Lisa Jewell: "Getting married young was the worst experience of my life"

Sarah Marsh speaks with novelist Lisa Jewell on escaping "toxic" relationships, why she doesn't write chick lit and whether a film of one of her books is on the cards.

Sarah Marsh
Thursday 02 February 2012 15:19
Lisa Jewel
Lisa Jewel

Lisa Jewell thinks the term chick lit is demeaning to female writers. Considered by many to be the queen of the genre, her words may come as a surprise. But the novelist says: "I don't think I have written chick lit for an awfully long time. I don't think my first book was chick lit."

"The plot of my fifth book Vince and Joy was not far removed from One Day, about missed destinies, and I don't see anyone calling that chick lit."

"Fine, I don't mind", she resolves - although it is clear that she does.

And who can blame her? Arguably chick lit has become synonymous with trashy, poorly-written work. Plus, as Jewell points out, her stories tackle a range of issues, not just those that are of interest to women.

"My second book was probably my most 'chick-lit', but my third was about a dead popstar who killed herself and a sister coming to find out why."

Perhaps to challenge expectations, Jewell is now working on a psychological thriller. "I only started it this year, so I have been working on it for three weeks. The older I get the more I love psychological thrillers" she says.

But this morning she is "really starting to doubt" what she is doing. This happened with her last book too.

"Often when something isn't working you make the really good solutions that…" Her train of thought drifts off, which happens frequently when she talks about her writing.

Jewell is more comfortable discussing her past. She has learnt from the school of hard knocks, although she describes herself as an optimist. She struggled for years in jobs she didn't enjoy before turning her hand to writing. She put together her first novel as a bet with a friend after being made redundant.

Since her breakthrough novel 'Ralph's Party' was released in 1999, Jewell has produced nine books and now spends her days writing in a café near her house. Even though it is abuzz with people she gets a lot done. Plus, Jewell protests, she finds silence distracting. This is just one of many eccentricities that make the author instantly likeable

It is hard to believe that Jewell is a mum of two and nearly 45 years old. She has the girlish enthusiasm someone in their early twenties. Physically she looks young too. She is blonde, slim and pretty, with big eyes that light up when she talks about subjects that interest her.

In a distinctive London accent Jewell reflects on past relationships with the colourful candour of Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones.

She got married at 23, but says: "Getting married young was the worst experience of my life it was horrible, really horrible".

Jewell remembers "farting around in night clubs having one night stands, desperate for a boyfriend" before she met her first husband. "I put on loads of weight and made myself look like a real saddo".

Things turned sour when they got married: "He didn't like my family, he criticised the way I dressed and told me I was bad in bed. But, unlike most relationships you read about, I never really believed him. I thought I am getting out of this at some point".

Although Jewell can now joke about this period of her life, it is clear it was a difficult time. Shortly after her first marriage broke up the writer fell in love again, this time with her current husband.

Now Jewell has just found out one of her books might be made into a film.

"Yesterday I had a meeting at the Arts Club in Dover Street - the most beautiful place I have ever been to in my life - with this really nice guy, a multi-millionaire who sold his financial service business. He's doing lots of altruistic stuff with his money, and I am one of his favourite authors."

He wants to make a movie out of her novel '31 Dream Street' - a book which, according to the blurb, is about "Leah and Toby" who help their misfit neighbours grow up and move out, making some of their own dreams come true in the process.

She seems genuinely excited by this, but is a firm believer in letting the chips fall where they may. "If you have a calling, you need to let it find you".

In a reflective moment she says: "Everything transpired at the same point in my life. Everything felt open and full of positivity. I do worry what sort of a parent that will make me; the sit back and see what happens attitude doesn't work as well when you have children to propel though life."

Embracing the uncertainty of the future, she reminds me of what it takes to write a good book: "It is important to end every scene with a cliff hanger."

This seems most apt for a woman who says she has never planned what was coming next.

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