Behind the Pen with Jules Van Mil

The fashionista in me is delighted to welcome Jules Van Mil to Behind the Pen. Jules is about to release her first book, a gorgeous middle-grade fiction called, Gemma Riley and the Fashion Fiasco.

When did you start writing and what was the catalyst?

I’ve always loved writing. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I wrote poetry, short stories, plays and lyrics. As an adult, I’ve often kept a journal. I love the feel of a pen in my hand and the physical act of writing on a page. Needless to say, I love pens, paper and all things stationery. I have a couple of friends who I still write letters to by hand.

Are you balancing a different career with your writing? How do you go about making time for your writing within limited hours?

I also run a fashion workshop and personal styling business here in Sydney called, Style For Life, so it’s pretty easy to blend these two domains. I run workshops or consult with clients on certain days and write on others. Work wise, I get to experience a lovely mix of time with people and time alone to write.

What inspired your most recent novel?

I wanted to write a middle-grade novel where the theme of fashion portrayed a positive message for kids—friendships where each other’s difference were acknowledged; forming friendships through a shared interest in sewing; customising pre-loved clothing and as Gemma, the main character, says, ‘you can do a lot with a little’ — a theme central in today’s fashion landscape.

Do you have any particular qualifications that relate to the subject matter covered in this novel?

I left teaching in Western Australia and moved to Sydney to study fashion design and pattern making. I then spent 20 years working in the fashion industry so yes, I’ve definitely drawn on my first-hand experience as a designer when writing, Gemma Riley and the Fashion Fiasco.

How much planning do you do? Do you plan/plot the entire story from beginning to end, or let it evolve naturally as the writing progresses? In terms of characters, are they already a firm picture in your mind before you start writing or do they develop a personality of their own as the story progresses?

This is such an interesting question because, as a writer, I’m always fascinated by what process other writer’s use. Yes, I’m definitely a planner. When I wrote the first two Gemma Riley books, I pretty much had both stories in my head before a word hit the page. I’m a very visual person, so imagining each story was like watching a movie in my mind. I also plan out the story plot points, chapter by chapter. But I also allow characters to ‘unfold’,’ so to speak and sometimes certain characters become more significant than first intended.

Where do you normally write? Is it in the same place every day or are you an all over the place writer?

I like to write in my home office. There’s lots of natural light and it’s a very peaceful place to be. I always have a notebook on me and I’m forever scribbling ideas and information down if I’m in a cafe. But then I think every writer is like that. Once I start writing at my desk, particularly if I’m working on a novel, I don’t like to break my rhythm, so I tend to write for significant chunks of time, say, five to eight hours at a time.

What other genre would you like to try your hand at writing and why?

I have an adult fiction story on the go right now and a play I’m been conceptualising for about four years. The trouble is there’s only 24 hours in a day and at some point, I have to sleep.

What book is currently on your bedside table?

Way too many! But I can’t help myself. I’m currently reading, The New Fashion Rules by Victoria Magrath, The 10 Minute Fix by Catherine Greer and Jane Harper’s, The Lost Man.

If you could go back in time for a year, which historical era would you choose to live in and why?

I find the period from 1900 to just before the 2nd world war so interesting. I guess that’s why I’m a self-confessed Downton Abbey tragic. I was totally engrossed in the series and the changes British society went through from 1914 to 1925. Plus, I thought Julian Fellows script was excellent, not to mention the historical accuracy of the series. In 2018, I was blessed to be gifted a private tour of Highclere Castle in the UK, where Downton Abbey was filmed. What an amazing place. That’s another story all on its own.

Can you share with us a vivid childhood memory?

I think about this memory quite often. I was very close to my maternal grandmother. Her name was, Gertrude Louisa Illingworth Clarkson, and I adored her. She was one of the kindest women I’ve ever known. I must have been about seven or eight years old, and was in her kitchen helping her roll biscuit dough when I said, “Grandma, do you like your name? She stopped what she was doing, smiled and said, “Darling, it’s not what you’re named that matters, it what you do with it that counts.” I’ve never forgotten it.

Gemma Riley and the Fashion Fiasco by Jules Van Mil

She has a ginger cat, a sewing tote and plenty of imagination. Can Gemma Riley catch a thief and save the fashion day?

Fashion is in Gemma Riley’s DNA. She lives with her grandmother Cara Bonafete, a famous fashion designer, and dreams of creating her own collection.

But there’s big trouble at the House of Bonafete. The release of the Spring Collection is looming, Cara has had an accident and someone is stealing their Top Secret designs.

Children’s Middle-grade fiction, 8-12 years
Published by Pan Macmillan Australia
Released 28 July 2020

About the Author:

Jules Van Mil has lived the fashion life. In her late teens, she modelled for the McGann Agency, doing fashion parades for David Jones, fashion catalogues for Myer and making television commercials. However, she was always happier designing clothes rather than modelling them.

She completed a teaching degree and started her career as a primary teacher. Then she studied fashion, worked as the Assistant Designer for a women’s wear label in Sydney during the 1980s, and taught fashion at a tertiary level.

She loves the fashion industry and established, ran and eventually sold her own bridal couture business. Today, she runs fashion workshops and does casual teaching in Sydney.

Instagram: @jules_vanmil

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