I am beyond excited for today’s post as I am sitting down to chat to the wonderful Laura Jane Williams about her newest book. Long time readers of This Northern Gal will know that I am a massive fan of Laura Jane Williams and I am always recommending her books to people so you can only imagine how quickly I jumped at the chance to host a Q&A with one of my favourite writers!
Grab a cuppa and biscuit and let’s talk books!
Hi Laura! Would you like to introduce yourself?
My name is Laura Jane Williams, and I write about messy modern romance. My last book, Our Stop, was released last year and I’ve been busily working on the adaptation for screen. My new book is The Love Square, and if you can believe it I’ve already written a novel due for release next year, too! I’m used to writing a lot of words quickly – I used to be a columnist for Grazia, and also Red online, and I’ve written three non-fiction books as well: Becoming, Ice Cream for Breakfast, and The Life Diet, all of which focus on self-love and creating a life you love.
I loved Our Stop and I’m so excited for your newest book. What is The Love Square about?
Basically, Penny Bridge has had a bit of a rough time of it and so pledges to stay single and focus on her life on her own terms. But then her uncle, who is like a father to her, asks her to look after his Derbyshire pub, and for many reasons – all will be revealed! – Penny can’t say no. Uprooting her London life, though, also uproots her bad romantic luck, and suddenly she’s confronted with Francesco, and then Thomas, and then Priyesh – all of whom want to date her… The question is, out of the three of them, are any of the “The One”?
If you had to choose three words to describe The Love Square, what would you choose and why?
Great question! I think sexy, hopeful, and emotional. In my last book the protagonists have a very drawn out will-they-won’t-they, so I knew in the follow up I wanted my characters to get right down to it almost immediately. That’s what makes it sexy, then. But the hope comes from the ways the characters are kind to each other, and take emotional responsibility for themselves. And I’d say that any pursuit of love is emotional, because we have to confront so much of ourselves for it!
Penny sounds like a character we are all going to be rooting for. What drew you to her story?
She’s actually based on the protagonist from Far From the Madding Crowd, the Thomas Hardy novel. That was written in the nineteenth century, and was so progressive for its time: a woman with her own financial means getting her pick of men. I knew I wanted to see how that would play out now, in 2020, because even all these years later it is quite radical.
Who is your favourite character in The Love Square?
I don’t think I can say! The trick for me was creating three love interests who are all equally as alluring, for different reasons, and all so very much themselves. I’m proud to have two same-sex long-term partnerships in there, which was important to me because actually, in my real life, it’s the same-sex relationships that come with the least drama and the most equality. They’re an example to me. When there are no gendered societal norms to follow it means you can create your own couple-rules, and I wanted to reflect that. Penny is surrounded by emotionally healthy love, and I think it spurs her on.
What was the biggest challenge in writing this book?
Probably that I was supposed to be writing it during the summer of 2019, which was when Our Stop was out. I quickly discovered that I can’t release a book whilst writing another! So I had to wait until promo-time was over, leaving me with less time to craft it. I took the lesson to heart, though, and now I have my 2021 novel already written as we start to promo The Love Square. I’ve worked very hard to get ahead of myself that way, because the alternative might make me explode… I can’t do two big things at once. I know that now.
Early reviews of this book suggest it is the perfect book for summer with a modern take on a happily ever after. Was this a deliberate choice and if so how did you arrive at this decision?
I write love stories that feel real to me. I used to be a dating columnist, so I know my way around a romance, a faux-mance, a casanova, a one-nighter and a keeper! I simply try to distill all that into my work. For example, the women I spend my time with are all badass, accomplished women who have full lives irregardless of their relationship status, so those are the women I write. In Our Stop Nadia works in STEM, in The Love Square Penny is a chef, which is typically a very male-dominated industry… I think when you set your own terms in your work life that way, what you expect from your romantic life is elevated. When people call my stories “modern” I think what they mean is that I don’t take anything for granted. I try to make it clear how much money my characters make, who paid for their house, the sacrifices they make – I don’t just write magical universes where nobody has mould in their bathroom and always has their armpits shaved. In that way yes, it’s deliberate. A little friction in just getting through a day feels real to me.
What are you most excited about with the publication of the paperback and audio editions of The Love Square?
I’m just excited for it to be out there, rather than this thing on the horizon happening soon. The thing that’s different for me than it was last year with Our Stop is that because I’ve already written my next book, I don’t feel like I am holding my breath to see if people like it. It’s out of my hands, and if people like it or don’t I’m already contracted to release one next year and the show must go on! That’s really freeing – like, it isn’t my job to worry what people say about what I create, it’s only my job to create in the first place. Sometimes that attitude is easier said than done, but in this moment I’m vibing with it. Obviously I want people to enjoy it though! Leave a review wherever you bought it from if you do! Lol.
This is your second fiction novel but fifth book. What have you learnt about yourself as a writer in the process of releasing these books?
God, I’m always learning. I think that’s why I love it! Even in between drafts, the notes my editor gives me pushes the needle on my abilities so much. It’s constant evolution, and that’s why I do this. I learn about myself through the act of writing and the act of editing. My writing is getting stronger and stronger, my ability to plot and weave in new, fresh details is always improving, my daringness with what I cover is getting grander too. You just watch me – by my fifteenth book you’ll be like, ‘Woah! Look at the mountain she’s scaled!’
It is clear that you are talented with both powerful non-fiction texts and poignant fiction stories. Do you have a favourite to write?
Oh that’s so kind. Thank you! I definitely prefer fiction. I always say, it’s easier to hide in plain sight for fiction. With non-fiction you have to be so careful with what details you give away, with hiding the details that could help identify who you include in your story. You have to get fact-checked and read by a lawyer in case you’ve been libelous about anybody. In fiction, everything feels so much freer that I find it easier to be truthful about what I think and feel because I put it in the mouths of invented characters. It could be a passing line the man in the newsagents says or the driving force of one of the protagonists – or both. Bits of myself scattered everywhere that would be impossible to piece together. I love that.
Has lockdown affected your experiences as a writer?
Yes and no. There’s not been my usual distractions or escapes, so I’ve had to sit with my feelings and just do the work. Thankfully, that means the work has been done! I’ve found that during the day it takes me a while to get going. I work out, read the news, do laundry and the dishes and take a walk. I sort of have to warm up to the page a bit, so that at 5pm I’m finally ready to work. I’ve really leaned into that in lockdown. 5pm, a glass of wine, and in the heatwave wearing nothing but a t-shirt and my knickers – it was quite heavenly, actually! Obviously that was only possible because of the key workers who kept the country running, and to them I am so grateful.
My favourite thing about your writing, whether it is non-fiction or fiction, is the clear voice that beckons a reader. How do you cultivate that?
That’s so kind! Thank you! I think if I was aware of what my voice was, I wouldn’t be able to use it. I just know what sounds right in my head, and to an extent I can’t control it. I’m very aware when I’ve been influenced by another writer and what comes out isn’t “me”. My editor can tell, too. In The Love Square I had to delete a whole section because I’d just read So Lucky and wasn’t writing as Laura Jane Williams, I was trying to be Dawn O’Porter! My editor was like “Urmmm, no babe. Sorry.”
What does a normal writing day look like for you?
It depends. I wrote the ending for The Love Square when my tea was in the oven one Wednesday evening. Poof! Just like that it poured out of me. It must have been brewing for a while and then – quite like cooking dinner itself I suppose – was ready to be served. First drafts are very quick, very “don’t look back” and done mostly at night. The editing process is more structured, though, because there’s more work to be done. My biggest “trick” is that I look at the time I have to complete a certain stage of the process, and divide it up so I know exactly what I have to achieve in a day. If I don’t get it done, it rolls over to the next day. I’m good at meeting deadlines and don’t mind working a whole weekend in blissful silence if it means I then get to send a draft to my editor and take a week off. In that sense then, there’s no “normal” really – but I respond well to that.
Social media suggests that you have just finished the first draft of your next novel. Are we allowed to know anything about it yet? If not, what is the next project for you?
Well spotted! Yes, the next book has been drafted. It’s called The Lucky Escape, and… that’s all I can tell you. It involves travel – there’s another clue. That’s been fun to write about in lockdown. I couldn’t go anywhere physically, but my imagination chartered the globe! I only hope that people get to read it when they, themselves, are travelling, and that by summer 2021 the world looks a bit more like the once we’re all missing.
Thank you so much for chatting with my readers and I Laura!
I’m so excited to read this book; I’m sure I will love it just as much as I loved Our Stop! I don’t have long to wait as The Love Square is out on August 6th, from wherever you buy your books.