I so loved Andy Jones’ The Trouble with Henry and Zoe, reviewed here, that when I heard he would have another book, Girl 99, published today, 14th February 2017, I had to invite him onto Linda’s Book Bag to tell me more about it. Luckily he agreed to be interviewed!
Published by Lake Union, Girl 99 is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here. As well as interviewing Andy, I’m reviewing Girl 99 too.
When Tom’s girlfriend walks out on him the day before Christmas, he feels humiliated but not necessarily heartbroken. Sadie wasn’t, after all, The One. If we’re being precise, she was number eighty-five.
And so, for reasons that are only mostly wrong, Tom embarks on a mission to bring his number of encounters up to a nice neat one hundred.
Over the course of his quest he sleeps with a colleague, a colleague of a friend, a friend of a friend, a friend of a friend’s wife, the estate agent selling his flat and several more besides.
Everything is going, if not well, then at least according to plan…and then Tom meets Verity. Whether she’s The One remains to be seen, but she’s certainly more than just another number.
An Interview with Andy Jones
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Andy. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing . Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?
Hey, thanks for having me. A little about me? Okay – I’m a husband, a father of two girls, and the owner of two lady cats. So I spend my days surrounded by women of one species or another. I fit my writing around my ‘day job’ as a freelance copywriter. Favourite movie is Forrest Gump (this week, anyway), favourite book is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. Oh and I mix a wicked Martini.
Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about Girl 99?
In short, it’s a book about love, sex, fidelity, commitment and growing up. In slightly less short, it’s a romantic comedy about a guy called Tom, who, for various reasons (not all bad, honest) is on a mission to sleep with 100 women. But he learns that if you blindly peruse sex, then inevitably, you will miss out on the real prize – love.
I know you have a very busy lifestyle with a family and full time job. What advice would you give to those wanting to write but feeling they don’t have time?
My advice would be quite brutal. You do have the time, you simply have to stop making excuses. You get up early, stay up late, sacrifice the gym, sacrifice TV box sets, sacrifice Thursday night down the pub with your mates. You need to be a bit selfish and a lot obsessive about time. But I promise you, the time is there, you simply have to find it and use it.
As well as your novels, you also write short stories. What are the techniques do you need to employ differently or similarly with longer and shorter fiction?
In short stories, I think readers give you latitude with certain amounts of backstory and character motivation. They are prepared to accept that some things (although not all) simply are. My short stories also tend to be darker than my novels, there are some things I think we can stomach in small doses, but which can become arduous over the long haul. Also, I think readers of novels tend to want a resolution, whereas short stories can exist as open-ended snapshots. Perhaps the biggest difference in the way I approach both forms is in the outlining. For novels, I like to work it all out first. But short stories, I just dive in and see where they take me.
You’ve written about second novel syndrome in the past. What was it like writing your third novel Girl 99 in comparison?
Well here’s the thing about that – Girl 99 was actually my first novel. But I hadn’t found a publisher for it until after the success of The Two of Us and The Trouble With Henry & Zoe. That said, I’m a different writer now than I was when I first wrote Girl 99, so I revised the novel heavily for this official outing. And it was tremendous fun. Perhaps because the story was all worked out, I could concentrate on fleshing out the characters and refining the writing. Fourth novel syndrome, though, well that’s something else entirely – maybe we can discuss that next time.
(We will indeed!)
You’re conscious of having quite a popular name and are sometimes confused with other writers – have you ever wished to be called something other than Andy Jones and why do you say that?
Well yes and no. I like my name, I definitely feel like an Andy. Although I suppose Jones is a bit bland. But with hindsight, yes, a pen name would have served me well. There are a bunch of books out there by other Andy Joneses – stuff about presidents, farts, burps. All important stuff, of course, but not mine. But if not Any Jones, what? I have a hard enough time naming my characters, let alone myself.
(I’m glad you say that as I find pinning down character names really tricky when I write.)
Your books have been translated into different languages. How involved with that process are you as the author?
I don’t have an awful lot to do with these – the cover designs, for example, happen with no consultation. But it is exciting to receive copies of these new versions through the letterbox. Translation, too, tends to happen without much consultation, although I did have a Swedish editor ask me what a ‘trolley’ was. And – being uninitiated in Cockney Rhyming slang – my US editor was baffled by the idea that one of my characters was ‘Hank Marvin’.
(Maybe ignorance is bliss here!)
Arguably, your books fall into the ‘female fiction’ genre. What is your view of assigning genres to writing and how do you feel about this assessment of your writing?
It’s tricky, isn’t it. I honestly didn’t know there was a genre called ‘female fiction’, so I was surprised to see my books labelled as such. And to be honest, I don’t really know what it means – that my books are more likely to appeal to women than men? If so, then I might debate that point – I’m a fella, after all. And I’ve had great feedback from readers of both sexes.
Genre labels can be useful: ‘horror’, ‘romance’, ‘thriller’ – you know what you’re getting. But others can be quite reductive, I think. ‘Literary’, ‘Chick lit’, ‘lad lit’, don’t tell us much. I write about people and relationships are at the core of my stories. They tend to be funny, too, so it’s fair to say my stories are romantic comedies. So far. My next novel, though, I don’t know if I’d call it romantic. Although it does feature couples struggling with relationships. And there is humour, but it’s dark, so I’d hesitate to call it a comedy. But it’s still me, still my style, still writing about the same things that have always interested me – humans. But would you call my new book a rom-com, no. Would you call it women’s fiction? I doubt it. And that, for me, is part of the issue. So what do we call it? I tend to lean on Contemporary Fiction, because that’s what it is. But I appreciate that this doesn’t help the publishers identify a market. Oh god, am I ranting? Like I said, it’s tricky.
