Thursday, June 21, 2012

Jasmine Nights Author Julia Gregson Talks About Writing

From Julia Gregson, the international bestselling author of EAST OF THE SUN, comes JASMINE NIGHTS, a powerful novel of love, adventure, beauty and danger.  

Spanning the globe from England to Egypt to Turkey, this mesmerizing World War II tale is filled with exotic sights and sounds - the North African desert, the Bosphorus at night, the pyramids at Giza, the Nile, sonorous jazz standards and haunting Turkish folk songs. This passionate story, focuses on a young singer, Saba Tarcan, who travels to North Africa to entertain the troops during World War II and while there finds herself torn between duty and desire.

Author Julia Gregson joins us today to answers some questions about her book and her writing. Since this story focuses on a singer who becomes a spy and women’s efforts during World War II, I was interesting in Julia’s research and an true stories of heroines she might know of.

Mason - What type of research did you do to give JASMINE NIGHTS the depth it has?

Julia - Doing the research for JASMINE NIGHTS was incredibly interesting. For me, it’s a very necessary part of the process- time to dream and well as time to nail down the sort details that make the book authentic.

First, I went to Egypt, and took a 1930’s Paddle steamer up the Nile , an incredible journey: on the river banks, you see everyday life drifting by you: farmers watering their crops, families having dinner together on the river bank, donkeys being fed. And every day we stopped off at some extraordinary temple or Pharaoh’s tomb such as The Valley of Kings or Tutankhamun’s tomb, full of strange animals and statues and gold. What is remarkable is that due to the atmospheric conditions inside the tombs, the colors of the friezes are so vivid and so bright, that they could have been painted yesterday. In Cairo, I hung out in coffee shops, souks and explored the places such as Shepheard’s Hotel and the Gazira Club where the British might have drunk, or met friends, or made love during the war.  

Next,  I went to Istanbul : one strand of my story is that Saba, my heroine, goes to sing and spy there. 

Jasmine Nights Final CoverIn Istanbul, I hung out with a Turkish singer, Sema, who is famous there for singing forties songs. I  went to her concerts, and we had a fascinating dinner together in a Russian restaurant. I wanted to find out if the training and the approach of a Middle Eastern singer was very different, and it was. Before Kemal Attarturk, the great  Turkish reformer, it was uncommon for a girl to sing in public and considered forward, even immodest. Sema says she once used to sing with her hands clamped to her side for fear of looking as though she was trying to entice the men in her audience. 

In Istanbul, I had a wonderful time exploring the Bosphorus by boat, and in town, poking around the covered market, where you can buy everything from gorgeous rugs, to rip off designer bags to authentic antique Faberge eggs.  

Mason - Was any or all of Saba's adventure as a singer/spy based on true accounts of espionage during World War II?

Julia - Yes, some years ago, I read a biography of Josephine Baker, the American born singer and dancer who performed in Paris as ‘The Black Venus.’ Baker, who was  so gorgeous she was said to have received 1,500 marriage proposals, also worked undercover for the French Resistance.  

Her undercover work included smuggling secret messages written on her sheet music.  She became a sub-lieutenant in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and was later named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French Government during World War 11. When I started to dig around I found many other instances of female entertainers who had become spies, for  instance, the famous Egyptian belly dancer, Hekmet Fahmy, who spied against the British from a houseboat on the Nile, and   Edith Piaf, who did undercover work in France.  Freya Stark, the famous travel writer,  spoke fluent Arabic, and  did important intelligence work in Cairo.

Mason - How would you say working women today compare to the working women during World War II?

Julia - Massive changes have taken place. Today’s women regard work as a right as well as an economic necessity. During the war they were grudgingly allowed into the workforce, simply because there was not a man around to take their place. Many men felt threatened by this, and resented it, and expected women to return to the kitchen and the nursery when the war was over, but the genie was out of the bottle. Many women, such as my mother, who served with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force during the war, found they liked to work, it made life more interesting, more fun, it felt good to earn your own money. It was a huge turning point.  

Mason - Is there any advice you've been given that you pass along to writers just beginning?

Julia - I would say, read a lot, write a lot. When you’re writing your first draft, avoid the knife of perfection, just try to get it out. Be patient. I have on my wall at home  a quote from the marvelous Isak Dinesan: ‘I write every day without hope and without fear.’ Also, a certain peasant like doggedness is helpful, you need practice and I  think in this X Factor world we live in, its a mistake to expect instant results too. When the work is done, (in my case I would never show very early drafts) one or   two close, intelligent and funny friends you can show it too are a vital necessity.

Mason - What can readers look forward to next from you?

Julia - My new book is set in South India and in Oxfordshire called THE SETTLEMENT It’s not a sequel to EAST OF THE SUN, but some of the same characters appear. I’m exploring the idea of mentors and the pain and gain of leaving them. Also the life of a half caste girl in India. Hoping to be off to Kerala in South India soon! watch this space.

Julia, thanks so much for guest blogging and sharing this information. It’s interesting learning how women played such important roles in the war.

Now a bit about Julia. She has led a remarkable life. Before becoming a writer she worked as a jillaroo in the Australian outback, then an encounter with Mick Jagger on the set of Ned Kelly led her into journalism.  

She traveled extensively as a foreign correspondent and interviewed Muhammad Ali, Buzz Aldrin, Hollywood stars, president’s wives and even several  notorious criminals. With the publication of EAST OF THE SUN in 2009, Julia established herself as an internationally bestselling author. She lives in the UK, with her husband producer/writer/agent, Richard Gregson.

For more on Julia and her writing, visit her website at

Here’s a brief synopsis of JASMINE NIGHTS:
When Dom, a young fighter pilot, follows Saba to Cairo, the difficulties of combining their two intense lives are compounded. Dom, addicted to flying, refuses to stay grounded, while Saba embraces her new liberties and blossoms in her new life on the stage and the road. 

Because of her Turkish background and unique position as a performer, Saba is asked by the Secret Service to take part in a covert mission, as many singers were during World War II.
She is sent to Istanbul to spy on a Turkish impresario and his associates. But it’s a mission that will jeopardize not only her own safety, but also the love of her life when she is forced to conceal her activities from Dom. 
Here is what some are saying about JASMINE NIGHTS:
“For a history lesson on WWII, watch Ken Burns’ The War. For romance and intrigue, with the conflict providing the perfect excuse to set a story in exotic locales like Cairo, Gregson delivers in spades”Booklist 
“An exciting, richly presented novel of mystery and romance… Historically accurate, beautifully written, JASMINE NIGHTS is a terrific story with unforgettable characters set in a dangerous, but exciting time.”Romance Reviews Today 
“Fans will want a sequel.” – Kirkus 
“This steamy, sweeping historical draws readers into the seductive world of WWII Egypt… Gregson’s latest (after Band of Angels) displays the author’s command of wartime fiction. Saba is a modern woman struggling with old-fashioned ideas and Dom is a surprisingly complex hero. Seen through their eyes, the wartime Middle East is a heady, intoxicating place and readers will be swept away by the lush prose.”Publisher’s Weekly

Do you enjoy plots that share a bit of true-life with them? Thanks so much for stopping by today. Have a great Thursday.


  1. Mason - Thanks for hosting Julia.

    Julia - I was really interested to learn about the research you did for Jasmine Nights. What a fascinating set of stories! I wish you much success.

  2. Julia, thanks again for answering these questions. It's fun learning about an author's research. Wishing you continued success.

    Margot, thanks so much for stopping by.


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