Internationally best-selling author Lisa Jewell knows how to write a gripping novel.
In fact, she’s done it 17 times and counting, and her latest family thriller, "The Family Upstairs" was the "GMA" Book Club pick for November.
The story is also set to run as a TV series.
Jewell gave “GMA” an inside look into the unexpected inspiration for her story ripe with twists up until the last page and even offered her advice on how you can start-- and finish-- your first novel.
Q: What was your inspiration for “The Family Upstairs?”
Jewell: I wasn't looking for an idea for a book when it happened. Something just fell out of the sky into my head when I saw this woman in the south of France. She was a sort of young-ish mom dragging her children into the private shower block or a beach club in the south of France, which had a big sign on it saying, “only for members and patrons,” and it was clear from her body language that she wasn't a member or a patron. I'm sure there's a very mundane reason why she was taking her kids in there, but something about her just fired off my imagination. I felt like she had a story. I felt like she had a history. I felt like she was running away from something or escaping something. So the whole story worked backwards from her.
Q: How did you keep readers invested in the story? We follow the voices of three different, interchanging characters -- Libby, Lucy and Henry -- throughout the novel. How did you use that to build suspense?
Jewell: I wanted to keep wrong footing the readers so that they would be listening to Lucy and then think that they know what's going on. Then, we go back to Henry, and then Henry would say something. Then you would think ‘Now, I don't know who to believe. I don't know who's telling the truth here.’ There’s definitely one unreliable narrator in the story. It would be a spoiler to say which one it is, but it becomes very clear when you're reading the book, exactly who may be spinning a yarn.
Q: What’s in the future for the family in “The Family Upstairs?”
Jewell: My head is full of things that happen. Sometimes you read a book or a thriller, and the ending is really unsatisfying and they've left loads of loose threads untied. This I’m hoping is not that sort of ending. I think it's not an unsatisfying ending. I think it's an ending that just is quite exciting in a way because you think the story was ended and then you suddenly realize that it's not.
Q: Some authors say the secret of writing books is to "write what you know." How does that concept apply -- or not apply -- to "The Family Upstairs?"
Jewell: It was very much not what I know at all. That's what was so scary about writing it … It was all much more of a ‘I wonder what it would be like to be this person,’ or ‘I wonder what it would be like to be homeless on the streets of the south of France. I wonder what it would be like to be a young boy trapped in a huge mansion in Chelsea [a wealthy neighborhood in London]. I wonder what it would be like to be a young girl in your 20s who has just inherited a 7 million-pound house in London.’
Q: What do you hope your readers take away from the book?
Jewell: I never write books with an idea of inspiring conversations between readers afterwards. Very much my main incentive when I'm writing a book is that I want to write a book that the reader can't put down, that they're gripped by, that they want one more chapter, one more chapter, one more chapter. I hate the idea of a reader being bored or putting it down and sort of thinking, ‘I'm going to watch Netflix instead.’ I want my readers to be completely consumed when they're reading.
Q: Where does "The Family Upstairs" stand among all the 17 books that you've written?
Jewell: I've always liked quite Gothic stories, and I've always liked stories about big houses. I've also reached a point in my career where I've got the confidence to go as dark as I feel like I need to go. I would say this book -- even though I was actually terrified when I was writing it that I was pushing it too far and going too dark and it was too Gothic -- I think this book puts me at a point in my career where I can see that I've got confidence now to really write whatever I want to write and not to worry too much that it's going to backfire on me. This feels like I've come of age in a way as a writer.
Q: What are you currently reading?
Jewell: It’s by Anna Quindlen who's an American writer. It’s called “Miller’s Valley," and it's lovely. It's very quiet, very slow, a very gently-paced family drama set in the 1960s and 70s. Every now and then, I like to just change the pace a bit.
Q: What is your advice to people who are interested in writing their first book but just don’t know how to start -- or how to finish?
Jewell: I think you have to just picture yourself on a diving board, and there's a cold swimming pool in there. You need to get in there and start swimming. Once you're in, it's so easy to keep going back to the side of the pool. I think a lot of people when they first start writing a book, keep going back to the first chapter and fiddling with it, or abandoning it and thinking I need to start again. For me, having started and finished 17 books, it absolutely doesn't matter if you think it's the worst book that anybody ever wrote, you just need to keep going until the end. Then you can go back -- once you've got 80,000 words -- then you can go back and make it a really, really good book.