Interview with author: Jill Mansell

By Linda Hall


If you are into chick lit you're going to absolutely love Jill Mansell's Don't Want to Miss a Thing. It has it all - the handsome man-about- town who suddenly finds himself in sole charge of an 8-month-old girl, a small country town, cute girl next door, a husband playing away, a tall dark stranger looking for love, a teenage girl with a bad-boy boyfriend, gossiping villagers and much more.

All the ingredients for a good old-fashioned love story ... or two. Don't Miss A Thing is an entertaining light-hearted read that leaves readers smiling for days to come.

The British author is famous for her many chick-lit books, which have sold more than five million copies.

I asked her some questions.

What's the secret to great chick lit?


I don't really know what the secret to great chick lit is, but my aim is always to create characters I love and care about, because engaging with the reader is so important to me.

A book can be brilliantly plotted and perfectly written, but if I don't care what happens to the people I'm reading about why would I want to read to the end? If I'm not bothered about them, I'll give up.

Do you mind your books being referred to as chick lit?


I don't mind because I'm used to it by now. I prefer romantic comedy as the description of my genre, but even that isn't ideal - dramatic and serious events happen in my novels, along with the comedy.

Basically I write a feel-good version of real life, with all that entails. Also, my characters are of all ages, which tends not to happen in chick lit. I wouldn't want a 70-something lady to think she might not want to read my books because they're all about young people - they're not. And writing about older characters is one of my favourite things to do. My readers ages range from 15 to 95 and I like it that way. There's something for everyone in my books.

Tell us about a typical day when you are in the middle of writing a book?


I recently commissioned an artist (Rose Popay) to paint me writing my books, so here's my typical day - you can see exactly where I sit in our living room, on the sofa with my fountain pen and writing pads, with my timeline next to me - it's a long strip of paper covered in multicoloured sticky Post-it notes describing details of the plot to keep me from straying from the story. That's my daughter sitting at the table behind me - Lydia types up my handwritten pages and gleefully corrects any mistakes I make.

I generally write from nine until five and always have the TV on while I'm working, to keep me entertained and stop the room being too quiet.

I aim to produce 1000 words a day, but that can vary a lot. The last part of the book is the easiest - it feels like skiing downhill, because I know the characters well by that stage and want to see them have their (almost-always) happy endings.

Oh yes, that is a bear standing in the fireplace. Don't worry, he's not real.

Do deadlines have a huge impact on your writing?


I write one novel a year, so just have the one major deadline. If I don't get the book finished I know it creates difficulties for the publishers, so I try really hard to stick to it. Otherwise they might decide to take on a more reliable author and I'd hate that to happen.

When you begin a novel, how far in do you get before you know if it's going to work?


I'm very lucky in that I've never had to delete anything major. I have some writer friends who have done this and I shiver on their behalf - it must be so traumatic to realise your book isn't working and it needs to be chopped.

On occasions I've got a bit stuck and wondered what on earth is going to happen next, but the joy of writing fiction is that you are in charge and you can make anything happen.

You're the queen of your own world and you can make your characters do whatever you like.

How did you become a writer?I was working as a clinical neurophysiology technologist in a hospital when I happened to read a magazine that had been left in the patients' waiting room. Inside was a feature about ordinary unwealthy women like me who had become hugely wealthy bestselling novelists. It was one of those life-changing moments - I suddenly wondered if I could do the same.

So I signed up to join a local evening class in creative writing and began my apprenticeship, writing humorous articles about my own life and selling them to magazines.

I tried to write Harlequin/Mills and Boon-style romance novels, but they were rejected by the publishers because there was too much humour in them.

Try as I might I couldn't seem to leave the humour out, so I switched to romantic comedy instead - and it worked. Many years later, Don't Want to Miss a Thing is my 24th novel.

What's the best thing about being a famous author?


Without a doubt it's hearing from people who tell me that reading my books has got them through hard times.

A teenager who is being badly bullied at school and treats my books as her friends ... or a mother nursing her daughter through a terrible illness ... or a widow who thought she would never smile again after her husband died.

I've had so many lovely messages from people in such situations who have been cheered up by my books and that is the very best reward of all.

And the worst?


Okay, this isn't really the worst thing, but it gave me a clue as to the extent of the power I can sometimes have.

I know that women have changed their lives as a result of reading my books and feeling empowered enough to leave their horrible partners - this is a good thing.

But I did see one woman writing on a blog that she'd moved from a city to a lovely little village in the Cotswolds purely because my books always made it sound so brilliant. Except she'd arrived there to discover there were no handsome men, it was really boring and she was hating every minute.

What's next for you?


As long as I can do it I'll carry on writing. I'm rubbish at anything else.


WIN!


We have a copy of Jill Mansell's Don't Want to Miss a Thing to give away. Send your name and contact details to competitions@apn.co.nz by March 7.

- Hamilton News

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