'After the Party', the much-anticipated sequel to 'Ralph's Party' (Lisa's best-selling debut novel of 1999) is published tomorrow and you can read an extract from it here.
And here's what she said about writing it...
"Many moons ago, I was looking at the prospect of renewing my publishing contract and feeling rather nervous. My previous two books had sold well, but not in proportion to my advances for them and I felt that my publishers were slightly deflated about things and slightly at a loss as to how to progress my career. I kept giving them books to publish that were good and nice but not very easy to pigeonhole (odd-looking reclusive poets in ramshackle houses for example.) So, for the very first time in my writing career I thought not about what I wanted to write next but what I thought my publishers would like me to write.
And it came to me: A Ralph’s Party sequel! I'd always said I would never, ever write a sequel. Once I've spent a year to eighteen months in the company of a group of entirely imaginary people I'm pretty much done with them and ready to meet some new people. But I felt I needed to up my game and writing a sequel to the book that had started my career all those years ago (and remains, to this day, the biggest-selling of all my books) was going to make a lot of people very very happy.
So I began to plan it in my head. And as I thought about it I realised immediately that it would be a perfect opportunity for me to write a book about a modern relationship, about one of those equal pairings formed in curry houses and beer gardens and to examine what happens to those trendy, carefree lovers after children arrive on the scene. I knew then that it would not be a contrived set-up that would include all the old players from the original as of course in real life they would not still know each other. Instead I focused on Ralph and Jem, ten years and two children down the line. I wanted their problems to reflect my own problems so set it just after the arrival of their second child, which was one of the toughest times for me and my husband in the fifteen years we've been together.
And then of course I had to write the thing. It was the most challenging book I’ve ever written. I'd thought it might be technically difficult to write about people I hadn't thought about in ten years, to make sure my references to the original book were subtle and natural and to make it readable for someone who hadn't read Ralph's Party. But actually, the technical aspect wasn’t hard at all. The hardest thing was balancing the need to portray total and utter reality, the moment by moment, second by second deterioration of a relationship with keeping everything moving along with a proper storyline. That was a tough balance to strike. If I'd let the story take over the book would have lost its authenticity, but without the story it would just have been a turgid journey through the minutiae of somebody else’s marriage.
When my editor read it she said the main problem was that she’d found Jem, the female character, unsympathetic. I found that really hard to come to terms with as so much of Jem’s persona and inner workings were based on my own and in fact I'd tempered a lot of it already to make it more palatable. I was worried that I was watering down the stark reality of long-term love to the point that the book would lose its potency, but I did it anyway. I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote for three long, hideous months. By the time I'd finally laid it to rest I was dizzy with it, had no idea what I'd written, what it was about or if anyone would even like it. But now, two days before publication I can see that it was all worth it. The book is striking a chord with people and I can finally breathe a sigh of relief.
Would I write another sequel? Well, you never know, maybe in another ten years, if I REALLY REALLY had to .."