Hi Jane Green.
Hi Kelly Corrigan,
and thanks so much for coming.
Thank you for having me.
So, I wanna start in a super weird place for a conversation about storytelling, and how we do it, and why we do it, and that is with cooking.
You're a huge cook, right?
I am, I'm a huge cook, and you and I were just chatting briefly beforehand, and I think for me cooking is, there are real parallels between cooking and storytelling, and it's kind of how I ground myself. It's how I make sense of the world. It's peace and it's expression of love for me. It's not really.
How often do you cook?
I mean I cook for my family.
And don't you have like five million people living in your house.
I have five million people, I have five million children, actually, and I went to culinary school a few years ago, because my cooking was a bit like Russian roulette. So, I can cook, but I'm not that interested in food. I don't really care about gour...
met olive oils, and that kind of thing. For me, it's about people feeling nurtured and safe and loved, and it's really how I connect with my family, connect with my friends, and the people I love, and I think that telling stories is very much the same thing.
I was also kind of relating, because sometimes I paint, and I sew things, and they're both horrible, the products that come out of this painting and sewing are not anything I'd ever wanna share, but there is something about getting stuck creatively, and switching projects, especially, to something that can be completed in a reasonable amount of time. Because, a part of what's so difficult about writing is that the time horizon is painfully long, and the progress is so incremental. I mean, like a whole day you might get one great paragraph, and the rest is junk.
Yeah, ya know what, it's interesting. I haven't thought about it, in that sense, but ya know, I was talking to somebody recently who was in the army, and he said to this day. He starts everyday, wherever he is, he starts his day making the bed. Because making the bed means, that even at the beginning of the day you've achieved something concrete, and that actually makes sense to me, and that's why cooking, sewing, these little creative projects, that are a creative outlet, but you're right, they're finite, you can finish them.
The page is daunting. It's still daunting. I'm writing my 20th novel, and I still sit there most mornings, and I look at a blank computer screen, and I think how, not only how do I do this today, how did I ever do this.
I feel that way too. I mean, I think it's like childbirth is the only thing I can relate it to, which is that ya know, it's so excruciating at the moment, and then somehow it's over, and you think I could do that again, and then you get into it again, and you're like who's idea was this, this is a terr, this is not working out at all.
Yeah, and the funny thing is it still strikes me as extraordinary how there are days, when it is joyous. There are days when everything clicks into place. You feel like you're writing on autopilot. You're not even thinking about, the story is just flowing through your fingers, and I get high.
Yeah, oh sure.
I mean I really do. I come back home, I'm like yeah, my characters, and there are other days, when it is just like squeezing blood from a stone.
How many days out of ten would you say you can follow into it like that, that you have that kind of productive flow?
The good days?
I, well. Ya know, what tends to happen to me is I the beginning of a book is really hard for me, the first, cause I'm really getting to, even though I've done my character outlines, I'm really getting to know who these characters are, because the way that I write my books, and I with the Sunshine Sisters, I'm back to writing the way I always used to write, which is have a rough theme and a arc, but I really let my characters tell their own stories, and so, I'm still, I'm discovering who these characters are when I first start, but at a certain point, I feel like it comes together, and then, and then those good days are far more, then I would say from about half way in, I'm probably looking at seven out of ten good days, but up to that.
Maybe two yeah.
It's interesting, I remember talking to somebody about fiction, because I'm writing all non-fiction so far, and I said I'm so daunted by fiction, because you have to make up everything, and the person corrected me, and said actually, you just make up the characters, and once you've defined them enough, there's actually only one way it could unfold.
Yeah, I think that's absolutely true, and even you may think that the story's going off in a certain direction, and the characters will then just dictate something completely different, and you have to be true to them. I also love Jami Attenberg said something recently, in an interview, and it was something like when she's asked, cause everybody presumed that her new book, All Grown Up is all about her, and she says look, all of it happened, and none of it is true, and she likened it to the pieces of a kaleidoscope that come together. So, yes of course, it's all made up, and none of it's made up. Because you, we fiction writers, memoirist, whatever it is we write, we're still mining our own lives, and we're like magpies. We're stealing from everybody else's life as well.
