An interview with Jane Owen

Are The Bitches of Suburbia based on any real life suburb?

Yes and no. I have spent the last decade living in a suburb of Brighton, a coastal city in southern England, which bears many physical similarities to Sellesden as in the hills are very steep, the sea views are spectacular, the wind is relentless and the locals are obsessed with home improvements but the characters and the story all come from my own twisted brain.

What was your inspiration for the book?

I grew up in the countryside and before I moved to the coast, I spent twenty five years in Camden, one of the noisiest, busiest areas of London. I’d always said, to anyone who’d listen, that I could cope with rural, and I could cope with urban but I wasn’t sure how I’d react to living in a suburban street. It was very interesting to see how people could live next door to each other for years, decades even, and not really know each other. It always made me think of when you see a neighbour interviewed on the news about the serial killer recently discovered in their midst and they always say, “He seemed like a nice bloke, kept himself to himself,” and it seems to me that’s what it’s like in the burbs: as long as you keep your windows clean, your hedges clipped and your lawns mowed, people will leave you alone and not bother to find out what’s going on behind closed doors. Everything is hidden in plain view.

After the success of Camden Girls, why did you wait so long to write your next book?

I didn’t, not really. Camden Girls seemed to last for several years: first there was lots of foreign press and promotion for all the translations, trips abroad, tv shows and the like and then the two film options. The first one I was an Associate Producer and that was a whole year of script meetings, productions meetings, castings before it folded. The second option I was commissioned to write the screenplay so that took up another six months or so and if I’m being really honest, I was young, free and single when Camden Girls came out and it is entirely possible that I was having way too much fun. This came to end when I got hit by a car – London never felt the same again – and subsequently I left the big city for the coast. I never stopped writing and have several books under my belt, all of which will be available in the future.

What are your favourite humorous books?

Good question – I do believe humour is in the eye of the beholder. Anything by Carl Hiassen, Tom Sharpe or Terry Pratchett will always makes me laugh, but so too John Irving and Tom Robbins. I recently read The Sellout by Paul Beatty which I loved but I’m not sure any of them are classified as ‘humour’ per se.

Can you give any tips to aspiring writers?

Finish it. In The World According to Garp, Irving says something along the lines of ‘The difference between a writer and someone who writes is a writer finishes things’ and that has always stuck with me. Finish it.

Can you tell us three things about you that not many people know? What are they?

I’m a British Showjumping Judge, I was the youngest girl ever to win the Veronica Walter Essay Prize, I have a psychosomatic allergy to rabbits.

Are you working on anything new?

Yes, I have one finished book, ‘The Family Katt’ about a teenage girl raised by her mother and her grandmother back in the mid 1970s and am working on another, provisionally titled ‘The Ghost Walk’ about a middle aged psychic, five Z list celebrities and a haunted house. What could possibly go wrong?

And finally how would you react if you had a celebrity couple move into your street?

This made me laugh. Since The Bitches of Suburbia came out, I have moved to a new house in the heart of ancient woodland in deepest, darkest Sussex with absolutely no neighbours at all but if a celebrity couple did happen to move in locally, I’d probably invite them over for dinner.