Q&A with Julia Miller

Julia Miller is the author of Germline, a gripping thriller set in a post pandemic world in which science, history romance and mystery merge together in a world Charles Darwin could never have imagined when he popularised the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ – Forty South.

Dr Ellen Hancock survived the 2064 pandemic but is not yet aware of her superior immune system. After a teenager is found dead and four others go missing, Detectives O’Connor and Scallioni begin to investigate. Ellen and her best friend’s daughter are drawn into the mystery.

Read on to discover more about this fantastic new piece of Tasmanian fiction.

Where did the idea for this book come from?

While visiting relatives in Sheffield in England, I toured the plague village of Eyam in Derbyshire. I was captivated by the story of Eyam and the tale of Elizabeth Hancock. I found myself speculating on how today’s world would respond to a global pandemic. How would health systems; travel and sport change? Would scientists be able to save us from a world ravaged by microbes or would they do more harm than good? I simply set out to answer these questions. I wanted my fictional story to be plausible, so I used current and emerging science and technology concepts in my plot. The more I researched this field the more fascinating facts I unearthed. I came to the conclusion that the human genetic code was in real danger of being permanently altered by scientists attempting to eliminate diseases or to fix infertility. I collide two real events in the plot of GERMLINE—one that occurred in England in 1666 and the other in New Jersey in the 1990’s. GERMLINE is set in the future because I wanted artificial intelligence to be more advanced than it currently is. I describe the novel as a speculative fiction thriller, although much of the science has a factual basis. My manuscript was sent to a number of publishers in November 2019. By the following March the world was in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic and much of my world was taking shape. Forty South Tasmania felt that GERMLINE needed to be released in 2020.

What was the most enjoyable and challenging aspects of writing this book?

The most enjoyable part was researching the history, science and technology and speculating on what the future might hold. I also enjoyed creating and developing my characters. The most challenging aspect was editing. I employed Stephen King’s approach to plot development. Rather than plot everything I posed a question then set about writing a story that answered that question. I believe this approach made my novel more creative but the first half required more editing. I also had to learn to switch from writing educational material to fiction which contains dialogue, descriptions and character development—not my area of expertise.

How do you get into the zone of your world?

I either feel like writing or I don’t. I need to be relaxed and this is often when I’m near the sea. My brain works on the novel much of the time and unexpectedly tosses me ideas. I have been known to suddenly say “got it” randomly and receive unusual looks. I carry a notebook to write these unexpected gems down.

Can you tell me some of the techniques you use to misdirect readers?

Rather than seeking to actively misdirect readers, I gradually introduce information concerning the story and characters to leave readers to speculate as to what has occurred in the past and what is coming in the future. I believe being unpredictable is the key to a thriller. You can leave hints or clues. But not everything in GERMLINE is always what is seems.

What was your writing routine like while working on the book? Do you have a preferred time of day to write?

Early morning when the brain is fresh and ideas have developed during the night. I don’t specify a number of words to write each day. I aspired to write a word target but failed miserably, so I let that go. I don’t want the pressure of deadlines. I just want to be creative and have fun. The amount I write in one session varies. It depends how well the ideas are flowing. During the editing phase of the book I worked nearly all day every day.

Who are some of your favourite authors?

I like thrillers and page turners which is why I wanted GERMLINE to be a thriller. Margaret Atwood and Stephen King are favourites. I enjoy any fiction that is written well and has a strong plot that makes me think and keeps me guessing. I read to be entertained. I’m not into navel gazing. I had to read copious amounts of academic material during my careers as a teacher, lecturer and nurse unit manager. It’s time for a change.

What was the most important part of the editing process for you?

The most important aspect of editing is to find and eliminate plot flaws, inconsistencies and the overuse of words. Character development is critical. It’s essential to hire a good editor and listen to their advice. A professional editor is expert in both structural and copy editing. If your editor advises you to change something it probably needs changing. I eliminate typos by pointing to each word with a pen and reading out loud. This technique is the best way to find errors that even the best copy editor misses. My only regret is not figuring out this technique sooner.

Did you study writing at school or uni?

I didn’t study writing as a discrete subject at school or uni, however I have a number of formal tertiary qualifications: Bachelor of Education; Masters of Education (Research); Bachelor of Nursing and a Diploma of Advanced Nursing (Mental Health). Learning to write in a less formal manner was my main issue.

Do you have a favourite character, or one you are most attached to?

I like all the characters even the evil ones. Vaughn Lambert is easy to write because he’s such a mean, spiteful misogynist. Many of my characters have experienced trauma in their lives. I am probably more forgiving of their antics than my readers due to my experience as a psychiatric nurse.

What are some of the most helpful writing tips you’ve been given?

Short sharp sentences increase the pace. Longer more descriptive sentences slow the pace. Limit the use of adjectives, adverbs and dialogue attribution. The reader shouldn’t need them if you have described the scene properly. Do your research. If you want to be more authentic, write about what you know. Show rather than tell. Look for themes that you can use to strengthen your manuscript. Lose at least ten percent of your manuscript when editing.