Q&A with novelist Lisa Jewell
Bestselling novelist Lisa Jewell discusses her novel, The Making of Us, and answers your questions on her fortuitous start to literary life, why she hates the 'chick-lit' label and her current projects.
Lisa's first novel, Ralph's Party, was the bestselling debut of 1999. The author went on to write seven Sunday Times bestselling novels. The Making of Us tells the story of three strangers whose lives are transformed when they discover they were fathered by the same man.
Q. Eirwen: What you are working on at the moment and when is it due out?
A. Lisa Jewell: The book I'm currently working on is called The Bird House and is about a family from the Cotswolds whose lives have been blighted by a series of tragedies and dramas, coming together after years of estrangement to clear out the house of their hoarder mother after she dies. It is due to be published in August 2013.
Q. Aristocat: The Making of Us is a very unique and different idea for a book, can you tell us what you have planned for your next book? How do you feel about the chick-lit label, does it bother you?
A. Lisa Jewell: My next book is already written, edited, done and dusted and will be on sale from July 19th. It's called Before I Met You and it's about a young girl called Betty who leaves the island of Guernsey where she grew up to trace Clara Pickle, the mysterious beneficiary in her grandmother's will. She moves to Soho, a place she has always dreamed of living and her coming of age in mid-nineties, Britpop-era London is interwoven with scenes from her grandmother, Arlette's, coming of age, seventy five years earlier, just after the First World War. Betty and Arlette both find themselves caught up with famous musicians and having to make difficult choices. It is the first time I have ever written anything set in a historical period. I think 1979 was about as far back as I'd gone previously!
The book I'm currently working on is called The Bird House and is about a family from the Cotswolds whose lives have been blighted by a series of tragedies and dramas, coming together after years of estrangement to clear out the house of their hoarder mother after she dies. It is due to be published in August 2013.
As for the Chicklit label; it drives me spare. The problem is that it means different things to different people. For some people it is a reassuring term, describing a light, comforting book about realistic people that they know they will enjoy. For others it is just lazy shorthand for 'crap.' I really hate the thought of people not picking up my books because they think; oh no, it's just chicklit, I won't like it, when, in my opinion at least, I haven't written what could reasonably be described as a chicklit novel since 2003! I saw a tweet the other day that said 'I can't believe the graphic language in this Lisa Jewell novel I'm reading – I thought it was supposed to be chicklit' and I wanted to write back and say; who said? Who said it was chicklit? Where does it say that? Was it written on the shelf in the shop? Is it on the spine?! It's all a matter of perception and unfortunately I don't think the perception is very helpful. I am nearly forty-four. I am NOT A CHICK.
Q. Herethereeverywhere: How much of your own life ends up in your books? Do you draw from your own experiences or research other people's?
A. Lisa Jewell: I would say only three of my books have been particularly autobiographical. The first, Ralph's Party, was about my experiences of sharing flats in London and falling in love, then there was Vince & Joy which was very much based on my ill-advised and very unhappy first marriage. Finally, the sequel to Ralph's Party, After the Party, which had more parallels than I'd care to admit with the year following the birth of my second child!
The rest of my books are basically like big bowls of narrative soup made out of my own experiences, my friends' experiences, things I've read, things I've imagined, things people have told me, feelings I've had. And of course, generous amounts of STUFF I MADE UP. As for research, I rarely do any. With my most recent book, the Making of Us, I deliberately avoided reading any case studies of donor siblings as I wanted my characters' experiences to be totally their own and not influenced by anyone else's. But for the book I'm currently writing, about a family living with the implications of having a hoarder for a mother, I did read a few books about the condition, as I felt it was very important that I get my facts right.
Q. MrAliTheCat: Are you planning on writing anymore sequels to your books?
Q. Kveta: I really enjoyed The Making of Us (although did howl in places, possibly due to being vastly pregnant though), but wondered if you plan to follow up on any of the characters? I would love to know what happens to Dean in particular, and his relationship with his daughter.
