Meet Julia Stone Author Of Her Little Secret

Julia Stone, Thriller Women's first interviewee of 2022, used insights from her professional training as a psychologist to create a tantalising, dark debut about a therapist's relationship with her patient. Do we see ourselves the way others see us? Or are we lying to ourselves?

Download the ebook of Her Little Secret or buy the paperback from Amazon.

Book cover of Her Little Secret by Julia Stone showing a window looking into a lounge.

TW: Julia, huge congratulations on the release of your debut novel Her Little Secret. Your book is about the dangers of crossing professional lines and obsessive love. Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind the novel?

JS: I once worked with a couple in psychotherapy seeing them together and individually. Each separately described their partner as manipulative and narcissist, giving me examples to support their version of the facts. He blamed her, she blamed him. I had no way of knowing where the ‘truth’ lay or whether one of them was deliberately lying to me about events.

On a long boring car journey I got to pondering this: why would someone lie to their therapist. What could their motive be? And the novel grew from there.

TW: You have a background in psychotherapy and psychology. What made you want to make the move into writing fiction and can you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication?

JS: When we were children my mother encouraged us to create our own stories, comics and newspapers and I loved writing. After I finished my A levels, I had the option of going to college to study journalism or completing a psychology degree… The decision was almost a toss of a coin as I was enthralled by both. 

During my subsequent psychology career, I wrote professional materials for client companies, scripts for training videos and contributed to managerial text books. Then in my mid-forties I came back to my creative side, completing an art degree part-time and studying poetry, flash fiction and script writing. That led me to apply to Faber Academy and I wrote my first full novel during their six month programme. The book had some agent interest, but sadly no one made any offers of representation. So I stashed that one away and started another. And then another.

TW: How did you go about creating the characters of Cristina and Leon? 

JS: In a case of ‘write what you know’, I wanted Cristina to be a woman in her 50s. She is also happily child-free and has many friends, but no extended family.  I started off by thinking about the characters’ wants and needs. Cristina, the therapist, wants to ‘save’ her clients and to make everyone happy, but she needs to realise that she can’t fix everyone, no matter how hard she tries. Leon, her client, wants revenge for his loss and has no qualms about using others in the process. From this start point I round out their characters by using the psychological profiling techniques that I’ve used in my business work. Unlike some writers, I don’t believe it’s necessary to know the character’s entire history and preferences – in real life I don’t know this information about some of my dearest friends! Some of the back story develops as I write and because I know their personality profile, their wants and needs, it helps me to keep their actions ‘in character’. 

TW: Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? How long did it take you to write a first draft? 

JS: I am a plotter. I plan out the story before starting so I know the key beat points. Once I have the outline, I look for images of my characters. As I have Aphantasia - an inability to visualise things in my mind’s eye - I need a picture in front of me to describe. (I’ve written a short blog on Aphantasia on my website: The first draft usually takes me about six months, but then there are many rounds of structural editing and the final story differs markedly from where I started. Her Little Secret went through about eight edits over six months. 

TW: You are a recipient of the Blue Pencil First Novel Award. What was that like?

JS: Before Blue Pencil I had entered a number of small competitions and been shortlisted several times - for a script idea, a short story, and once for an early unfinished novel. Obviously that was very encouraging. I entered Blue Pencil without any expectation and was so excited when I heard that I had won the competition. And even more so when I heard that Madeleine Milburn wanted to represent me!

TW: Who do you think Her Little Secret will most appeal to?

JS: The weighting is heavily on the psychological element, so it should appeal to those who enjoy the suspense element of thrillers. It focuses on the psychology of the lead characters, their motivations and the interplay between them. It also gives a behind the scenes look at the work of a psychotherapist. On Twitter I have seen a number of people asking for recommendations of books with older female protagonists, so I hope they enjoy it too. 

TW: What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and what do you most enjoy?

JS: The excitement of a new idea usually kickstarts me and I love the plotting. However, like a lot of writers, my energy tends to wane at the midpoint. There’s a desire to romp to the ending but another 40,000 words to go!  

Once the first draft is finished, I really enjoy editing – even structural changes. There’s a lot of problem solving involved which is fun. 

TW: What are you working on next and when might we see another novel from Julia Stone?

JS: I’m currently doing major structural edits on an earlier work. There are still four or five chapters to write – I know the direction of travel but still need to get there! It is a brand new draft so will need to go through several more rounds of editing after feedback from my writing group peers, my agent and then my editor. The book should be published in 2022 if all goes to plan.

TW: What’s the best piece of advice you can offer to aspiring writers in the genre of psychological thrillers?

Learn the expectations of the genre. Read other writers and how they construct their stories; the weaving of information, the hints and red herrings. Once you’ve learnt how it’s done, you can consciously decide to mess with the formula if you chose to. 

Quick fire questions:

TW: Favourite psychological thriller novel?

JS: Rebecca.

TW: Favourite author?

JS: Too many to list. My tastes change with time.

TW: Favourite (any) novel?

JS: At the moment it's Apeirogon by Colum McCann.

TW: Favourite film/TV adaptation of a novel?

JS:  A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh.  Kristin Scott Thomas is amazing.

TW: Favourite character from (any) novel?

JS: Alice – I love her curiosity and boldness.

Thanks Julia!
Black and white photograph of author Julia Stone

More about Her Little Secret:

His therapist. Their love affair. Her Little Secret.

Cristina knows all about boundaries. As a therapist, it is vital that she keeps her clients at a professional distance.

Enter new client Leon: educated, charming, affluent -- and newly bereaved, following the death of his married lover, Michelle. Cristina soon learns that Leon has an ulterior motive for approaching her: Michelle was one of her clients, and Leon is desperate for her insights into the woman he loved.

Moved by the depth of his feelings, Cristina is drawn to help him through his grief. But as she struggles to ignore her own growing attraction to sophisticated, attentive Leon, her boundaries start to blur and then collapse, and the two embark on their own clandestine love affair.

But why does Leon switch so quickly from charm to criticism, attentiveness to distance? Can anyone truly be as perfect as he paints his beloved Michelle to have been, and what is hidden inside of her off-limits therapy file? Torn between her conscience and curiosity, Cristina is about to discover the truth is far beyond anything she could have imagined...

Listen to a free sample of the audiobook at Amazon here: 

Sign up to win!

Sign up to Julia’s monthly blog on her website before 1st February 2022 and she will pick two people at random to receive free copies of Her Little Secret


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