Meet a member: Julia Webb-Harvey

-Interview by Sophie Gordon

After being blown away by her stirring hedgerows pledge at the 26Habitats launch event, I was keen to get to know Julia better. So, this month she shares an insight into her writing life.

Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from and what do you do? 

I live in Flushing, a small village near Falmouth, in Cornwall with my husband, Pete, and black labrador, Bessie. I’ve just started a Creative Writing PhD, but I’ve had several careers in different locations to get me to this place. I’m a chartered accountant and qualified psychotherapist, but these days my active roles are as a museum volunteer (researcher) and trustee of Wildworks Theatre… and now student. I am a keen sailor, gig rower, runner and enjoy lifting heavy weights. Every day has a decent dog walk too.

Where did your love of words come from? 

I think it stems from a love of books and being read to as a small child. We always had books. I scribbled stories about mice as a young girl and as that girl grew up, she enjoyed written homework, the act of finding out things to write essays or write up projects. I often say to people that geography was my first big love.

What made you join 26? And how long have you been a member? 

The Welcome Pack for my MA, The School of Writing & Journalism at Falmouth University suggested 26 as an organisation to join… so I did! I’ve been a member for four years.

Have you been involved in any 26 projects? 

Yes! 26Trees, with Woodland Trust, when a hawthorn tree on the windswept dunes at Penhale (north Cornwall) chose me. 26Wild, with The Wildlife Trusts, when I picked up my pen at short notice to celebrate the nightingale. 26Pledges, also with The Wildlife Trusts, when I pledged for the ‘hero hedgerow’. I was thrilled to be selected to write a chapter for the project celebrating 25 years of the charity Fine Cell Works. Threads of Time will be published in May 2022. All projects have been a complete privilege, supported by wonderful editors and project teams. I’m quite addicted in the ways of 26!

What’s your ideal scenario for writing? (A coffee shop? Quiet retreat? With or without music? What do you do to get yourself in the right frame of mind?)

I’ve learned not to be precious. I used to think that I could only write in great chunks of time, in a clear space, but actually I prefer a kind of portfolio approach (like me in life!). There are two things that work for me in doing this – firstly, always leaving my writing session knowing what is next, so the blank page is not a ‘thing’. Secondly, and there is a piece of music that I play that sets my fingers off, a bit Pavlov’s dog, but ‘In A Time Lapse’ by Ludovico Einaudi is like a spell. I wrote my hedgerow pledge in a sterile office at Ocean Mini in Falmouth waiting for my car to be serviced, so think I can write anywhere.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’ve just started a PhD at Falmouth University, it’s rooted in Cornwall and inspired by J M W Turner, so for the next five or six years, I’ll be embedded in that. I have also been writing a series for The Museum of Cornish Life, taking objects from their collection from a ‘decolonising’ lens. It’s been utterly fascinating and has lead me to be involved in reviewing policy for the Museums Association.

Julia, second from the left, in her gig racing crew in 2019 at the World Championships (the last time they ran due to COVID). They came 10th in the Ladies Supervets, so are still currently 10th in the world!

Could you tell us about a piece of writing you’re particularly proud of?

I am really proud of my 26Pledge, but I think that’s more about me for being experimental in the form I chose. I wrote a piece for Fathom (Journal produced by The National Maritime Museum Cornwall) about gig rowing but set in the days of sail where the gigs competed to get their pilot onto the incoming ship. The first gig to get their pilot on the ship was the only one to get paid, so the stakes were high. I captured the pace, the fury, the elements with a beat and a rhythm throughout it. It was a joy to write about a sport I love (and have competed in) set in a different time, in a lyrical way. And there’s something special about seeing your own work in a beautifully produced product.

Where do you get your inspiration? 

I think it’s the innate curiosity I developed in school that drives me still. A number of years ago, I heard an interview with historical novelist Andrew Taylor saying that a ‘clammy hand from the past’ reaches out and taunts him. This feels true of my PhD project, for example, where something I came across three years ago has niggled away at me. I can find this spark in landscape, place, and nature. A kind of ‘ooh, hello…’ moment that tickles the brain. Those are the things I take note of and let them ruminate.

– Interview by Sophie Gordon

We’ll be meeting a new 26 member each month. If you’d like to feature, or nominate another member, drop me a line at Don’t be shy.

Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.