Meet Author Jane Lythell – The Lie of You #WWBC


Jane, tipple in hand.

Meet Jane Lythell who has the ‘distinction’ of being our very first author in the Women Writer’s Book Club, with The Lie of You, shortly to be released as a film.

Jane, I loved your debut novel, The Lie of You, which came out in 2014. I really enjoyed it in a frightening myself kind of way. I could not put it down until I found what happened. It is our first book club novel (if you missed the news about the book club there is a link at the end) so many readers have that pleasure to come. Without giving too much away, can you tell us something about the plot?
Thank you Jane.  Well, it is told from the point of view of Heja and Kathy who are colleagues on a magazine. The reader knows from page one that Heja is profoundly jealous of Kathy and wants to destroy her both in her professional and her personal life.  What the reader does not know is where this deep hatred springs from. Kathy is unaware of Heja’s enmity because she’s just had a baby and returned to work and is finding that hard enough to deal with.  This adds to the menace.

Had there been anything in your life experience that sparked the idea for the story?
Yes! A colleague had been undermining me at work and I felt unhappy. I took my daughter on holiday and on the second day I was swimming in the pool when this speech popped into my head of a woman thinking about her colleague with hatred. I wrote it down at once and it is the opening paragraph of The Lie of You.  I then had to work out a story of why there was this hatred.

How long did it take you to write? Do you have a particular writing regime i.e. 1000 words a day, several hours, never on a weekend, in a shed at the bottom of the garden…?
The Lie of You took a long time because I was working full-time so I wrote it during weekends and breaks. For my next three novels I have had at least a year. I don’t set myself a daily word count, probably because I wouldn’t reach it! Instead I set myself to write a particular scene or chapter. I write in the mornings, never on a Saturday, and I do it standing up. I have rigged a tray on legs on top of a table and still need some reference books to get it to the right height. It is very Heath Robinson. Writing standing up keeps me alert.

How did you get your agent and in your experience should all aspiring writers have one? And if yes, at what stage?
I was exceedingly lucky to find myself a literary agent when I had completed the first draft of The Lie of You. Lucky because it is the agent who does all the work of sending your manuscript out to potential publishers. If you are then offered a publishing deal, your agent will negotiate the best terms for you. Ideally one would want to find an agent early on. However I have known authors who have self-published and found success that way and then acquired an agent so there is more than one route. 

The book has already been made into a film due for release next year. Congratulations, that must be so exciting. How much input have you had into the film, and did you get to visit the set? (You don’t have a Hitchcock style cameo role, do you?)
I visited the set and that was thrilling. They were shooting a scene between Heja (now called Hannah) who is played by Tuppence Middleton and Kathy played by Lydia Wilson. We had a chat in a break and I think they are perfect for the roles. I was sent the script but when you sell the film rights you hand over the story to the production company. In a novel you have 90,000 words to tell your story and in a film 90 minutes, so it’s a very different skill to write a screenplay. I wouldn’t know how to do it. The production company has also bought the film and TV rights to my second novel After The Storm.

Do you think any of your former colleagues might recognise themselves in any of your books?
I worked with Anne Diamond at TV-am, an excellent broadcast journalist and the first question she asked me about Woman of the Hour was: ‘Am I in it?’ The answer is no. I certainly drew on things I had seen while working in TV: huge egos; temper tantrums; power struggles. But when it came to writing my central TV presenter character – Fizzy Wentworth – she was entirely fictional. Writers are magpies; we collect character traits and bad behaviour from so many different sources.

May I take you back a bit to your pre-successful novelist life? What was your childhood like? Did it provide fertile writing material? Were you a budding author even then?
I think it did. I have two sisters and a dear brother, now deceased. We were in Kenya till I was four, then moved to London which I don’t remember liking.  When I was nine we moved to Norfolk which I love with a passion. We were all so happy live in the country. I wrote my first story when I was seven or eight. It was for my younger sister Caroline and featured Sally Dumpling, a fairy with curves who lived in a yellow rose. Her best friend was a robin. I have to add that I love London now.

