Jane Green
The Official Home of New York Times Bestselling Author

For the Love of the Characters

November 25th, 2016

Jane Green DeskI have just finished writing my nineteenth novel. For years people have asked me how it feels when I finish a novel, and I haven’t known how to answer them. In the old days, it felt wonderful, knowing I had achieved something so big. A great weight would be off my shoulders, freeing me up to enjoy life for a little while without a cloud of guilt following me around if I hadn’t written that day.

Then I moved to a different publisher, and found myself working with a very talented editor, who didn’t like the kinds of books I wrote. She wanted more suspense, more drama, more plot. I stopped trusting that I could write books by myself, and would deliver first drafts that I knew needed work, knowing that she would require me to rewrite huge chunks of each book. Finishing a book meant the beginning of a grueling round of edits, sometimes up to five, always with large rewrites.

The books I wrote whilst there garnered some of the best reviews of my career, but they never felt like mine, never felt like the warm, character-driven feel-good novels with which I made my name. I felt as if I was almost writing by numbers, moulding my characters to fit someone else’s formula. I grew more and more demoralized, knowing I had to leave.

I wrote Falling, my last novel, under enormous duress. I was secretly preparing to change publishers, writing my first cookbook at the same time, and preparing for a grueling book tour. When I delivered the manuscript of Falling, there were things about the book I loved, but I knew there was something amiss with the timeline. The publishing schedule didn’t allow time for me to fix it.

And then I sat down to write The Sunshine Girls. I went back to my old ways of writing, telling a character-driven story, with a rough idea of the story arc, but allowing the characters to direct me. I wrote entirely by myself, with no-one else’s input, allowing myself to trust that I knew how to tell a good story.

This is a book about sisters. Three girls with a self-absorbed, dramatic, disinterested mother. A mother from whom they are all estranged, until she is diagnosed with a terminal illness, and calls them home to heal old wounds. It is a book where each of the sisters sprang to life from the very first sentence. They were so real, they felt like my friends. Self-contained shy Nell, a single mother who doesn’t think she needs a partner, until she finds herself falling for the last person she ever expected; people-pleasing Meredith, who is engaged to a man she is slowly realizing she can’t stand, even though he checks all the boxes of what she thinks she is expected to look for, and spiky, selfish Lizzy, a celebrated chef who thinks of no-one other than herself. Every page of this book was a joy to write, and it has restored my faith in my writing, reminding me of why I became a writer in the first place.

Next is a Young Adult novel, and perhaps, perhaps, a small spot of breathing space where I can take some deep breaths and see all the people I love. And today, I am feeling enormously grateful for having a job that I love.

Tags: