Sunday, 17 July 2016

Author Interview: Lisa Jewell

I was recently invited to be part of the blog tour for Lisa Jewell's latest book I Found You, which was published on Thursday, so it's my pleasure to welcome Lisa to the blog to find out a little about the book as well as a get a glimpse into her writing process.  

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing journey? 
Hi Shaz and Shaz’s readers! I’m forty seven – forty eight next week! – and I live in a very messy house in north London with my geek husband, two bolshie daughters, a pair of excessively moulty cats, two terrified guinea pigs and a perfect dog. I started writing my first novel, Ralph’s Party, in 1996 when I was a twenty-eight-year-old secretary. I wrote it as a bet with a friend, little imagining that it would be published two years later by Penguin books, reach number three in the charts and become the bestselling debut novel of the year! I’ve since written another thirteen novels and am halfway through my fifteenth.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?
Literally everything about being a writer is the best thing about being a writer. I used to hate the actual writing, but these days I’ve restructured my working life so that I do all my writing in a blissful two hours a day rather than a torturous six hours and now I love the writing, too. Truly, the only thing that isn’t great about being a writer is bad reviews. I know I should grow a thick skin, or like some writers I know, simply not read them, but I can’t. They really hurt, each and every one. It’s a bit pathetic really!

I Found You is your 14th novel, can you give us a brief overview of it?    
I Found You is about Alice, a slightly chaotic but big-hearted single mother of three who lives in a tiny tumbledown cottage in an East Yorkshire seaside town. One morning she sees a man sitting on the beach outside her house in the rain. When he’s still there twelve hours later she takes him a coat and a thermos of tea. It turns out that the man is suffering from amnesia and has no idea how he got there. Meanwhile, in Surrey, young newlywed Lily is waiting for her husband to come home from work. When he still hasn’t returned after twenty-four hours she goes to the police. They run a check on his passport and tell her that it is fake, that her husband does not technically exist. The book is about how both these women are connected. But it’s not in the way you might think!

Where did the idea come from to feature someone suffering from amnesia?  How much research did you need to do about memory loss to enable you to write this story?   
My original idea had been that the man Alice sees on the beach would be about to drown himself and that she would save him and get to know him that way. But I couldn’t find a way to make that work – surely he would just go back to his family? Or to hospital? And I didn’t really want to write about depression. I needed a way to keep ‘Frank’ with Alice and that’s when the idea of a fugue state came to me. The only research I did was to google ‘fugue state’ and read a few articles about it. I didn’t read any case studies because I wanted Frank’s story to be uniquely his and not influenced by things that had happened to other people.

If you had to describe I Found You in one sentence, what would it be?
I can’t do short and snappy. That’s why I write 100,000 word books! 

What does a typical writing day like?
Every morning I drop my youngest daughter at school then come home and reply to urgent emails. At about nine thirty, ten o’clock I take my laptop to a local café and I sit there until I’ve written one thousand words. This usually takes between an hour and a half and two and a half hours. Then I go to the supermarket for the daily shop, head home and eat lunch. After that I spend a couple of hours replying to more emails, updating social media things and having a bit of a tidy up. Then at 3.20 I head back to the school to collect my daughter. I never work outside school hours, at weekends or during holidays. If it wasn’t for the piles of books all over the house with my name on them my girls would probably think I was a housewife. And not a very good one at that!

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I am a … I assume you mean by-the-seat-of-my pantser?! And yes, that is exactly what I am. Plot schmot. Never been able to do it, and I have occasionally tried. I just sit there holding a pen, staring at a notepad thinking about what to have for lunch. So no, I plot as I write, and of course all the time I spend away from my computer is valuable thinking time, so I’m always ruminating and plotting in my head. Especially in the shower. I have very long showers!

What essentials do you need to have close to hand when you are in writing mode? 
I don’t need anything to hand when I’m writing. Just a glass of water or cup of tea. The important thing is what I don’t have, not what I do have. And what I don’t have is access to the internet. Without the internet I write like a real writer, you know, focused on the job in hand, no quick forays onto Twitter or half hour shopping sprees because I was a bit stuck about what to write next. Also, not being too comfortable is helpful. The café I write in most frequently has the most uncomfortable chairs. They focus the mind on getting the job done so I can get out of the flipping chair.

If you get a plot block during the initial writing phase, how do you work your way through it? 
Which relates directly to the question and answer above. I work my way through blocks by writing my way out of them. Write anything is my motto. And it’s remarkable how many times those funny things I wrote when I thought I couldn’t write come back to me further down the line with little gifts; details and characters that become vital to the plot. The internet is the devil for bad writing days as it gives you somewhere to escape to. You must give yourself no escape. 

