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Saving Tolkien's House: Project Northmoor - An Interview with Julia Golding on the Petrus Development Show

In this episode, Andrew visits with Julia Golding, successful author with works such as the Cat Royal series and the Companions Quartet. They discuss the project that Julia has launched to purchase Tolkien’s home at 20 Northmoor Road in Oxford and turn it into the first literary center devoted to Tolkien and his works. Project Northmoor, as it is called, kicked off in November 2020, with a goal to raise 4.6 million pounds, or $6 million US dollars to buy the house and convert it into a literary center. Andrew and Julia discuss the project and what she has learned about fundraising through her efforts. It's a fascinating conversation with lessons and parallels to fundraising of all kinds. If you want to learn more about the project or make a donation, you can find more information at www.projectnorthmoor.org. So as they say in the books, let the quest begin.


Show Notes:

There are few literary phrases that are more well known than Middle Earth, Gandolph the Grey, Hobbits in the Shire and One Ring to Rule them all. These concepts and characters are almost universally recognized and would not exist were it not for the gift of JRR Tolkien and his quest to create a language, world and story called The Lord of the Rings. A lifelong Catholic and member of a group of authors called the Inklings, Tolkien created a world that has inspired countless authors, readers, actors, movie lovers and fans through his writings. One interesting thing about Tolkien however, is that there is no literary center celebrating his life and work anywhere in the world. Centers exist for Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and others but for the inventor of Lord Sauron, Frodo Baggins and Smeagol, there is not. It is an effort to change this that brought today’s guest to us. 

 

Project Northmoor

Tolkien’s home resides on the street Northmoor which is where the name comes from. Tolkien is such a massive name, globally, but when you look in the UK where he spent his life there is very little sign of him. When his house that came up for sale where he wrote his famous books, Julia and colleagues had the idea to purchase the home and turn it into a literary center. Because of the residential nature, an official museum would not be allowed.

If you look around, you can find many homes of authors that have been turned into centers and museums like this.

 

What is it about Tolkien that interests you?

Tolkien sparks a passion for reading. She started with Lord of the Rings in 5th grade and continued reading them. He had created a world that she could imagine stepping into and didn’t want to leave. This also was the first inspiration she had to become an author herself.

She is also interested in the culture of the world that he created. As opposed to spending time in the Game of Thrones world, where she probably would live long. It’s a fine world, just one she wouldn’t want to live in.

 

Do you have a favorite character?

Frodo Baggins. He’s the one going on the journey that isn’t the typical hero’s journey.

Arwen. Because Tolkien didn’t write many female characters, but he wrote her so wonderfully.

 

What had fundraising looked like?

The most challenging part is raising the funds to buy the home. Mostly because it is in an affluential neighborhood and is being sold at four million pounds.

If they achieve the initial purchase, they will then need to raise enough to cover the cost of maintaining and running the home/center.

In recent years, Middle Earth has become associated with New Zealand. Which, with the films, makes sense. But Tolkien never actually journeyed to New Zealand. He wrote and imagined Middle Earth, the Shire, right there in his home in UK.

There are many locations and landscapes nearby that inspired his imagination when creating the world.

 

Tolkien fanbase support

How did your marketing video come to be?

To clarify, the fanbase comes from those who have read the books, not necessarily the comic con fanbase.

In November, Julia set up the campaign. She admits to being overwhelmingly naïve in what it would take. One giant barrier has been covid and banking rules. But because of the good feelings that the name Tolkien evokes, people said “yes, we can do this.”

They created a video with many of the actors who portrayed Tolkien’s characters. This came about by having a connection in the film industry. It was unexpected but lovely. You can view this video on their website.

With all the good, she had encountered the negative feedback as well.

The question was presented why not just let these celebrities buy the house because they have loads of money. It doesn’t work that way. When you work with a celebrity, when they give their time what they are really doing is giving you a megaphone.

 

Learning Points

There’s plenty to be learned from these efforts. She claims that they did many things incorrectly in the beginning but continuing to learn as they go.