We have talked before about you being a single parent, which is never easy. I hate asking women questions that men don’t get asked but then it’s still very rare for men to find themselves in sole charge of children while carving out a career, so forgive me. How did that work out for you?
It’s a highly relevant question. I separated from Amelia’s dad when she was two and half. She saw her dad during holidays and half-terms and we lived in a flat in Camden Town in London. I took on a mortgage that was too large really for one person so I had to get well paid jobs which came with long hours and loads of stress. Readers of Woman of the Hour will recognise this dilemma which also faces my heroine Liz Lyon. The day I paid off the mortgage was glorious. No more need to be a wage slave and I could start writing full-time. However, my years working in television and at the Foreign Office did give me lots of material.

You worked in TV for some time; your novels feature strong women and two in particular, Behind Her Backand Woman of the Hour explore the themes of power and sexual abuse in the TV world, hugely pertinent right now. Are you able to share any of your own experiences of this? How do you feel about the #MeToo movement? Do you think the tide is finally turning?
I hope the tide is turning but this year’s exposure of how much less women presenters are getting paid in TV was a wake-up call. The #Metoo movement has certainly helped to raise awareness.

I started out at TV-am and saw how the pressure to make a daily three hour programme built a culture of rampant masculinity. Editors shrieked at journalists, and you would go into the Ladies’ and find colleagues sobbing after being bellowed at. I somehow managed to keep my head in all that conflict. I told the technical guys, the cameramen and editors, that I was a complete beginner and they helped me. And it wasnearly all guys having the technical jobs in the 1980’s

However it was female friendships at the station which really kept me going. Once I became editor I created an all-female team around me.

Who has been the most inspirational person in your life?
My mum Margaret Lythell Clarke. Mum had four children close together and she separated from my father when I was nine. She took us down to Norfolk and built a new life for us all. Money was tight. She was a great one for taking us on long walks and having picnics on Sheringham beach.  My mum is such a positive person and she always gave the four of us bags of love and praise and that is a great gift.

Which three authors would you like to be sat next to at a dinner party, from any time, and why?
Ooh lovely question. It would have to Annie Proulx as The Shipping News is my favourite contemporary novel; John Banville aka Benjamin Black who writes the Quirke novels. I met him at the Norwich Festival and he’s a great raconteur.  And Kerry Fisher who is my dearest writing buddy and who writes with such wit and warmth.

This question has really grabbed the attention of folk on Twitter( #WWBC – Women Writers Book Club). Part of the joy of a book club, virtual or otherwise, is sharing and being with other women, and, just maybe, having the odd glass of wine. I thought it would be fun to ask each of our authors what their favourite tipple is and maybe we could have a wee glass of that at our book club… Jane, how do you celebrate the end of a novel, what is your go to drink of choice?
I love a cup of builder’s tea and a glass of red wine but for that special tipple it has to be Calvados.  A great friend introduced me to Calvados when we were on holiday in Normandy. We visited a distillery and the smell of apples was amazing.

Great, it probably counts a sone of your five a day. And finally, do you have a couple of questions or points that our book club members can think about as they read your novel and discuss on Twitter (using hashtag #WWBC)

1.The story is told from the perspectives of two female characters, Heja and Kathy. Who do you think is most important to the plot? Do you feel sympathetic towards them?

2.Mothers and children are an important theme. How do you think the mothers of the main characters, Luisa (Kathy’s mum) and Solange (Heja’s mum) have affected their daughter’s lives?

Jane, thank you so much. I can’t wait to talk about the book with other club members.

You can Tweet Jane direct on Twitter @JaneLythell, using hashtag #WWBC. I am @JaneCWoods and would love to hear your thoughts. Here is the link to the original book club post, too.  I hope you enjoy reading The Lie of You! My actual small group is meeting to discuss it on 30th October s look out for some tweets after that date.

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Posted on October 1st, 2018 by

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