It’s wonderful to have Jane Lythell back on Linda’s Book Bag today. Author of Behind Her Back, Jane previously wrote a fabulous guest post all about creating vivid settings when her previous book, The Woman of the Hour was published. You can read that post here.
Today I’m thrilled to be able to interview Jane about her writing.
Published by Head of Zeus on 10th August, Behind Her Back is available for purchase through the publisher links here.
Behind Her Back
Liz Lyon is a television producer and busy single mum to a teenage daughter. She works at StoryWorld, the UK’s favourite morning show. As both confidante and team leader, she is the person tasked with controlling the conflicts and tantrums that flare up off-air. Having just started dating again, she’s also having to deal with a few conflicts and tantrums at home…
Following a blissfully peaceful two-week holiday in Italy, Liz has returned to find a new colleague has joined the station. Lori Kerwell has been brought in to increase the show’s profitability. But Liz is not sure that’s the only thing on Lori’s agenda.
As Lori builds her power base with the bosses, Liz finds herself wondering what’s really going on behind her back…
An Interview with Jane Lythell
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Jane. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and Behind Her Back in particular. Firstly, can you tell me, why do you write?
That is such a big question. I was a passionate reader from quite young. I read my way through the fiction shelves of Sheringham library and writers were my heroes. At some point I realised I had stories I wanted to tell.
When did you realise you were going to be a writer?
When I was seven or eight I wrote a story for my younger sister about Sally Dumpling, a fairy with curves. She lived in a yellow rose and polished the walls till they shone like gold and her best friend was a robin. My sister loved it! When I was older I wrote a few short stories. I knew I wanted to write but it took me an age to get down to the business of completing a novel.
(I love the sound of that early story!)
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
I write in the mornings and I write standing up. I’m a morning person and my brain seems to work so much better before one! I’ve rigged up a wooden tray on legs on top of my desk and this gets my laptop to the right height. I would recommend doing this. It works for me and makes me feel more alert.
(I’m going to try that as I write anything slumped over my desk.)
Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about Behind Her Back?
Liz Lyon the heroine faces work and home conflicts many of us can relate to. It’s about backstabbing colleagues at work and about a secret Liz has to keep which would result in a scandal if it got out. A new Head of Sales arrives at the TV station and she tries to undermine Liz at every turn. Meanwhile at home Liz has started to date again but her fifteen year old daughter deeply resents the new man in her life. So there is a lot of conflict which drives the story.
You’ve worked in television like Liz. To what extent do you agree with the advice to new authors to ‘write what you know’?
I don’t think you have to do this literally. What I think this means is write about the emotional truth of your experiences. You can put your characters into a completely fictional environment and let them act out your own emotional history. But certainly in Behind Her Back I have drawn on a world I know very well as I worked at TV-am and later WestCountry TV. Both places offered a lot of colourful material to draw on.
How far, then, is it your intention in your writing to uncover the world of television and how far simply to write a great story?
Always to tell the story first and foremost because that is what keeps me, as a reader, turning the pages. I also have to believe in the characters and care for at least one of them so I enjoy creating characters and trying to portray them as rounded, flawed and authentic as possible.
You belong to a group of authors called The Prime Writers. How has belonging to that group impacted on you as a writer?
It’s great for moral support and encouragement. We have a private Facebook page and it’s a place to go to share our highs and our lows. I’ve made some good friends in the group and would recommend joining a group of people doing the same work as you. I am sure as bloggers that you will have such a forum.
(Yes indeed we do.)
You write very visually. How do you go about creating setting in your writing?
I do see things very visually before I write them down. For example I had to know what Liz’s flat looks like – French doors into a courtyard garden, squashy yellow sofa; what colours she likes to wear – all shades of red; what the TV studio looks like. For the StoryWorld TV station I made a rough sketch to get the geography of the offices and dressing rooms right.
In my novel After The Storm I had a head start because I’d sailed the route I describe and I’d taken lots of pictures which were so useful.
In Behind Her Back Liz is quite feisty. How did you create her as a character in advance of writing the novel?
What I do is I create a sheet for my main characters and think about what food, clothes and music they would like. What is their greatest fear and the worst thing that has happened to them? Even if not all of this makes its way into the book it helps the characters to live in my mind. With Liz Lyon I wanted to create a strong and capable woman who is also subject to guilt and self-doubt. Liz is divorced and worries about being a working mum with a full-on job. But she is feisty too. She will fight back when attacked and I particularly enjoyed writing those scenes. I wanted to reveal how Liz reacted under pressure because that is when a sense of a character emerges most strongly.
If you could choose to be a character from Behind Her Back, who would you be and why?
I would have to be Liz Lyon because I worked as a television producer and always said that I would far rather work behind the camera rather than in front of it. People often think it’s glamourous to be a presenter but in my experience presenters are insecure and need constant reassurance. I would not like to be in their shoes.
That’s interesting because in many of your books there is a contrast between the image people present to the world and the truth underneath. How far do you think this is part of the human condition?
There is always that split I think. We are social creatures and know that in our interactions we need to be diplomatic and make compromises, but I’m sure most of us sometimes carry on a different conversation in our heads. First person is particularly effective with characters who don’t or can’t say what they mean, characters whose inner voice is different from their outer behaviour. This is certainly the case with Liz who has to bite back words a lot.
If Behind Her Back became a film, who would you like to play Liz and why would you choose them?
I think Suranne Jones would be perfect as Liz as she has the right mix of strength and contained emotion. Liz is controlled at work and emotional at home and Suranne Jones would do this very well.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
All kinds of things. I have just started Watership Down by Richard Adams because I have never read it. My favourite novel is Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News. I love John le Carre’s and Charles Cumming’s espionage novels. Funnily enough I rarely read psychological thrillers even though I wrote two.
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Behind Her Back should be their next read, what would you say?
A relateable heroine battling big egos, conflicts and betrayals at work and trouble at home!
Thank you so much, Jane, for your time in answering my questions.
About Jane Lythell
Jane lives in Brighton, UK and is a sea-lover, star gazer, film and football fan.She worked as a television producer for fifteen years. Jane then moved to the British Film Institute as Deputy Director, did one year as Chief Executive of BAFTA (miserable) followed by seven years at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (interesting). Jane now writes full time.
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