Lisa Jewell was born in London and is the eldest of three girls. Unsure of what to do with her future she studied art and design followed by Fashion Illustration and Design for five years, but that didn’t work for her and she then changed direction and went on to study Creative Writing. After 15 years of trying to figure what she wanted to do with her life, Lisa decided writing was her calling. “Ralph’s Party” was her first book released in 1999. Since then Lisa has become a “Sunday Times” bestselling author and has released nine books.Lisa lives in a Swiss cottage with her husband and two children. “The Making of Us” is her latest book.
- Lisa, your most recent book “After the Party” tells the story of Jem and Ralph who were once so deeply in love but as time passes, they drift further and further apart. But as they both try to recapture what they used to had, distractions are found along the way and they fear that it’s too late to bring back that loving feeling. What inspired you to write this type of story?
“After the Party” was actually my second most recent book. I wrote it because I’d promised my publishers a sequel to “Ralph’s Party” because I was coming up to renew my contract and knew they’d like that idea but then I wished I hadn’t as I didn’t really want to write a sequel! So I decided to use the characters from “Ralph’s Party” to explore an issue close to my heart, modern marriages and how relationships fare after the happy ever after and, in particular, after children. My most recent book is the “Making of Us”, a book about three young people who’ve never met each before slowly coming to realise that they are siblings, all fathered by the same anonymous sperm donor. It’s about families and love and siblings and working out where you fit into the big wide world.
- To those, who aren’t familiar with you or your writing, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing?
I was a secretary. Then I was a bored secretary thinking it would be fun to do a creative writing course on the side. Then I was a redundant secretary reading “High Fidelity” thinking, ooh, I’d like to write a book like that. Then I was a temp secretary writing a book like that on a dare from a friend. Then I was a temp secretary being offered a six figure book deal from Penguin for my first two books. Then I was not a secretary any more ☺.
- What was the first book you ever read?
Oh, I have no idea, I guess there would have been a slow transition from being read to by my parents and reading for myself, but I mainly remember “The Secret Garden”, “The Ant & Bee” books, all the “St Claire’s” and “Mallory Towers” books and of course the “Magic Faraway Tree”.
- How do you feel about the current state of the publishing industry? Do you feel it is an exciting time for authors?
No, not really, I think it’s a terrifying time for authors. People are not buying as many books as they used to and the books they do buy are coming from a smaller and smaller pool and are half the price they used to be. It is not a good time to be an author, either published or unpublished. But the flipside to this Domesday scenario is that there is now tremendous scope for a person writing the right book at the right moment to completely sweep the board commercially speaking.
- What authors do you admire?
I love authors who can either a) do amazingly inventive and beautiful things with words (Rachel Cusk, Maggie O’Farrell) or b) make you turn pages feverishly (recent page-turners for me have been “One Day”, “The Help”, “Room”, “Before I Go To Sleep” and “Sister”). And I’ve always had a soft spot for Nick Hornby. He makes it look so easy.
- If you were put into the unfortunate position of being stranded on a desert island. What three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
1) “The Colour of Memory” by Geoff Dyer, a small book about friends hanging out in London doing nothing one summer. It is like living and breathing rather than reading and would make me feel like I was still at home.
2) “The Book of Ebenezer le Page” by GB Edwards, a strange book written in the style of a memoir about a man’s life from young adulthood to old age on a small island in the English Channel. It’s gossipy and warm and full of peculiar characters, who would keep me company
3) A really good cookbook full of mouth-watering photos for me to drool over.
- Out of the many books that you have read over the years, which one would you have liked to have said ‘I wrote that’?
Oh, loads, every time I love a book, I wish I’d written it, that was part of what made me want to be a writer.
- What part of the writing process, do you find the most difficult?
Writing. I hate writing. I hate finding words to get the incredible things going on in my head down on to the page. I read a fantastic quote from Iris Murdoch the other day: ‘Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea’. I feel useless the whole time, convinced I could be doing it better, hating myself for not being a better writer, for allowing myself to be distracted by other things, constantly. I hate writing. Everything else about being a writer is great though!
- Did you read any writers guidebooks during your career? Are there any that you would recommend?
No, I never read a ‘how to write’ book. I did do evening classes though, about a year before I started my first book. I wasn’t taught to write, but it did get me writing, open the doors to that side of myself, so it was very helpful in that respect.
- When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you at all times?
Nothing. I could write anywhere with anything or nothing. I like writing longhand but then everything takes twice as long as you have to type it up afterwards.
- Here on the handwrittengirl website, I would like to be able to offer potential writers like myself advice. Are there any areas you would suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
The only way you can further your ability as a writer is to keep reading and keep writing. These are my five writing tips.
1) Carve out some time, at least an hour a day, preferably more.
2) Start. Keep going. Finish
3) Have some champagne.
4) Buy the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and find some agents who represent writers you like. Send them a synopsis, three chapters and a friendly, unpretentious letter.
5) Keep sending it out for as long as you can bear it, taking on board any advice given to you in rejection letters. Advice in rejection letters is a good thing.
- And finally Lisa, do you have any upcoming projects or releases on the horizon which you would like to share with the readers of the blog?
I’m halfway through my tenth book! It’s a story about a young girl, Betty, who cares for her grandmother in her dying years and then when her grandmother dies finds a strange request in her will, a legacy for a woman in London who no one in the family has ever heard of. So Betty comes to London in 1995 to find this mysterious woman and also to find herself. Running through the story are flashbacks to her grandmother’s secret life in London before she got married and had her son. It’s kind of a mystery meets a coming-of-age and there’s also some fun stuff about Betty getting embroiled in the Primrose Hill/Britpop set of the 90’s while her grandmother is shown getting mixed up with the Bright Young People set of the 20’s and how their lives keep replicating each others across the decades. It’s going to be published in July 2012, but has no title yet.