Today I’m delighted to welcome Julie McDowall to Me, My Books and I:
Julie’s always had a love of words, having synaesthesia which means every word provokes a taste or sensation. Unfortunately, her own name tastes of hay fever and she missed a chance to snatch up a decent pen name when she began this whole publishing lark.
Desperate not to be ordinary, she flounced around in polka dot dresses, escaped to France for a year to try and sound interesting, and then formed her own literary magazine,The Puffin Review. Eventually, she admitted togs, absinthe and puffins can only take you so far, and began to write.
She now writes a popular blog about online dating which appears weekly on The Herald newspaper’s website. This has now been published by Blasted Heath as a shamelessly uncensored version and is avaialble in e-book and paperback.
She also writes a column about dating for the YummyMummyBeauty.com website and edits the literary magazine The Puffin Review
In the midst of all this chaos, a novel is quietly being written.
Julie is 32 and lives in Glasgow
To find out more:
Casting The Net is a true account of your experiences in online dating, what made you turn it into a book?
For entertainment and revenge!
The book deals extensively with mental breakdown. (It’s certainly no girly account of meeting Mr Right.) I was sunk in a depression and couldn’t gather the will to pull myself out. My friend set me up on a blind date with one of her friends and I found that the anxiety of meeting a stranger and simply being forced back out into the world again helped to shift some of the depression.
As I began dating more and more men, and finding them to be strange, exciting, infuriating and funny, I began to take real pleasure in bursting into the office on a Monday morning – that drab, air-conditioned place – and telling stories of the freaks I had met at the weekend. I loved having the power to shift my own depression – and the general Monday morning office gloom – through my stories.
I started a blog to write my stories and that began to spread through Twitter and Facebook and I began getting feedback and followers and fans and there was such joy to be had in telling these stories, but also a great sense of relief. I was purging myself of the anxieties and humiliations of internet dating by splattering it all shamelessly in print. I wanted to capture my monstrous experiences and pin them on paper before they could flutter away; before I could grow sober and mature and calm and look back thinking, ‘no that couldn’t have been’.
And, of course, for revenge. In the book, you’ll read about a monstrous man I dated, known as The Clown. I fell for him in a devastating way. I became utterly obsessed: consumed, relentlessly, by thoughts of this man; being exhausted and worn down by my desperation for him. He could change the whole flavour of my day just by sending me a text. Well, I embarrassed myself horribly with him, and went to terrible lengths to find out how he felt about me (I cringe now when I think of it). Part of my motivation for writing the book was to prove to him that I’m not the clinging, pining creature he knew. I’ve taken his appalling treatment of me and turned it into gold (if I may say so!) I’m free of him and the sad, cloudy thinking and pining and weeping he forced me into, and I’ve written a book about it.
Who designed the cover and why did you go for that particular design?
The publisher presented me with a few different images and colour schemes and we finally agreed. In the meeting, I immediately vetoed any frothy pink shades as I am wary of the book being judged as chick-lit. When you search for it on Amazon, it does appear alongside silly chick-lit nonsense, just because of the subject matter: men and dating. However, the book deals with mental breakdown and lust and panic and obsession – nothing at all to do with the Sex and The City ideal of dating where you sip cocktails in a thousand dollar dress and discuss which wealthy Yale graduate you’ll be taking home with you. It’s a million miles away from ‘girly’ and I feared that the subject matter, paired up with a pink cover might damage the book. So, we settled on turquoise – not too girly!
If Casting The Net was made into a movie who would you like to play the lead roles?
Ah, my favourite actors are all long dead. I’m a fan of the golden age of Hollywood, so I hope you’ll let me choose people from the bygone era? I’d love to be played by Vivien Leigh who, of course, was Scarlett O’Hara. But then perhaps she’s too exquisite? Maybe I’d be better played by someone who’s a bit darker and crazier? The magnificent Joan Crawford, then , or Rita Hayworth as we both have red hair. As to who would play the succession of men I dated? We’d have to look for candidates in a circus troupe, as they were a mad and worrying collection of freaks.
What do you hope readers will learn from Casting The Net?
I would like it to give hope to anyone who’s suffered a mental breakdown. Mine began with a mild depression. Looking back, I should have tackled it then – sought help, gone to my GP, reached out to friends, tried to stir myself into some kind of action, but I didn’t. The depression then got its teeth properly into me and turned into something far darker. I stopped caring about my appearance, I stopped eating, I stopped doing the dishes and making the bed and opening the curtains in the morning. Why bother, I thought? The dishes will just get dirty again and the sky will look the same grey way it did yesterday. I got steadily worse till one night, on a crowded train, it all exploded into a massive panic attack. After that, I couldn’t leave my flat as I was scared the weight of the outside world would crush in on me. How could I breathe out there in that huge world? But I recovered. I recovered by writing about it and – to give the freaks their due – by getting back out into the world by dating.
What are you working on now?
If you read Casting The Net you’ll see I was dating a man known as The Clown. Due to my fragile mental state, I fell for him hopelessly and totally. I became utterly obsessed with him. I’m now working on a novel which uses that experience – the total obsession which can sweep in and occupy someone when they have collapsed in on themselves. A healthy person will have their mind and interests reaching outwards, to people and books and their job and holidays and their children. I had nothing in my head but panic and depression and a whole lot of pills from the doctor. Into that awful vacuum of my mind stepped this man. The experience of that obsession was so consuming and addictive and mad that I haven’t exhausted it in Casting The Net and there is definitely a novel to be wrought from it.
Are there any occupational hazards to being an author?
Weight gain! I now work at home, writing full-time, and so I’m rarely required to leave the house. I have certainly got heavier since I gave up my day job and devoted myself to writing. So, I now have a gym membership – if only I could get myself out of my study and into the gym.
Paperback or eBook?
Oh, paperback, definitely! Even though Casting The Net is available as both, I don’t own a Kindle so haven’t even seen my own book on an e-reader. I love real books and am reassured by the inky smell and papery feel and comforting weight of them. Compare that to a smooth, lifeless piece of glassy plastic…
Milk, white or dark chocolate?
All of them! Everything!
Pen or pencil?
Fountain pen. I do my first drafts with an old red fountain pen I got in Woolworth’s when I was still at school.
Thank you so much for being here today Julie, it was a pleasure to have you on my blog. I particularly enjoyed reading about your journey towards writing your book. I personally know how overwhelming depression can be and I think the way you dealt with it is inspirational!
Now check out the book:
“I began online dating when it became clear that my boyfriend loved Stella more than me — and Budweiser and Miller and cannabis, too — and I knew I needed to change my life. But what was the quickest, easiest route to get back into the dating game? I lacked the patience to meet someone the old-fashioned way, and I lacked the inclination to hang around in clubs. Apparently online dating was now ‘normal’ so I decided to give it a whirl.
The Plenty Of Fish dating site horrified me. The men were the men were all spray-tanned illiterates. The vast number of single men on Match put me off, with my first search throwing up 997 potential dates. Instead, I opted for the rather more refined and LOL-resistant Guardian dating site. Surely this was a place to find decent men?
Oh, how wrong I was! The site was groaning at the seams with freaks and I threw myself in amongst them with abandon!
And so began a process of casting the net for love, romance, sex and freaks, a process which was often humiliating but always funny.”