"You're always fascinated by the other side, aren't you?" Since making her debut with Ralph's Party in 1999, the majority of Lisa Jewell's 13 novels to date have concerned broken families. Born in north London, the 47-year-old (who is no relation) enjoyed a stable childhood, although her parents later divorced and she herself was briefly wed in her early 20s.
"That was one of those starter marriages, it wasn't like a real marriage," says Jewell, who is now happily married to her second husband, Jascha Gordon. "I was brought up in the same house I was born in, and I lived there until I left home as an adult. I also went to a Catholic school, which was full of Irish girls whose parents never split up, so everyone I knew had these big family set-ups."
Based around a communal garden similar to the one she shares with her neighbours, Jewell's latest book, The Girls, centres around a group of families in which the fathers are invariably conspicuous by their absence. "I think dads come out really badly in this book," she laughs. "There's not a good father in it; even the man who is supposed to be a good father because he is actually there is very flawed and doesn't play the role he's supposed to."
While one family is hiding out from their father - committed after burning down their previous house - and another welcomes their cantankerous grandfather back into the fold with precious little enthusiasm, sole teenage boy Dylan is portrayed in a distinctly more positive light.
"That maybe ties in with what I now realise about how I went into parenthood wishing to have girls as I wasn't really sure if I could deal with a little boy, because they're so aggressive and loud and you have to play football with them," says Jewell, who has two daughters, Evie, 11, and Amelie, 8. "But now as my children are getting older and my friends' children are getting older, I'm seeing those same boys turning into these lovely young men, who have so much less shade and much more light about them than girls do at the same age. I guess that reflects how I'm now thinking, 'I wish I'd had a couple of boys', as it would be much easier living with boys around this time in their lives."
Claiming that happy families are "a good vehicle for comedy because there's a lot of humour there", Jewell specialises in writing about families that have already fallen apart. "The only way you can write about a happy family in a drama is to make them unhappy," she says, having done just that with 2010's After The Family, a follow-up to her best-selling first book.
"Ralph's Party was a romantic comedy and at the end of it the two main characters, Ralph and Jen, kiss for the first time and think they're going to be happy together," she continues. "Then, 10 years later, I wrote a sequel in which they've been together for 10 years and are about to split up. I didn't enjoy the process of writing about the breakdown of a family in that way. I'd much rather start with a family that has already split up and then see what I can do with them."
Beginning with the discovery of an assaulted teenage girl before flashing back to the past, The Girls allowed Jewell to explore her love of thrillers. "That was always my favourite genre, as I grew up on Agatha Christie and I used to read four of her novels a week," she recalls. "But when I started writing this book I was thinking very much of Broadchurch and how every week they'd put the suspicion on a different person. So eventually you'd imagine the possibility of almost every character being responsible for this terrible crime. That's what I wanted to do: 'It could be him or her, or anyone.' That was a lot of fun because you might say that about a lot of people; given the right circumstances, you could look at someone and go, 'You know what? I actually wouldn't put it past you'."
With the pivotal turning point occurring in early July at the height of the English summer, the violent events that ensue in The Girls were inspired by a neighbour's innocuous suggestion that their children should have a sleep-out together in a tent.
"I'd known for a while that I wanted to write about my communal garden but I hadn't found the thing that would turn it into a story and not just a retelling of actual true life things that have happened there," says Jewell, who used the novel to exorcise her own fears as a parent about what some male teens could possibly do when left to their own devices.
"That was the seed of it, which was about 'what could have happened' and 'why did I feel like that?' These are children I trust and know, so why did it make me feel so uncomfortable?"
Although she is often categorised as a "chick lit" author, Jewell's books are quite diverse in their subject matter, ranging from psychological mysteries like 2009's The Truth About Melody Browne to the historical fiction of 2012's Before I Met You.
"My publishers find me really challenging, as a lot of the time I don't even know what I'm going to be writing about until I sit down to do it. As a consequence, my books are certainly not formulaic but it does make it hard for my publishers to market me, because there's no sort of linking theme, although when it really comes down to it, they're usually about families."
The Girls (Penguin Random House $37) is out now.