Which authors have influenced you as a writer?
I wouldn’t say any particular authors have influenced me. Every time I read a book that I think is amazing it influences me and inspires me. And no, there is no book I wish I’d written. Not even the ones that made their writers squillionaires. Well, maybe not …

Do you treat yourself to something special when publishing each new book?
I used to buy myself a piece of jewellery every time I finished a book but I’ve forgotten to do that with the last few. Instead I’ll do something a bit extravagant and say to myself, well, I deserve that, I just finished a book!

What can we expect from you next?
As I mentioned earlier, I’m halfway through my fifteenth novel right now. It’s got the working title of Poppy and it’s about a young girl called *drumroll* Poppy, who is starting school for the first time after being home-schooled all her life by her agoraphobic father. Poppy is a strange girl in many ways, but the strangest thing about her is that she looks exactly like a girl called Ellie who disappeared on her way to the library fourteen years before. When Ellie’s mum sees Poppy on the street one day she becomes convinced that there’s some connection between Poppy and her missing daughter.  

'How long have you been sitting out here?'

'I got here yesterday.'

'Where did you come from?'

'I have no idea.'

East Yorkshire: Single mum Alice Lake finds a man on the beach outside her house. He has no name, no jacket, no idea what he is doing there. Against her better judgement she invites him in to her home.

Surrey: Twenty-one-year-old Lily Monrose has only been married for three weeks. When her new husband fails to come home from work one night she is left stranded in a new country where she knows no one. Then the police tell her that her husband never existed.

Thanks to Lisa's publisher I also have an extract from Chapter 1 of I Found You to share with you all to give you a little taster of what you can expect. So sit back, read and enjoy. 
‘Here,’ she says, passing him the flask.
He takes it from her and smiles.
‘I thought I told you to go indoors.’
‘I remember that,’ he says.
‘Good,’ she says. ‘But I see you didn’t take my advice.’
‘I can’t go indoors.’
‘Are you homeless?’
He nods. Then shakes his head. Then says, ‘I think so. I don’t know.’
‘You don’t know?’ Alice laughs softly. ‘How long have you been sitting out here?’
‘I got here last night.’ 
‘Where did you come from?’
He turns and looks at her. His eyes are wide and fearful. ‘I have no idea.’
Alice pulls away slightly. Now she’s starting to regret coming down here. Getting involved, as Derry said. ‘Seriously?’ she says.
He pushes his damp hair off his forehead and sighs. ‘Seriously.’ Then he pours himself a cup of tea and holds it aloft. ‘Cheers,’ he says. ‘You’re very kind.’
Alice stares out towards the sea. She’s not sure how to respond. Half of her wants to get back indoors to the warm; the other feels as though she needs to play this out a bit longer. She asks him another question: ‘What’s your name?’
‘I think’, he says, gazing into his tea, ‘that I have lost my memory. I mean’ – he turns to her suddenly – ‘that makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s the only thing that makes sense. Because I don’t know what my name is. And I must have a name. Everyone has a name. Don’t they?’
Alice nods.
‘And I don’t know why I’m here or how I got here. And the more I think about it the more I think I’ve lost my memory.’
‘Ah,’ says Alice. ‘Yes. That makes sense. Do you . . . Are you injured?’ She points at his head.
He runs a hand over his skull for a moment and then looks at her. ‘No,’ he says. ‘It doesn’t look like it.’
‘Have you ever lost your memory before?’
‘I don’t know,’ he says, so ingenuously that they both laugh.
‘You know you’re in the north, don’t you?’ she asks. 
‘No,’ he says. ‘I didn’t know that.’
‘And you have a southern accent. Is that where you come from?’
He shrugs. ‘I guess so.’
‘Jesus,’ says Alice, ‘this is crazy. I assume you’ve checked all your pockets.’
'Yeah,’ he says. ‘I found some stuff. Didn’t know what to make of any of it though.’
‘Have you still got it?’
‘Yes.’ He leans to one side. ‘It’s here.’ He pulls a handful of wet paper from his back pocket. ‘Oh.’
Alice stares at the mulch and then into the darkening sky. She pulls her hands down her face and exhales. ‘Right,’ she says. ‘I must be mad. Well, actually, I am mad. But I have a studio room in my back yard. I usually rent it out but it’s empty right now. Why don’t you come and spend a night there? We’ll dry out these bits of paper, then maybe tomorrow we can start putting you together? Yes?’
He turns and stares at her disbelievingly. ‘Yes,’ he says. ‘Yes, please.’
‘I have to warn you,’ she says, getting to her feet, ‘I live in chaos. I have three very loud, rude children and three untrained dogs and my house is a mess. So don’t come with me expecting a sanctuary. It’s far from it.’
He nods. ‘Honestly,’ he says. ‘Whatever. I really don’t mind. I’m just so grateful. I can’t believe how kind you’re being.’
‘No,’ says Alice, leading the wet stranger up the stone steps and towards her cottage, ‘neither can I.’

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Sharon, for this great interview. I love Lisa Jewell's books and now I have the excuse to read another one!