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Fiction-Net > Author Interviews > Lisa Jewell Interview (1)

Lisa Jewell Author InterviewLisa Jewell Interview (1)

With her debut novel, Ralph's Party, an enormous success and becoming the top selling debut novel when it was published in 1999, we caught up with Lisa Jewell to discuss her background and future - plus news of her forthcoming second novel, Thirty-Nothing.

Fiction-Net: What were your career ambitions before writing Ralph's Party? Did you see writing as 'this or nothing' or did you have a back-up career in mind?

Lisa Jewell: I didn't have any 'career ambitions'. After ten years of faffing about in various jobs and industries I thought I'd finally found my niche when I became a secretary by accident. Perversely, I quite liked all the typing and paperwork and organisation - and I liked being indispensable. I did a part-time course in Creative Writing at the beginning of 1996 but more for something to do on a Monday night than for any sort of career plan.

I thought I would be a secretary for a few years, get married, have kids and then, maybe after the kids had left home, I would sit down and write a book. An unexpected redundancy forced me to reconsider and when a journalist friend offered to take me out for dinner to my favourite restaurant if I wrote the first three chapters of a novel, I thought it would be a fun project for a few weeks, before I resumed my job search.

Now that I am a writer, however, it really is a case of writing or nothing and I certainly have no back-up career in mind. If I can't do this until the Alzheimer's sets in then I have no idea what I'll do.

Fiction-Net: All writers must allow themselves a certain level of confidence but prior to publication, how confident were you that Ralph's Party would reach publication?

Lisa Jewell: Er - not at all? I truly only thought of it as a 'project'. I would read stories about other young authors in the press, about these huge advances and two-book deals but I never thought for a second that I would be one of them. I thought, in my wildest dreams, that maybe I would be able to sell Ralph's Party for a couple of thousand, just enough to pay off my debts, but that it would take me a few years and countless rejection letters.

I still find it hard to believe that I've been published. It's totally surreal.

Ralph's Party by Lisa Jewell - Book Review 

Fiction-Net: What were the biggest problems you faced in the route to literary agent acceptance/publication and how do you feel you overcame these problems?

Lisa Jewell: I was very lucky and didn't really encounter any problems. I originally sent the first three chapters out to ten agents and received nine rejection letters but I'd been expecting that so I didn't view these as a 'problem' as such - just an inevitability.

Once I'd found my agent, everything went like clockwork. She knew exactly who she wanted to publish my manuscript and she got me the deal within a couple of weeks.


Fiction-Net: Were the leading three characters in Ralph's Party based on real people?

Lisa Jewell: The flatmates, Smith and Ralph, were originally inspired by my boyfriend and his brother. When I first met them they were living together and I based a lot of the characters' domestic behaviour on what I observed with them - tussles with the remote control, staring blankly at the telly until midnight, bitching about women, etc. Also, my boyfriend was successful and settled and his brother was creative and struggling. But the comparison ended after the first couple of chapters and they became people in their own rights.

Jem has some of my interests but was not based on me - I deliberately made her as physically dissimilar to myself as I could to deflect the temptation to make her 'me' as I would have found that quite restrictive. Funnily enough though, I found Jem to be the least interesting of the six characters and the least enjoyable to write about - she used to annoy me because she was so perfect!

Fiction-Net: Authors often criticise their own work more than anyone else. Looking back at Ralph's Party, how do you see it now?

Lisa Jewell: I see it as very much a 'first novel' I see it as having weak characterisation, although readers seem divided on this. A lot of readers thought the characters more believable and three-dimensional than average.

I see some of the dialogue as embarrassingly childish and some of the narrative as deeply immature. If I were given a chance to do it again, I would probably change nearly everything about it. However, I've had so many incredibly heartfelt e-mails and letters from readers who've been moved by the book or touched by it, that maybe all that 'first novelist' inexperience doesn't actually matter. And as a symbol of my change in fortunes and the amazing things that have happened to me in the last two years, I will always have a soft spot for Ralph.

Thirty-Nothing by Lisa Jewell - Book Review 

Fiction-Net: So what's next in the pipeline?

Lisa Jewell: My second novel is Thirty-Nothing, published by Penguin. I am currently having a nightmare writing my third novel, One Hit Wonder. It feels something akin to pulling teeth right now and time just goes so unbelievably fast.

I'm getting married in July and then hoping to move house in the New Year and right now my deadline seems to be looming large. However, nobody said that writing books was supposed to be easy, so I'll struggle on.


Fiction-Net: Do you believe that you have found your style of writing or are you still experimenting?

Lisa Jewell: If Ralph's Party hadn't been such a huge success, I would probably be more experimental. As it is, I'm trying not to mess too much with the formula. I feel comfortable with it and people seem to like it. However, I am definitely looking to improve the quality of my writing with each book.

There are so many lessons to be learned from the process of writing a novel - lessons in characterisation, structure and dialogue, particularly. My goal is one day to write a commercial book of a literary standard and I'll just keep trying 'till I do.

One Hit Wonder by Lisa Jewell - Book Review 

Fiction-Net: And finally, have you set yourself any long-term aims? Do you see yourself as a prolific future author?

Lisa Jewell: This is a strange time to be an author - never before has there been so much activity, so many first-time novelists, so much money and so many new books being published. I feel very strongly that in order to achieve longevity in the face of so much competition, you need to concentrate on writing consistently good novels and being true to yourself. It's too easy to be side-tracked by other activities and by all the media hullabaloo that seems to surround writers these days.

My dream is to write a book every eighteen months for the rest of my life. I don't want to write a screenplay or a TV drama or be on the television or write a column. I just want to write books for as long as my publishers will publish them.

Want to read more from Lisa Jewell? See our Second Interview with the author.

Read more about Lisa Jewell at Fiction-Net. You can also visit the Lisa Jewell Twitter or Wikipedia pages.

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