Yeah, oh I can totally see that. So, do you have a sense of like why we do this? Like, think about your life and your job. Your job is like make up stories out of whole cloth put em on a piece of paper, and the whole world loves em. I mean, 18, 19 best sellers. Why are we so hooked on story? Like what is it doing for us? Do you think of it as escapism, do you think about it as self reflection? Do you you think about it as kind of comparing notes, like how is your life going, ya know? What do you struggle with?
I think it's all of that. I mean, as a writer, I know that, and I can only speak for myself, but I'm doing it, because I'm a huge introvert. I'm an introvert who loves people. I'm very social, but I'm also an introvert. So, I, when I retreat and need to recharge, I'm in my head, and I'm trying to resolve everything in my head. It doesn't occur to me to speak it. I'm not the kind of person who sits with friends, and shares and says, what do I do? Ya know, I'm gonna think it through, and try think my way to a result, but actually that doesn't work. Nobody can think their way into a result. There's a jumble in there. So, for me writing is a way of, of seeing how I feel about the world. Ya know, I often don't even know how I feel about things, until those words are out on the page, and I think when you're writing in that way, and you're writing with an incredible emotional honesty, which I always try to do. It means that other women will relate, they can't help but relate. Because when you're honest about, the floors and the secrets and the things that maybe you know, it's not our Instagram feed, it's not us looking perfect. When we tell stories we're allowed to reveal our innermost selves, and I think it makes other women feel better about themselves.
I mean, it's definitely, it's definitely how we connect, or reinforced, and it's definitely, a way to combat loneliness, because, but I often think that ya know, with my books people say, oh my god, it's so awkward for you to just put it all out there, and I think oh are you kidding me, I haven't put it all out there.
And fiction in many ways, I think is more honest. Because you can play out the lesser, weaker ugliest parts of yourself with this veil of a character.
And then when people, when your parents phone you up and say Jane what we're you thinking. Ah, it's fiction.
It was not about up, Dad, honestly.
Right, which I think, back to the kaleidoscope metaphor, I think that's the way fiction gets created is that it's a little bit about this moment, where you we're at your worst, and your father-in-law and your sister and.
Right, right, and somehow it's all real.
It's just rearranged.
But memoir terrifies me, I mean I don't know how you.
Somebody must have asked you to write a memoir.
Well, I mean ya know, people have asked from time to time. I have a terrible memory. Ya know, I'm a middle aged woman with no memory whatsoever, and I honestly don't know how anybody does it. I don't know how they remember lives.
You don't write journals.
Oh I, that's how I started.
I just was writing journals form 7th grade.
I mean, I have journals form 7th grade, and they're all about Adam Clarke, and how much I loved him, and that's all they're about.
Yeah, there's nothing very interesting, and it would be a very short memoir, and not very interesting other than for Adam Clarke.
Didn't get him.
But, no, but I also would worry about hurting people.
Yeah, what eludes you on the page, like what are you still striving for creatively as an achievement. Like, do some part of your writing like pacing or dialogue or tension or.
You know, so I'm writing my 20th novel in as many years,
and the thing with writing a book a year is that you're spilling it. You're not, you're crafting as much as you can given that you have to produce a book a year, and I have to say now that I'm writing my 20th novel. I kind of feel like, I need a bigger challenge. Like I can do this in my sleep now, sort of. I mean, ya know, it's hard, but, and I think to myself, well, what would a book be like if I gave myself more time. If I actually allowed myself time to write. Because I think of myself as a storyteller, almost more than a writer. I'm telling stories, but I don't have the time to really hone and craft, and I am up for a more ambitious book.
I haven't told anyone that yet, you're the first person I've told that.
Alright, big news here.
Just between us, between us.
Yeah, don't tell anyone, yeah.
