We chat to best-selling novelist Lisa Jewell about her brilliant new book, Before I Met You – plus you could win a copy!
Hi Lisa, your new book Before I Met You has just hit the shops, what’s it’s about?
I set out to write a simple romance, set in the ’90s, so I came up with the character of Betty Dean, who was very very loosely based on Meg Matthews. I wanted to write about a girl from a small island coming to London in the ’90s and falling in love with a rockstar. But then I realised I wanted to write more than just a love story. And so I introduced her step-grandmother Arlette, who came to London in the 1920s.
Ooh, the 1920s are very hot at the moment, aren’t they?
The ’20s were a very exciting time for London and the whole of the country. The war had ended in 1918 and then there was the flu epidemic of 1919, and everything was changing, including women and the way they lived. I wanted to write about the up-and-coming jazz scene, so I made Arlette part of that new, underground movement. I had to do a little research into the period. When I Googled the jazz scene at that time, one of the first hits was about the Southern Syncopated Orchestra and I’ve used their story quite a bit in the book – everything else is fictional, but the orchestra was real. I wrote the book with a beautiful photograph of them in front of me to inspire me.
The story moves between Arlette’s experiences in the ’20s and Betty coming to Soho in 1995. Was this an important time for you too?
I was married briefly in my 20s, but it was quite a suffocating relationship, so when it ended in 1995, I was reborn as a 27 year old in London. It was a big year for me. I started going out with a new man (who’s now my second husband) and he introduced me to loads of people in Camden. Britpop was massive (Dom the rockstar in the book was a blend of all the Britpop boys of the ’90s), and there was always that sense of possibility, that you never knew who you were going to meet. So I have a big attachment to that year.
How would you describe the book?
It’s basically about girls falling in love with boys, so you could call it chick lit, but I find the term confusing, a bit irritating and unhelpful. Why can’t it just be called ‘popular fiction’? But I don’t think it should have a label.
We love the cover…
I’m excited about having a photograph on the cover, and am really happy with it. It was definitely time for a new approach and a lot of women’s fiction is being rejacketed fiction to make it more grown up. It’s a beautiful jacket.
And are you already working on your next book?
Yes, I’m halfway through it already. At the moment I’m calling it The Bird House, and it’s about a family living in the Cotswolds. The mother of the family becomes a compulsive hoarder, and the book opens after her death when her children have to sort out all her possessions – and deal with all the issues that have built up over the years. It’s about childhood and memories, but it has some dark moments, and perhaps there will be some secret at the heart of the story, but I haven’t decided yet!
Sounds intriguing! Are you disciplined about writing a certain amount each day?
I used to sit at my computer and attempt to write but have Twitter, Facebook, eBay and loads of other windows running in the background, so I rarely got much done. Now I give myself two hours a day to do all the farting around stuff (like replying to emails, Twitter etc), then I leave the house with my laptop and get 1,000 words written every day without any distractions. But I do like the fact that through Twitter and Facebook, I’m in touching distance of my readers. People used to send me letters, but now it’s all immediate online.
Are you a Fifty Shades Of Grey fan?
I haven’t read the Fifty Shades books, but they don’t really sound like my kind of thing. But whether you think the books are bad or good, it’s great that all those millions of women are buying books. It’s an amazing phenomenon. I’ve read so many brilliant novels this year. I just finished the most fantastic gripping book, the Mistress’s Revenge by Tamar Cohen. I had to keep going to bed early to read it, it’s amazing! And The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood is the perfect thriller.
Thanks for the recommendation, Lisa, and lots of luck with the new book!
Before I Met You (£9.99, Random House) is out now.
- 20 winners will each bag a copy of the book. Enter by 11.59pm on August 4.
Tell me what you thought – tweet me @FabFrosty - and check out my review of the book on the site on Saturday.