Jane Green joined us for a live webchat to talk about her new novel The Patchwork Marriage and her career as a bestselling novelist. Since her first novel, Straight Talking, in 1996, Jane has sold more than 10 million books. Originally from the UK, she now lives in America, where her books are also phenomenally successful.
Q: My daughter is a big fan and I must confess that I pinch borrow all her copies and enjoy them very much. It seems to me that what you write about has changed a lot over the years. Does that reflect the changes in your own life? kittyp
A: Absolutely! The books have very much charted the course of my life, while never being about my life completely. You can almost follow my journey from single girl, through marriage, children, divorce, etc etc...
Q: Is it true you have six children? How do you find time to write? And do you write about them? chicky
A: Four are mine, two my husband's - we are the Brady Bunch. Except when we're all shouting. I'm very disciplined about writing - I write every day, as a job, and take my computer to a writer's room as soon as the children leave for school.
Q: How did you end up in America? Your earlier books are very UK centric so has the move meant you have had to change the way you write? katykat
A: I definitely had to change, but it was gradual. At first I did half and half, finally feeling confident enough to do a full American book with The Beach House. I think I need to bring more British characters in for the future...
Q: In one of your books - The Beach House I think but I may be wrong - there was a three generation family and the grandmother came across rather negatively. Is that based on any personal experience? What was (is?) your relationship with your grandparents like? rosiemus
A: I actually think you might be wrong. I've never written a three-generation book, and would never write about a grandmother negatively. My Grandma just turned 102. We share the same birthday and I adore her.
Q: Is your life as a writer very different in America from how it was in England? I imagine it to be more glamorous and filled with celebrities. nanamarion
A: I can't lie...it is rather glamorous. Not always - most of the time it's deeply humdrum, just being a mum and running around frazzled, but when you do rub shoulders with celebrities, they're of a better quality!! Rather odd, and wonderful to find yourself at a party with Richard Gere!
Q: What do you think is the secret of your success? clarice
A: After years of doing events and meeting readers, I think there is something in the way I write that touches my readers deeply. It's not unusual for my events to turn into Oprah-like episodes - lots of tears and hugging!
Q: I have seen from the blurb in your books that you have a 'blended' family and would love to know more about it - and also any advice you can offer to others who may find themselves in this position? My daughter is about to set up home with her new partner and the children from both marriages and it would be lovely to have some positive and constructive advice I could offer. charlottel
A: My best advice would be to read a book called Stepcoupling - it helped us enormously. The most important advice - and one that's often hard for fathers - is that the two of you have to be a united team. You have to set the rules, and stick to them. And new stepmothers shouldn't try to make stepchildren love them. Stepchildren can sniff out falseness from a mile away. Recognise that love develops over time, you cannot make it happen... Wishing everyone best of luck!
Q: Do you ever get writers block? And what do you do to try and combat it? CinnamonStix
A: The only thing to do is to write through it. If you waited for inspiration to strike you'd never get anything done! It happens many, many times, and I have found the only way to unlock the creativity is to force myself to sit at the desk and keep writing, even when I don't know what to say. After a while, it gets easier, then easier still, and all of a sudden, it's back.
Q: Hi there Jane, great to be able to 'chat' with you like this! Can I ask what your top three priorities are in life? chazmax
A: Balance, peace, trust.
Q: I read somewhere that you do a lot for charity. Which ones do you support - and what made you feel it is important to put something back? kacey
A: It's very hard to choose, because there are so many deserving and wonderful causes. My foremost charity is a camp set up by Paul Newman called the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, for children with terminal diseases. I support a variety of breast cancer charities after losing one of my best friends, and a medical center in Pasadena called City of Hope which is developing groundbreaking medical treatment for cancer and diabetes amongst other things.
I think it's vital to give back. I hope to be in a position to give far more than I already do. I am enormously blessed to have what I have, but it means nothing if it's not shared.