Do you put that pressure on yourself to turn one around every year is that way you've liked it so far?
I think it's, I mean I think that is I like being busy, and I'm.
You like a deadline.
I'm a journalist, so I, ya know, a deadlines wonderful. If I don't have a deadline, I mean I might take ten years, but I wouldn't actually do anything. I love a deadline, I like being busy, but I think that when you're writing a book a year, you can only ever really do the same thing year after year. So I'd like to take a couple of years, two to three years. I also have this hankering to do some kind of historical fiction, or something based in fact. I actually, my latest obsession, not really my latest, my obsession for years has been the Jonestown Massacring Jim Jones, and there's a new book about him, that just came out that I read, which has re-awakened my obsession, and I'm sort of thinking god, I'd quite love to do something about a fictitious person, who somehow ended up there, but drawing in something from life.
Do you know why that obsesses you, like what's interesting about that story, that Jonestown massacre? I mean it's very interesting to everybody I'm sure, but.
Well, I think it's very interesting in these times. Ya know, you have this demagog who have enormous power over a group of people, and he really targeted the disaffected, and off of them extraordinary things, and just the whole idea of a cult is very interesting to me. The power that some people wield. It's a certain kind of charisma, and I also think ya know, and obviously it is very pertinent now, but we all I think that as humans, we crave leadership of some kind. We want to be shown the way. Direction, I mean ya know, we're moms, and you tell a kid you don't know, or you're not sure. And the look on their faces is just like what, but that's your job.
Like, you gotta point the way.
So yeah, and I think maybe we're all just kind of big kids in that way.
That we really want.
I think that's true, and I mean I don't feel particularly grown up.
Ya know, I mean, I do and I don't, but I, my father, who's turning, I don't know, I think 75, still says he feel 30.
And I think that's the thing. We always want a parent. You know we're always looking for a parent to show us the way.
My father, like to days before he died, said Lovey, I finally feel my age, and I said, well, I think you won then.
What's your favorite relationship?
Like I'm sort of obsessed about the parent child relationship, but other people are obsessed about ya know, society and man, or nature and society, are you sisters? Is that a thing for you, or? I mean, I know you're squarely inside family, that's were you love to.
Yeah, do ya know, it actually, I think, I mean, obviously the Sunshine Sisters is sisters. I don't have sisters. I have a younger brother, who I hated growing up, cause he ya know, stole the limelight.
But we love him now.
Oh, I love him more than anybody now. He's the best, but.
So, for all moms out there, who think their kids are gonna hate each other forever it doesn't have to be that way.
Yeah, I adore him, but actually what I think what it for me is family of choice. It's family of choice and I think partly, because I'm displaced. Ya know, I grew up in London, and lived there for 30 years, and then I've been here. I moved here in my early 30's. So, I've been here for almost 17 years, and what happens, and by the way, so many of us, even who live here, we move away from our parents, and so we're not raising our children with our sisters and our grandmas, and our aunts helping, and so our friends become our family of choice. They're the emergency contacts, and they're the people who sit around our table at Thanksgiving, and I'm really that, those are the relationships that interest me most of all, desperate people coming together, and forming a family of choice.
That's such a great thing to explore. What have you, like how affected are you, by the idea of your audience? Like, how much pressure does that put on you in terms of what they want from you. Like, your reader as they say, and per your idea of doing something more ambitious or historical fiction.
There is this anxiety, that you will somehow break, with these people who have loved you through your whole career.
Well, I think, again, I think it comes back to honesty. If I, ya know, I always say to people, if you you're writing for your audience, or you're writing something, that you think is gonna be a big bestseller, or is gonna somehow capture the zeitgeist, it won't be successful you have to be true to yourself, and you have to write the story than you want to write. So, I don't, I don't bear it in mind that much, I mean I will say, when I was writing the Sunshine Sisters, one of the storylines in it is one of the sisters, who hasn't had a relationship for years, suddenly finds herself in her 40's falling in love with a woman, and it's ya know completely shocked by this and taken aback, and when I gave the outline to somebody on my publishing team, they said, well, are you sure, ya know, your readers want to read about a lesbian relationship, is this your readership? And I was like well, it's happening, and this is true for the character, and I have to write it, if it's true for the character, it has to be true, and actually what's been lovely is ya know, with the books growing up, people have said they loved that storyline in particular.
