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Interview: December 17, 2014

Internationally bestselling author Jane Green’s latest book, SAVING GRACE, is fiction, although it seems to be in line with the old author wisdom to “write what you know.” It’s the story of Beth Chapman and her famous author husband, Ted, whose crumbling marriage is rescued by Beth, an assistant promising to calm Ted’s rages and lend Grace emotional support. It soon appears, though, that this too-good-to-be-true interloper might be the biggest threat of all. In this interview with’s Norah Piehl, Green discusses the real-life inspiration for SAVING GRACE and why writing Ted’s character was not a stretch for her. She also talks about the elusive idea of “home” and why she decided to write her own spinoff cookbook, HAPPY FOOD. As Ted and Grace Chapman’s picture-perfect life begins to crumble, they are rescued by Beth, an assistant promising to calm Ted’s rages and lend Grace emotional support. But Grace harbors dark secrets in her past, and Beth’s persona might be too good to be true. What inspired this intriguing premise of your new novel, SAVING GRACE?

Jane Green: I had a bookkeeper who worked for us for a year, and something didn’t feel quite right, although she had glowing references. Towards the end, I had a phone call from her previous employer, who said she had been battling with whether or not to tell me, but just after she gave me the glowing reference, they discovered the bookkeeper had stolen a fortune from them. I started to think about betrayal, and how we assume people operate under the same moral code as us, and particularly about how our intuition is always right and why we don’t just trust it.

BRC: The book deals pretty frankly --- and sometimes critically --- with mental illness and the treatment thereof. How did you come to develop this perspective?

JG: I was diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago and put on amphetamines that eventually made me edgy, manic and an insomniac. I was subsequently told I had bipolar disorder and put on anti-psychotic medication for a year and a half that sent me to bed for that time, and effectively stole my life. When I eventually came off, I was horrified at how often this is happening. I think there is a tremendous drug problem in America, in doctors willing to slap a diagnosis and over-medicate. I do believe mental illnesses are real, and in those cases the medication is extremely effective. But when you have kids getting to college and easily accessing Adderall to help them keep up, then developing symptoms of mania and, in some cases, committing suicide, as has been reported recently, there is a tremendous problem. Also, in 1996, the cases of bipolar disorder were 1 in 20,000. Today it’s 1 in 20, with some saying 1 in 10. The rest of the world is horrified at what is happening in America, where we put altogether too much trust in doctors and the pharmaceutical companies who ultimately control everything.

BRC: Much of what motivates Grace is the fear of becoming like her absent, mentally ill mother. Her case is obviously an extreme one, but do you think many women struggle with the fear of turning into their mothers?

JG: Yes! So many of us swear we’re going to be entirely different and then we hit 40, and our children become teenagers, and we hear our mother’s voice emerge from our mouths over and over. I do know some women who had enormously healthy relationships with their mothers, but it can so often be fraught, and when you haven’t been parented properly, even though intellectually you might know what the mistakes were and want to do it differently, it can often require a significant intervention to stop the genetics taking hold.

BRC: The novel also portrays the pressures of maintaining a career as a bestselling novelist. Ted is obviously a very different type of writer than you are. But did anything about this portrayal come out of your own experiences or those of other authors you know?

JG: Of course, and particularly the treatment of celebrities and “celebrity authors” --- how no one is willing to tell him the truth, and even if they did, he wouldn’t have heard, but would more likely have had them fired.

BRC: One of the great things about SAVING GRACE is its supporting characters. How do you go about developing these secondary characters? What role do you see them playing in your novel?

JG: I love the secondary characters because I don’t usually spend a lot of time with them, yet they always appear on the page fully drawn, and swiftly lead the story in directions I might not expect.

BRC: Without giving too much away, the character of Beth winds up being very different from how she first appears. Do you think you are a good judge of character? Have you ever been surprised by someone who turned out very different from your first impression of them?

JG: Clearly the bookkeeper blindsided me. I think I am an excellent judge of character, and always know when something is a little off. But I have, a couple of times recently, allowed my ego, or desires, or needs to silence that voice, and either employed someone, or, in another case, allowed myself to be swept up in a friendship with someone who actively pursued me in a way that was enormously flattering, only to discover that little voice was right all the time.

BRC: Grace thinks a lot about the idea of home, something that was elusive for much of her childhood and young adulthood. What does "home" mean to you?

JG: Mostly where my family is. Even though I left the U.K. almost 15 years ago and am now an American citizen, I find I most often feel slightly displaced --- I don’t really feel like anywhere is home anymore.

BRC: Grace, like you, grew up in the U.K. and then moved to the U.S. Do you still feel like you're going "home" when you visit England?

JG: A little, but it has changed so much. I always feel very proud of myself for being able to navigate the streets of London without having to think about it --- growing up there, it must now be in my DNA. If there’s traffic, I know all the shortcuts.

BRC: You include recipes at the end of many of the chapters in SAVING GRACE. What inspired you to include these recipes in your novel? What are your favorite things to cook?

JG: I love stumbling unexpectedly upon food in a novel and frequently cook it when I find it. I had a little training in Culinary Arts at the French Culinary Institute, but I’m really not a chef, just someone who loves to gather and feed people in her kitchen. I tend to cook comfort food that is very easy and can feed a big crowd.

BRC: Grace finds culinary inspiration from her native England. What cookbook authors or chefs inspire you?

JG: My absolute favorite is a food writer called Diana Henry --- the spices and herbs she uses are always the ones I naturally gravitate towards. For vegetables there is no one better than Yolam Ottolenghi, whose book, PLENTY, is extremely well-thumbed and stained. My tastes are definitely more European --- I will often go to Jacques Pepin for classic food, although Dori Greenspan is my go-to for baking. I don’t tend to cook from the Barefoot Contessa much, but I love her catering philosophy --- that you have everything prepared well in advance so when your guests arrive, you can enjoy them without stressing about the food.

BRC: You're also releasing a cookbook, HAPPY FOOD. What was the process of writing and publishing a cookbook like? How does it compare to the process of publishing a novel?

JG: HAPPY FOOD was entirely homegrown --- I wrote the recipes, tried them out in my kitchen, photographed them in the kitchen, and even had my husband shoot me for the cover. I wrote stories for every recipe, all of which I think illustrate a little of my life. Right now it’s an eBook, but we’ll be looking to bring it to bookstores later this year.

BRC: I saw that your next novel is titled SUMMER SECRETS. It sounds like a great beach book. What can you tell us about it, and when is it scheduled for release?

JG: Isn’t it the perfect beach title?! SUMMER SECRETS tells the story of Cat, who discovers in her 20s that her father is not actually her father, that her mother had a secret affair, and that she has a whole other family who live on Nantucket. She goes to find them, but she’s drinking, and partying, and her life is out of control, and she ends up behaving so badly, they want nothing more to do with her. When we see her again, Cat is in her 40s, sober and a single mother. And she is making amends. The last one on her list is her family on Nantucket, and she has to go back to find them and show them how she has changed.