Q: Have any films been made of your books? clairew
A: Grrrr....sadly not. I think The Beach House would be lovely, and I still can't believe Jemima Jones has never been made. I don't quite understand it, but clearly it's just not my time. I thought Nancy Meyers - Something's Gotta Give; It's Complicated - would do a gorgeous job with The Beach House and Nantucket. We sent it to her but she's busy filming. I am sure as soon as she finishes she'll get to it and phone me saying yes! I love this! This, Jane, is my new blockbuster!
Q: Sorry - can I also ask what books you like reading? clairew
A: I read everything, from commercial fiction like mine, to thrillers, to literary fiction. I am lucky enough to have got my hands on the new Marion Keyes which isn't out for a few months - The Mystery of Mercy Close - and it's FANTASTIC!
Q: Where do you get your inspiration for stories? Do you draw from real life experience or simply from your imagination? You're one of the rare authors who can bring me into the story in no matter the plot/characters. From Mr. Maybe to the Beach House I love that I feel I can connect and relate to the story despite not having much in common in my real life. Thanks for helping me escape into the wonderful world of your characters! KatieFerrell
A: Katie - thank you!! Inspiration often comes from my life, whether it's something that's happened to me, the life of a friend, a theme I have noticed, or even a person I have passed and found compelling. Nan in the Beach House came about after I moved into a tiny beach cottage after my former marriage ended, and found myself falling in love with my landlord. We'd go for late night walks on the beach, and every night a woman would pass us on a bicycle, smoking, with red lipstick, and I was fascinated by her and knew I had to use her in a book, hence Nan.
Q: Do you welcome the chicklit label or do you think it misses something about your books? (not a leading question or anything...) zither
A: At 44 I defy anyone to call me a chick... It was a great label in 1996 when it was created, but it truly doesn't fit what I write anymore. However people may try to defend or expand the label, the vast majority of people, when asked to define it, would say it is the fluffy twenty-something single girl looking for romance.
I'm writing for women of every age, and particularly now my age and older. I have had a huge problem letting those women know I'm writing for them because of the 'chick lit' label, so whilst I did not mind in the least when I was writing younger books, it doesn't apply now.
Q: Do you have a favourite Author if so whom? mtp123
A: Not one, but a few. Jonathon Tropper; Armistead Maupin; Patrick Gale; Dani Shapiro
Q: How have you found having children has combined with being a writer? Has the pram in the hall been a problem - or were you always well off enough to have help? distaffgran
A: Oh God. Am laughing. I was always the breadwinner, and although I wouldn't have described myself as being well off, I did have a young girl come to help in the mornings so I could write.
My afternoons were spent walking my colicky baby for hours round West Hampstead. If I tried to stop to get a coffee, he'd start screaming. I clearly remember my agent calling as I was going endlessly up and down the aisles of Woolworths in the Finchley Road, and asking where I was.
"You don't want to know," I replied, all thoughts of life as a glamorous bestseller having long gone out the window.
Q: I love reading your books they always seem to have some experience that I have come across in my lifetime I find them so enjoyable,what career path would you have taken if you did not write these fab books, and at 60+ am I too old to consider putting pen to paper? glammanana
A: You are NEVER too old! NEVER! Pick up that pen and start writing now! I wish more people would write their stories - whether memoirs or novels - and do believe that we do indeed all have a story to tell.
Had I not been a writer, I think perhaps a garden designer. Or architect. Or cook. Or jeweller. Something creative for certain.
Q: My daughter-in-law introduced me to your books. I am 65 she is 36. We both enjoy your books enormously. Now my closest two friends enjoy them too because of my recommendations. They are 59 and 63. So I am guessing that your books appeal to a wide age range. Did you have an idea of an age group for whom you wanted to write when you started and has that changed? flowerfriend
A: I started writing for women like me - 27, and am now writing for women mid-thirties to sixties/seventies I would think. I believe you have to have had a certain kind of life experience to fully appreciate the books I write now - the young single girls have no interest in reading about blended families...
