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The Truth About Lisa Jewell – Extract 2 by Will Brooker

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will brooker

Will Brooker

The Truth About Lisa Jewell by Will Brooker is the the story of how a novel is written, from before the start to after the finish. It’s the story of two very different writers getting to know each other gradually through words; two complete strangers becoming something more like friends. By reproducing a series of three extracts from the book, we hope our readers will see just how invaluable are these two authors’ shared insights into the craft of writing.

Reading back diligently through her work, I develop a further thesis about Lisa’s attention to details of clothes and décor, which I feel must be related to her training in fashion illustration.

I take substantial supporting notes as evidence. Each book includes lengthy accounts of a character’s current outfit – cut, style, fabric, colourway, brand – which in turn tells us about them, their circumstances and often their state of mind. In After the Party, for instance, Jem…

was wearing a yellow sundress with a shirred bodice and shoestring straps and apple-green Havaianas flip-flops and her hair was tied up messily on top of her head. Underneath her sundress she wore a bikini. It was a bikini she had not worn for almost five years and, at some points during the weeks following the births of both her children, had thought she would never wear again.

Her former housemate from Ralph’s Party, making a surprise cameo in the sequel, has one colour in common with Jem, but they’re otherwise opposite: Cheri is, as we saw, ‘tanned to an improbable shade of toast, vanilla hair, long shapely legs, Prada sunglasses, a leather shopper hanging from the crook of her arm.

She wore tight black jeans and a fitted sweater in pale apple green.’ Style choices confirm Nadine’s independent quirkiness in Thirtynothing – ‘a stunning redhead in a blue crushed-silk dress wearing red 1950s plastic sunglasses and butterflies in her hair’ – and the effortless off-duty elegance of Libby’s work friend Dido in The Family Upstairs:

Dido greets her at the door in wide floral trousers and a black vest top. Her hair is held from her face by large red sunglasses and she is barefoot. Libby has only ever seen her in clumpy work shoes so it’s a surprise to see two small, white, perfectly pedicured feet with rose-pink nails.

Again, there’s a single element in common – red sunglasses – but the ensembles could hardly be more different, and they convey an immediate sense of the individual. This attention extends to interior décor, described with the expertise of an estate agent. Toni Moran’s living room in Vince and Joy is structurally identical to that of Joy’s parents, ‘but felt completely different’.

Instead of damp wisps of nylon net hanging across her windows, she had folds and flounces of thick oatmeal jacquard. Instead of fields of ancient, patterned carpeting covering her floor she had shiny beech-effect parquet. And instead of a solitary hanging light bulb housed under a dusty paper shade she had rows of twinkling halogen lamps embedded in her ceiling.

Bethan’s ‘babymoon’ bedroom from The House We Grew Up In demonstrates her recent discovery of who she is as an adult, while accepting and embracing aspects of her eccentric mother through items salvaged from the family home: ‘the trio of cameos of fat-bottomed cherubs in porcelain frames, a few gilt-framed oil paintings of indeterminate heritage, a couple of fussy bugle-bead-trimmed table lamps’. Her temporary apartment in Sydney, she now realises, ‘wasn’t a room. It was a stage set. A doll’s house. It was where I lived when I was pretending to be a person.’

Millie’s eye for design in A Friend of the Family – ‘Victorian tasselled lamps, a dramatic chaise longue in raspberry velvet, Afghan fur rugs, abstract paintings, framed sepia  photographs, a brown suede pouffe’ – is a major aspect of her appeal to the London brothers Tony and Sean. Libby in The Family Upstairs sells upmarket kitchens. Leah in 31 Dream Street dresses bedrooms in bubble-gum pink for a client’s daughters, while her neighbour Toby revamps his life by refitting his house with expensive sofas and flashy bathrooms. And in Watching You, it’s Nicola’s soulless, careless approach to her family home that begins to reveal her true character. The details build relentlessly throughout our exploration of the house. There’s ‘an overhead light that gave out a cruel yellow glare . . . institutional, uninspiring, bleak’; and ‘a bench . . . with a pile of old newspapers hanging off it and washing drying on a radiator: underpants scrunched into small stiff twists of fabric, a tired, drooping bra’; then:

. . . a faded blue sofa . . . an old piano . . . a chrome floor lamp, a small gilt-framed mirror above a fake-stone fireplace, a high-backed chair in the window that looked as though it should be in an old people’s home.

Interior design confirms a character’s inner life, and Nicola’s is cold and colourless. No wonder Joey, the closest person the novel has to a heroine, decides ‘she didn’t like this house. And she didn’t like Nicola.’

(c) Will Brooker

Edited extracts from The Truth About Lisa Jewell by Will Brooker published by Century.

Read Extract 1 here and Extract 3 here.

About The Truth About Lisa Jewell:

The Truth About Lisa Jewell

Have you ever thought about what it takes to become a bestselling writer?

If so, The Truth About Lisa Jewell is the book for you. It is the story of how a novel is written, from before the start to after the finish; it’s an in-depth analysis of how that novel fits into a bestselling author like Lisa Jewell’s career and her previous work, and what her style shares with authors from James Joyce to Martin Amis.

But this is more than just a study of an author at the top of her game. Like Lisa Jewell’s much-loved novels, it’s also the story of a relationship – between the bestselling author and the professor of cultural studies who has made her his muse – evolving slowly as the world comes gradually out of Covid. It’s the story of two very different writers getting to know each other gradually through words; two complete strangers becoming something more like friends.

A must-have for fans of Lisa Jewell, for aspiring authors who are interested in the path to success – and a testament to the way books can bring us together.

‘I read this yesterday in one glorious sitting! What an absolute treat of a book!’ Lesley Kara

‘This is definitely going to be one of the big ‘how to write’ books – every author who is on a quest to be Lisa Jewell will love it. Illuminating, revealing and absolutely fascinating, Will Brooker offers us the keys to the Jewell kingdom.’ Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin aka Sam Blake

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Will Brooker is Professor of Film and Cultural Studies at Kingston University, London. A scholar of fandom and popular culture, ranging from Alice in Wonderland to Batman and Blade Runner, he attracted global media attention in 2015 when he immersed himself in the life and work of David Bowie for a year’s research, published as the acclaimed Why Bowie Matters (HarperCollins, 2019). He is currently working with bestselling author Lisa Jewell on a book about her writing process.

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