Jane Green says she is 'having a really lovely time' when I talk to her about her new book The Patchwork Marriage and how her UK book tour is going. The bestselling author was over here recently to promote the book, catch up with old friends and generally reacquaint herself with her native England. The author, who now lives in the US with her husband, children and numerous pets – which include two cats, chickens and now two dogs – was one of the pioneering authors for the chick-lit genre back in the 1990s with books like Straight Talking and Jemima J.
In her latest offering, Green writes about a woman, Andi, who finally marries her dream man but struggles to cope when one of his two daughters from a previous marriage is nothing but difficult and hostile towards her and tries very hard to break up their marriage.
"I did a lot of reading and anonymous lurking on various step-parenting forums. There was one particular dynamic that I found fascinating and I kept coming across it. It was the woman who marries the man with children and the children don't like her. She thinks, 'I'm a good person, and all these children need is enough love and kindness and they will love me. I will make them love me and we will create, I will create, this happy family.'" – Jane Green on the research for The Patchwork Marriage.
The new book The Patchwork Marriage is about a woman who marries a man who already has children. You have a bit of a patchwork family yourself – is that why you wanted to write about this subject?
JG: Yes. I got a bit stuck after I finished The Love Verb, because I think it was so emotionally draining for me. I had every writer's worst nightmare in that I just ran out of stories and had no idea what to write next. My editor took me out for lunch and said: 'Well, what's going on in your life? What are the themes? What are you interested in? What are you thinking about?'
Of course, I'd just got married for the second time and found myself with a blended family and in a bid to try to understand what that meant and figure it all out – because it definitely presents unique challenges – I did a lot of reading and anonymous lurking on various step-parenting forums. There was one particular dynamic that I found fascinating and I kept coming across it. It was the woman who marries the man with children and the children don't like her. She thinks, 'I'm a good person, and all these children need is enough love and kindness and they will love me. I will make them love me and we will create, I will create, this happy family.'
Of course that seemed to be so rarely the case.
That became the foundation for this story.
Why did you decide to show both Andi and eldest step-daughter Emily's perspective in the book, instead of just sticking to one of them?
JG: The beginning of the book is all Andi's point of view but after a while, she just comes across as being completely self-absorbed. As soon as I started writing as Emily – who I really didn't like – I understood her and I understood that this wasn't personal. She didn't hate her stepmother – in some ways she wanted to love her – but she couldn't because she felt she would be betraying her mother. She was a child in pain and she didn't know how to express that pain. I really empathised with her.
It threw a completely different light on where the book went after I started writing in her voice.
So at the beginning, was it just meant to be Andi's perspective?
JG: Yes! I had no intention of writing as Emily and in fact it was my editor's suggestion and I'm so glad she did. I was very nervous when she suggested it, I didn't think I could do it. As soon as I started, though, it made perfect sense and I just felt like I understood what this girl was about.
They're both flawed. There isn't an obvious heroine here. As I get older, I'm far more interested in writing about people who are flawed because we are all human and we're all doing the best we can. It just isn't realistic to write about people who are leading perfect lives.
There were moments when I read the book that I wanted to scream at the characters – particularly Ethan – to stop being so stupid. Did you consider that kind of reaction when you were creating the characters?
JG: I don't think I found him quite as frustrating as clearly people do but I think that's why marriages come apart. During my research, I found that so many second marriages come apart and so many people I spoke to put the reason down to step-children and to the husbands not standing up for their wives. I think that frustration that you felt reading it was probably an accurate reflection of how these women felt about their husbands.
"I could argue till the cows come home that it's a pejorative and the problem is in the definition but people have been arguing that since 1996 and honestly – you're not going to change how people think of the term, or what people assume the definition of 'literature for chicks' means, so why bother?" – Jane Green on the term 'Chick Lit'.
Since Straight Talking in 1997 you are viewed as one of the first chick-lit writers. How do you think this genre has evolved?
JG: I think it's still going strong. People have been waiting for it to disappear since 1996! I don't think it applies to me any more. No one can really call me a 'chick' now.
It's still exactly what it always was – which is a very real, honest and quite funny reflection of real women's lives. It is a younger woman's domain, always has been. It started off for women in their late-twenties and I think that's where it still is.
Now, I'm in my forties. I'm not writing about romances and there are no designer handbags or high heels or looking for Mr Right – which is fine! Good luck to those who are writing it. I'm writing about middle-age, teenage children, blended families, parenting your parents and losing friends – all the things that life throws at you. I just consider myself a writer of Women's Fiction.
I could argue till the cows come home that it's a pejorative and the problem is in the definition but people have been arguing that since 1996 and honestly – you're not going to change how people think of the term, or what people assume the definition of 'literature for chicks' means, so why bother?
They're wonderful [books] and I feel really proud and honoured to be part of a movement that was so incredibly popular.
You talked about Jemima J's future at this year's International Chick Lit Month – a lot of people got very excited! Is there a Jemima sequel in the works?
JG: I'm not quite ready for the sequel yet. I have been thinking a lot about Jemima and what's happened to her. I'm pretty certain she's definitely not with Ben at the moment and I'm not sure what happened with her and Ben but I know she is a single mother. I also know that she's gone back to writing. She didn't do anything for a while. Ben had tremendous success and she was his sort of trophy partner. Jemima, I think, is about to start writing a series of YA books so as Jemima's alter-ego, that is one of my next projects. I am looking to write a series of YA novels as Jemima – which I'm really excited about. In fact, that was inspired by writing as Emily [in The Patchwork Marriage] because I just so loved writing as this seventeen year old, and as a seventeen year old who doesn't quite fit in – which also was very much Jemima's story and of course very much my story. I really related to that feeling of not feeling quite good enough.
"Jemima has a sweetness that I'm not sure I've ever quite managed to replicate." – Jane Green on her favourite character, Jemima J.
So do you have ideas in mind already of what these books will be about?
JG: Just a broad idea – they will be set in America. Of course that's where I live, that is my frame of reference now. There will be a group of slightly creative misfits and I'm just looking to unpack their worlds.
So is Jemima J your favourite character from all your books?
JG: Oh yes. Jemima has a sweetness that I'm not sure I've ever quite managed to replicate.
So, is she the only character where you consider what they're doing now?
JG: Well, yes. She's just loved! Even if I wanted to forget her, I couldn't. Everywhere I go, people ask me about Jemima. I also think it's the Cinderella story, the transformation. People love that transformative fairytale. I do think it would be lovely to revisit her and find out where her life has gone.
Who's your favourite leading man in your books?
JG: I did always love Ben in Jemima J. [Stops to consider]. Well, he's not a leading man but I loved Si in Book Ends. He was the best friend. I loved him. [Goes through back-catalogue considering all the men she's written – mutters 'no, no' as she recalls each one]. I think my women are much stronger than the men actually. I don't think I've written fantastic men. I think I probably need to put a bit more work into the men. Wow! That's an eye-opener!
I wasn't expecting that reaction! Well I suppose that makes sense – the women are the centre of your books and the men stay in the periphery.
JG: But I'm going to have to change that! Wow. Thank you!
You're very welcome! I look forward to seeing who the next man you write will be now…
Stay tuned for the final part of our interview with Jane Green… coming this Friday on Novelicious!