Mmmhmm, do you have regrets on that count, have you ever been talked out of something that look back, and think damn it, I knew I was right. I should have stuck with, or stuck to my guns, or have you been able to say.
Yeah, I have regrets only in that I'm completely self sufficient, and I'm really good at knowing what to do by myself, and my first 12 books were written entirely by myself, and I didn't even discuss them with an editor. I wrote them, and then I gave them to my editor, and she'd say oh, ya know, she was English, and she'd come back, and go darling, darling, I love, I love it, I just think ya know, let's see the husband a little more, in the middle, and I'm like okay, and I go off and do it, and it was very easy lovely.
I've never heard a British person do a British accent.
Of another British person.
I think that's actually my best accent, yeah (Jane and Kelly laugh)
Darling, darling, darling, darling. And then, I started working with somebody else for a bit, and I, if there's somebody around, who I think knows more than me, I infantilize myself, and I become completely dependent on them, and I do whatever they tell me, and I stop trusting my own instincts, and so I work with somebody else, who worked in a very different way to me, and actually wanted much more plot, and so I wrote a number of books with them, that didn't, I mean I can't say I regret them, I think technically they're wonderful books, but they didn't feel like me. They didn't feel like they had my heart in them.
They were too deferential.
I was too deferential. I was trying, I was writing to please someone else.
It's so hard, because people often say ya know, do you have an imagined reader in mind, and for me it's my husband, but only because I'm sure he doesn't want me to make a fool out of myself.
And don't tell anybody, but I do think he might be a teensy bit smarter than I am. So, but do you have an imagined reader, or is it you?
I think it's me. I do give my books to my husband, he is usually my first reader, and and the test is if he cries.
Oh, you have a husband who cries.
I have husband who cries. He's very sensitive. He's actually gone back to school, and he's doing marriage and family therapy at grad school. So, that's the kind of man he is, yeah.
Yeah, he's very wonderful, and he generally cries. The only book he didn't like, I wrote a book a few years ago called Tempting Fate, which was about a middle aged woman just like me, who live in Westport, Connecticut, who ends up having an affair with this younger man. (Kelly laughs) And I really love this book, and he's be lying in bed reading it, and I kept going well, what do you think, and he'd go well, it's making me a bit uncomfortable.
Yeah, why would she do that, I thought she was happy, she seemed so happy.
Yeah, that was not a book of mine that he particularly liked, but all the rest of them he does, yeah.
Do you have, so that's sort of a habit of yours, do you have of like some super essential enabling habits?
Well, I, I've just, ya know, I've, I worked on my own for years, and I've suddenly found, that at the ripe old age of 49.
You and me both.
Oh, and a 68 baby?
You must just be 49.
I'm just 49.
Some of us are a little closer.
Awww. (Kelly laughs) I'm lonely, I'm really lonely, and I don't want to work by myself anymore, and so I actually took an office, with some friends, and one of them is Lauren Weisberger, who wrote the Devil Wears Prada, and so, I know work in a community of women, and it's a sort of co-working space, and we all sit at a desk, and we work, the thing is that I'm very chatty, (Kelly laughs) And I, Ya know now that I'm back working with people again.
You're gonna get kicked out.
Yeah, I go in the morning, I'm like hey guys, how was your evening? Da, da, da, and luckily for me, the women that I work with are all, they have much better work ethic.
A much better work ethic than I do, and so at a certain point, Ya know, Lauren says okay, ya know, let's do it, and I have to take myself offline, and I have to leave my phone in the car. Because I am such an addict, that if my phone is anywhere near, I will just check it for nothing ya know every ten minutes.