Q: Do you feel that it is ever too late to start writing? And is it important to get your work seen and accepted by an agent rather than contacting publishers directly? How did you begin to approach for publication when you started and has it change? redamanthas
A: Never too late. I'm not too sure what to say about an agent. In the old days I always said absolutely, but more and more people in the US are self-publishing, and doing so successfully, so I'm not entirely sure what to advise. Going down the traditional route, you must have an agent. Go through books you love or are similar to the one you have written (and you must have finished before you do anything), and read the acknowledgments to find out who their agent is.
Get hold of a copy of The Writer's Handbook at the Library and find the address, then send three chapters, a great synopsis, and a cover letter. The synopsis is terrifically important, as are the chapters.
Best of luck!
Q: When writing and the subject grinds to a halt what advice can you give - to restart or to enliven either the character or the topic? And does this happen to you or is it just me? newt148
A: It happens to all of us, all of the time. The only advice I can give is to keep going. Sometimes it helps to skip that section and jump to another, coming back to that, but whatever you do, don't walk away or stop writing - the more you write the easier it is. Good luck!
Q: Hello Jane, it's lovely to have you on Gransnet. I love your books and I wanted to ask whether you plot meticulously before you start or whether you work out the story as you go along? fridaygran
A: It's lovely to be here! I'm working with a new editor, and she is definitely a fan of the higher concept plot, which I'm quite enjoying. Having said that, I have always focused a little more on the characters and let them tell their own stories. I have a rough idea of the beginning, middle and end, and know that I can always refine the plot in the editing stage.
Q: Do you think your books have changed as you have grown older? Have your preoccupations changed? And has the tone and style, or have they stayed the same? granIT
A: The books today are completely different from the earlier ones! The first few were far harder: more sarcastic; edgier. Today they are softer, more vulnerable, as in fact I am softer and more vulnerable. I'm not sure if motherhood has changed me, or America! Either way I am now ridiculously soppy!
Q: I think you manage to produce about a book a year. Is that difficult? How many hours a day do you write for? Does it all come out right first time or is there a lot of rewriting involved? phishphood
A: Sadly lots of rewriting required these days. My writing is very much a job. I have to be enormously disciplined and write every day. I leave the house at around 8.30 and go to a writer's room, and write until around lunchtime every day, sometimes longer. I need the routine of leaving the house, and like being around other people, although I keep headphones in and listen to music, only taking them out if the writing's going well and I have time to chat!
Q: Which of your novels do you like the best? Do you have a favourite? swizzle
A: I do love The Beach House. I think it was really the first novel I wrote in which I could truly write about a happy ending because I finally had a happy ending of my own so I knew what it felt like.
So many of the novels before that had been about women who appeared to have it all but had been desperately unhappy - clearly my denial of my own situation!
And I loved the characters. They all felt like my friends, my family, the people I wished were in my life.
Q: Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey and do you think 'mommy porn' is going to be a whole new genre or will it flare and fade away? topcat
A: I suspect it will flare and fade away. I will confess that I started reading, then jumped from sex scene to sex scene. I didn't quite get it, but that's just me. Clearly it's tapping into something huge, and I am wondering if I should put a little more sex in my novels...thoughts?
(And I'm quite good at it...there is a bathtub scene in Mr Maybe that makes 50 Shades of Grey look like Enid Blyton. Just sayin')
Q: I don't want to pre empt The Patchwork Marriage - which I am very keen to read! - but what conclusions have you reached about the ingredients of a happy marriage? dietarysupp
A: That kindness is paramount. So often we don't consider our partners, we make jokes at their expense, we snap at them. Being mindful of how we treat them and being kind are crucial.
Also, I think, showing them you love them. We all become complacent, we are all busy, life gets in the way for all of us. But nothing makes us feel more loved than someone doing something to show us.
I wrote about acts of love in The Love Verb, that loving someone requires acts of love, it is about what you do, not what you say, and nowhere is that more important than in your marriage.