Your writing has relationships at its heart. How do you plot your stories to explore this theme (like Tom’s attempt to reach 100 girls in his life in Girl 99)?
Big question, Linda. Mainly because my process is evolving. With Girl 99, the concept came first – it’s a quick and simple pitch. But from there I had to decide who this story was about, and why he’s driven to behave the way he does. So I spent a lot of time developing his character. From there, I thought about an overarching story flow and began brainstorming scenes, things that could happen off the concept, and situations that would reveal the protagonist’s character. It’s only then, that a theme might emerge – in this case the idea of there being a ‘One’ – a perfect partner – for everybody. And of whether we can find love again after losing that ‘One’ – as in the stories of Doug, El and Tom’s father. And when I have that, everything begins to tighten up. You write more scenes that resonate of the theme, and maybe cull some that don’t. So in this process, I had a very detailed outline running to over a hundred pages and I didn’t deviate much from that.
With my new novel (working title, Four), I am coming at it in a more organic way. I had what I believed to be a terrific set up, one that would have a ripple of consequences, but I didn’t know at the outset what they might be. Again, I investigated the characters, and then laid out some story beats, but this time I stopped short of writing a detailed outline. I bought two cork boards and a stack of index cards and pinned the scenes to the wall. I’m 50,000 words in now and still rearranging, cutting and adding scenes as I go. At the start of each new scene or chapter, instead of turning to my detailed road map, I take down one index card and stare at it until I figure out how to get into the scene, what happens, and how to get out. It’s refreshing, exciting and more than a little terrifying. But I’ll probably stick with this method for a while now – it seems to be working.
I find your writing quite emotional. How far do you have a reader in mind as you write with the intention of evoking an emotional response and how far does your narrative evolve organically?
Thank you, that’s very flattering. I don’t aim for an emotional response, as such – I think if I did that it would come off as contrived. But I try to be honest, to have my characters behave in a human way, rather than a ‘character’ way. And if the premise is right, or conducive, and if the characters are realistic and layered, the emotion will come. I never really know which scenes will best deliver that, they’re seldom the ones I might have identified as ‘emotional’ from the outset. These big scenes – a death, a breakup, a betrayal – they’re daunting to me as a writer, because they’re so easy to screw up. Often the temptation is to swerve them, cut away, have them happen off-screen. But that’s just self-doubt; so I brace myself and go after it. And then fix it in the edit.
How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?
I do desk research initially, but whenever possible I interview people who know or have experienced the thing I’m researching. This year I’ve spent some time with GP and a marriage counsellor – so make of that what you will.
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
I do almost all of my writing in my office. I’m a freelancer in my day job, so I try to take weeks or fortnights off now and then to work at my books for a concentrated period. But even when I’m ‘day-jobbing’ I never do Mondays – that’s a sacred writing day. Then during the week, I try and fit in a further 3 sessions of about 2-3 hours, either before I leave for work, once I get home or at the weekend. You juggle. But I think about the story every day – fiddling with the outline, making notes, sending emails to myself, researching something.
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Girl 99 should be their next read, what would you say?
15! A luxury.
If you don’t buy Girl 99, I’m putting mum in a cold remote nursing home.
(For the sake of your Mum we’d better get buying!)
Thank you so much for your time in answering my questions Andy.
You are so much more than welcome.
My Review of Girl 99
Tom’s on a mission. His best friend El has made him a bet that he can’t sleep with 100 women and, having just split from girlfriend Sadie, Tom accepts the bet.
I have to admit that initially I felt uncomfortable with the premise of Girl 99 that Tom is prepared to work his way through women as sexual partners as if they are a disposable commodity because that felt wrong to me, until I realised that that is the whole point of the book. Tom needs to come to the same conclusion and unless he does, he won’t find contentment. You’ll have to read Girl 99 to find out if this happens!
I love Andy Jones’ lively and engaging style of writing. It’s humorous, conversational and honest so that it’s really effortless to read. He is able to use dialogue in a natural way that makes me feel as if I am eavesdropping conversations rather than reading them on the page. I frequently found myself cringing at El’s language in the restaurant, but equally it was exactly as he would speak.
I thoroughly enjoyed the characterisation too. I really felt I got to know Tom as an individual. He’s endearing, frustrating, an idiot, good friend and a fool so that, much as I wanted to dislike him at times, I simply couldn’t. It’s this characterisation that is the particular strength of Girl 99. I really enjoyed meeting the different characters, especially El and it’s no coincidence that Verity is so named.
I think Girl 99 has something for every reader. Some will enjoy the racier passages and there is quite a bit of sex in this narrative. Some will find (as I did) the parts about the shoot for the advertising campaign highly entertaining. But for me, what I liked most was the exploration of relationships and human emotion. Andy Jones writes with such skill that he manages to encompass a wide range of these relationships without them ever feeling contrived, from the gay partnership between El and Phil, through Bianca’s burgeoning love life, to the senior relationship between Doug and Eileen so that Girl 99 isn’t just about a man on a mission to sleep with 100 women, but is actually about the variety, reality and honesty of relationships.
Girl 99 is not easily definable. Part chick-lit, part contemporary fiction, part lad-lit and part humorous narrative it is, above all, a really good read.
About Andy Jones
Andy Jones lives in London with his wife and two little girls. During the day he works in an advertising agency; at weekends and horribly early in the mornings, he writes fiction.
He is the bestselling author of three novels: The Two of Us, The Trouble With Henry and Zoe, and Girl 99. Additionally he has written a collection of short stories and two picture books for younger readers. His books have been translated into twelve languages.