Jennifer Gilby Roberts

Women's Fiction/Chick Lit Author

Interview at Girls Love to Read

Posted at Girls Love to Read.

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1. Hello! Welcome to the site, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Chick lit writer, wife, mother of two (one toddler, one grown up step child), English.

More interesting things: I’ve skydived (I was unconscious by the time we landed, but even so), I have a borderline genius IQ (though talk to me first thing in the morning and you’d never believe it), I do amateur dramatics (and keep getting cast as people who like to grope other characters) and I really like cucumber (though not as much as I like chocolate).

2. Can you tell us a bit about your books?

The Dr Pepper Prophecies is a bit of fun. I wanted to write something that would make people laugh. The tag line for the book is ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ Think of a Bridget Jones-like character who’s obsessed with chocolate and labours under the delusion that she’s really good at fixing other people’s lives, no matter how bad her own is.

After Wimbledon has less comedy and more romance. The main character, Lucy, is struggling with where to go next in her life and career – and who to go with – all while playing in the Wimbledon tennis tournament.

3. Why did you decide to self-publish your novel? What was your road to publication?

Found out I could and did it. That was pretty much the road.

I’d always meant to try and get an agent, but never did. So when I found out I could publish for Kindle – for free – I just went for it. I learnt most of what I know about self-publishing afterwards and there’s still a ton more to learn.

4. Do you base your characters on real people, or are they entirely fictional?

They’re entirely fictional. But then, if I did base them on real people, I wouldn’t admit it. Really good way to lose friends. I will confess that the character of Will’s evil girlfriend in The Dr Pepper Prophecies is named after someone I used to know. Read into that what you will.

5. How do you write? Any naughty habits or guilty pleasures?

Would you like the full list?

Writing and I have a long-term on-off relationship, which includes violent attacks with red pens and the use of (legal) mood-altering substances. I’ve written on my blog about how I’m not a natural writer. I’m a natural at making up stories, but getting them out of my head and onto paper can be a fraught business.

6. Did being a published writer change the way you write?

It adds pressure. First, you feel that you have to write more and faster to satisfy your readers. Second, you worry more about whether people will like your work when they’re actually going to be paying to read it.

7. If you weren’t a writer, what else would you be doing?

My “real job” is as a full-time mum to my two-year-old daughter. I used to work in administration which – as I’m sure you can imagine – was deeply fascinating.

8. What’s your favourite Chick Lit book of all time?

Sophie Kinsella’s Can You Keep a Secret? That’s the book that inspired me to write my first novel.

9. Where does the inspiration for your novels come from?

The Dr Pepper Prophecies was inspired by a combination of Can You Keep a Secret? and Jane Austen’s Emma. If you read the three books together, that would probably be obvious. I’d decided to write a novel and those were my influences at the time. Can You Keep a Secret? I bought for fun, while Emma was on the reading list for a writing course I was taking that summer.

I was in Melbourne for the Australian Open the year I wrote After Wimbledon and was very into tennis at the time. I’d also been struggling with where to go next in my life, so it was a kind of therapy (I had to cut a lot of my ramblings from the first draft!) and the two things came together in the novel.

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Q&A – Sky’s Book Corner

Part of the TDPP anniversary celebrations.  Posted at Sky’s Book Corner.

Did you always dream of being a writer?

A dancer, actually, but my knees weren’t up to that.  I always planned to write a novel, though.

Wedding Hells is the prequel to The Dr Pepper Prophecies in the Chocoholic Series. Can you tell us a little more about them?

TDPP is a modern version of Jane Austen’s Emma.  It’s about Mel, who sets out to help others – whether they like it or not – while making a complete hash of her own life.  Things just go tits up for her – she’s like Bridget Jones in that respect.

Wedding Hells is a short story I wrote as an introduction to TDPP.  I offer it free on most Amazon sites, so people can meet Mel and try out my style.  It takes place a few years before TDPP, at Mel’s sister’s wedding.

What does your family think about you being a writer?

My husband hopes I’ll become wildly successful so he can retire.

What inspires you most when you’re writing?

Usually some form of sugar.

What inspired you to write After Wimbledon and what’s the story about?

A trip to the Australian Open.  It’s about Lucy, a pro tennis player in a casual relationship, who’s struggling with whether it’s time to retire and go for real life and love.  It has less humour than TDPP, but more romance.

What are you working on right now?

A spin-off from TDPP about Mel’s sister, Brittany.

Where and when do you write your stories?

