Lisa Jewel’s new book (and the book about the book)

Two new books showcase the talents of acclaimed British author Lisa Jewell – one written by her, one about her. Sinead Crowley digs deeper…

“How you do that?”

It’s a question writers get asked all the time, second only to “do you want it made into a movie?” But while the answer to the second is a simple “Where do I sign?”, the first requires a lot more elaboration.

The fact is, there are as many ways to write books as there are authors in the world, and it’s impossible to actually complete a novel until you find your own rhythm and path.

The truth about Lisa Jewellso can’t teach aspiring writers how to write like Britain’s best-selling author, but it shows how Jewell approaches her work, while debunking some myths about the creative process.

Lisa Jewell began her writing career with Ralph’s partyreleased to great acclaim in 1999. Although this book was commercial fiction, she introduced elements of mystery, suspense, and domestic noir in later novels, and her work can now be shelved in the psychological suspense category.

her latest book, The family staysis a sequel to the international bestseller The family above. Writing a sequel to a book that has sold over 800,000 copies is scary enough, but Jewell was then persuaded to allow another author – academic Will Brooker – to watch her while she wrote his own book on the process and wrote. Throw in a global pandemic and you have a brave writer.

Luckily, the experiment works, and lucky readers get not only a new Lisa Jewell thriller, but also a unique look at an author in bloom, as well as an examination of the current state of commercial fiction, a genre not typically open to such academics Test.

Let’s look at the fiction first. The family above told the story of a group of people associated with a large, sprawling London home, and contained many of the elements Jewell is known for – a middle-class London environment, a family with secrets, an “outsider” who goes inside – or being pulled down into – the mess. Although it provided the resolution required of books in the crime/thriller genre, the end of the book also contained a cliffhanger, which in turn provided the starting point for it The family stays.

This new book contains all the elements of the classic detective novel – the discovery of a body, a dedicated police officer and family members who don’t even tell each other the whole truth – as well as the richly drawn characters that Jewel is known for. Meanwhile, a subplot involving a woman under coercive control is chilling, sadly believable, and extremely well drawn.

The family stays then it’s typically satisfying reading and will make Lisa Jewell’s many fans very happy indeed. But what about the book of the book? The truth about Lisa Jewell is, in its own way, just as great a page turner. While shadowing an author isn’t unique – Andy Martin did it with Lee Child, for example – Brooker also had to deal with Covid, meaning many of his early meetings with Jewell were on Zoom. He could not therefore always be “in the room”, but this does indeed make the book a faithful representation of the creative process in 2020/21, when most of the communication between author, editor and other members of the creative team had to take place via a screen.

Fiction writers are often divided into “plotters and writers” — those who flesh out every element of the story before writing a first draft, and those who fly by the seat of their pants. Jewell clearly falls into the second category, and readers who have not written a book themselves will be fascinated by how she takes the gist of her novel and simply immerses herself in the writing while preparing to make major deviations along the way. This isn’t a particularly unusual way of writing a novel – I’m holding up my own hand here – but it’s very refreshing for writers and readers alike to watch Jewell carve out her plot points and twists in real time. Such is her reputation; She also has to work under the added pressure of knowing that her 20th novel will have an online presence and a ton of pre-orders before she’s even written a word.

Will Brooker is an academic and treats Jewell’s work like any other literary text. While some of the connections he makes are a little far-fetched, on the whole I found his treatment refreshing, as it gives a respectful attention to commercial fiction not always found elsewhere. Jewell herself comes across as the kind of person you’d love to have a drink with – a classy cocktail in a high-end London bar, of course – and while she can be self-deprecating at times, she clearly takes her work and genre very seriously. However, as a promotional writer supported by a family, she also knows that she can’t wait for the muse to strike. A book by Lisa Jewell will hit shelves in the summer of 2022, and she’s — regardless of the global pandemic and other issues — going to get it ready in time.

As social restrictions ease, Brooker and Jewell eventually meet, and Brooker even begins to question his influence on the ongoing novel. He sees chapters being tweaked and even shortened, and notices the changes in Jewel’s writing process as the deadline approaches. Brooker also writes about the work writers must do now to stay in the public eye and sell books with Zooms, public interviews and public appearances, all seen as essential but also speed bumps on the road to word count increases and the next novel delivered. It’s all 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 about it The family stays is going to be a hit this summer, and rightly so. The truth about Lisa Jewell is also a very sensible purchase for anyone who has always wanted to write a novel – or for anyone who has said, ‘I could do that’.

The family stays by Lisa Jewell and The truth about Lisa Jewell by Will Brooker are published by Cornerstone.

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