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Be Fabulous meets ... Jane Green

Article by
Faith Brotherston

Best-selling novelist Jane Green is the queen of chick-lit. The author of Jemima J, The Other Woman and The Beach House talks to Be Fabulous member Faith Brotherston…

There’s that age-old quote, that everyone has one novel within them. Your first novel, Straight Talking, was published in 1997, and was a very observational, pretty frank, no-holds-barred account of the lives of young career women living in London. Did you plan to write it for a long time, or did you, one day, think: “You know what? I’m going to start writing this down…”?

Straight Talking was clearly a story that was itching to get out – I wrote the first thirty thousand words in a week. I hadn’t planned it at all, but had read Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, and wanted to write a book that reflected the lives of the thirty something women I knew, in a real and honest way.

Were you surprised by its success, or did you have an inkling, when you completed it, that it was going to be a hit?

I remember being utterly overwhelmed by the attention and publicity. I had no idea it would strike such a chord.

Your second novel, Jemima J is a modern day ugly duckling story which appeals to the insecure little girl in all of us. You probably get asked over and over if there is a little bit of you in all of your leading ladies, but who inspired Jemima J?

Initially a flatmate I had, but she was gorgeous, and very comfortable with her physicality, which was fascinating to me, as I have always struggled with body image and food, but Jemima very quickly became far more reflective of me than of the woman on whom I thought she would be based.

Just to be predictable, which of the characters in your novels do you relate to most?

There is a little bit of me in all of them, and so many are reflective of where I was at the time of writing. Particularly, I think, Amber in Swapping Lives, which was written when I was unhappy and unprepared to look at the reason why, and then Holly, in Second Chance, written just after the break-up of my marriage.

Of all of your books, which is your personal favourite, and why?

I have always loved Bookends, because those characters were so extraordinarily real for me – Lucy was the sister/mother/best friend I always wished I had, and they were all so vivid, I was devastated when I wrote the last line.

You love cooking, and this comes across in your writing (mostly in Bookends, when Lucy’s culinary creations are just so beautifully described that I am practically licking the page). I know you cook for pleasure, but do you ever think you might have forged a career from it if the writing hadn’t been a success

In truth I love anything to do with home-making: interior design, flower arranging, cooking for family and friends, gardening and growing my own fruit and veg. I’m sure I would have done something in the field of ‘domestic arts’!

How do you think your life experience and state of mind affects your writing and thought process? Do you sometimes read back and recognise triggers that led to certain plot twists?

I never go back and read my earlier works, but I do think I have changed tremendously since the early days of my career, motherhood, marriage, divorce, all things that have changed me fundamentally, and I am far softer today than when I started.

You create wonderful, food-for-thought characters that make us all wonder about ourselves – I think we all recognise parts of ourselves, and they are not always traits that we would be proud of. Do you think that there is a little bit of those characters in all of us, or do you draw on certain situations and examples to add meat to the bones of your plotlines?

My goal is always to write with emotional honesty, so that even if we haven’t experienced it, we feel as if we have.

The parental influence in your novels has altered somewhat – in Jemima J, Jemima’s mother had passed all her insecurities through to her daughter, and in Mr Maybe, Libby’s mum’s attitude culminated in a dual desire – to prove that she was better, and to prove that she was good enough. As your books go on, those characters with children become much more sympathetic. In The Beach House, Nan is this wonderful, eccentric character who acts as mother and confidante to everyone, regardless of their relationship to her. Has being a mum yourself made you revise the roles in your books?

Ah yes. I was still working through a lot of my ‘stuff’ when I started, and have found that acceptance, rather than blame, is the answer to most of life’s problems.

Was the role of Nan inspired by anyone in particular, or can’t you reveal your sources?

Initially by a woman I used to see riding along the beach in the middle of the night when my marriage first broke up, but her actual character is an amalgamation of several women I know, with a healthy dose of imagination.

You make life in Connecticut sound idyllic, with its own idiosyncracies. Is there a lot of true-to-life observation going on?

I think my life looks fairly idyllic, but in truth, it is just my life, with the usual trials and tribulations that we all have. I am lucky, though, in the way it has turned out, particularly in finding love post-divorce, and grateful for it every day,

How old are your children now? Do they show any aspirations to follow in your footsteps and write the Great British (I guess it would be American) Novel?

My children are nine, eight, and six-year-old twins, and the two eldest are wonderful writers. My daughter spends hours writing books, so I shall keep my fingers crossed.

Dedicated fans will, to some extent, have been able to follow the course of events in your life through the subject matter of your books…from single girl about town, through to someone in a relationship, right through to getting married having children, and setting up home state-side. You obviously love your life in Connecticut, but what first drew you to the States?

I have loved America since I was a Tiny – I rather suspect largely due to Little House on the Prairie. But I have been coming to New York since I was young, and always imagined I would live here at some point.

You certainly make it sound blissful. I understand you’re undergoing your own project to create a beach house – is Nan’s house your dream home? How are the plans going?

We are about to sign off on the plans, and hope to break ground in the spring. It is a far longer process than I had imagined, which is excruciating for someone with as little patience as I!

How long have you lived in the US now, and how have attitudes toward you changed with time?

I have been here nine years, and feel very much a half and half. I never think of myself as being British, and am not aware of being treated any differently, although there are tons of Brits around here, so I think we’re just part of the furniture now.

What did you make of the US election? How did you find the experience?

I burst into tears when Obama won, and was shocked at how moved I was, and continue to be. I think it’s extraordinary, how far we have come, and mostly I am grateful that Sarah Palin is nowhere near the White House, although the woman is so desperately ambitious, she will not be disappearing quietly. Sadly.

What do you do to relax?

Cook and garden mostly. I also make jewellery from time to time.

What authors do you most admire, and what books would you recommend to us?

Jonathan Tropper, Sue Miller, Patrick Gale, Dani Shapiro, Ann Patchett, and many others too numerous to mention.

Do you think you’re settled in Connecticut for good now? Sell us the lifestyle…

I love it here, and after nine years, it’s very definitely home. I have the beach, the country, and I’m an hour away from Manhattan for those times I need a big city fix – it doesn’t get better!

And finally…any advice for any aspiring authors reading this?

Discipline is the key, and perseverance. Write what you know, not what you think will sell, and don’t ever let a negative opinion put you off.

About the author

Name: Faith Brotherston
Email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


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