What you’re doing when you set up a campaign like this, you are selling a vision of what it could be like in the future. It’s creative just like beginning writing a novel. Persuading others to read your novel, to see the vision of what this house could be.

 

What has been the response?

Wonderful messages of support. One woman who lost her young son set up a scholarship in his honor because her son was a huge fan of Tolkien. Which is something Project Northmoor can do regardless of if they are able to purchase the home. Also, stories of those donating in the name of the beloved grandmother who read Lord of the Rings to them continue to come.

There will always be reasons not to give, but when you reach someone’s heart, you reach them on another level.

They have also started a Kickstarter scheme. Which is just for the purchase of the house. It doesn’t come with the same tax breaks but it is positive in it’s uniqueness.

2020 has emphasized the need to be inventive. While it’s always been important, it has just been magnified this past year.

 

Do you see his stories as a way for Catholics to grow in faith?

Yes, absolutely. Tolkien detest allegory in all it’s forms. However, applicability is what Tolkien says he does. It’s up to the reader to apply it to their lives.

God is the Creator and our bit is to be a sub-creator. One of the key prizes in the Lord of the Rings is joy. What is it that we value? It’s not success or swashbuckling, but joy. You can read it as a type of Catholic mythology.

 

Lightening Round

  1. If you could fund-raise for any organization at any time in history, what would it be?
    • The Abolitionists Movement of the 1790s
  2. If you could get a donor meeting with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
    • Peter Jackson
  3. Is there enough money out there for every organization doing good work?
    • Probably is. Is there enough accessible money out there? No. 
  4. What is one piece of advice that you would give your past self?
    • Have courage. 
  5. Who are 3 people who have most influenced you, professionally?
    • JK Rowling, her husband of 30 years (if someone is criticizing you, ask what their problem is), JRR Tolkien
  6. What is one fact about Julia that most people don’t know?
    • She once had tea with a Russian spy. Her previous career was as a British diplomat, where she spent time in Poland. He did look like a James Bond villian!

Andrew's Take-Aways:

  1.  You have to identify your assets. We talked about the video that Julia helped put together with Sir Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, and John Rhys-Davies to get the word out about Project Northmoor. This was a perfect example of Julia identifying her assets, mainly the celebrities who played some of the most iconic characters in movie history, and engaging them and their help. What asset do you have that you haven't tapped into or might be afraid to reach out to that could help advance your mission in a new and exciting way today? 
  2. Megaphone your story. I loved that phrase that Julia used. It doesn't make a difference what you are trying to do if people don’t know about it and understand how they can get involved. Julia used her assets, a marketing professional and group of famous actors, to get the word out in a way that she otherwise would never have been able to do on her own. So what strategies are you employing to get your story out? Do you have a good website with clear impact stories? Do you have a good social media presence that allows your story to be shared around? Do you have advocates and ambassadors helping to spread your news into new areas and circles? In the Lord of the Rings, four hobbits on their own couldn't get the word out that they needed help, but the elves in Rivendale were able to assemble a group of people who ultimately became the Fellowship of the Ring. Maybe there is a lesson in there for all of us.
  3. Don't let the fear of failure or the fear of getting started keep you from taking that first step. Julia admitted to knowing very little about fundraising or even about starting a charity, but she didn't let that stop her. It’s a lot like Frodo must have felt when Gandolph showed up. He was just a boring, simple hobbit. What did he know about saving the world. But Frodo inspired all of us by taking that first step into the unknown. What about you? Are you waiting for a sign or a clear path to kicking off a new initiative or a new chapter in your life? Very rarely does it all line up perfectly. We have to be willing to give it a shot sometimes and see where the path takes us. 


We hope you enjoyed this conversation and took something away from our discussion. If you want to learn more about this project, I encourage you to go to projectnorthmoor.org.

If you have questions for us, send us a note at [email protected]. We’d love to chat. God bless.

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