Home and baby group.  Whenever I get the chance, basically!  I have a toddler, so I’m lacking in time and energy.

You also write short stories, how is that different from writing a normal novel?

I think short stories are harder to write, because you have to explore the characters and get a complete story into a few thousand words.  It’s easier to write them about characters that have already appeared in novels.  Then you can just cover isolated events in their lives and you don’t have to cram in so much information.

Early Daze is technically a novella, but it’s 40,000 words so there was room to do a whole story.  I may well write more of that length.

Can you tell us more about the short stories you already wrote and are still in a working progress?

Wedding Hells is about Mel’s adventures as a bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding.  Flights of Nancy is a stand-alone story about a woman who’s been told she’ll meet Mr. Right on a certain day.  Early Daze is written from my own experience of becoming a mother to a premature baby.

What do you do and enjoy when you’re not writing?

Amateur dramatics, walking, Zumba, comedy and a bit of reading.

The covers for your books are really bubbly, colourful and creative. How were they developed?

I ran a design competition on 99 Designs for the current cover of The Dr Pepper Prophecies and chose JelenaM as the winner.  She then went on to design the covers for After Wimbledon and Wedding Hells.  I provided character descriptions, colour schemes and some ideas and she actually made them look good!  For Flights of Nancy and Early Daze I did my own with stock pictures.

What is the best thing about being a writer?

Making people feel good.

Who is your favourite author and why?

I like books that bring you into another world.  Two favourites for this are Stephanie Laurens and Erich Segal.

If you were shipwrecked on a desert island what 3 books would you want with you?

The SAS Survival Handbook, something inspirational and a large blank book to write in.

If you could plan the perfect holiday, what would it be?

I would have a transporter to get there, to avoid the need for travel sickness pills.  Sunshine, but not too hot because I’d want to get out and do things.  It would include beautiful scenery, beaches and a babysitter.

Coffee or tea?

Don’t like either.

Paperback or e-reader?

E-readers are great, but paperbacks are still necessary for reading in the bath.

Mountains or the sea?

Sea

Summer or winter?

Summer

Sweet or salty?

Usually sweet.

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Author Interview: M’s Bookshelf

Part of the TDPP anniversary celebrations.  Posted at M’s Bookshelf.

Do you write under a pen name?

Sort of.  Gilby is my maiden name, which I now only use on my book covers.  I included it for two reasons.  One, when I came to publish I found there were several other people writing under the name Jennifer Roberts, including one writing erotic fiction.  I was quite keen to differentiate myself!  Also, my first two novels The Dr Pepper Prophecies and After Wimbledon were written before I was married, so it seemed appropriate.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

I quite often get ‘predictable,’ but I write chick lit so that’s inevitable.  It’s a key element of the genre.  I think the hardest thing is when people hate your main character.  You can’t help but get attached to them, especially when you write in the first person, and inevitably some of you gets into them.  Sometimes the insults land a little close to home!  Fortunately, that hasn’t happened too often.

The best compliment is always when someone says my work has left them feeling good.  Although I sometimes deal with serious subjects, particularly in my latest work Early Daze, I always want to have a positive message and a happy ending.  There’s quite enough in this world that makes us feel bad.

What do your protagonists think about you? Would they want to hang out with their creator?

Mel (The Dr Pepper Prophecies) would look at me and see her future if she doesn’t curb her chocolate addiction before she turns 30.  So, probably not.  But we’d have got on when I first wrote the book, as long as she didn’t try to set me up with anyone.

Lucy (After Wimbledon) and I have a lot less in common, given that she’s a tennis pro and my main sport is channel surfing.  I don’t know that we’d really get on.  When I was writing we were both at a crossroads in our lives and so going through the same sort of emotions, which allowed me into her head to write the book.

Jess (Early Daze) is the one I have the most shared experiences with.  Sometimes we would talk about being mothers to premature babies.  And sometimes we would avoid each other, because we wanted to forget about it.

I think I need to write myself some more friends.

What are the biggest challenges you face in writing?

The greatest is the fact that I’m not a natural writer, which I’ve written about more on my blog.  Making up the characters and stories is easy, it’s the getting it down on paper that’s the hard part.  Sometimes it feels like I’m putting a fish hook into my brain and dragging the story out through my nose (sorry, lovely image).

I also have a toddler, who will play by herself quite happily right up to the point where I try to do something else.  Roll on school!

Have you ever written something you absolutely hate?

