Well what an incredible honour to kick start the blog tour for the lovely Jane Lythell and her new book Behind Her Back! I'm so excited to share with you both my review and my interview with Jane! Thanks so much to Head of Zeus and Jane for an advance copy of the book in return for an honest review and for allowing me to post a review and q&a! Fangirl moment!!
StoryWorld is the nation's favourite morning show, and producer Liz Lyon wants to keep it that way. Her job is to turn real-life stories into thrilling TV – and keep a lid on the cauldron of conflicts and resentments that constantly simmers off-stage.
In this gripping novel of power, rivalry and betrayal, Jane Lythell draws on her experiences of working in the heated world of live TV. Liz Lyon must balance the monster egos at work with the demands of her teenage daughter – and the man she's just started dating – at home. It's all in a day's work.
I really enjoyed this second instalment which follows the life of Liz Lyon and continues on from the first book Woman of the Hour. Once again, Lythell presents a good piece of fiction that feels like a very realistic portrayal of the real world of working in TV. The story is entertaining, amusing and dramatic but also has that sense that Liz is real and that this is a true insight into the world of television production. To me this novel feels akin to Bridget Jones - albeit a more of a serious Bridget Jones who has a teenage daughter and doesn't calorie count- although the cigarette breaks are still there! There is humour in the novel and there are characters who leap off the page but this is more a story of drama, tension, suspense and complex dynamics and relationships.
When we join Liz at the beginning of this novel, there is a new member of the team - Lori Kerwell - who is discussed with "the verbal equivalent of rolling eyes". Lythell also introduces a sub plot surrounding another colleague, Fizzy, and her maternity leave. Lythell is very much concerned with the role of working women and here she has created a story which realistically portrays the juggle between family and work and the demands of women at work. She isn't shy of raising a discussion on maternity leave and the pressure on women to return to work quickly to keep their jobs safe and to keep the same role with the same responsibilities as they had before they were pregnant. This is a novel that tries to capture the issues, dilemmas, dramas and successes of modern women.
The novel is heavily based on dialogue which feels like a script or TV show or a diary. It keeps the plot and action moving along with the pace and vitality which reflects the frenetic working environment at the TV studio. And the frenetic pace of Liz's life and personal issues. It also allows Lythell to create her characters through their words and interaction with others.
Liz Lyon's working environment is hectic, pressurised, relentless and full of office politics, expectation, hidden agendas and dubious motivations. It is fascinating to watch and although it is not an industry I know anything about, every reader can identify with aspects of the story or characters; everyone has experienced office politics or being placed in a tricky situation with clients or colleagues. There is enough exaggeration to make things humorous and funny so that we don't become stressed out by Liz's life but I do think Lythell's talent is for successfully evoking an atmosphere of frenetic pace, pressure, the continuous juggling, rushing around, fixing, antagonising and placating of everyone around you. She also makes StoryWorld somewhere the reader feels able to relate to and respond to.
But Behind Her Back also has sub plots about revenge, about the darker motivations of some characters and then the continuing tension between Liz and her daughter. There are questions about social media, dating, career over family, what it means to be 'driven' and a fantastic (fictional) interview with a (fictional) author who "dismissed the summer blockbuster as plot driven books that were more concerned with delivering a twist at the end than creating believable characters."
Lythell is an intelligent writer who has produced a book that taps into the issues that affect society, the home and the work place. It is about characters trying to negotiate their way through life, sometimes unchartered waters, sometimes waters that are full of unseen currents. It is well observed, well written, engaging and with a good balance of humour, sadness, tension and resolution to entertain and satisfy any reader.
I recommend Behind Her Back which is published on the 10th August 2017 by Head of Zeus.
Read my review for Woman of the Hour here which was published in July 2016.
AND NOW..... AN INTERVIEW WITH JANE LYTHELL!!
Thanks so much Jane for popping along for a chat about Behind Her Back!!
This follows on from Woman of the Hour. Did you always intend to write a sequel?
