It can be gone in the blink of an eye
for all of
Julia Wallis Martins latest novel Dancing with the
Uninvited Guest is dedicated to the memory of her first
husband, Terry Flaherty, who died in a road accident in 1977. He
was twenty-two years old.
A widow at twenty, there was nothing initial about the shock. It
lasted for eighteen months then this normal, apparently
down-to-earth woman started visiting mediums.
For four years, she travelled up and down the country trying everything
imaginable to make contact with her dead husband. Julia
never came close but she did come to several damning conclusions,
which are explored with devastating effect in the pages of Dancing
with the Uninvited Guest.
I never found any evidence that Terry existed
anywhere. All it left me with was the belief that the majority of
people who claim to be psychic are, at best, deluding themselves
and, at worst, theyre actually ripping off people who are in
a very vulnerable state of mind.
Not surprisingly, her intensely personal experience imbues the
book with edge and authenticity. The narrative centres on a
paranormal psychologist who believes theres a rational
explanation for everything - until shes presented with the
seemingly inexplicable: a young man who appears to be at the mercy
of a malign entity.
Its a stunning story which is truly gripping from the
first page. Thats partly down to location. The book is set
in and around Lyndle Hall, a medieval manor house in Northumbria,
which oozes more menace than any number of malevolent spirits. Its
peopled with psychics and parapsychologists, sceptics and
psychiatrists. To my mind its her best work so far.
After her fruitless odyssey into the spirit world, Julia set her
sights lower. She started to look at so-called celebrity psychics;
the sort that people flock to, desperate for details about a dead
What I discovered was that some of these psychics scour
the archives of local newspapers going back, say, six to twelve
months, if not longer, for evidence of anybody, particularly young
people, whove died in tragic circumstances. And they
memorise the details. And if youve lost somebody like that
and you hear that a well-known psychics in town, the chances
are you will go. A lot of people will go. Theres no question
about it. Thats how some of these people are so successful.
As she points out, theres a ready-made audience of
extremely vulnerable people. For four years off and on, Julia was
one of them. She tried everything from sittings with mediums to fiddling
around with ouija boards.
I think Id done everything I could possibly do. I
didnt come to the conclusion there is no life after death. I
was brought up a very devout Catholic and thats a very
difficult thing to shake off
I believe in God but I also
believe we are not meant to know whether there is life after death
or what form it takes. Which is possibly why chapter One
opens with a remarkable passage comparing a world of light and air
and that of an unknown, unseen world.
I do feel very strongly that people shouldnt attempt
to make contact with people whove passed over into that
other world. Maybe they still exist in a form that would be
recognisable to us and maybe they dont. Whatever the case, I
feel that we are not meant to know and I do feel that its
very dangerous. Not only because there have been cases where
people have believed theyd made contact. Its actually
frightened them. Theyre gradually drawn into the world of
the occult and theyve become completely obsessed. Theres
another reason. I think if I had believed Id made contact
with Terry, that he was there somewhere in the background forever
looking over my shoulder, Id never have been able to move
on. I do know people whove lost wives and partners years ago
and its really impeded them. Thats when its
Julia was able to move on. The author of four critically
acclaimed, best selling novels, shes now happily married to
the writer, Russell Murray. They live with Julias son,
James, in what sounds like blissful domestic chaos in a cottage in
Somerset. Im a lousy housewife. Im completely
capable of walking past pans, dishes, washing and pretending none
of it exists. Im very lucky, of course, because Im
married to a writer and Russell wouldnt care if we lived
knee-deep in squalor. He understands. Hes the same in a
She saves discipline and order for the writing, working seven
hours a day, five or six days a week. There are days when Im
lucky to see five hundred words on the page, because Im
dissatisfied with what Ive done. And there are other days
when Im on a roll and Ill do three to five thousand
You could say shes on a roll now. Shes just signed a
six-figure two-book deal with her publisher, Hodder and Stoughton.
Before signing, they asked for a fifteen-thousand-word synopsis.
Julia believes its a growing trend, not specific to Hodder.
Its a huge change in attitude. Whey they
gave me a two-book deal for Likeness in Stone and the next
novel, they didnt even ask for an outline because they didnt
care. No one cared. The sums of money involved at that stage were
so small and I was such an unknown writer.
Even with The Long Close Call, no one was particularly
bothered. Hodder asked what it was going to be about and Julia
said, Cops and robbers.
O.K, they said, See you next year.
The book went on to sell sixteen thousand copies in hardback in
its first week. With success come money and, with it, the need for
more detailed synopses. As it happens, theyre an intrinsic
part of Julias writing. She spends up to six months putting
together a detailed blueprint for each book. It has everything:
plot, chapter breakdowns, motivation, character. Although it
develops as she goes along, shes pretty sure shed get
writers block without it. Another way round the blank
page/screen/mind is what she describes as writing in jigsaw.
She writes the biggest scene first then the next and the next
until she ends up with just the bridging scenes. Shes
currently on her fifth book. Shes written the last chapter
but hasnt started the first. Its a technique that
wouldnt suit everyone but it clearly works for Julia.
After The Long Close Call, The Times described her as:
in the first division of the new crime-writing generation.
The accolade must have been particularly sweet, for this is a
woman who was told years ago by one of the UKs then leading
agents that shed never make it. To be more precise, she was
told, You will never, ever be a writer. You have absolutely
no talent whatsoever.
That was back in the mid-70s when she happily admits being
rejected by every newspaper and magazine in the country. One wrote
back saying, Look, youre completely wasting our time
and yours. Please dont submit anything else.
She can laugh now but the fact is she stopped writing fiction
for a number of years. The publication of A Likeness in Stone
changed all that. The Guardian called it a Chilling first
novel. Val McDermid described it as A fascinating
debut which delivers plenty and promises more.
Julia Wallis Martin is still delivering. Writing, she says, is
in the genes. She reels off a list of relatives who are published
and others who are working towards it. But its more than
that. Elements from her troubled childhood inform her work. Her
mother was a suicidal manic-depressive who died when Julia was
seventeen. In the days before her death, she told Julia she was
glad to be out of it; life was something, she said, for which shed
never quite got the knack.
Julia acknowledges that she writes about exactly that: people
who dont have the knack.
Theyre people who live outside the norms of society.
Not necessarily in the way you or I would perceive that, i.e. a
person who lives on the streets or whos involved in drugs.
Theyre people who live outside the norms. They simply dont
lock into it somehow. Personally, she adds, almost as a
throwaway, I think its a trick of the light. Its
very difficult to explain this but sometimes I think I see the
entire world out of the corner of my eye. I see very clearly whats
going on but only out of the corner of my eye.
Id interpreted the phrase differently; felt it was more to
do with expectations and transience. She considers this for a
For any one of us, it would take very little to completely
demolish our world - our security and our happiness. Our
perception of ourselves as being safe. Of nothing or very
little being able to shatter. Its so false. It can be
gone in the blink of an eye. For all of us.
It would be too trite to say that Dancing with the Uninvited
Guest lays the ghost of Terry Flaherty. For Julia, its
dedicated to the memory of his life.
Read Maureen Carter's own novel