Bestselling author Lisa Jewell’s latest novel is a compelling contemporary thriller set on the Yorkshire Coast. She spoke to Yvette Huddleston.
Author Lisa Jewell certainly knows how to hook her readers in – she has a long list of first-rate bestsellers to her name – and her latest book, just out in paperback, is another cracking page-turner.
I Found You is set on the Yorkshire Coast in the fictional town of Ridinghouse Bay where forty-something single mother Alice lives in a 300-year-old former coastguard’s cottage with her three children and three dogs. She’s a warm, engaging character with a colourful past and a slightly chaotic lifestyle who nevertheless competently runs her own business making quirky artwork out of old maps which she then sells online.
According to Jewell the seaside setting in Yorkshire was key to how the novel developed. “I had originally seen Alice in a big house in Hove on the south coast, but when I sat down to write, that changed,” she says. “Many years ago with my first husband, I did a coast to coast walk across the UK and we went to Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay and it left such an impression on me. It was just so beautiful. And so I moved Alice up there to the Yorkshire coast – once I did that the house was smaller and that seemed to inform her personality and her life. It was a completely different feeling…”
Alice’s life since moving up North from London six years previously has been pretty uneventful – and then one day she finds a man on the beach who doesn’t know his own name and has no recollection of how he got there or why. Meanwhile down in East Grinstead, Sussex a young Ukrainian woman, Lily, who has been married for just three weeks, contacts the local police to report her English husband missing after he fails to come home from work.
The novel plays out intriguingly – taking in events in Ridinghouse Bay in the present day and in 1993, while also teasing out Lily’s story – and Jewell is supremely adept at presenting just enough information to fit another piece into the jigsaw while keeping the reader guessing with some genuinely surprising twists.
It is a totally compelling read, deftly structured, peopled with authentic characters, the kind of book you can easily devour in a couple of sittings. Secrets and mysteries are a recurring theme in Jewell’s work and it is clearly something she relishes.
“It’s just really enjoyable to tell a story where you know something that the reader doesn’t,” she says. “I like drip-feeding the reader with information. I like to end my chapters on a cliffhanger so that with each chapter I’m giving the reader just enough clues for them to peel off another layer, revealing a bit more of the truth.”
Jewell is incredibly prolific – she has written 14 novels since her debut Ralph’s Party in 1998, with another coming out this summer and she’s already working on her next – I wonder what drives her. “What really motivates me is once the story starts going,” she says. “Then you can’t give up and not find out what happens to everyone. Quite often it can take me a long time to get to the story I want to tell but once I actually begin writing, it is quite quick. It took me three or four months to write I Found You. I am writing every day but throwing stuff away and getting rid of characters and changing my mind about things. Once I start though, it is almost like reading a book in that it’s the same kind of intensity.”
In order to be a good writer you have to be a reader and Jewell is voracious. On her website there is a whole section dedicated to which books she has been enjoying.
“I read a lot and very much in my own genre,” she says. “And that’s because I love my genre not because I’m trying to compare or weigh up the competition. I love domestic thrillers and domestic dramas and mysteries. I know some writers don’t like to read while they are writing, but I don’t have a problem with that at all. I am able to compartmentalise things – my reading is purely for pleasure, it doesn’t interfere with my own work.”
She seems to have found a way of working that suits her and that doesn’t impinge on her family life in North London with her second husband, two daughters and cats.
“Being a writer is a really nice life if you can make it work for you,” she says. “I do think about my plot when I am going through my day but I tend to do my writing in two to three hour chunks five days a week. I make sure I have a weekend and I have time to go to school events, meet friends for lunch and have a good quality of life. When my children get home from school, then I am their mum.”
She doesn’t work at home, preferring to go out and install herself in a café with her laptop. She says she finds it’s a good way of separating work and domesticity and she can people-watch at the same time. “There are very few things that I can’t work around – screaming toddlers don’t bother me – and I like the bustle of a café. It really focuses the mind and I just get on with it.”
I Found You, published by Penguin Random House, is out in paperback now, priced £7.99. Lisa Jewell’s next novel Then She Was Gone is out in July.