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police state conditions in the future. But light-hearted? Surely not.

‘You’re right. But I can’t stop going into these deep, dark spaces once I get going. And I realised that the worst thing that could be released from the box would be hopelessness itself. Because if you haven’t got hope you’ve got nothing.’

But in typical Julie fashion, even the imp in the bottle that stands for this hopelessness releases something good in the lonely boy who looks after him. So nothing is ever going to be made simple in novels that are always multi- layered, with extra meanings and symbols sometimes only becoming clear after the story is finished.

So what’s your favourite out of your books?

‘Definitely The Merrybegot. It was my second novel and I now had the confidence to write as I really wanted to. And I had studied witchcraft at my course in Oxford and knew what I was talking about.’

A merrybegot is the name given to a child conceived on Beltane morning, otherwise known as May 1. Set in 1645 when the Witch-Finder General Matthew Hopkins was searching out women – and a few men – suspected of witchcraft, Julie’s story then leaps to 1692 when a surprise confession finally puts an ancient injustice to rest. Piskies still live in the hedges, co-existing with ordinary society and even the odd appearance of Charles II. This mixing of magic with the everyday is typical of many of her novels. Is this how she experiences life herself?

‘In a sense. I like living in an old house surrounded by ancient things. I get some sort of vibration from them which helps when I write. I’ve never seen a ghost, mind. I like to think of the possibilities of things. I think all my books have that implicit question – what is out there? What is beyond us? As a writer, just sticking to one reality all the time, well, it wouldn’t be much fun.’

My own favourite novel is Ivy, an at times achingly sad story about a beautiful red-haired model who sits for a rich Victorian painter and eventually becomes involved with the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Addicted to laudanum from an early age and at risk both from a murderous artist’s mother and the criminal gang who brought her up, Ivy’s prospects look bleak until the very last page. For while Julie is unflinching in her descriptions of past cruelties she is also a novelist more interested in ultimate hope rather than despair.

So does writing come easily, or is it hard work?

‘Hard work. More and more I have to catch my books by surprise. Sometimes I work in my office, sometimes in my bedroom, sometimes here in the kitchen. I’m working on my next book now, but it’s very slow. Everything is

taking me longer now, from putting on my socks to crossing the road. And not being able to drive any more is a real nuisance.’

Even so, the next book when it finally appears promises to be something else. The supernatural will come in again, and there will also be some ancient standing stones and a nod towards the whole concept of the Lord of the Dance. Readers who have responded before to the intensely imagined stories of this fascinatingly unpredictable writer are in for another treat. Those who have yet to sample her works should prepare themselves for something not just good but really different as well. n

Nicholas Tucker is honorary senior lecturer in Cultural and Community Studies at Sussex University.

The Books (published in paperback by Oxford) Follow Me Down, 978 0 19 275595 7, £5.99 Hazel, 978 0 19 279214 3, £5.99 Ivy, 978 0 19 275431 8, £5.99 The Merrybegot, 978 0 19 279157 3, £5.99 Rowan the Strange, 978 0 19 272920 0, £6.99 Wreckers, 978 0 19 272929 3, £6.99

Books for Keeps No.187 March 2011 15

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