‘Set your stories in London’, top Leeds author told. Philip Whiteley reports from Leeds Lit Fest.
Leeds author June Taylor was told early in her career to set her stories in London, as this would give her a better chance of being published, she told a lunchtime seminar at Leeds’ first literary festival. ‘When I started writing fiction, I was sending stuff out to agents in London, setting my stories in Leeds, and the rejection letters would say: “Consider setting them in London.” But I dug my heels in. It would have changed the whole thing.’
This was a few years ago, she acknowledged, and London-based agents and publishers have become more sensitive to regional diversity. ‘Times have changed a lot since, though there is still a London bias. But I always wanted to write a book set in Leeds. I think it works.’
She loves the City, adding that she ‘wanders around as my character, in my head, to reacquaint myself with Leeds.’
June was in interview with fellow author James Nash, in the atrium of the Corn Exchange on 8th March, for a lunchtime conversation, competing with bustling shops, cafes and an event to mark International Women’s Day. With adjustments to the volume levels on their microphones, they made themselves heard to a keen audience.
James Nash commented on the growing tendency for local authors to set their books in Leeds, and that there is a vibrant writing scene in the City. June replied: ‘And we finally have a literary festival! I can’t tell you how much it means – it’s off the scale. Leeds has been crying out for its own literary festival for forever.’
There have been thriving festivals in nearby towns and cities, and in Headingley, but the events in March constitute the first concentrated set of readings and talks by authors in the City Centre over a period of several days.
June Taylor writes psychological thrillers, with at least as much emphasis on the psychology as on the twists and turns of plot.
‘I’m interested in secrets in relationships; trust and betrayal,’ she told the audience. ‘At the time when you’re first getting to know someone, how much do you reveal? If you have something personal, or terrible in your past, you weigh up how much you trust. What’s going on in your mind? What’s coming out of your mouth? I like to explore that in my characters. We rarely say what we mean, and words can be misinterpreted. And if you break up, what are the rules? What if you know something about them?’
June Taylor is a former TV writer, and has learned to maintain the pace and intrigue of a story, creating suspense for the reader. Her latest book Keep Your Friends Close features 22-year-old protagonist Karin, whose fortunes appears to be on the rise as her new partner Aaron takes her on a romantic break, but her surprise weekend takes nightmarish turns.
- Keep Your Friends Close, published by Harper Collins, January 2019, is June Taylor’s second novel. Her first is called Losing Juliet. Her website is www.junetaylor.co.uk. She tweets at @joonLT
- The Leeds Literary Festival is taking place between 6th and 10th March, with dozens of events at various City Centre locations, including Carriageworks Theatre, the Leeds Library and the Corn Exchange. For more information go to http://leedslitfest.co.uk/. Twitter IDs: @LeedsLit @BigBookend
Philip Whiteley firstname.lastname@example.org
Photography by Philip Whiteley.