When we were 13, my best friend and I developed an unyielding obsession with a girl in the sixth form of our closeted all girl’s school. Every little morsel we managed to discover about her life was clung onto and dissected in feverish whispers as if she were the messiah and we were her slightly spotty disciples. We snuck into the art room to pour over her A-Level sketchbooks when no one was around and would giggle pathologically if she walked past us in the corridor. Once, while munching on a bag of Thorntons’ fudge and perusing the jewellery section of Accessories, we got into an argument about what earrings she might be most likely to wear. This wouldn’t have been that embarrassing had I realised earlier that the object of our devotion had, in fact, been standing next to us the whole time with a slightly frightened expression on her face.
I thought I had outgrown these sorts of crushes when I left school, but then Laura Jane Williams appeared on my Instagram and I might as well have been back at school again. Although a published author, whose work has been translated into 12 languages across 18 countries, with a journalism portfolio featuring The Telegraph, The Guardian, RED, Buzzfeed and Stylist, what first caught my attention was, I’m slightly ashamed to say, a picture of her outfit. But it wasn’t just the gorgeous navy button down dress she had paired with a printed silk scarf that hooked me, rather the caption she had crafted underneath.
“Today I’m dressed as Esmeralda, a Spanish divorcée who can’t believe she ever tried to make it work with an unfeeling Eton-educated posh boy,” began the post to her 26,500 Instagram followers concluding with #LauraJaneWears. I clicked on the hashtag and found an archive of similarly delicious outfit posts, all with their own character studies. “Today I’m dressed as Romi, a bisexual director currently not dating, because her last girlfriend shaved her head and published an anthology of poetry about their relationship,” read one with over 1000 likes. My favourite though, accompanying a photo of Williams dressed in a wooly beanie and leaning on a suitcase was captioned, “Tashida eats Chinese rice porridge at most meals because her acupuncturist told her it would help with better digestion, and with boundaries.”
While Tashida is working on her boundaries, Williams, at the ripe old age of 35, seems to have mastered them already. If you google her name, a plethora of interviews and articles emerge focusing on her distinct work style. When in the flow of writing a book, she tends to start her working day at 5pm, ending at 9pm so she can get into bed by 10pm. She prefers to spend the morning working out, seeing friends or family and getting chores done so she can relax into writing during the evening knowing everything has been done for the day. This might seem highly irregular, but it’s a schedule which has enabled Williams to achieve the impressive feat of writing four books in two years.
“My dad was raised in social housing, and transcended from working class to middle class through education,” Williams tells me when I ask where this drive comes from. She speaks slowly and deliberately throughout our conversation, a habit I imagine she exercises in many areas of her life. “He was always very committed to the idea that his children could have all the opportunities he ever dreamed of. That combined with my mother’s energy means both my brother and I are the same. We both believe if you know what you want there are always ways and means of going about getting it.”
Williams has spent a lot of time researching, writing and advising others about how to get exactly what you want from life. Nowhere is this better exhibited than in The Life Diet, a digital manifesto “designed to help establish boundaries, take control, and only let into your life what you truly value”. Listening to Williams explain in her theatrical Derbyshire drawl why spending 15 minutes tidying up her home before going to bed, or clearing out her wardrobe so she only owns things which reflect the life she lives, rather than the life she wishes she did, is like receiving advice from someone’s cool older sister who seems to be getting it all very right. While her success is textbook, the desire to write her own rules comes from a well flexed muscle of rebellion.
“There’s something in me that enjoys not following the rules”
“I think it’s the contrarian in me, which again, I have inherited from both of my parents (my dad is very anti authority and my mom is just a black sheep), that enjoys going out on a Wednesday to the pub and drinking a bottle of wine and having to come back for a nap and then working on a Saturday night when everybody else is out. There’s something in me that enjoys not following the rules.”
Williams has not been following the rules semi-professionally for the best part of 10 years. After being sacked from a beauty PR job in London, she packed up all her belongings, put them in storage and moved to Bali where she built up her blog and freelance journalism career. Now she is back in her home county of Derbyshire writing novels as part of a four book deal awarded to her following the success of Our Stop, a “light read, perfect for summer” as one Goodreads review says, published in 2018. No one is arguing that William’s work doesn’t fit into the dismissively named “chick lit” category (also known as “women’s fiction” if you were wondering) but that hasn’t stopped her from allowing her political opinions to permeate her books.
“I don’t just want to write white middle class books for white middle class readers who are university educated, CIS and heterosexual”
“I want to make my writing an escape,” Williams explains when I ask how she marries writing this type of fiction with the current political and social climate. Her opinions on Brexit for example are barely concealed in Our Stop when the protagonist voices concerns about dating a character who voted to leave the EU. “I did get a message saying “I thought that was a real shame,” she pauses and lifts an eyebrow. “I think they were probably a Brexit supporter. That does make me really aware as I consume other people’s fiction how they address that kind of stuff. But you know, I’m also very aware that I don’t just want to write white middle class books for white middle class readers who are university educated, CIS and heterosexual. I write about the world and so my characters should reflect the characters in my life.”
Williams credits her upbringing, “following the breadcrumbs” and the Spice Girls as the most influential factors for her seemingly inexhaustible imagination. Growing up in the era of Girl Power, she developed a voracious appetite for reading, particularly books which encouraged self reflection such as the Myers-Brigg manual and ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ both found lying around the house as a child. It was this habit which instilled in her a strong sense of self evident today. Throughout the conversation she uses phrases such as “One thing I am really good at…” and accepts compliments with a graceful “thank you” rather than brushing them off awkwardly. At first I find this a little discombobulating, but by the end of the interview, I make a silent pledge to do the same. 45 minutes with Williams is a masterclass in how to take yourself seriously (without coming across as a dickhead).
A big part of taking herself seriously comes from self kindness. At the beginning of lockdown Williams confessed to feeling “overwhelmed” so decided to reevaluate what she needed to achieve to see the day as a success. She now structures her day with five main pillars. The process begins at 9pm with reading a book followed by at least eight hours sleep. “This means by the time I’ve woken up the next day, I’ve already ticked two things off of my five things.” The remaining three items are simple; “to move my body, drink some water and write some words”.
It seems she has come to a transitional moment in her career. Gone is the hungry amateur and in her place is a professional author who wants to taste the many flavours of a life well lived.
Another act of self kindness which marked a particularly poignant transition for Williams was stepping back from spearheading the screen adaptation for Our Stop, a task which she decided, had she taken it on, would have been detrimental to the creation of her third Avon novel due next summer. “It was the first time I’ve ever turned down an opportunity. There just wasn’t enough hours in the day,” Williams tells me in a voice which suggests the decision was not an easy one to make. It seems she has come to a transitional moment in her career. Gone is the hungry amateur saying yes to every commission. In her place is a professional author who wants success and acclaim but also to taste the many flavours of a life well lived.
What is so admirable about Williams is that she is so hell bent on living the life that suits her best. Every decision, big or small, seems intentional. She appears to be constantly reevaluating what she needs in order to sustain an existence where she can be exactly what she wants to be; a writer, but also a balanced human being. Normally, to celebrate the end of a first draft (she has just submitted the first round of her third book), she would reward herself by “travelling like a mad woman” before returning to the editing process with fresh energy. Williams doesn’t pity herself though, rather referencing yoga and lots of walking as simple lockdown activities which bring her joy.
“I’ve always been good, you know, at the smaller things and the simple things because I realise those are the things that make up a life. But fuck I’d love to go get on a plane.”
The Love Square is out now in digital formats and is released in paperback on 6th August 2020.