Stella Newman is the author of Pear-Shaped and Leftovers. She studied English at Sussex University and is a freelance copywriter and keen amateur cook. She blogs about restaurants, food and writing at www.stellanewmansblog.blogspot.com. (Interview by Jade Craddock)
Leftovers is a story about a girl in her 30s, Susie Rosen, who feels like she is the last person left who hasn’t sorted her life out. Most of her friends are married with kids and nice houses. The women she reads about in Stylist all have mega jobs and even more mega wardrobes. Meanwhile Susie has a job that occasionally requires her to dress up as a chorizo; she is haunted by thoughts of her ex who is now going out with someone much younger than her; and every guy Susie meets is either a bit of a perve, already married, or looking for someone ‘more fertile’. Then in walks a man from her past – and not just any man. Leftovers is a comedy about friendship, pasta, Facebook stalking and loneliness.
I probably shouldn’t admit this but there’s quite a large part of me in many of my characters – certainly in Susie, but also in Sam, the guy in the mailroom, and Devron, the greedy, steak-guzzling horror that is her client.
I enjoyed writing the flashback scene in Sicily because I’d been to that beach with a friend the summer before, and it truly was the most gorgeous beach I’d ever seen. I also like writing dialogue a lot, and particularly flirtatious scenes and arguments – so I liked the drunken row in Hawksmoor, and the scenes with Jeff were a lot of fun too.
I’d consider anything. I think Dalia is an interesting character because she finds it hard to be honest with herself so I’d like to explore more why she is like that.
Lots of eating! Mostly pasta, burgers and burritos. In terms of Susie’s day job, I worked in advertising for around 10 years in the job that Susie does – and I observed some of the worst behaviour imaginable – sex, drugs, lies, bullying, theft – all great stuff for drama. And finally the scene in the hospital is based on an experience I had in A&E which was quite traumatic – so I wanted to make use of it somehow.
Great question! Well, the book has a few layers to it, for a start – so I guess that would be a lasagna. And while it looks pretty from the outside, it contains a certain amount of truth about life’s disappointments, so it wouldn’t be all light and fluffy inside, i.e. not ricotta, mint and pea, but something more substantial. And towards the end, without giving too much away, things turn in a different direction. So perhaps a lasagna that starts out as a classic – say with meat sauce, but in the final third becomes a different flavour – one you weren’t necessarily expecting, but that’s even more delicious than what you started with.
I’m inspired by life – whether that’s my own, the lives of people around me, or people I read about in the papers. I found my time spent working in ad agencies and then in a national newspaper, hugely inspiring – it seems that the media industry tends to attract a lot of giant egos, and people get away with behaving horribly in these environments. And I’m always interested in bad behaviour.
About a year, although I wrote a book before Pear-Shaped that took three years.
Sitting down on the chair in the first place. Once you start sitting, something usually comes along.
Nora Ephron – as a writer and as a person. Her novel, Heartburn, was a huge inspiration for me when I was writing Pear-Shaped – Heartburn is funny, witty, sad, and very foodie – and those were all elements I tried to include in my novel. And she had a phrase, ‘Everything is copy’ – which I think is good advice. I absolutely love Hilary Mantel – I think she’s a genius. Her writing is so wise and clever and precise. Wolf Hall and Beyond Black are fantastic. I also like Carol Shields, Barbara Kingsolver, Nabokov, Edith Wharton and for comic writing, Tina Fey.
One of my favourite things is when you can truly identify with a character – with their emotional or physical reaction to an event. I love novels that feel very honest and truthful. I also love books that make me laugh. And something like One Day, which I think is chick lit, was great because it was clever, funny and sad, which is a hard balance to achieve.
I think publishers are always looking for strong, original, distinct commercial voices – regardless of format or other industry shifts.
Yes, I’m just starting to think about book three, and I’m thinking of going back to Sophie in Pear-Shaped, to see how things are working out for her. I’ve also written a children’s book that needs a bit of censoring. And I would love to write a cookery book, as food is the greatest love of my life (along with Ryan Gosling.)
The idea that we should be happy and high-achieving every day of our lives is insane. The thought that everyone else is having more fun than us is not true. Facebook lives are not necessarily an accurate reflection of real lives. Relationships are not the answer to all of life’s problems. And improving our situations and our outlooks on situations is entirely within our control. Above all, be brave, because no one else can be brave for you.
Can I just say, these have all been great questions but this one’s my favourite! My favourite pasta dish is good old spaghetti Bolognese – I could eat it every day. And Ryan! Well, I have now watched 13 Ryan Gosling movies as research for Leftovers – so I’m getting quite familiar with his work. The one I’d like to watch again is probably Blue Valentine – even though it’s terribly sad. Although now I think about it, I’ve watched Crazy Stupid Love three times already so I think based on the evidence, perhaps that’s my favourite after all.