About Julian Cassell
Julian Cassell is a DIY expert who has written many books covering all aspects of home improvement. His titles have been translated into over 20 different languages and sell in over 50 countries across the world. He is author of the best-selling guide:
His writing career has run alongside his own property renovation business which began in the mid –80s and still runs today. If you want to know the in-depth stuff, much of what you may wish to know should be contained in the following answers to Julian’s most frequently asked questions…….
How did you start writing books?
I was decorating a house in the mid 90s and my client was involved in the publishing world. Soon after the job was complete, he took on a post with a publisher called Haynes (mostly known for their car manuals at the time) and was tasked with setting up a department to start producing practical decorating books. Having been happy with my work on his house, he got in touch, and asked if we had any ideas (‘we’ being my then business partner Peter Parham, who I then went on to work with for much of my adult life!). We submitted some proposals – he liked them – and in 1996, we had 3 books published – Painting Your Home: Interiors, Painting Your Home: Exterior, and The Wallpapering Book.
Why should I take your advice?
The vast majority of my advice comes from first hand experience of the job itself. In the 25 years that I’ve been ‘hands –on’, I’ve always been keen to master new techniques and skills and the best place to learn is on the job with other professionals. I make no apology for copying techniques or tips that work, but I’ve always tried to find better ways of doing a particular job more efficiently. If an old tried and tested technique is still valid today, then I’ll go with it, but if I think there’s a better way, I’ll look to find it. Once the first books were written, and sold very well, other publishers took an interest and suddenly I found that more and more people liked my advice, and so more and more books followed. At the same time, bigger and bigger renovation projects came along, and so I was always learning new aspects of different trades, and gaining more experience in project management.
How do you know what to write?
When people ask me this, initially I’m not sure if they mean grammatically or more along the lines of ‘how can you know everything about the subject?’ On the first point, I was lucky to have a good education, I’ve got a degree (in Social Policy and obviously completely unrelated to DIY!) but I guess it has helped me to think about things logically and construct a reasonable sentence. When I put this very same grammatical question to our publisher at Haynes, before the first books, he said ‘All that is needed is cogent English.’ After I’d looked up what ‘cogent’ meant in the dictionary, I still didn’t quite understand, but this small experience quite simply taught me to try and write clearly and to the point and only use words that most people would understand! On the second point of knowing the subject – well I don’t know everything, but I’ve done an awful lot of DIY jobs, and what I don’t know, I find out about!
Do you take all the photos?
No way! Professional photographers have taken pretty much every photo in every book I’ve written. Without doubt, one of the keys to a successful illustrated book is the quality of the illustrations themselves. However good the writing is – people want beautiful clear photos, and that’s where the photographer earns his or her money. Therefore the publisher (or me if I’m running the whole project) always hire pros who turn up with their astronomically expensive equipment to take shots of the job at hand. Where I come in is giving them the subject matter to shoot, which itself is a huge task. I have to build sets – find locations – find the tools and materials – decide on the practicalities – choose colours – find models etc etc etc. All of which may involve other designers and contracted help. Then there’s any drawings or artworks, that also need to be roughed out and given to a graphic designer to turn into something beautiful. An illustrated book is therefore a huge production, and my role is to provide the ideas, write the text, but also manage, make and co-ordinate the rest of the components.
Do you just write books?
Apart from the aforementioned practical renovation work I also write for newspapers and magazines – covering a wide range of readerships. For example, I’ve written for FHM magazine, but I also write for The Guardian. Other outlets for my skills have included consultancy for TV production companies developing formats for new DIY shows, and a large project for the ‘late’ national retailer – Focus DIY. Just before their sad demise, I increased the in-store uptake of their instructional leaflets from 300,000 to nearly 10,000,000 per year. I achieved this by photographing and designing a completely new set of leaflets that customers clearly loved, but sadly, the business as a whole had slipped too far into financial troubles, and so we’ll never know whether the popularity of my leaflets could have helped in stimulating sales and growth.
How can English DIY books work in other countries?
In many countries we all do things the same way, and so much of the time only translation is required. Also, when doing the photography for the books, it is important to keep things generic so that nothing looks completely ‘English’ whether in style or architecturally. Also, in most cases I am trying to show principles and techniques, and therefore if a skirting board moulding or a window design is not familiar to all nations, most people take that on board and apply the theory to their own situations. Obviously there are areas such as electrical work that needs to be adapted completely, but this tends to be a job taken on by the local publisher who has bought the rights to my work.
……I hope all this has given you a better idea of what I get up to and how I go about it!