A. Lisa Jewell: I have always sworn blind that I would never do a sequel. I usually find writing a book such a grind that by the end I am just desperate to see the back of the whole thing. Besides, my head is usually full of the next book and the 'new people' (fickle, I know!) However, I did make an exception with After the Party, my sequel to Ralph's Party, because it was the ten year anniversary of it being published and because I thought it would make my publishers happy. And the experience just proved my point to myself. I did not enjoy it. I unearthed two young, happy, redeemed people who had been on their 'journey', learned their lesson, found each other and kissed for the first time and I made their lives hell! In retrospect I wish I'd left them there on the sofa with the rest of their lives ahead of them. And so that is it for me and sequels. I will leave Dean enjoying his pint in the sunshine, looking forward to his date with the redhead and learning how to be a good father to his baby girl.
Q. Bucharest: I want to know if you went out with Vince in real life.
A. Lisa Jewell: Did I talk to you about this on Twitter? Yes, my first proper boyfriend was a gorgeous, bequiffed 19-year-old virgin who'd had surgery to correct an overbite and consequently had no idea how handsome he was. We went out for two years. He was lovely.
Q. Dozer: Which authors inspire you?
A. Lisa Jewell: It was reading High Fidelity on holiday when I was 27 and had just lost my job that inspired me to write a book in the first place, so I would have to cite Nick Hornby as a big influence for that reason alone.
I aspire, pathetically, to being able to write as beautifully as Maggie O'Farrell, but am resigned to the fact that this will never happen. And generally, any time I read a book that I love (not enjoy, not like, but love) I am inspired to do better, to be a better writer and to up my game.
Q. TitsalinaBumSquash: Have you always wanted to be an author and how did you get into writing?
A. Lisa Jewell: As a child I loved to read and to write. I started a novel when I was about 10 but got distracted by illustrating it. But my first real ambition was to be a journalist for the NME. I was obsessive about music, always writing letters to music magazines and radio stations. Nothing came of that, I ended up drifting through four years of art college and came out the other end with some very random qualifications.
Then, when I was about 26, I was working on a switchboard and decided to take some evening classes in Creative Writing just to exercise my brain muscles.
Everyone on my course was very encouraging and told me I should write a book. The opportunity arose about six months later, when I was made redundant. I sent the initial chapters to 10 agents, got nine rejection letters and one very unenthusiastic request to see the rest of the book ("it would need an AWFUL lot of work").
I gave the unenthusiastic agent the finished book a year later and she made me virtually rewrite it. Six months later she got me a six-figure, two-book deal with Penguin. None of it was planned. But now, 15 years later, there is nothing in the world I'd rather be doing (or be any better at, at least).
Q. Galaxymum: Which books would you choose to read to chill out?
A. Lisa Jewell: I only read books that chill me out. If it is either a) too much like hard work or b) frustratingly badly written, I bin it. I like a book to do all the work for me, to suck me up and take me along with it. I like books that consume me and make me turn pages.
The books I have read this year that have chilled me out were: My Dear I Wanted To Tell You by Louisa Young, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, a brilliant thriller called Wicked Girls by a new writer called Alex Marwood and I'm currently reading the Mumsnet-recommended Night Waking by Sarah Moss, which I cannot wait to get back to every night when I go to bed. It's well-written, the characters are so real you can touch them and the narrative tugs the reader along effortlessly. My perfect kind of book.
Q. LemonTurd: I read One-Hit Wonder when it came out. I was in a similar situation to Ana, unemployed, living with my mum in a crappy small town and leading a very narrow existence.I live in London now, I'm at university and living the life I've always wanted. Reading the book planted the seed in my head that I could change things. It's taken many years but I'm here. I just wanted to say, thank you.
A. Lisa Jewell: What a wonderful message, I am smiling from ear to ear. I am delighted to hear that you've found your way on to the right path. I was a late starter too, so I can absolutely relate to that! Good luck with university and thank you for writing.
Last updated: 9 months ago