Not when I first wrote it.  But when you go through your book over and over again during the editing process, you lose all sense of whether it’s any good.  Frankly, by the time my work comes out I’m usually heartily sick of it!  Fortunately, my readers don’t feel the same.

If you became wildly successful as an author, how would life change for you?

Well, my husband says he’s going to retire and with him under my feet all the time I’m not sure I’d be able to get anything done.

I don’t know how famous I’d want to be.  I’d hate to have paparazzi following me around.  I think the ideal would be lots of people recognising my name and no one my face.  Otherwise, I’d actually have to go out looking neat all the time.  As opposed to now, when my toddler has usually covered me in something sticky.

Do you like being interviewed?

It always amazes me that people want to hear about me.  I try to be interesting!

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Author Interview at Fiction Dreams

Part of the TDPP anniversary celebrations.  Posted at Fiction Dreams.

Do dreams ever inspire your writing? What did you last dream about?

Not so far. I don’t know that my dreams would inspire chick lit. Maybe children’s TV. They can’t be weirder than some of that.

When did you first start writing? And when were you first published?

I started writing as a child. My first major original work was The Dr Pepper Prophecies, which I wrote in 2002. I published it in May 2013. Bit of a wait!

What is it about ‘chick lit’ that appeals to you the most? Do you read other genres? 

I think it’s the humour aspect of chick lit that I like the most. Seeing the funny side of things going tits up.

I read a whole range of genres. I like a bit of Regency romance, sci-fi, historical fiction – usually from the early part of the 20th century. These days I seem to read more about book marketing than anything else!

Can you tell us a little about The Dr Pepper Prophecies?

TDPP is a modern version of Jane Austen’s Emma. Imagine that with Bridget Jones in the lead and written by Sophie Kinsella. It’s about a young woman who tries to help others – whether they like it or not – while making a right hash of her own life.

What inspired you to write it?

Sophie Kinsella’s Can You Keep a Secret? I remember laughing myself silly over it and getting a lot of strange looks. I wanted to write something that much fun.

Have you ever spotted anyone reading your books anywhere?

Not yet. But someone might have had them on their Kindle. That’s the bad bit of Kindle for authors.

Who designs your covers?

JelenaM at 99 Designs, except for Flights of Nancy and Early Daze, which I did with stock pictures.

If The Dr Pepper Prophecies was made into a film, who would you cast?

I was asked this a while back, but couldn’t decide on a Mel. I’m now convinced that Zoey Deschanel would be great as Mel. Paul Rudd is my first choice for Will, although I also think Mark Ruffalo would be good.

What’s your favourite Chick Lit book that made it to the big screen?

Bridget Jones’ Diary. They did a wonderful job on that. Perfect casting.

What were the last two books you read?

I re-read The Reasons for Marriage by Stephanie Laurens, one of my favourite Regency romance authors. That was the first book I read of hers and it’s still my favourite. Before that it was Thirty-Two Going on Spinster by Becky Monson.

Name one female author who you think deserves to be better known.

The afore-mentioned Becky Monson. She’s a new name in classic chick lit. I’m looking forward to reading her next book.

Where do you write?

Home, and sometimes baby group while my daughter is playing.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? And did you follow the dream?

I wanted to be a dancer. Not ballet, you understand – I wanted to be in Fame in the West End. I did dance for a long time, though not professionally. I still do Zumba, but it’s hard to carry on as an adult – at least where I live. Realistically, I couldn’t have done it as a career. I have the wrong body type, my knees are shot and I wouldn’t have wanted the lifestyle.

In the movie of your life, who would play you?

I actually act as well as write – with my local amateur dramatic society – so I’d like a crack at playing myself.

Speed Round…

Top drink to make you tipsy?

Teetotal.

Shopaholic or shopadon’t?

I’m not really into fashion, but I do seem to end up buying more than I meant to. Usually for the house or for my daughter. She’s so much nicer to buy for because everything fits! And it’s my only chance to buy skinny jeans.

Sky-high heels or closer to the ground?

On the ground. I should get into heels, because I’m only 5’3”, but I live in trainers.

E.L. James or Jilly Cooper?

Haven’t read either of them, I’m afraid. I was rather put off reading 50 Shades after I read that the relationship described had all the key features of an abusive one.

Cry baby or tough cookie?

I have thin skin, but a tough core. I cry easily and you can knock me down without too much effort, but you’ll never keep me there.

Exotic beach or enchanted forest? 