Q: I was intrigued by your answer to granIT which made me wonder if the ingredients of a bestseller are different in the US and the UK. Quite a few British writers have enormous success in the US - you included - but some don't. Can you see why that is or is it always a bit of a mystery why some authors are popular in different places? feistygran
A: I think it is often a bit of a mystery. Before Bridget Jones's Diary, Straight Talking was turned down by everyone in America. They "loved" it, but didn't know how to publish it. As soon as BJD became such a huge (and in the US, unexpected) hit, they were desperate for more.
I am very English, but with quite an American sensibility, which helps. I've always spent a lot of time in the States, since childhood, and perhaps I have an understanding, or a warmth, (or indeed a soppiness???!!) they can relate to?
- Love the bathtub scene in Mr Maybe, it always makes me nostalgic about an old boyfriend twinsmum100
Q: Do you think a great writer is one who sells thousands or more copies of a book or one who writes a book that critics laud but is not widely read? nanaej
A: Either. Both.
I had dinner recently with a writer who has had huge acclaim for her novel in all the magazines. She was upset that she hadn't been reviewed in the more serious press, but also upset she hadn't sold more copies.
You can't have it both ways. Both have their merits.
My best friend is a literary writer. Neither of us feel less/better than the other. We are both writers, both good in our field.
Q: Did you move to America for love or work? Does it feel funny having your children grow up in a country that wasn't where you grew up - or does it feel completely like home? grancanaria
A: I moved for work, then fell in love. It doesn't feel weird, although I did hate it when their accents changed from the very British to the American. They are now completely americanised, and whenever I try and correct their homework they roll their eyes and tell me I'm wrong, and they do it differently in America. (for differently, read incorrectly. Please. Since when did the 'u' in colour go awol?)
Q: I love your books! Jemima J is just my favourite character, so excited you have a new book coming out. How would you define your style? Do you sit and write in Pj's and no make up, or are you glamtastic? twinsmum100
A: Thank you!! Am just starting to think about a future sequel to Jemima J...
I'm not glamtastic in the slightest!! I glam up a bit for photo shoots and events, but the real me is make-up free, hair scraped back in a clip, cargo pants, flip flops and a T-shirt.
Greasy skin as a teenager means I'm a lucky forty-something - no wrinkles, so the face is great, but the body is changing. Let's just say last summer was the summer of the bikini. This summer? Summer of the poncho...
Q: Do you still need to do book tours? Most authors claim to hate them. I'd have thought your books were guaranteed to be successful without having to do them any more. flopsybunny
A: I'm that rare author who quite loves them. Writing is so solitary, I love getting out on the road and meeting my readers. It can be exhausting, but there are the luxury hotels (oh the horror), and the lovely, lovely people - I tend to find it all quite exhilarating. Also, I love public speaking. Bizarre, I know.
Q: I was just wondering if you've started writing a new book yet, and if you have, when will it come out in the UK? hrichards
A: I have almost finished the edits on Family Pictures, which will be out in March 2013. It is the story of two women, one in California, one in Connecticut. They have never met, have very different lives, but one terrible weekend they discover they have more in common than they think...
Q: It's difficult to do sex in a novel that's not written primarily to titillate, isn't it? Either the sex is written to excite - which is fine but can unbalance the story - or it often sounds a bit daft. Still, bet you could do it. Maybe you should try it under a pseudonym?! (Sorry, that's not really a question.) solidair
A: I think you have to to it to titillate otherwise why do it? I remember being very clear about that when I wrote the sex in Mr Maybe - there seemed to be no point unless I did it properly. I did read lots of porn beforehand to make sure I got it right! Pseudonym might be a good idea. How about titles? 60 Shades of Green?
- Thank you so much to Jane for a fantastic webchat - very fast typing (years of practice) so lots got through and some fascinating answers. Am off to reread that bathtub scene now...GeraldineGransnet
- Fantastic questions! This was one of the best chats I've done - thank you so much to all of you for turning up. My warmest wishes and love to you all, Jane xx