Jill Mansell - Interview
1. Was your childhood ambition to be a writer? If not, what inspired you to start writing?
I used to write a lot when I was a child, scribbling down long happy stories about myself and my brother, but it never occurred to me that I could become a proper writer of proper books. Coincidentally I found one of these stories not long ago, written when I was eleven, and it talked about losing some money down a deep crack between the floorboards of the old house we were living in at the time. I went on to describe kneeling down and digging the coins out with a knife and fork. In Thinking Of You, completed a couple of months before I rediscovered this old story, I wrote a scarily similar scene, only instead of money my character is kneeling down using a knife and fork to retrieve something rather more embarrassing from between the floorboards. You’ll have to read the book to find out what it is!
2. How long have you been writing?
Leaving aside the childhood scribbling, I started to write properly…ooh, about 18 years ago now. I read an article in a Sunday supplement about women making lots of money from writing romantic novels and it inspired me to sign up for a local evening class in creative writing. Several of us are still good friends who meet up regularly. Actually, just writing this now is giving me an idea for a book - joining an evening class can literally change your life!
3. What do you enjoy most about writing?
I love writing when it’s going well and I hate it when it isn’t! Starting a new novel is always exciting - like walking into a party full of strangers and wondering what’s going to happen next. You’d think I’d be in charge of them, wouldn’t you? But the trouble with trying to plan out a book in advance is that all of a sudden you find one of your characters doing something unexpected that completely changes the rest of the story. I never used to believe writers who said this - in fact I thought it was quite sick-making and twee - but now that I’m writing myself, I’m afraid it’s true. Maybe it’s just a matter of getting a better idea as I go along and taking advantage of it, like setting out to buy a sensible grey sweater and ending up buying a gorgeous sequinned dress instead…
4. What is your routine when sitting down to write for the day?
I love, love, love hearing about other people’s writing routines! (I have an e-friend who writes historical novels whilst listening to really loud rock music). I write my books by hand, using a fabulous Harley Davidson fountain pen and Pukka Pads. I sit on the sofa in our living room and have the TV on while I work (although I could never listen to the radio or play music - that would be far too intrusive). I watch This Morning with Fern and Phil and pinch ideas for my books from their programme. I also get through rather a lot of crisps, fruit gums and cups of coffee. I work while my children are at school, and periodically take chunks of the completed manuscript to my typist, who deciphers my handwriting. My late mum used to type my novels for me, which is why there was never any explicit sex in them. Now my daughter’s friends all read my books so there’s still no explicit sex in them! And no, my daughter flatly refuses to read them because it’s too embarrassing. Every time I ask her to read a page, she sees one of my characters saying something I say, or, - worse! - something she says. Actually, it’s probably better that she doesn’t read my books - I don’t want her to sue me!
5. Which writers do you admire?
I admire all published writers, because we all know how fiendishly hard it is to write a book and get it published. But my personal favourites are Marian Keyes, Catherine Alliott, Sophie Kinsella, Isabel Wolff, Katie Fforde and Veronica Henry. Can I also just say that if anyone out there is interested in writing any form of romantic fiction (basically anything with kissing in it) the RNA is a wonderfully supportive organisation. I am proud to be a member and would recommend anyone to join.
6. Which authors have influenced your writing the most and why?
This would be Jilly Cooper, whose work I loved so much when I was growing up. (My parents didn’t take the Sunday Times but my Uncle Edwin used to cut out and save her columns for me). Riders and Rivals were the books that inspired me to try and write a novel of my own, because until I discovered them I didn’t realise humour was allowed. I read them so many times they fell to bits!
7. What was the last good book you read? Last good book? I wish I had more spare time - I love thrillers but hardly ever get a chance to read them. So I especially enjoyed James Patterson’s Honeymoon. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels are brilliant too. If only I could train myself to sleep less, just think how many more thrillers I could race through!
8. To what extent has your life experience influenced your writing?
I must use my life experience whilst writing but I’m not conscious of doing so - knowing how something feels and imagining how it might feel… it all comes from the same place. Having said that, I will of course shamelessly recycle my own past experiences of growing up, dating disastrously, lusting after men and not getting them, getting them and going off them, marriage, divorce, secretly giving birth to George Clooney’s lovechild…oh sorry, that one hasn’t happened yet…see what I mean about the lines between fantasy and reality becoming blurred? Well, you get the idea anyway!
9. Do you always know how your books will end before you start writing?
Not really, although the joy of romantic comedy is that we all know there’ll be a happy ending - I just won’t know quite how my characters will go about getting it. (In the past, I’ve tried killing off major characters and going for the tearjerker ending instead, but my editor made me re-write it and bring them back to life. She was, of course, right. She’s always right. Hello, Marion!)