Jane Green explains that the inspiration for her new novel came from a very close friend— with whom she spent every day— after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
"I suddenly thought... how can I not write about this? It has become my life. Yet I also didn't want to invade her privacy, I didn't want to do anything inappropriate, I didn't even want to ask her but she was the one who turned to me one day as we walked out of the hospital and said: 'I hope you're going to write about this.' So I had her blessing." The result was The Love Verb (Michael Joseph, June).
Green says that the book was the easiest book she has written but also the hardest. She says it was such an emotional experience that she wrote it with tears streaming down her face every day. She believes one of her greatest gifts as a writer is being able to process emotions through her work. "I often don't know how I feel about things until I start writing about them," she says. "I'm never writing about me, it's never my life, but there are certainly all the themes going on in my life that I draw upon."
The Love Verb focuses on three women who all have different priorities. Callie is a mother and a wife who has a seemingly perfect life; Steff, Callie's sister, is a chef who never wants to settle down; and Lila is Callie's best friend who wants to find her soulmate. The three receive some life-changing news, which puts everything into perspective.
Green says her ill friend inadvertently came up with the book's title. Her friend said that Green sitting with her, holding her hand and crying with her was her "love verb". Green continues: "I've realised that loving someone is a verb, it requires acts of love. Rather than asking someone to reach out to you it means reaching out to them first, it means thinking, what can I do to make this person happy, what can I do to show them that I love them?"
Each chapter in the novel is separated by a recipe relating to food mentioned in the previous chapter, whether it be an orange cake someone was eating in a cafe or mushroom and pecan pate that was served at a party. Another of Green's great loves, apart from writing, is food and she describes herself as a "crazy cook". She says that having six children means the family is never invited out and so she spends a lot of her time hosting and cooking for others. "I've developed and collected a whole pile of recipes of things that are completely delicious but idiot-proof."
Green may now be a busy mother in her early 40s but at the age of 27 she was one of the founders of the chick lit genre. She decided to start writing after reading Nick Hornby's High Fidelity and realising there was nothing of a similar vein for women.
"I think I wrote the right book at the right time," Green says. "There were a number of other authors, Helen Fielding included, who happened to be writing about single women in a very real way which hadn't been done before. We had come out of the '80s and the early '90s with all the bonkbusters and glamour and there wasn't an awful lot around that really captured women's insecurities, and thoughts and feelings about relationships, and themselves, work and weight."
Green wrote the first 30,000 words of her debut novel, Straight Talking, in a week. She had previously worked as a journalist, writing for publications including Just 17, More and the Daily Express. She says working as a journalist was a wonderful discipline, which has taught her the "greatest lesson" in being a novelist. She adds: "You can't say 'I'm so sorry but I have writers' block', or 'I'm not inspired'... there are no excuses, you just have to write."
After sending off three chapters and the synopsis of her first novel to an agent, Green received a letter which said: "Your characters are immature, your situations are not credible and your work is frankly unpublishable." Green was disheartened and came close to giving up but was spurred on by a friend who reminded her that she had loved writing the book and should try again. She sent chapters off to 13 agents and within a week had received nine letters expressing an interest.
Agent David Godwin of David Godwin Associates took her out for lunch before she signed a deal and then phoned Louise Moore at Penguin afterwards to suggest she buy the book. Although Godwin has never been Green's agent she says she is "indebted to him for life".
Twelve books later and Green says she has moved on from writing about young single girls living in the city. Her more recent novels have covered themes such as grief and divorce.
"I'm now writing about women in their 40s. I don't think I'm a chick, I'd be horrified to be called a chick now," she laughs.
Despite covering an abundance of topics over the years she is still able to generate new storylines. "I'm always worried that I'm not going to be able to come up with another idea, and yet something always come up."
- Cecelia Ahern | "I don’t think any book should be described as 'chick lit'"
- Sally Gardner | "I don't know what the term ‘young adult' means. I think I write for open minds..."
- Fatima Bhutto | "I think when people think of Pakistani women they think of reserved, quiet, compliant women and I don’t know any quiet, compliant women in Pakistan"
- Rose Tremain | "I'm very, very uncompromising. I just think 'that's what I want to write' and no other thing."
- Samantha Harvey | "I don't wish to write endlessly obscure novels, but I don't want to fashion myself to a market."