Lisa Jewell: 'I married someone I didn’t love. I was too polite to say no'


My first book came about over a bet I had a drunken conversation with a friend about some day writing a book, and she said, "If you write me three chapters, I'll take you for dinner at your favourite restaurant." So I did [the resulting book, Ralph's Party, was the biggest-selling debut novel of 1999], and she made me send it out to agents. When one of those agents liked it and told me Penguin wanted to pay me £120,000 to write my first two books, I thought everyone had gone mad.

I married someone I didn't love I was too polite to say no. I'm shocked when I look back on the person I was [Jewell married her first husband at the age of 22]; I stayed in a relationship that cut me off from my friends and family because I felt he didn't like me seeing them, and I lost my job at the time because I didn't feel I could work late. Yet, I'm glad I spent those years with him. He was very bookish, and I had gotten out of the habit of reading when I met him – and he dragged me back in. He had a big library and I read eclectically from it, and he said I had a perceptive mind and should write a book.

I think that not being proactive is a good thing I like life to unfold on its own. I'm halfway through life now and I can see that of the significant junctures that brought me here – such as meeting my [second] husband while hunting through the classified ads sections of The Lady and getting a job as a receptionist at [clothes shop] Thomas Pink [where they met] – all came about by chance; not one thing was carefully planned.

People with big ideas worry They lie awake at night and fret as they try to climb up the social or financial ladder. They probably feel proud of themselves for what they've achieved, but I'm proud of the fact that I've done very little – and hence have little to worry about – and I've still got somewhere.

I'm a chronic hoarder I'm writing a story at the moment about a home blighted by the mother's hoarding. I look about my house and see there are lots of lovely things in it, but I constantly buy more. My husband feels I should draw a line and says I have enough things – or in 20 years' time I could end up like the character in my book.

Lisa Jewell, 44, is a British novelist. Her latest book, 'Before I Met You', is published by Random House, priced £9.99 (