As I was writing Woman of the Hour I felt there was more potential for development in both the characters and the storylines. I was also fond of my cast of characters and wanted to spend more time with them so yes from early on I knew I would write a follow up.
What challenges did you find writing book 2 in this series?
The main challenge is thinking about each of the main characters and charting where they might be going in their heads and in their careers. Harriet and Ziggy, for instance, are relatively minor characters but are still of interest. I wanted to build on Ziggy’s storyline as a vulnerable intern and on Harriet as someone who is attracted to the glitz and glamour of TV and is not entirely trustworthy!
It's refreshing to read a book where the female protagonist is intelligent, successful and a professional working woman. Why is it so important to you that your character was all these things?
Yes it was. I set out to write a strong and talented female character who also suffers from vulnerabilities and moments of crushing self-doubt. In the workplace these qualities are tested or brought to the fore. I wanted to reveal how Liz reacted under pressure because that is when a sense of a character emerges strongly.
What do you think are the main challenges about writing a novel set in the workplace and featuring a single mum? Were there any clichés you particularly wanted to avoid or any aspects that you found difficult when balancing the line between entertaining fiction and an authentic presentation of character?
I think it is surprising how few novels are set in the workplace when so many of us have to balance work and family lives. That was my lived experience so I didn’t find that aspect difficult to describe. The workplace is full of dramatic potential. It can throw up ethical dilemmas, competitive behaviour, secrets and betrayals. I wanted Liz’s home life with her daughter Florence to be a strong contrast. Work Liz is calm, capable, in control and home Liz is far more emotional. I was keen to show both sides to make Liz an authentic character.
Which three words would you use to describe your character Liz?
Honourable, Loving, Conflicted.
There are several egotistical and colourful characters in the novel. Who did you like writing about the most and why?
I loved writing about Fizzy Wentworth the star of StoryWorld. She is so self-absorbed, is contrary in her behaviour and yet also a memorable character I think. She is used to being in the limelight and this has accentuated her egotistical traits. She thinks the royal photographer should take shots of her baby son! I could see Fizzy’s house, her clothing, her taste in food and drink clearly and it was a pleasure to write her.
The novel talks about the pressure on one of the characters to come back to work after a very short maternity leave. This is quite a controversial and emotive subject. Why did you decide you wanted to include it in your novel?
It is Fizzy who insists on coming back to work after only three and a half months of maternity leave. Here she shows her insecurity because she is afraid that if she stays away longer she will lose her position on the StoryWorld TV sofa! I think people in the public eye do feel this pressure and I wanted to highlight it.
Liz talks about the importance of having a cheerleader and confidant. Who is your cheerleader?
I have several: my wonderful agent Gaia Banks; my partner Barry Purchese who is a TV script writer and my sister Caroline. They pick me up when I am down.
I think you had a little bit of fun with bits of the book. I did enjoy the bit with the interview with the author on one of the shows and their comments about popular psychological thrillers! Is this based on a real author or overheard interview?!!
Well spotted. I invented that quote and I wanted to poke fun at writers who take themselves too seriously. As one viewer tweets in to the TV show:
What a snob! You write stories. You don’t do brain surgery. #StoryWorld #author
Do you think the pressure on women in the workplace is getting worse? Are there any changes you would like to see? Or do you have any advice for women who are working and bringing up a family?
I get the impression that everyone now working is expected to do more and more. With smart phones we cannot escape work when we get home. So I think it is tough to be a parent and in full time work. Certainly television is a difficult industry for a lone parent. Advice: put your family first, always.
What next? Will there be another instalment in Liz Lyon's life to look forward to? Or are you working on something different?
I don’t know yet if there will be a third Liz Lyon book. I can imagine more storylines about Liz, Julius, Fizzy and Ledley unfolding into the future. At the moment a different idea for a book is grabbing my imagination and I may have to think about that next.
Thanks so much Jane for your fantastic answers and for taking the time to answer my questions! I wish you lots of luck with the publication of Behind Her Back and I will also be following the rest of the Blog Tour!
For more recommendations and reviews follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk