve posted a bibliography at my website with a small set of the books and articles I consulted. In terms of the 1930s, there were quite a few great resources, including The Thirties by Juliet Gardiner. The research on the British Secret Intelligence Service was a load of fun, and I particularly loved The Secret History of MI6 by Keith Jeffery.
The foundational information is factual – the SIS, the different stations, the influence of the Deuxième Bureau in colonial life, the Tunisian independence movement, etc. The origin story I created for numbers stations, while based on research into espionage techniques and what we know of numbers station history (which is very little), is pure fiction.
Erin: How did you learn to pace your novel in order to keep the action moving but yet also create your characters with dimension and depth?
Julie: Well, I hope I accomplished that…and if I did, I’m not quite sure how! To be very honest, this book was a bear for me to write. I had to devise ways to keep myself on track, not only with chronologies but also with motivations both at a macro (Secret Intelligence Service) level and a micro level (individual characters). Ultimately the action is accomplished by character, so those personalities and desires were the primary focus.
Erin: Talk about your cover a little bit and the thought behind it?
Julie: I was initially interested in using a painting called Olga by David Jagger (1935), because the subject is so very much like the Mary in my mind.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t obtain the rights for the painting, and I think in the end, it worked out better. I did a search at Bridgeman Art for “photograph” and “1935” and found the gorgeous photo I ended up using, which is held by a museum in New Zealand. I love the look of the woman – she feels self-contained, a little wistful, and a little mysterious. My brother had the genius idea of overlaying the map of Tunis, which gives the cover an interesting weathered look from afar, and a second layer of mystery when you see it up close.
Erin: The cover is amazing!! And your brother had a great idea. How long have you been working on the novel? What kind of steps do you put into the process?
Julie: I started working on the novel in 2011, when I was blocked in the midst of trying to finish my last book, Oleanna. That book was published in 2012 and I picked at Dido’s Crown for a bit, but then went through a period of depression and didn’t come back to the book again until the summer of 2015. The steps are pretty much the same as most writers: a very rough first draft, set it aside and percolate on it for a bit, do another draft, lather, rinse, repeat.
Erin: What did you find out about yourself through the process of writing Dido’s Crown?
Julie: I learned that droughts end, dark times pass, and the creative spark will still be there when you come back to it. It’s a very reassuring thing.
Erin: What did you learn about your writing and your process from the publication of Oleanna in 2012 to the your current release?
Julie:I learned to finally not just embrace the rewriting process, but actually enjoy it. I also learned to respect my creative rhythms more. And I knew this, but it was an important reminder: good critique partners and editors are worth their weight in gold.
Erin: You’ll always an inspiration to me, Julie. I really enjoy your motivational YouTube videos. Can you talk about why you prompted to do those, how they help you, and how you hope they help others? Will you keep doing them?
Julie: Oh my goodness, thank you! There are a couple of motivations behind the videos. The first is that I really wanted to try something that scared me. I had taken a public speaking training at work, in which everything we did was filmed. It was both scary and eye opening, and it gave me confidence. But presenting to a group of your colleagues is one thing; filming a video and posting it where any random stranger could see it was initially terrifying. Who the hell am I to take up space? Who the hell am I to have a voice? But there’s something that feels revolutionary and empowering about being seen, as a middle-aged woman, you know? And once I started doing the videos, I found I enjoyed the hell out of them. I like the whole process – writing the script, setting up the shot, filming, editing, etc.
As to the content: I feel like I just recovered my own creativity last year, and realized what a precious and important thing it is. This year has been absolutely insane, on a cultural and political front, and art and creativity are an important bulwark against the horror. I know it can be hard for people, especially women, to embrace their creativity and give themselves permission to do art and be creative. But it’s more important than ever.
I will definitely continue to do videos; I’m kind of addicted now. I may add to the Courage & Creativity series, and I have ideas for other series that could be a lot of fun.
Erin: I look forward to more videos. They truly help me!
What is the best snack you can eat when working your “second job” of writing, editing, promo, etc.? I want to see what’s in your secret snack drawer….
Julie: Oh gosh. I used to have a terrible bubble gum habit, which I’ve finally broken myself of. I don’t snack when I write, because I’m usually writing first thing in the morning before my day job, so if it’s anything, it’s some oatmeal or toast. But I always need to have something to drink – coffee (with sugar-free peppermint syrup!) or hot tea.
Erin: You must be a morning person! I find so many writers tell me they don’t snack when writing. I feel all I do is type five words – snack – type five words -snack. haha!
What do you think you want to write in the future? Do you have any plans or thoughts for topics?
Julie: I’m working on my next book now. It’s set in my home town of San José in 1906, right at the time of the great earthquake. The history of the Santa Clara Valley (now known as the Silicon Valley) is fascinating, and little known outside California, so I’m hoping to shed some light there.
Erin: If you could write a book about a woman in history, who would it be? If you could have 5 critique partners for the book, who would they be?
Julie:This is so tough. I love stories about regular folks, so I’d love to write something about what it was like to live through the troubles in Northumbria in the 6th and 7th centuries. If pressed to write about a famous woman, my first instinct is Boudicca, though I’d love to write someday about Princess Kristina of Norway. She was married to Philip of Castile in 1258, only to die four years later at the age of 28. She had wished a church honoring St. Olav be built, and her wish was finally granted 750 years later in Covarrubias in 2011.
Erin: Yes, now you must write of Princess Kristina! Okay – a fun question. Your favorite coffee mug is….?
Julie: Is it sad that I have more than one? The “Please do not annoy the writer” mug is from a friend and is both funny and true. The Sons of Heptarchy Northumbria mug is via the British History Podcast and references the sons of Ida, the king of Bernicia. It makes me laugh every time I look at it. And the Good Mythical Morning mug is from my favorite morning show.
Erin: So cool! I love to see people’s coffee/tea mugs. Give good insight!
If people dedicated a weekend to your book and wanted to throw in a movie to make the event complete, what would they watch? Feel free to give more than one suggestion.
Julie: Oh gosh! Well, pop some popcorn and settle in. Of course, I’d start with Raiders of the Lost Ark. Did you know the scenes that are set in Cairo were actually filmed in Tunis? Beyond that connection, it’s just a great adventure and I love the action, and of course Harrison Ford. I’d follow it up with The Thin Man (1934) with Myrna Loy and William Powell. The dialog is to die for, and it’s a great Hollywood version of the mid-1930s. Finally, if you’re still awake, definitely watch Design for Living (1933). Though based on Noël Coward’s 1932 play, it diverged quite a bit and I think it’s delightful. Plus: Gary Cooper and Frederic March. Come on.
Erin: It’s always a joy to have you on my site, dear friend. As always, I wish you the best of luck with your newest book. I’m so happy and excited for you! Cheers to another cup of hot tea (and mojitos tomorrow) – stay awhile and chat.
Julie: It is always such a pleasure to sit with you, my dear! Thank you always for your support and friendship, you’re such a delight! And yes, let’s keep chatting. These cookies are delicious!
Dido’s Crown by Julie K. Rose
Publication Date: September 29, 2016
Paperback; 340 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction/Literary
Set in Tunisia and France in 1935, Dido’s Crown is a taut literary-historical adventure influenced by Indiana Jones, The Thin Man, and John le Carré.
Mary Wilson MacPherson has always been adept at putting the past behind her: her father’s death, her sister’s disappearance, and her complicated relationship with childhood friends Tom and Will. But that all changes when, traveling to North Africa on business for her husband, Mary meets a handsome French-Tunisian trader who holds a mysterious package her husband has purchased — a package which has drawn the interest not only of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, but the Nazis as well.
When Tom and Will arrive in Tunisia, Mary suddenly finds herself on a race across the mesmerizing and ever-changing landscapes of the country, to the shores of southern France, and all across the wide blue Mediterranean. Despite her best efforts at distancing herself from her husband’s world, Mary has become embroiled in a mystery that could threaten not only Tunisian and British security in the dangerous political landscape of 1935, but Mary’s beliefs about her past and the security of her own future.
Author Julie K. Rose, Biography
A member of the Historical Novel Society and former reviewer for the Historical Novels Review, Julie lives in the Bay Area with her husband and rescue cats, and loves reading, following the San Francisco Giants, and enjoying the amazing natural beauty of Northern California.
Her historical adventure novel, Dido’s Crown, has released in September 2016.
Oleanna, short-listed for finalists in the 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom literary competition, is her second novel. The Pilgrim Glass, a finalist in the 2005 Faulkner-Wisdom competition and semi-finalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, was published in 2010.
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