Beach. Can’t have too much sunshine (I so live in the wrong country).

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New Author Interview

I did this interview for TBM at Making My Mark.

Tell us about your background and how you ended up writing.

I wrote plenty of stories as a kid, but – like a lot of writers – I got started for real writing fanfiction.  The first stuff was for a science fiction TV show called Farscape, when I was a member of a forum which included several other writers.  We were all very into one of the supporting characters and wanted there to be more stories about him, so we wrote them!  I’ve also written fanfiction based on Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion and Torchwood.  Really, I should be writing science fiction as I also have a degree in physics, but my main interest has always been the relationships between the characters.

I’d always meant to write a novel and it was on my gap year that I sat down and wrote The Dr Pepper Prophecies.  I’d just read Sophie Kinsella’s Can You Keep a Secret? and just killed myself laughing over it and I wanted to try and write something that would make people laugh as much.  After Wimbledon, which I wrote several years later, was more about exploring feelings I was going through at the time.  The first draft was rather angsty, but the final version is considerably lighter.

How would you describe your writing?

It’s probably closest in style to Sophie Kinsella’s.  My books feature dry humour, sweet (occasionally sexy) romance, things going tits up and happy endings.

What’s your book, The Dr Pepper Prophecies, about? How did you come up with the title?

It’s a modern version of Jane Austen’s Emma, although the lead character is closer to Bridget Jones.  Basically, it’s about a young woman who sets out to improve the lives of the people she loves and makes a complete hash of it.

The title is a reference to a series of adverts for the soft drink Dr Pepper (I found out later that they were only shown in the UK) that had the tag line ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ and featured worst case endings to various scenarios.  They were very popular when I wrote it and can still be viewed on YouTube.

Why did you decide to self-publish?

Over the years I’d thought of trying to get an agent and then a publisher for The Dr Pepper Prophecies and had even drafted query letters, but I’d never actually sent them out.  My husband bought me a Kindle – after much resistance on my part, I have to admit – and shortly afterwards I discovered that anyone could publish Kindle books on Amazon.  I just sort of did it, with very little thought or knowledge.  I should probably have learned more about the process first, but then I might have chickened out again!

I read that you wrote After Wimbledon after being in Melbourne for the Australian Open. Are you a tennis fan? Who is your favorite player?

I do enjoy tennis.  I went through a phase when I was very into it and that’s when I wrote After Wimbledon.  I don’t follow it as much now, but I still watch Wimbledon.  My favourite player is Roger Federer.  I was lucky enough to see him play in Melbourne in the Rod Laver Arena (the equivalent of Centre Court at Wimbledon) and that was brilliant.  Though sadly it was just about the time he contracted mono, which ended his total dominance in the game.

Do you plot out your novels from the start or do you let the story develop along the way?

The Dr Pepper Prophecies had quite a detailed plan and character sketches before I started out, which is probably why the final version is so close to the first draft.  When I wrote After Wimbledon I had a basic plan of major events – especially who was playing what when, as it’s based around the Wimbledon Championships – but a lot of the plot developed along the way.  With my third novel, I’m trying something different.  I have no written plan and I’m not even writing it in order, just adding scenes as they come into my head.  At some point I’ll have to pull it all together and fill in the gaps, but so far it’s working pretty well.

It doesn’t really matter which approach you use.  The very structured approach is good for avoiding writer’s block, because you always know what needs to be written next.  Giving yourself more freedom can result in some really good ideas that you might not otherwise have thought of, but you’re also likely to cut out a lot when you start editing.

Who are your favorite writers?

I think the best writer I have come across is Erich Segal.  He is best known for Love Story, but I prefer Doctors, Acts of Faith and The Class.  They are full of amazing characters and incredible detail and just bring different worlds to life.  I’ve read each of them many times and they lose nothing from familiarity.

Which book do you wish you had written?

I can’t deny that, from a financial point of view, it would be nice to have written something wildly popular like Harry Potter or Twilight.  But then I would end up famous and I don’t actually want that.  When I walk down the street half-asleep with something sticky down my front (I have a toddler), I do not want people asking for my autograph.  I never know what to say when someone says they’ve read my book, even when they’re people I know.

What advice would you give to authors?

  • Don’t start editing until you’ve completed the first draft, otherwise you’ll never finish it.
  • Always proofread on paper and get someone else to look at it as well.
  • At least in the beginning, write what you want to write and don’t think about what will sell.  There’s an audience out there for everything.
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