Book: Invisible Girl
Photo by Andrew Whitton
Author: Lisa Jewell
1. What can readers expect in your book "Invisible Girl"?
Invisible Girl is very different to the Family Upstairs, my previous novel, which was “gothic and quirky”. This one is set in one time frame in one location and is much more of a classic London Domestic Noir set-up about a middle class family, a damaged teenage girl and a strange loner across the street who's just discovered the Incel community and may or may not have had something to do with a string of sex attacks in the area and the disappearance of the teenage girl.
It's set in January so it's quite dark and cold. It also features lots of interesting teenagers, a suspicious wife, a dodgy husband, an urban fox and some Taekwondo.
2. What inspires you?
Pretty much everything. You can't be a writer if you don't find inspiration on a granular level. The movie American Beauty, remember, was inspired by the writer seeing a plastic bag being blown around by the wind.
Most of my books are inspired by tiny fleeting glimpses of things, throwaway comments or people who catch my eye on the street and make me want to write a story about them. As a writer, your brain sort of filters all these weird random thoughts and holds onto the things that might make a good book. You can feel them separating out. They have a sort of golden quality about them.
3. What is the secret to holding and maintaining suspense throughout your novels?
For me it is probably not knowing what's happening until I've written it. I'm not a planner, and a novelist who plans their books would give a very different answer to this question, but for me, writing at a steady pace of 1000-1500 words a day and not knowing what I'm going to write until it's on the page is how I keep the suspense going.
I write as a reader reads and can sense when the narrative is dragging or when I need to up the pacing or make something exciting happen. I'm also a big believer in cliff-hanger endings at the end of each chapter.
4. "Invisible Girl" is your 19th novel. A) do you ever stop and think about how successful you've been as an author and B) what is your secret to longevity as a writer?
I do stop and think about this all of the time. I'm thinking about it a lot at the moment as I'm reaching the closing chapters of my next novel and feeling very unconfident about it and terrified that at this point in my career, where everything has been on an upward trajectory for so many books and each one seems to build on the one before and I am growing a wonderful new readership, how disastrous it would be for me to write a dud book.
But I'm also trying to remind myself that I feel like this every single time. The fear is always there but it's heightened when your career is in such a good place and you feel you have so much to lose. The secret to my longevity is a) pure and utter luck and b) amazing publishers (which actually goes back to a)!)
5. How have you changed as an author from your first book, "Ralph's Party" to now?
In some ways I have changed hugely, in other ways, not at all. I wrote Ralph's Party in the 90's for myself and my friend Yasmin, for a bet. I never thought it would get published or that anyone other than Yasmin would ever read it, so it's very raw and unselfconscious. Readers liked that and it was a huge bestseller, but I personally feel strange about it and I think my writing is far less unselfconscious these days.
I still write for myself, but I have the spectre of half a million eager readers watching over me as I write! I've always used dark themes in all my books, even the romcoms, but I am able to go deeper and deeper into these dark places now as an established writer of thrillers, which is very liberating.
6. In your opinion, what makes a great story?
Making the reader care about what happens. Usually that means the reader needs to care about the characters, first and foremost, although not necessarily. Lovely prose is a joy to read but to create a good story the reader really needs to be invested in the outcomes.
7. One of the things that readers love most about your work is your characters. What are some things that all great characters must possess in order to connect deeply with readers?
The characters I find the hardest to write are the ones, who by their very function in the narrative, are ultimately good, decent people. I usually have one character like this in every book and I sometimes struggle to connect with them, but they have a role to play.
The characters I enjoy writing the most are the ones filled with grey areas and ambiguity. Not necessarily the classic 'unreliable narrator', just genuinely nuanced and multifaceted people who could be equally capable of acts of great kindness and acts of great evil.
8. What was your writing process like for "Invisible Girl"?
The same as it is for every book. I write directly onto my laptop, I have no notes or plans. I write chronologically, rarely reading back, chapter by chapter, in the afternoons, three hours a day, 1000-1500 words. Sometimes I write at home, often I write in coffee shops. This year though, I have been writing in a rented office due to my children being at home so much and coffee shops being shut down.
9. How important is "pacing" in storytelling? And what can authors work on to get better at this aspect of writing?
This is why I stick to a rigid routine and try not to write more than 1500 words a day. I think pacing can go all over the place if you write in fits and starts, writing too slowly or too fast. I appreciate that not every writer has the luxury of routine, and that that is a separate challenge.
But if you can fit a routine into your life, even if it's only an hour a day (I wrote nearly all of my 5th novel, Vince & Joy, in an hour a day when my elder daughter was a newborn) take it and use it to help your pacing.
Every 1000-1500 words something important needs to happen, something needs to move the action along and make the reader want to read just one more page. Even if you don't know what it is, allude to it and then work out what it is later!
10. What's your best advice for getting over writer's block?
Writer's block is a very serious psychological condition. It's something that can blight a writer's entire career and cause them to be unable to write for many years. It's very different to 'not being able to get going' or 'lacking motivation'. The only way I can deal with periods where it all feels too difficult, is to just write anything. Anything at all. You can fix bad writing. You can't fix no writing.
11. What's the best book you have read in 2020?
The Push by Ashley Audrain. 100%. It's set to be published in January 2021.
12. What's the best advice you have ever received on happiness?
Weirdly, people tend to ask me for advice about happiness. I'm generally seen as someone who has somehow got a magic key to a magic room full of existential joy. It's not quite like that, I have good days and bad days, but I am a very grounded, very relaxed person who takes life as I find it and I don't expect too much or ask for much.
The only times I feel unhappiness start to leech in around the edges are when I compare myself to other people, usually on a professional level. That is for sure the worst path to take on the route to happiness.
13. Do you plan on writing any more books in the future?
Haha! Oh my goodness yes! I am tied into many publishing contracts all over the world and have been paid money up front to write books for at least the next three years. Writing books is not something I get to decide when I wake up in the mornings.
It's my job, it's what pays my bills, it's what pays my publishers' bills. This is what I do and it's the only thing I'm any good at. That's not to say I wouldn't love a little break from the publishing cycle some time in the future, but publishing doesn't work like that, it feeds off a clockwork delivery schedule and doesn't like it if there's a break between books. So for now, yes, you can expect a lot more books from me. I just really hope they are all good ones!
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Facebook: Lisa Jewell
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