Well, the research shows, that even if, if we were to have dinner, even if our cell phone were within our view.
That we would remember like 45% less of what we talked about.
But if you put it in your bag, so that you can't see it, you're memory of the evening goes up.
I do have a rule, that actually there should be no phones on the, like with the family.
Yeah, no phones at dinner, no phones on the table. So good, now I can back that up.
So, could you imagine maybe, collaborating with someone in a more direct way, like for to write a screenplay together, or to write a.
I'm kind of pitching you right now.
A screenplay together, or a play, like a theater. Like what kind of crazy creative experiment could you imagine yourself taking on?
So, screenplay, I'm not so interested in, although I did just, the Beach House is becoming a movie, and I just got to read the first draft of the screenplay, and I got to make some changes, which was lovely, lovely. I kind of love to do a play, one of the things that I, that I feel like I'm sort of working out in all of my books is infidelity, not my infidelity, but infidelity around me, and historical infidelity, and that's a topic that comes up repeatedly in my books.
Do you know why?
Yes, but I couldn't possibly discuss it on here.
But there's a reason.
Oh yeah, there is absolutely a reason why, and ya know, we play out our childhood dramas, over and over again, and that's mine, and I, I have this secret fantasy, of doing a sort of Vagina Monologuesesque play about infidelity.
Fantastic, you have to do it,
A series of monologues perhaps, cause one of the things that's so fascinating for me about infidelity is how everybody thinks that this is different, this is my soul mate. Because, nobody would just, who would have an affair. You would only have an affair, if you thought that this was something really special, and yet of course, it's all the same story over and over.
Oh, you have to do it, that's such a great idea.
But, I'm also very open to collaborating on anything.
Ya know funny enough, I wrote a cook book, which came out last year called Good Taste, and it was a collaborative exercise. I had a whole team. I wrote the stories that went with the recipes, and they were my recipes, but I had an art director and a photographer, and I loved the collaboration.
I do too, I do too, and I think I crave it more, than ever, because of my sort of day job.
Yeah, so do you have a secret collaborative dream?
I definitely wanna make a movie before it's over, and I wanna make the whole thing, like I don't wanna write a screen play, and hand it off. I wanna actually
Make it and cast it, and I mean nobody works this way, and like anybody in the movie's who's hearing this is cracking up right now.
But Jojo Moyes did with Me Before You, Jojo Moyes wrote that screen play, and was very involved.
So, it can be done, and I agree. It's hard to hand over your baby, and let somebody else take control.
Yeah, I mean my brother-in-law is a screen writer, and you're the bottom of the totem pole, when you're the screen writer, like by the time it gets filmed, who know what they're saying.
So, I have a little speed round here.
Of questions. Name a book you wish you had written.
Harry Potter. (Kelly laughs)
What was the last story that made you cry.
Hourglass, Dani Shapiro.
Oh, wasn't the beautiful, I just interviewed her.
Yeah, she's one of my nearest and dearest, and it's just such a beautiful take on marriage and growth, and I found it enormously moving.
I did too, I loved it. If your mother wrote a book about you what would it be called? (Jane and Kelly laugh)
The Difficult One. (Jane and Kelly laugh)
Who can't you live without creatively speaking?
I'd have to say my husband he's really become my touchstone in every way. So, it would be him, yeah.
If you'd get everyone in the world to read just one book what would it be?
Great, great answer.
Yeah, it's ya know, my favorite, my favorite book, and just the whole concept of life just turning on a dime, like changing on a dime, and those characters.
Well, it's so defies narrative logic, actually.
Like, if you think about that book, and what's happening, what we want in a narrative is for everything to be earned and logical, but then it's just two people meeting in the dark, and everything changed from there, and that's probably more true to life.
I think absolutely, yeah.
It was a pleasure talking to you, I could talk to you all afternoon.
Oh, the pleasure was all mine
All right, well, you guys can all come to our movie later. We're gonna be talking about Five Years.
Yeah, thanks. (upbeat music)