D and I attended this event on Tuesday evening and it was much more welcoming than the previous days event. Unfortunately, Jane was running late, so fortunately Linda stepped in to be interviewed (prior to interviewing Jane) so that the evening could get underway.
Linda started by telling the audience that she had been a journalist in regional newspapers for 10 years. She decided to give up the job in 1996 and pursue her novel-writing career and in 5 years got 102 rejections from agents. She believes that fiction is an art compared to other writing. She went on a writing course at Ilkley Library where Martin Bedford looked at 3 chapters and a synopsis of her novel and offered a critique service. This resulted in her deleting a third of her book! When it was re-written and sent off, she got an agent straight away, but a dozen publishers positively rejected it, so her agent told her to write a new novel. Unfortunately upon reading the new novel, the agent said he preferred the first and let her go. Again, she re-wrote the novel with help from Martin and then got 2 agents who wanted it. She went with Antony Gough (who also represents Jane, although the two authors are not related despite sharing the same surname) and when it was put out to auction, she got a bid from Headline review. She sold 75,000 copies even though she had had 8 rejections previously and she feels it may be down to publishers not wanting to take chances. One of her books was marketed as 'chick noir' which she is pretty sure was made up and she feels that 'chick lit' is just so broad a spectrum, that it is confusing to readers. At the same time, it can cause patronising comments to not want to have your novel under the term 'chick lit' as she was once told 'You're not Ian McEwan you know.' It is seen as a massive risk to not put pink on the cover of her novel and marketing led the objections. She feels that epublishing can be a good thing as suddenly a book can come from nowhere and get 100s of readers (i.e. 50 Shades of Grey which last week accounted for 40% of all fiction sales) and feels that this might open publishers minds and make them willing to take a risk. Linda is now with Quercus and feels that she has had a lot more consultation on her novel. Sales are 20-70% down on books, with womens fiction hit harder.
Linda feels that writers write books that they want to read and feels that it is a mixture of inspiration and autobiographical that becomes less and less so the more you write. Her latest novel 'And then it happened' came from interviewing a woman years ago when she was a journalist who had cared for her brain-injured husband for 10 years at home and then in care for the last 7 years of his life. She found a thing that interested her (the womans situation), then she throws away the facts and throws in what ifs. The novel she is writing at the moment involves 3 women who band together to stop the lollipop lady from getting fired and then the interviewer asks if they would stand for the general election - what if they said yes? The Lollipop Party snowballs on social media (in the book they stand for Calder Valley, Halifax and Huddersfield).
Jane Green then arrived, so Linda turned to being the interviewer rather than the interviewee. Jane is over from the United States on a packed schedule. Her first book 'Straight talking' 1996, brought about a new genre of womens fiction and she has had 13 bestsellers ('The patchwork marriage' is currently at no7 on the bookchart) and sold 10 million around the world. 'The patchwork marriage' is about Andi and Ethan who marry and Andi gets a ready-made family of 2 stepdaughters. When Jane began her writing career she was single in London and looking for Mr Right and she feels her books have chartered her life but are not about it. Her novels deal with all aspects of a womans life and the current novel deals with the challenges of a blended family. She feels all children secretly hope that their parents will get back together (even in adulthood) and that a new marriage means new loss to them (girls in particular feel that they are losing their father). Jane never takes characters from her life but may take situations, except for her novel 'Mr maybe' where she told an ex that she would write a book about him and name the character Nick and she feels that 'it is revenge on all the awful men.'
Asked what she feels the difference is between readers in the US and here, she thinks that the english jackets for books are patronising (echoing Linda's earlier conversation) and that Americans take the business of writing more seriously because they feel that writing is a craft and they take workshops, study etc. so there is better quality.
When asked how she felt about the 'chick lit' term, she said that she and Adele Parks did an open book on Radio 4 and that although Adele hates the term, she feels that it is the domain of the young and she no longer feels her writing applies any more. Penguin are making her covers more grown-up, although she is thinking of writing a YA book because she had enjoyed writing in the role of the 17 year-old (she wrote a mini series for Alicia Keys a few years back). She drew on her experience of being less than and not fitting in when she was that age. She starts with a big picture theme when writing a novel and then does a lot of work on the characters, because if you do the work on your characters, they tell the story for you. She feels you have to go where the character leads you.
Jane feels that publishing is in a state of flux at the moment because technology has changed everything and is isolating us. She believes it is cyclical and that we will go back to our books. Ebooks are out-flanking hardcovers in the US, but it will happen in England. She feels women read for two reasons - to escape and to relate - ideally both in one book and she believes there is nothing else that can give us both things.
What a fascinating and enlightening evening it was.