9 Oct 2014

Becoming Julie by Julie Clarke

The author of Becoming Julie talks to Scottish Books about her writing experience and the incredible journey that has taken her a lifetime.

Becoming Julie by Julie Clarke
Julie Clarke was born a boy in the 1950s in central Scotland, but from a very early age she knew she was different from other boys. Growing up in the 50s and 60s however it wasn't normal or even possible to discuss feelings of gender difference and for years Julie didn’t even know there was a medical term for her dilemma: she was transsexual. 

Becoming Julie is the story of Julie's life to date, poignant, funny and honest as it charts the author’s struggle to build a new life as a woman.  Julie spent many years battling with these feelings, and as a man she lived a stereotypical life, hoping that this would suppress her longing to become female.

Finally, in 2004, Julie achieved her dream and after undergoing transgender surgery, she physically became a woman.  This is the story of Julie Clarke’s journey to becoming the woman she is today, living happily on the Isle of Coll and working for Cal-Mac in the role she previously held as a man.

Today it is much more common for these feelings to be discussed at any early age, and gender dysphoria can be readily diagnosed in children as young as three or four.  In fact, this is the age when most people will begin to present symptoms.  Biologically, it is sex hormones, sex chromosomes and physical appearance which determine who is a man and who is a woman — but children who are going to experience dysphoria will start hinting to their parents that they are not who they appear to be, at about that age.

This is all very well having established this through research and chaged attitudes, but Becoming Julie talks of a different time, which is what makies it such a powerful read.

I asked Julie Clarke if this was the first book she had written.

"Yes," she said, "however I have two more books in the pipeline. The next one will be a follow up to Becoming Julie, and will delve ever deeper into my life growing up as a transgender, and will visit some of the darker and more controversial sides of my complicated and troubled life. Book three will be a novel based on my own life story, although I haven't started writing eitehr of these yet I have amassed a huge amount of notes and ideas, so I am clear about the direction they will take."  

What were the key lessons you learned in writing your first book?
"For me, having written a true story narrative in a non fiction format, it was all about honesty and simplicity.  As my original manuscript was over ambitious, full of clichés and irrelevancies, I would tell people to not to try and be too smart, as a debut author.  For instance my editor removed 18,000 words from my manuscript, without taking anything away from story, my voice or my emotions."

Who are the Scottish writers you most admire?

"Alexander McCall Smith, I've just finished his wee novel 'Trains And Lovers', which I found exhilarating.  However if I'm honest it might be something to do with the fact that he's a bit of a fan of me, having read Becoming Julie and he was so impressed he gave a quote, which appears on the front cover of the book!"

Coll is a fairly remote place, but as with everywhere else in Scotland, I discovered that if you ask, then you'll see that there's much more going on than you'd first think.  Is there a literary life there to be had?

"Coll has one notable author of children's books, Mairi Hedderwick," Julie told me.  "She is the author of the famous Katie Morag books, and which has recently  been made into a television series.   There is a multitude of factual books from the Hebrides and the Island of Colonsay holds a book festival every April."

Julie's book is out in November and published by Fledgling Press.  Several launches have been confirmed and there may well be more to follow:

    18:30, Thursday 6 November: Waterstones, Oban
    18:30, Saturday 8 November: Island Café, Isle of Coll
    18:30, Thursday 13 November: Waterstones, George Street, Edinburgh
    18:30, Thursday 20 November: Waterstones, Islington, London

You can see more at Julie's blog: http://www.julieclarkeauthor.co.uk/
  • 18:30, Thursday 6 November: Waterstones, Oban
  • 18:30, Saturday 8 November: Island Café, Isle of Coll
  • 18:30, Thursday 13 November: Waterstones, George Street, Edinburgh
  • 18:30, Thursday 20 November: Waterstones, Islington, London