Student blog: Julianne Pachico

Our student blogger Chandni reviews a talk by author and Sheffield Hallam University lecturer Julianne Pachico.

Hello all! We are now onto the second review of my series. I went to a talk by author Julianne Pachico about creative writing and her book The Lucky Ones, which has had fantastic reviews. The novel is set between 1993 and 2013 in British Columbia and is based in the world of Spanish guerrillas. Julianne explores this narrative kaleidoscopically – jumping between stories and characters.

About Julianne Pachico

Julianne was born in Britain but grew up in Columbia, and this has highly influenced her motivation to write about this place. She explained how she was initially apprehensive about writing about Columbia due to a fear of people she knows, such as her family and friends, reading her work. However, she found that she ended up caring more about her writing than what people thought. Interestingly, there are no plans to publish her novel in Columbia, but she hopes that will change.

The main event

Julianne started her talk by reading a passage from The Bird Thing – a monster story... This was very topical seeing as it was October and close to Halloween. The story was written from the perspective of a maid who works for a family. The way Julianne spoke was relaxed, yet articulate and confident, and the whole room was silent as she painted a picture with her intense imagery.

An unusual compliment was given to Pachico from a member in the audience who had started to read The Lucky Ones, but could not continue. She said that Pachico's “writing was so compelling it gave me nightmares”.

Which lead to another question from the audience “what was the impact on you when writing The Lucky Ones, was it cathartic or disturbing?”

Julianne’s response was that as she grew up in Columbia in a middle-class family the worst she experienced personally was threats of being kidnapped. This was very low on the violence spectrum in her eyes compared to the terrible things that occurred there. She continued, speaking of how in society we are numb to most of the horrifying events in the world. Writing fiction can take you to places you’ve never been before and allows you to empathise with people you otherwise couldn’t.

Julianne's experiences of writing

Julianne said that her initial ideas about the book were quite different to the final outcome. She had imagined a post-apocalyptic novel with no specific Latin location, however the book developed into a contemporary novel specifically about Columbia. She assured the audience not to worry about how your book changes, “don’t panic!” she said, “there will be many drafts!” which tickled the audience.

When asked if she wrote the book chronologically, Julianne said that she had no plan, and wrote as things came to her. It took her three years to write a draft of her book, from 2012 to 2015. And it took a further year to edit it.

For drafting, Julianne prefers to initially write by hand rather than use a computer screen, as she feels it is easier to overcome any pressure by not seeing what she’s written. She would like to say that she has some sort of special ritual and recipe for writing, but in reality she just writes whenever and however she can. She advises writers to give themselves a goal to achieve every day, and to be disciplined so they don’t lose their rhythm.

Motivations for writing

Julianne’s passion has always been reading, and surprisingly if she had to choose between reading and writing, she would choose to read. Reading makes her want to write. She draws inspiration from it and in particular, from a writer called Barbara Commons.

At the moment Julianne is working on a book called Keiko and the Whale, which is also set in Columbia. She didn’t want to write about Columbia again, and had an idea of what she should be writing about, but found that when she started writing she had to let the story unfold for itself. This story is also about innocence and experience.

Julianne read an extract from her new book about how children play games, which also referenced worldwide historic events. She finds it intriguing that children play real-world games whilst they process the bigger themes that are happening around them. Common themes that Julianne uses in her writing are nature, children, violence and candy – as well as leaves, because one thing that she loves about Columbia is how green it is.

When I interviewed Julianne after her talk, she was lovely and down-to-earth. I asked if she had any plans for the future and she said that she would eventually like to write book reviews and memoirs. And finally, she had some parting words of advice for aspiring writers… “Have fun, make it enjoyable! Have a martini or a nice coffee and don’t stress. Do it because you want to.” I believe these words of wisdom could be applied to a lot of scenarios!

Thanks for reading!

Chandni Soren is an interior design student at Sheffield Hallam University.

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