My First Time...with Julian Furman
Julian Furman was born in London by sheer chance. He was educated at St. Paul’s School but spent long periods as a child at his father’s office overlooking Tiananmen Square in Beijing, until he watched the sparks of protest flare in 1989 beneath the window. As an adult he gained an MA in International Studies and Diplomacy from SOAS, and worked with the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee during their aborted attempts to draft an Israeli constitution.
Married and living in Tel-Aviv with a newborn baby, Julian was sitting on a park bench surrounded by the aftermath of the social protests racking the city when he began writing a portrait: both of new fatherhood and the crisis of self it engenders, and of Tel-Aviv, the vibrant, modern, youthful city struggling not only with the international economic crises of the age, but also with a crippling existential insecurity, and the souring of the country’s nationalist dream. As he wrote, he would witness the protests spasm to a violent end, and Tel-Aviv would come under direct rocket attack for the first time in over twenty years.
Julian splits his time between London and Tel-Aviv, with his wife, two daughters and two female dogs.
Here's the blurb for This is how we talk...
Life in Tel Aviv, Israel's famed party town, is restless, relentless and amoral, a cycle of hedonism and bitter regret. Modern couple, Yonotan and Lia, are at the heart of the scene, and this is the story of their relationship, lives as parents and the fallout from their break-up.With searing honesty, Furman examines the younger generation of Israelis, alienated from their state and morally conflicted about their role as soldiers and citizens; burdened with responsibility of forging the future for a nation perpetually at war with itself.
Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book?
Read This is How We Talk’s first page. As new parents, struggling to get to grips with the changes our first daughter brought to our lives, my wife and I had just had a fight. I left home with a notepad and a pen, found a bench in the local park, and began to write. I don’t think I had a complete understanding of what I wanted to create, just that I wanted to describe our experience, and the strange socio-political events occurring all around us in the city in which we lived.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before starting to write your first book?
How all-consuming the process is. Even if you’re writing about your own street, it exists in this parallel universe, and you’re the only one who can see it. It becomes obvious pretty quickly that you can’t talk to anyone about what you’re constructing, and part of being a writer becomes curating the isolation: finding space for both universes to exist side by side – your book’s world, and the world of your friends and family and life.
What’s your go-to procrastination method?
Succumbing or overcoming?
Succumbing: definitely Twitter. I’ve always been a news-junky, and having what is essentially humanity’s consciousness at your fingertips has proven difficult to manage. It’s instant, infinitely malleable and, crucially, IT DOES NOT END! I can get sucked in for hours.
Overcoming: I write with a pen and paper, so the best way for me to get down to work is to get away from everything – a beach, a park, a remote coffee shop or a patch of grass – switch off my phone and force myself to put marks down on the page. When you’re writing by hand, there’s no internet and no cursor... you have no alternative to just ploughing ahead.
What was the biggest tantrum you had while writing it?
Writer’s block. When two characters are not talking to each other and you can’t get from point A to point B. Or you can, but you know it just doesn’t work. I’m better now at accepting that I can’t force things, that letting the subconscious work away on its own will reveal surprising and often elegant solutions, but you wouldn’t want to be around me when I’ve hit a wall.
Best thing about writing your book?
Feeling characters come to life. I’m always shocked when I sit down to write with some idea of a conversation or an interaction, and then the characters go off and do or say something completely unexpected. Strange to admit, but they do seem to exist on their own, independent of me, and when I try to force them into the boxes I originally built for them, they rebel.
And the worst?
The rejections. From the editor who ripped me off to the agents who replied to my manuscript with letters to 'Dear Writer' and the publishers who loved the book but saw no commercial viability. Publishing can feel cruel and heartless to authors until you realise that for all the romance, it’s an industry, and it behaves and is structured like an industry. The primary motive of the machine is to get paid, and authors are food for that machine.
When you internalise that it isn’t personal, though it still hurts, it hurts less.
Go-to writing snacks?
Who or what inspires you to write?
Things that tickle my brain (I like anomalies), or won’t let me sleep. For This Is How We Talk, it was the isolation my wife and I were experiencing as a result of new parenthood, and the social upheaval and war that was adding pressure to the already abnormal environment around us in Tel-Aviv. One was a personal issue, one was societal; both were troubling me immensely. And so I started to write, to work things out for myself.
The book that changed you?
I don’t think there’s one book. I look at it instead as books adding layers to me, opening new doors to new perspectives, setting of chains of thought that lead to new things. Every book has its merits (even solely as a negative symbol).
Two, however, immediately spring to mind. Firstly, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, because, growing up ensconced in the ‘British literary tradition’, it was the first time I read something written from a completely new perspective and began to get a sense of the destructiveness of homogeneity.
Secondly, Past Continuous by Yaakov Shabtai. It covers very familiar ground (to me), but it is endlessly inventive and musical, and serves almost as an elegy for a lost Tel-Aviv upon whose ruins my own Tel-Aviv is built.
Your pump up song?
The opposite. Some classic Jazz – someone like Duke Ellington or Thelonius Monk – to calm my mind, but not in an inert way.
If you could share a bottle of wine with one writer dead or alive, who would it be?
Hemingway. It’d be a blast, but not so much of a blast you’d end up addicted to smack, or dead.
One piece of advice you’d give first time writers hoping to get a book published?
Persevere. Keep on trying, keep on writing, keep on getting better.