Full of delicious food, real kindness and sexy men… what’s not to like?! – Beth O’Leary on The Love Square.
I am a long-time fan of Laura Jane Williams. I think I’ve followed her journey for about six years now and I am so incredibly happy for her as she continues her journey of being a successful author. Her online presence on Instagram is one I turn to when I’m in need of writing or freelance inspiration because of her down-to-earth personality and tenacity for living her dream. She has written and published four books with a fifth set to be published in 2021 alongside creating and leading courses to unleash your inner writer and is now turning her hand to TV adaptation too. She has travelled extensively, lived the city life, and has found her happy place in writing.
So, when she asked the Twitterverse for book bloggers and bookstagrammers, I emailed her straightaway to dive into the depths of her author brain.
How did you come up with the concept for The Love Square?
The Love Square is actually a very loose modern retelling of Far From The Madding Crowd, originally written in 1874. I loved the idea of a female protagonist being financially independent and so not “needing” a man… but also, being human and wanting one. In the original, the protagonist is presented with three different men who could win her affections, and I thought Hey! That could work for 2020, too! I took it from there, planting my protagonist, Penny Bridge, in London and then later Derbyshire, and devising Francesco, a pastry chef, then Thomas, Lizzo’s tour manager, and later Priyesh, a wine merchant. All of them are brilliant in their own way, and all of them flawed, too.
Modern love is at the heart of your novels, how important is it to you to discuss the realities of finding love in 2020 within your books?
I’m so fascinated by the way we centralise finding romantic love in our culture that I use it as a vehicle in my books to explore all the other different kinds of love that we place less importance on – familial, platonic, and self-love, too. None of my protagonists need a partner to be complete. They all work in STEM or food – all these male-dominated industries – as leaders, and they have a full life of friends and family in whom they find meaning. That, to me, is the cornerstone of modern love – love that we choose, over the kind which we think we can’t live without or think we need. We’re not damsels in distress anymore, who need men to pay the bills or give us children. We can do those things without men. So why do we still date? (Hint: because it can be fun!) The women in my stories would be fine if things didn’t work out because of the fullness of their lives elsewhere… their love lives are just the cherry on the cake. That feels wholly modern to me.
Someone described Penny as “complex” and “refreshing” due to her no-strings attached relationship(s) within the novel. Do you think Penny represents a whole host of women who are breaking the “boundaries” of social norms? Do you wish more writers describe their protagonist’s needs and desires in this way, to normalise women wanting something other than the traditional “fall in love” ideal? My younger self can definitely relate to Penny in this way!
For sure! I think even to this day we teach girls and women that there’s a certain amount of sacrifice to having a life partner and [that] having a life partner is a key part of a fulfilled life. We don’t talk about the loneliness in relationships that aren’t fulfilling, or how the loneliest [you can] possibly feel is actually not when you’re alone, but rather sat on the sofa with the wrong person. I love writing women who can take or leave romance, but still have a sex drive. And writing sex feels very political to me, too – I don’t write women who can always orgasm through penetration because the fact is, for so many of us it takes something more than that. So, there’s oral sex in my books, and sex toys, and the disappointment of a selfish lover, too – all tastefully done (I hope!), but far more representative of “real” sex.
Do you relate to Penny in regard to her multiple love interests, or ever have done in life? If so, have you faced any backlash from friends/family/acquaintances and therefore wanted to write a book that celebrates her choices?
I’ve never really dated multiple people all at once like Penny does, but I think that was the attraction of writing her – the attraction of writing novels in general is that I get to explore all these lives I might not otherwise have lived. In my books I get to put myself in the shoes of women braver than me, wilder than me, more unapologetic than me, and you know what? That rubs off! There’s a bit of Penny Bridge in me, a bit of Nadia Fielding, from Our Stop, in me, and a bit of the protagonist in my 2021 book in me as well! And there’s parts of me in them as well.
Romantic comedy is your current genre – would you like to write in another genre in the future?
I think so. Mostly because I am learning all the time, and every book teaches me something new. I think I will always write about love, but I have to admit I am seduced by the idea of how that could look through the lens of a thriller, like Gone Girl, say – that’s really just a book about love and jealousy, isn’t it? Or maybe a love through the ages, in some sort of historical fiction like in City of Girls. I hope to be doing this for the rest of my life, so if I do a book a year until I’m 70 that’s a whole lot of genres I could potentially explore.
What is your daily writing process like? Describe a day in the life of Laura Jane Williams.
God, it’s always so different. When I’m doing a first draft there’s a lot of sitting on my sofa in my pants, truth told, normally once it’s dark outside. Then for further drafts my days typically need more structure, because I find those more technical and fiddly. I try to work out a couple of times a week, take a walk and get some fresh air, and take weekends off, but within that it is all to play for. What I’ve learned about myself is that I am definitely a project person. I couldn’t do a podcast week in and week out, say – I’m not good at that kind of commitment. I like to be all-consumed by a project for weeks at a time, and then take a break. I don’t fight against that anymore. I roll with it. I always need flexibility, which is why I’d be terrible working for somebody else, or in an office. I love making my own rules.
How different is the final version of The Love Square compared to your first draft?
They are two totally different books. I call my first drafts “trash drafts”, because they really do serve the purpose of being a place to essentially dump all my thoughts. Then my editor sees it, and we do what is called “structural edits”, which is basically making sure the flow of the book is there and that everything happens in the right order and at the right time. After that we do “line edits”, so getting nitty-gritty and looking at sentence structure. Then a copyeditor looks for consistency and picks up any grammatical errors. Once that is signed off, the book goes to print for some uncorrected proof copies that go to journalists for reviews and press, and I get the unbound pages to mark up with any final changes. Then it goes to print properly, as a proper book, to be sold in the shops. That whole process takes 7-8 months for my books, so yes – many a change.
You enjoy allowing your readers to create a character in your books. How do you weave their character into your story? Are they usually a central character with their own complexities or a character that does not propel the story forward as such?
I enjoy some reader input for more peripheral characters. It’s so great to rise to the challenge of using what a reader might give me. I ran an Instagram challenge for exactly this and will absolutely do it again. I loved it!
The Love Square by Laura Jane Williams is out now wherever you buy your books!
Have you read The Love Square yet?
Love, Faye xo