Who would have thought contracting glandular fever was "a dream come true"?
Well, Jill Mansell. But only because she has recently spent a fortnight believing she had hepatitis, during which time she avoided fatty foods and alcohol, before discovering (much to her delight) it was only the kissing disease. "At least I can eat normally now," she explains, "so I had some roast potatoes last night. They really did taste amazing."
Mansell's recent trip to hospital wasn't the first time she walked down whitewashed corridors— she spent 18 years working at the Burden Neurological Hospital (in Bristol where she still lives) as an electroencephalographic technician, monitoring electrical activity in the brain.
Making ends meet
Although a fan of the job she found it tough to make make ends meet so she decided to start creative writing classes after reading an article about a woman who made a lot of money from penning romantic novels. Fast Friends, Mansell's debut, was published by Transworld in 1991.
Juggling writing and her scientific career was "just completely surreal" says Mansell, who wrote her second title while working at the hospital before becoming pregnant with her first child and giving up work. "At one stage I was just going from one thing to the other because I was invited to the book awards, meeting all these famous people and it was just fabulous and glamorous... and then the next morning I'm back at work and I've got a patient trying to rip my ears off and bite my face... It was the weirdest juxtaposition."
Twenty-two books on and Mansell is among the bestselling and most well-known chick-lit authors. She is one of the top 20 British female novelists of the 21st century (in terms of sales) and has been worth almost £14.5m to the market since 2000.
Her new novel, To the Moon and Back, tells of Ellie who is attempting to rebuild her life after the shocking death of her husband. The story follows her as she moves to a new house in Primrose Hill, starts a new job and meets both old and new friends.
Despite the sad beginning Mansell says one of the golden rules of chick lit is a happy ending. In the past when attempting to kill off her protagonist at the end her editor made her rewrite it, so Mansell's readers can always look forward to a cheerful resolution.
After so many years Mansell says she still loves her job but admits writers do like to moan if it's not going well. "Today I know exactly which bit I'm going to write next and I'm really excited about writing it, but yesterday I was sitting there drumming my nails, thinking how can I do the next bit," she says. "Sometimes its like cycling up a really steep hill and sometimes its like going wheeee down the other side."
She says she draws inspiration from many sources whether it be "EastEnders", "This Morning", or real life stories from the pages of glossy magazines.
Writing by hand
She sits each day in front of the television as she writes her books by hand using a Harley-Davidson fountain pen. "I'm not that brilliant on the internet, I've only just learnt how to cut and paste and do technical stuff," says Mansell. "When people talk about Word documents I actually don't know what they mean." She also relies on her daughter to type her notes.
Even though she is a self-confessed technophobe sitting beside Mansell on the sofa is her iPad which she regularly uses to post tweets. "I did think Twitter would be too complicated for me, but its not, it's just so simple, it couldn't be simpler. It's just like having other people to talk to in the office when you want to."
As an author Mansell is undoubtedly a lover of longer works but says she enjoys Twitter because it is so short and immediate. "When it's just a couple of sentences, it's just like something you would say to somebody anywhere and so it's the brevity of it that's lovely."