Friday, 10 May 2013

Author Interview: Lisa Jewell

Today I'm pleased to be able to welcome bestselling author Lisa Jewell to my blog for a bit of a natter about her latest book Before I Met You, her writing routine, and other random questions...

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
I think I did. I was a bookworm as a child and had a fantasy about being a music journalist when I was teenager. But it wasn’t until I read High Fidelity by Nick Hornby in my late twenties that I really thought I might have something to write about.

Can you tell us a little bit about Before I Met You?
Before I Met You is the interconnecting stories of two young women in two very different eras. Arlette was born and raised on Guernsey and Betty is her son’s stepdaughter who comes to the island with her family to look after Arlette when she becomes too old to live by herself. They become very close over the years and when Arlette dies, Betty comes to London to find out who the mysterious ‘Clara Pickle’ is, named in Arlette’s will. Betty soon discovers that Arlette, who claimed never to have left her island, had had a secret life in London when she was young, and a tragic love story.

What was the inspiration for writing a story set in two different timeframes?
It was less inspiration and more desperation! Arlette’s story came late to the process when I realised that Betty's coming-of-age story in isolation wasn’t meaty enough to sustain a whole novel. When I realised that Arlette would have been Betty's age (22) in 1919, my heart did a little dance of joy! I had never consciously wanted to write a historical piece before, but if I had then the 1920’s is the era I would have chosen.

Which comes first, the characters or the plot?
An idea comes first. Followed by a character. And then some more characters. And then finally, often after some sleepless nights and angsting, and sometimes some wine and some crying, comes a plot.

Are you able to give us a hint as to what your next novel is about?
The novel after this was completed in November last year so it already feels like a distant memory. It’s about a mother called Lorelei and her husband and four children, who suffer a terrible tragedy and implode as a result. Lorelei becomes a compulsive hoarder and after her death the family has to reunite to clear out her house. It’s called The House We Grew Up In and it’s out on July 18th. The novel I’m writing now is about a lonely man who meets a mysterious woman and no sooner has he fallen n love with her than she disappears. It’s about him unpeeling the layers of a stranger’s bizarre life.

Have you ever had writer’s block?
As long as I know where the story is going I can write. If I don't know, then I have to wait for the solution to come to me before I can carry on. I wouldn’t call it block, more a pregnant pause. Sometimes a rather scary pregnant pause. Occasionally terrifying. But never more than that.

If you weren’t a writer, what career path would you have chosen to follow?
I think I’d come to terms with never being anything high-flying. I was promoted briefly to marketing manager when I worked at Warehouse the fashion chain and I hated it. Too much responsibility. I scaled my career down after that to being a secretary and I loved it and assumed that that was what I would do until any children I had had left home.

Being a writer appears to be such a solitary lifestyle, especially when you’re in the midst of writing, so do you consider the influence of social Media, Facebook and Twitter, a blessing or a hindrance?
Well, social media is the enemy of the act of writing, which is why I write away from the house and away from the internet. But when I'm at home and not writing I love it! I started writing in 1997 and by 1999 I was already on a writers’’ chatroom (one of the very first I'd have thought!). It's still going strong, 14 years later, so I've never known what it's like to be completely isolated. And neither would I want to.

How long did it take you to get your first book published?
I hit a lucky streak with my first novel. I finished it just as Bridget Jones mania hit and publishers were hungry for more of this new-fangled chicklit stuff. I found an agent from within my first ten submissions and my agent found me a publisher within two weeks of me delivering the rewritten manuscript to her.

Do you have a set daily writing routine?

It's changed over the years, but right now I have six hours while my children are at school and I split that into roughly three chunks; one for exercise, one for housework and emails and one for writing at a café. I do them in a different order every day but that's roughly how it works out.

Would you say that any of your characters are like you? If so, which one(s)?
Everyone told me that Jem from Ralph’s Party was like me when it first came out but I refused to see it. I’d say ‘but she’s got black hair and I'm blonde!’ But as the years have gone by and I have more objectivity I can see what they meant. Most first novels are heavily autobiographical!

If you could write another style of genre, what would it be and why?
I would love to be able to write a psychological thriller. I tried last year and couldn’t get off the starting blocks and I'm trying again this year, but with a much softer approach. My tentative forays into the genre have taught me how incredibly difficult it is to do a psychological thriller really well. And if you don't do it well, there’s no point doing it at all.

If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
Get off the internet.

If you could invite any three authors, alive or dead, to a dinner party who would you choose and why?
I would choose Agatha Christie, because I was a fanatic growing up and used to read three or four of her books every week. I would like to talk to her about plotting. I would also invite Kingsley Amis, because he would be very entertaining and my friend Jenny Colgan because she’s fab.

Do you prefer to read physical copies of books or e-books?
Real books, every time. I really, really tried with my kindle, but we just didn’t hit it off. I went on holiday last month and packed four hardbacks. Big heavy ones. While I still have about twenty unread books on my Kindle. That is how much I prefer real books.

Are there any books you’ve read that you wish you’d written?

Dozens. But no, I wouldn’t say I wish I’d written them, because then they wouldn’t have been so good and I wouldn’t have had the joy of reading them.

When you’ve finished writing a book, do you treat yourself to a reward?

I used to buy myself a necklace but I've got too many necklaces now so I tend just to use it as an excuse to buy myself something I feel I need an excuse to buy!

Where would be your idyllic location for a writing retreat?
A cool apartment in Soho with a view of the street. And a cocktail bar on the floor below.

If you were going to be stuck on a desert island and could only take 3 books with you, which ones would you choose?
I would take a really good recipe book so I could look at pictures of food, I would take a photo album full of photos of everyone I know and I would take a book called ‘How to Survive on a Desert Island.’ I'm not a re-reader!

If you'd like to know more about Lisa and her books, why not visit her website, Facebook page or follow her on Twitter.


  1. I really enjoyed that, the new WIP sounds fascinating and has already got my mind wandering : ) Great interview! I'm looking forward to The House We Grew Up In x

  2. Taking your advice, and getting off the internet....... shortly.... maybe...

  3. I've always loved Lisa Jewell's books. I'm pleased to read that she likes real books rather than e-books, but that's just me loving the small of paper! SD