Julia Gregson has been a freelance journalist for Rolling Stone, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Sydney Morning Herald and Cosmopolitan. Her second novel, East of the Sun, has recently been awarded the title of Romantic Novel of the Year.
Author Julia Gregson holds herself with a delicate elegance that reveals nothing of the fast-paced, thrilling career she has made for herself so prominently. The now 61-year-old journalist turned novelist has recently received the coveted award of Romantic Novel of the Year for her second publication, East of the Sun, and is already working on her next novel. But for Gregson, a venture into the world of romanticism has been bred by a life of travel, conflict and rock stars.
As a journalist she travelled the world interviewing the likes of Bob Dylan and Muhammad Ali, the latter at just 24-years-old, “I stayed with Muhammed Ali for four days while he was training, it was a very challenging interview,” she explains as a reminiscent smile creeps across her face, “I never really knew what mood he was going to be in. “One day I would come down and he would be stood in front of the mirror in his satin shorts turning round to me saying ‘Don’t you think I’m the sexiest person alive?’ and the next he would be lecturing me on Islam and what rampant little foxes women are.
“On another occasion I returned to my hotel room to find it covered in packets of unopened condoms. I think at the time I was very young and very well spoken, ‘like the Queen,’ Ali would say, I think he was trying to test me.”
Though Gregson refers to her interviews with Ali, Dylan and others of similar stature (including Ronnie Biggs) with a generic nonchalance, she doesn’t repute the fact her life experience has influenced her now renowned and popular fiction writing, “My inspiration comes from chance encounters with people and places that excite me, they are moments of creativity that turn me on.”
At 61, she is arguably older than the average writer to have their first work published, but she adamantly confesses there is no way she could have written the book in her 20s, “I couldn’t have written a novel when I first started writing, I didn’t have the belief in myself or even the desire.” She amusingly refers to a 40-year-old friend of hers who has just written her first published piece as a, ‘young writer’ and admits success at an early age would have gone to her head, “People start being a lot nicer to you the minute you’re a success. Agents start taking you out for lunch and are very eager to please. I think if I’d had that in my 20s it would have gone to my head, and if I hadn’t kept up that success I’d have been left pushed off my perch.”
From her tranquil home in a small Monmouthshire village, Gregson is now working on her next novel, something which has hastily developed following the success of her most recent work, “The minute my book won the Romantic Novel of the Year award my publisher was after another,” she explains.
Her latest tale is of a Welsh girl who travels to Beirut and Cairo. As part of her research Gregson has only recently returned from the Egyptian capital, “For me travelling to new places is the most blissful form of travel, my senses are on red alert and I get really excited by it.”
With a father in the Royal Air Force, Gregson spent her youth travelling all over the world, spending at most two and a half years in each place, “Travelling with my father made me very adaptable, and very sensitive to the atmospheres of the places we lived.”
She began her career as a journalist in Australia but was reluctant to stay settled for too long, “I like to scare myself, to push myself forward. There comes a point where you fall into a loop and end up doing the same things everyday.”
Gregson considers her journalism career as something to be treasured, “How much more interesting can life get than spending two or three hours with someone who has done something extraordinary? It would be many people’s nightmare to go to a party and know no-one, but I thrive on that, I am so interested in people.”
It is this unrivalled intrigue and interest that oozes from Gregson. She listens as though taking in everything about a person, she studies their mannerisms, their features and their words – but in the most unassumingly, placid nature – so as not to appear intimidating or obtrusive. I am sure it is these qualities that have gained her the respect and success she so unequivocally deserves, Julia Gregson was, undoubtedly, born to be a writer.
And is writing something she will retire from? “I hope I will never stop writing, I love it, or maybe love is not the right word, it’s an addiction. I am addicted to writing.”