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Writer gives sell-out fest audience Watching brief

Sunday Times’ best-selling author Lisa Jewell gave a sell-out audience a preview of her latest novel Watching You – to be published on July 12 – when she delivered an author’s talk at Briarfields’ summer Bookfest on Sunday.

The book, Jewell’s 16th novel, is a psychological thriller and the genre which the author said makes her feel ‘most at home’.

She described how her writing style has “gone on an interesting journey” and evolved during a literary career which has mapped almost 20 years.

Lisa Jewell (2769388)
Lisa Jewell (2769388)

Jewell’s first book, Ralph’s Party, was the UK’s best-selling debut novel when it was published in 1999, and the author shared the story behind the title’s creation.

“I had planned to write my first book at 50, but I’m glad I didn’t wait,” said Jewell.

“As a child I always had my head in a book but it was not a serious ambition to be a writer, and I wanted to be a hairdresser and a NME music journalist.”

After attending fashion college, Jewell went into the industry but later attended a creative writing class where she was told that she had a “good commercial voice”.

When she was made redundant from her job at a Jermyn Street shirt-maker, a friend challenged her to write a novel, starting with just three chapters which she sent to 11 literary agents.

“I got ten rejections,” said Jewell, “but one wrote back saying it had potential although it needed an awful lot of work.”

She completed the manuscript and – to save the £8 it would cost to post it – decided to hand-deliver it to the agent’s home. Having just had surgery, the agent took the script, although Jewell said she didn’t hold much hope for its success.

Despite this, she received a call from the agent and was summoned to a meeting.

The feedback was overwhelming, with the agent telling Jewell she could expect a six-figure bidding war and potential film rights for the title.

True to her word, the agent secured an advance from Penguin, creating what Jewell described as, “a publishing fairy-tale”.

A second novel, Thirtynothing, sold even more copies, but Jewell described how sales “petered away” on later titles. Despite this, Jewell seized the opportunity to transition from romantic comedy to psychological thrillers, supported by a new crime editor.

“I’ve been lucky in that I have always been allowed to write what I want to,” added Jewell.

Asked which title she was most proud of, Jewell said Then She Was Gone was a landmark moment which turned her career around and repositioned her as a crime writer.

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