British import Jane Green is a founding member of the genre known as "chick lit," a literary territory populated by funny, likable, underdog heroines who triumph over life's adversities and find true love in the end. If someone turned Green's life into a novel, she might emerge as a chick-lit heroine herself. She toiled for years in the trenches of entertainment journalism and public relations (two fields that sound far more glamorous than they are!) before moving up to become a popular feature writer for The Daily Express in London.
In 1996, Green took a leap in faith when she left the paper to freelance and work on a novel. Seven months later, she had a publishing deal for her first book, Straight Talking, the saga of a single career girl looking for (what else?) the right man. The novel was a hit in England, and Green was, as she admitted in a Barnes & Noble interview, an "overnight success." The success got even sweeter when her second novel, Jemima J, became an international bestseller. Cosmopolitan called this cheerful, updated Cinderella story "the kind of novel you'll gobble up in a single sitting."
Since then, Green has graduated to more complex, character-driven novels that explore the concerns of real women's lives, from marriage (The Other Woman) to motherhood (Babyville) to midlife crises (Second Chance) -- all served up with her trademark wit and warmth. Whether she has outgrown chick lit or the genre itself is growing up, one thing seems certain: The career of Jane Green is destined for a happy ending.
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Some outtakes from our interview with Green:
"My life is actually very boring. The life of a bestselling novelist sounds like it ought to be spectacularly glamorous and fun, but in fact I spend most of my time incognito, and in fact were you to pass me in the street you would think I was just another dowdy suburban mom."
"I'm still a failed artist at heart and never happier than when I'm sitting behind an easel, painting, which is something I rarely do these days, although I have a few of my paintings around the house, competing, naturally, with far greater works."
"I am completely addicted to gossip magazines that are, I have decided, my secret shame. I know everything there is to know about who's been wearing what and where, the only problem is I have an inability to retain it, so although I enjoy it whilst flicking through the pages, as soon as I close the magazine all the information is gone."
"I am a passionate gardener and happiest when outside planting, particularly with the children, who have their own vegetable gardens."
"My favorite way to unwind is with friends, at home, with lots of laughter and lots of delicious food. I'm a horrible baker -- everything collapses and tastes awful -- but a great cook, particularly comfort food: stews and casseroles."
"I have a deep and passionate love of America. It is where I have always thought I would be happiest, and although I miss England desperately, I find that my heart definitely has its home over here."
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In the winter of 2005, Jane Green took some time out to talk with us about some of her favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
In 1998 I picked up a book called High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. It was a huge bestseller in the U.K., and everyone was talking about how it seemed to be about every 30-something male they knew. It occurred to me that nobody had written the definitive guide for the 30-something woman, and even though I was 27 at the time, all of my girlfriends seemed to go out with exactly the same men and have exactly the same stories to tell. Thus, Straight Talking was born. Of course, little did I know Helen Fielding was paving the way with Bridget Jones's Diary, which came out soon after I signed my first publishing deal, and thank God for it -- it created the beginning of a phenomenon.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett -- Still my favorite of all Ann Patchett's books -- as magical as you'd expect from the title.
Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido -- Every time I read it I just want to dive into the pages and live their lives with them.
Bilgewater by Jane Gardam -- Beautiful, sad, poignant, perfectly describes being a young woman who doesn't quite fit in -- I've adored it since I read it as a teenager who didn't quite fit in.
Rough Music by Patrick Gale -- I love everything Patrick Gale writes, and particularly this, a great big saga of a book.
The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford -- I find all the Mitfords completely fascinating, and love the archness of her writing.
The Count by Helena Dela -- A strange, quirky, gorgeous little gem of a book that made me laugh and that I almost didn't buy because of the ghastly cover.
The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan -- I discovered Ian McEwan when I was practically still a child and have to say I do still adore his earlier books for their extraordinary and unexpected darkness.
Alcoholics Anonymous -- I am a huge believer in 12-step programs and do think that the principles, when practiced, can make an enormous difference in the way you see your life, the way you treat people, and the way you are subsequently treated in return. Alcoholics Anonymous is the bible of all 12-step programs, the place where it all began, and when read, as I do, slowly and repeatedly, it is extraordinary how little gems jump out at you from every page.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
I tend to be a ridiculous romantic when it comes to films. I still adore Truly, Madly, Deeply, which is the unexpected story of a woman whose lover dies, then comes back. I could watch Groundhog Day over and over again and never get bored. Romuald et Juliette is sweet and funny and warm, and I have spent hours poring over the house in Something's Gotta Give, wondering how I could possibly get my kitchen to look exactly like the one in Diane Keaton's house.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
At the moment I'm listening incessantly to Damien Rice, which is driving my husband mad. He keeps sighing and asking why I have to listen to such depressing music, because The Blower's Daughter keeps making me cry. I don't listen to anything when I'm writing. I need total quiet, which is astounding, given that I spent years working for a newspaper and having to write features surrounded by ringing phones and people shouting.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I love giving cookery books to true foodies and love receiving gardening books. I will give fiction if I think it's something someone will truly love, but on the whole tend to avoid it. More often than not, I will buy my girlfriends frivolities (I think all women ought to be given jewelry on a regular basis) or lovely things that I know they would not think of buying themselves.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I work from my local library now because I find the Internet far too much of a distraction. I can happily spend hours buying things I neither want nor need, so instead I take my laptop to the library, pick up a skim latte en route, take my place at the big table by the window, remove my watch, and off I go. I love getting out the house because writing is such a solitary business that even being at the library makes me feel part of the world.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
I was enormously blessed in being one of those "overnight success" stories. I did send the first few chapters of my first book -- Straight Talking -- to one agent and then received a letter from a woman I later found out was his secretary, saying my character was immature, the plot unbelievable, and the book was "frankly, unpublishable." I sank into a deep depression for a few weeks before pulling myself together and sending those same chapters to another 13 literary agents. Within a week, 9 had come back saying they loved it, and within the month there was a bidding war between the top U.K. publishers. So my advice would be: persevere!
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
I would say start with writing something you know. I'll never forget someone I know approaching me with his novel about a male P.I. set in South Central L.A. Given that this was written by an English record producer living in North London, it was hardly surprising that it lacked a certain credibility.
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