Jill Steeples – Q & A
Bestselling author of Let’s Call the Whole Thing Of
Popular women’s fiction author Jill Steeples tells us how she got started as a romcom writer and why romcoms are here to stay.
What is it about the genre of romantic comedy fiction you love so much Jill?
What’s not to love? They are light-hearted, escapist, feel-good books and films that have you rooting for the heroine and enjoying all the twists and turn that lead to a satisfying ending.
What got you into writing this genre?
I’ve always enjoyed reading this type of novel so it was only natural that I would end up writing the same thing. Don’t they say you should write the things you love to read?
Before you became a writer did you have a feeling there may be a book in you?
I hoped there might be. I certainly fantasised about it, but it took me a little while to get round to doing anything about it.
What books did you enjoy as a youngster?
I was an Enid Blyton fan and read all the Famous Five and Secret Seven books. As a teenager I discovered the wonderfully funny romances of Jilly Cooper and that certainly nurtured my love for romantic comedies.
At what point in your life you knew you could write?
I’m not sure I’ve reached that point yet! Really though, a creative writing tutor advised me to begin with writing short stories instead of a novel. I started submitting them to the women’s magazines and when I sold one and then another and then some more it gave me the confidence to take my writing seriously.
How did you come up with a catchy title for your latest novel?
I have to have a title in place to start writing a novel and this one came to me very easily. It sums up what the heroine is thinking when she discovers some shocking news in the pages of her best friend’s diary. I had thought of it as only a working title and expected my publishers to change it so I was very happy when I heard they were keeping it.
Tell me about your new book, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, and why you think women would love it?
It’s about Anna who discovers only days before her wedding that her fiancé Ed has been cheating on her with her best friend Sophie. Humiliated by the two people she loves most in the world, Anna flees to the seaside in need of some serious soul-searching. Despite meeting some interesting and enigmatic characters while she’s away she knows she has to return home to face the music. But should she still go ahead with her wedding of should she just ‘Call the Whole Thing Off?’ I hope readers will be able to empathise with Anna’s plight and follow her on her journey to see if she finds her Happy Ever After ending.
What inspired you to come up with Anna, the central character for this story?
I was fascinated by the idea of what might happen if someone read their best friend’s diary and discovered something they really didn’t want to know. I put Anna into that scenario and her character grew from there.
How long did it take you to write Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off?
I was under contract and working to a deadline so in all it took me four months to write.
What was your journey to publishing this book like?
I was lucky enough to secure a two book contract with Carina UK after submitting my first novel to them, Desperately Seeking Heaven. Before then I’d received lots of rejections but also some encouraging feedback along the way. As a member of the Romantic Novelists Association I submitted Desperately Seeking Heaven to the New Writer’s Scheme and their feedback and advice gave me the incentive to keep on sending my story out there.
What’s your background in writing and where did you study creative writing?
It was when I was approaching a significant birthday that I decided I ought to join a creative writing class. It was a locally run adult education class and I met a great crowd of fellow aspiring writers. When the course ended we decided to carry on meeting in each other’s homes for weekly critiquing and workshop sessions. It was this that kick-started my writing career.
During the start of your writing career, before you got published did you have any doubts whether you would make it or were you always the optimist?
Well when I started my aim was to get a short story published. I thought if I could make that happen then I would die a happy lady. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I sold my first story. After that my aim was to sell ten stories and then after that, twenty. So my goals have changed with each passing milestone.
Back in 2012 you made the finals to the fabulous Novelicious Undiscovered competition. Did you learn anything new about yourself as a writer back then?
I suppose that was my first experience of putting my work out there for the public to read and comment upon. I realised then that I might have to develop a thick skin.
The novel you entered for Novelicious Undiscovered was at the time called Knocking on Heaven’s Door that was later re-named and released as Desperately Seeking Heaven. Tell me a little about this book, what made you change the title and how you came up with an amazing plot twist of the ghost?
This whole story came about from an idea that popped into my head one day. It involved two teenage girls who happened to stumble upon the scene of a car accident and they see a man, a famous sports star, emerge from the wreckage. What they don’t realise is that the man has sadly died in the accident and is actually a ghost. Now, in my finished version, it’s actually one young woman and the man is a celebrity TV personality, but that’s how the story was originally born.
I had lots of trouble with the title. I wanted to call it ‘Betwixt and Between’ but everyone told me that was too old-fashioned. I changed it to ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ which I wasn’t really fond of either and then my publishers came up with ‘Desperately Seeking Heaven’ for which I’m very thankful.
What did you enjoy most about writing Desperately Seeking Heaven?
Writing about a ghost gives you lots of opportunities for fun and misunderstandings. And Jimmy Mack, my hero, was a really gorgeous and charismatic main character who I fell in love with just a little bit!
In recent years there’s been a lot of debates on the romcom genre eventually dying out, can you see this happening anytime soon or do you think it’s here to stay?
I can never see this happening. I think there will always be an appetite for light-hearted, escapist, feel-good stories. I know I’ll keep on reading and writing them, anyway.
Many critics have dismissed romcoms by saying it fails to deal with real issues that women face. What’s are your thoughts on that?
I don’t agree. A lot of rom-coms address issues such as infidelity, redundancy, bankruptcy and bereavement. In fact most of the rom-coms I’ve read start with a life-changing event.
Why do you think women of all ages love this genre and buy it by the bucket load?
Because of that very fact that it does deal with issues that we all have to face at times in our lives, but it’s handled with a lightness of touch and a good dollop of humour that gives you that feel-good feeling that’s so satisfying.
What are your favourite romcom books and films?
There are far too many to mention, but just a few that spring to mind are all the Jilly Cooper single title romances. Bridget Jones Diary by Helen Fielding or anything by Sophie Kinsella, Paige Toon or Lindsey Kelk.
My all-time favourite rom-com film would be ‘When Harry Met Sally.’
How do you relax when you’re not writing?
I love reading, of course! I also enjoy walking, baking and spending time with family and friends.
Describe your writing room/space and what you like most about it?
I have an office, but I tend to do most of my writing these days on my laptop on the sofa in the living room. It overlooks the garden which is surrounded by trees so it’s very peaceful and picturesque.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently working on my third novel for Carina UK which has a working title of ‘My Perfect Boyfriend.’ When Ruby’s boyfriend is involved in a terrible accident, she discovers he’s not quite as wonderful as she first thought.
Any advice for anyone wishing to write romcoms and what it takes to write a good romcom?
I would suggest reading the current big-selling authors in the genre to see if you can work out what it is that makes them so successful. Also, don’t try and copy another author’s style. Find your own voice and tell your own story. And keep on reading and keep on writing!
As a writer of romantic comedy what three things make you laugh the most?
I think the humour comes from the characters and how they deal with the difficulties they’re faced with. It’s fun putting your characters into embarrassing or awkward situations and seeing how they get out of them.
My first novel, Desperately Seeking Heaven, is up for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Joan Hessayon Award this year. This is for writers whose work has gone through the New Writer’s Scheme. I’ve also recently attended the RNA summer party and met up with my fellow contenders.
Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off and Desperately Seeking Heaven is available to download.
Visit Jill Steeples:
www.jillsteeples.co.uk facebook.com @JilleSteeple
‘I was lucky enough to secure a two book contract with Carina UK after submitting my first novel to them, Desperately Seeking Heaven. Before then I’d received lots of rejections but also some encouraging feedback along the way.’