Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Interview with Julie McGowan, author of The Mountains Between (newly re-released)

The Mountains Between by Julie McGowan was originally published in 2007 and became an immediate  regional bestseller in Wales. On Monday 21st, it was re-launched for a more international audience.

About The Mountains Between:

"The Mountains Between" tells the story of a small girl fighting to keep her balance in the face of an unbalanced mother and the deepest heart-blows a child can bear. It's a story of strength and courage; of a girl-woman with a huge heart who took what life threw at her and kept on loving - the story of a survivor.

It's the story of a Big Pit mining family who suffered an unspeakable horror that nearly killed them, but they got up and got on because that's what those amazing people did. And it's a story about two young people who could have and should have found each other much sooner, but their valleys were separated by the mountains and never the twain, in those days, would meet.

It's a war story; a love story; a hate story. But more than all this, it's the story of a chunk of Wales's lifetime slashed like a scar on a mountainside - about the people of Wales, the people of the mountains and the valleys who formed the beating heart of that country; the people who enable the current Welsh to stand proud and hold the Red Dragon high, because of what their forefathers did.

This book is the story of their essence.

Reader's Reviews

I can honestly say it was the best book I have read in years. I could not put it down.
- Peter Davies

It is so well written and the characters really come alive on the pages. Thank you for being such a clever and interesting author. I look forward to reading more of your work.
- Eileen Carr

You captured the contrast in lifestyle and culture between Blaenavon and the other side of the Blorenge beautifully.
- Lorraine Reed

About Julie McGowan

Julie McGowan has had over 40 short stories and features published both nationally and internationally, and is an ardent playwright for the Welsh theatre. She has won numerous writing competitions over the years, as well as penning various features, a newspaper column, and a local annual town guide. Well known in her home town of Usk, Monmouthshire, for her work in the community, Julie runs a young people’s drama workshop, Stageright, as well as a full theatrical group, performing variety shows and witty pantomimes to sell-out crowds every year. She also co-runs “Is It?”, a theatre company which tours secondary schools in Wales with productions covering health and social issues. And her talents don’t stop there – Julie is also a trained pianist!

Interview with Julie on The Mountains Between:

 Describe The Mountains Between in five words.

Riveting, moving, entrancing, atmospheric saga.

2.       Where did your inspiration for The Mountains Between come from?
When I returned to live in Wales 19 years ago, I started taping my parents’ memoirs, and as they talked I felt that there was a novel waiting to be written. Also, returning to my homeland made me want to write about it.

3.       The Mountains Between is set in Wales. How did your childhood there near Abergavenny influence the writing of it?

It was a huge influence; I spent my childhood in Blaenavon and never lost the sense of close community and family life that characterised the town. My grandparents still lived in Nantyderry throughout this time – the place where the Abergavenny side of the book is set – and much of my childhood was spent visiting relatives on both sides, and listening to their chats about what was happening in both communities.

4.       Can you tell us about the writing process for The Mountains Between?

As I said, the first ideas for it came from the taped memoirs of my parents, and I then went on to ask them to describe broader pictures of life in both communities in the first half of the twentieth century. It struck me how very different their early lives had been, living on different sides of the mountain, and how those experiences had made them the adults they became. I began to really identify with this lonely little girl living on a farm, and this young lad trying so hard to be a man and they then became characters in their own right – quite separate from my parents. As the story developed, I could actually feel myself back in these places that I knew so well, in those decades, and see my characters walking the streets and living their lives etc.

5.       Are any of your characters based on real people?

Most of the main characters are composites or exaggerations of deceased members of my family, although of course the story has been developed beyond what actually happened to them all in real life. Most of the subsidiary characters are pure invention.

6.       What do you hope readers of The Mountains Between take away with them after reading it?

I hope they have become as immersed in the lives of the families and become as fond of them all as I was when writing it. I hope that they have been moved by the plight and resilience of the main characters; that they have a greater understanding of what life was like in those communities at that time; that it gives them a fondness for the Welsh community that they may not have previously had, and that they can’t wait to read more of my books!

7.       Can you share a favourite quote from The Mountains Between?

‘Just as with the first couple who stood before the Tree of Knowledge, the revelation brought despair and pain, the enormity of which they could not share for the moment, and in silent distress they turned away from each other’

8.       What actors would you pick to play the characters if The Mountains Between was being made into a movie?

Catherine Zeta Jones to play Katharine (although she might think she’s too young for it!) Ioan Grufydd to play Harry. My actor son and daughter, Daniel and Catherine to play the siblings, perhaps. The other main parts I would like to see taken by other less well-known Welsh actors as it’s so difficult for actors to get work and recognition.

9.       What do you think of the new cover design for The Mountains Between?

I’m very pleased with it. It gives the book a more contemporary feel whilst still making its historical context obvious. It’s a good translation of what I had in my head when Jo first asked me to imagine a new cover. I think it has good ‘pick-up-off-the-shelf’ appeal.

10.   What is life as an author like and what is your favourite thing about being an author?

Life as an author can be solitary, very up and down and can also be a long waiting game when what is happening is out of your hands. But it’s also tremendous fun and has its exciting moments when work is accepted and you see it in print, whether it’s a magazine piece or a book. My favourite thing about being an author is that wonderful feeling when one is so immersed in a story that it seems to take wings and almost writes itself and nothing can distract one (as my family will testify) from sitting there and carrying on with it.

   What writing project are you currently working on?

I’ve just completed my 14th pantomime, which is being performed at the end of November, and am writing my 4th novel, which is set in the early 1970s in London.

Quick fire questions for fun:

   Would you rather be invisible or a mind reader?


  Music or TV?


14.   Reading or writing?


Thank you Julie! You can find out more about Julie McGowan, the Mountains Between and her second book Just One More Summer on her website  and the re-release book with the newly designed cover will be available on all good online book stores by the end of November.

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