Author Julia has a Dales’ Date With Danger this week

Fiona Finch discovers how the journey from running a small French hotel to living in a village some 20 miles from Lancaster has brought international success for a crime author who draws inspiration from the local Yorkshire Dales’ landscape.

By Fiona Finch
Monday, 30th March 2020, 5:00 pm
Author Julia Stagg who writes the Dales Detective series under her pen name Julia Chapman
Author Julia Stagg who writes the Dales Detective series under her pen name Julia Chapman

Julia Stagg’s own life story reads like an adventure book.

From being an academic to running a French holiday business she has taken on many roles.

Her latest has seen her settle in a Yorkshire Dales’ village 22 miles from Lancaster from where she writes her locally inspired Dales Detective series.

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Julia and her husband at the French auberge which was their home for six years

Set in the fictional location of Bruncliffe, Julia’s latest offering “Date With Danger”, written under her pen name Julia Chapman, is due to be published later this week.

The keen cyclist was gearing up for the usual author promotions, but now she is having to settle for a more remote publicity drive and hopes loyal fans and new readers will be able to buy her book online locally.

Julia, from Austwick, said: “I was due to go to a big prestigious book festival in Lyon - in the scheme of things that’s small.”

It is the fifth novel in her Dales Detective series. The book centres on an unexpected and fatal accident at Bruncliffe’s livestock auction mart. It’s the cue for detective duo Samson O’Brien and Delilah Metcalfe to begin work. As they delve deeper there is compelling evidence that the “accident” could in fact have been a murder. Add in two more cases and the detectives face real danger.

'Date With Danger' is the fifth book in the Dales Detective series

For Julia,51, inspiration comes as she is out running in her local and much loved landscape.

She said: “I run up the fells at least three times a week and that’s when I do my brain work.”

Th relocation to Austwick from France was a move which enabled her to write full time, fulfilling an ambition which had been long in the making.

Her previous roles had included time as a waitress, a check-out assistant, a bookseller, a pawnbroker, a teacher of English as a foreign language and as an academic at Manchester University. She has always, she acknowledges, had “itchy feet” and has in the past lived and worked in Australia, Japan and America .

Julia pictured taking part in La Marmotte in 2018, a cycling challenge in the French Alps. Julie was among a group from Settle Wheelers cycling group and was delighted to complete the gruelling route.

It was in 2004 that she left her post at Manchester University and moved with her husband Mark to the Ariège-Pyrenees region of France. The plan was to run a small auberge comprising a hotel/restaurant and four self-catering cottages and hopefully give herself time to write.

In fact it was not such a smooth transition, as she explained. The couple spent six years in the Pyrenees. The first two years were spent renovating the properties and Julia recalled: “We had no staff, just the two of us running it.”

She also needed to build confidence to submit a manuscript to an agent. She had never felt writing a book to be an obvious choice for her. Even though she grew up reading voraciously she believes hers was not the typical background of an aspiring author: “My parents are both Irish immigrants. Both left school very early because they had to.”

But both her parents proved an inspiration. Her mother becoming the first person in the extended family to go to university - taking O’levels, A’levels and becoming a mature student, qualifying as a teacher. Meanwhile her father, a carpenter, encouraged his wife every step of the way.

Her book reading habit, fed by the local library, was prompted by a different circumstance: “I’ve always read, not just detectives, but crime and thrillers. I was raised with books. I didn’t have a TV growing up. The TV blew up during the World Cup final in 1966. Dad was really supporting England. The TV blew up at a critical point. My dad vowed we would never have another TV and we didn’t....That meant I read, and read and read.”

She grew up in Coventry where her family were also, she said, born storytellers: “Storytelling was important. My mum and dad used to go to the cinema and the next morning dad would tell the story of the film over breakfast."

When she did write her first book it was written in the first person and set in Japan - and was firmly rejected. The agent she contacted suggested she rewrite it and it could be looked at again.

But in France a new idea set seed in her mind and The Fogas Chronicles were born: “It was November. I was into the writing season (and thought) why don’t I set a book here? Within half an hour I had plotted out The Fogas Chronicles.”

The first book took her two winters to write - the summers were still taken up with guests and the holiday business.

She then sent the first three chapters to the original agent: “She phoned me back within 48 hours and within a week sold it to the publisher Hodder Hachette.”

It became clear the auberge took up just too much time to permit her the time needed for writing.

So Julia and her husband decided to move to Britain. Most of the The Fogas Chronicles, based on a small community in France, published under her real name Julia Stagg, were written in Yorkshire.

Julia then began yearning to write a different kind of book, with a lighter touch. Along came the Dales Detectives, which have proved more popular in France than The Fogas Chronicles. They are even inspiring a French TV series.

Julia and Mark have spent the last decade in Austwick: “My husband and I lived in Manchester for a while and we used to come up here for the weekends and that’s where I fell in love with this place. But I’ve managed to live in three different houses in the village so far - I do have itchy feet.”

Wherever she is located she applies the same strategy to her writing, writing every day and observing a routine. She said: “I don’t believe in the muse. I think you get your creativity by working at it. That’s what I’ve always felt."

• Date With Danger is published in paperback by Pan Books, an imprint of Pan Macmillan,at £8.99. Her books have been translated into different languages and sell across the world including in Germany, Spain, France, Portugal, Italy and the Czech Republic.

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