A pair of new books showcase the talents of acclaimed British author Lisa Jewell – one written by her, one written about her. Sinead Crowley digs deeper…
“How do you do?”
It’s a question we ask screenwriters all the time, right after ‘would you like this to be made into a movie?’ But while the answer to the second is a simple “where do I sign?” the first requires much more elaboration.
The thing is, there are as many ways to write books as there are authors in the world, and it’s impossible to finish a novel until you find your own pace and your own path. .
The truth about Lisa Jewelltherefore, can’t teach aspiring authors how to write like the British bestselling author, but what it does do is show how Jewell approaches his work, busting quite a few myths about the creative process taking place road.
Lisa Jewell began her writing career with Ralph’s Partypublished to great acclaim in 1999. Although this book was a work of commercial fiction, later novels saw her introduce elements of mystery, suspense and domestic noir and her work can now be found in the psychological thriller category .
His latest book, The family staysis the sequel to the international bestseller The family upstairs. Writing a sequel to a book that has sold over 800,000 copies is daunting enough, but Jewell was then persuaded to allow another author – academic Will Brooker – to observe her as she wrote and was writing his own book on the process. Add a global pandemic and you have a brave author.
Fortunately, the experiment works, and lucky readers get not only a new thriller from Lisa Jewell, but also a unique look at an author in full flight as well as an examination of the current state of commercial fiction, a genre that is generally not open to such scholars. meticulous examination.
Let’s look at the fiction first. The family upstairs told the story of a group of people connected to a rambling big house in London and contained many of the elements Jewell is known for – a middle-class London executive, a family with secrets, a ‘stranger’ who actually lead into – or down into – the mess. Although it provided the resolution demanded of books in the crime/thriller genre, the end of the book also contained a cliff hanger, which in turn provides the starting point for The family stays.
This new book contains all the elements of the classic detective story – the discovery of a body, a dedicated policeman and family members who do not tell each other the whole truth, even with each other – as well as the richly drawn characters for which Jewell is renowned. Meanwhile, a subplot featuring a woman under coercive control is chilling, sadly believable, and extremely well-drawn.
The family stays is then a generally satisfying read and will make Lisa Jewell’s many fans very happy. But what about the book of the book? The truth about Lisa Jewell is, in its own way, just as much a page turner. While an author’s shadowing process isn’t unique — Andy Martin did it with Lee Child, for example — Brooker also had to deal with Covid, which means many of his early encounters with Jewell were on zoom. So he couldn’t have been “in the room” on all occasions, but that actually makes the book an accurate representation of the creative process in 2020/21, when most communication between author, publisher and the other members of the creative team had to be done via a screen.
Fiction writers are often divided into “plotters and pants”—those who plot every element of the story before writing a first draft, and those who fly by the seat of their pants. Jewell falls into the second category and readers who haven’t written a book themselves will be fascinated by how she takes the gist of her novel and immerses herself in the writing, preparing to make significant deviations along the way. It’s not a particularly unusual way to write a novel — I’m holding my own hand here — but it’s very refreshing for writers and readers alike to watch Jewell unravel her plot points and twists in real time. Such is his reputation; she also has to work under the added pressure of knowing that her 20th novel has an online presence and a stack of pre-orders before she’s written a word.
Will Brooker is an academic and he treats Jewell’s work as he would any other literary text. While some of the connections he makes are a bit far-fetched, overall I found his treatment refreshing, as he gives commercial fiction a respectful consideration it doesn’t always find elsewhere. Jewell herself comes across as someone you’d like to have a drink with – a classy cocktail in an upscale London bar, naturally – and while she can put herself down at times, she clearly takes her job and gender very seriously. seriously. . As a business writer though, with a family to support, she also knows she can’t wait for the muse to strike, there will be a Lisa Jewell book on the shelves in the summer of 2022 and she is – despite the global pandemic and other setbacks – will end in time.
As social restrictions ease, Brooker and Jewell eventually meet and Brooker even begins to wonder if he has any influence on the ongoing romance. He sees chapters being edited and even cut, and notes the changes in Jewell’s writing process as the deadline approaches. Brooker also writes about the work writers need to do now to stay in the public eye and sell books with zooms, public interviews and public appearances all seen as essential, but also acting as speed bumps on the road for that the word counts and the next novel delivered. It’s very practical stuff – but there’s also magic in the act of creation, and Brooker and Jewell act together to lift the curtain on the process – at least in part.
There is no doubt that The family stays will be a hit this summer, and rightly so. The truth about Lisa Jewell is also a great buy for anyone who’s ever wanted to write a novel – or anyone who’s ever said “I could do it”.
The family stays by Lisa Jewell and The truth about Lisa Jewell by Will Brooker are published by Cornerstone.