t took Jewell five months to write None of This Is True—it’s the fastest she’s ever written a novel. “There’s something terrifying about working that quickly,” she says. “I felt slightly out of control.” The idea for the book came to her last January while she was out walking her dog. “I saw a man sitting at the window, working on his laptop, minding his own business, and couldn’t get rid of this feeling that there was something dark going on, that there was some dysfunctional atmosphere there. I wanted to focus on this stranger and find out what could be happening behind him. The front door is a huge thing for a writer. To breach that door and see how people behave when nobody’s watching, that’s fundamental to writing.”

Jonny Geller, Jewell’s agent at Curtis Brown, praises Jewell for her ability to get into the heads of her characters and build rich worlds around them. “Lisa understands that characters come first and that you sort out your plot twists after,” Geller says. “She doesn’t plan out her books. I’ve thought, there’s no way you’re not planning those twists—but she doesn’t. She’s at the peak of her craft, and she’s always hungry for new stories.”

Born in North London, Jewell was a painfully shy kid—nothing like the confident author fans meet at book events today. “I had pigeon toes and a terrible blushing problem,” she recalls. “I would turn this brilliant red at the suggestion that anyone was about to talk to me. I could never just throw myself into anything. My mother says I was always on the edge looking in.”

As a young woman Jewell was “desperate to settle down” and feel grown up. After earning a diploma in fashion communication and promotion from Epsom School of Art & Design (“I had no clue what I was doing and where I was going,” she says), she married an emotionally abusive man. “He love-bombed me and proposed after three months, and the minute I agreed to spend my life with him the abuse started,” she continues. “He threw out my photos and diaries. He told me I was bad at sex. I wasn’t allowed a front door key. He chose what we were going to eat and watch. There’s no sunshine when you’re living like that. I’m still confused by how I let it happen.”

When that toxic marriage ended after five years, in 1996, Jewell set out to reinvent herself. She began dating her current husband—they’ve been together for over two decades and share two daughters—and, after getting laid off from her job as a secretary, started working on a novel at the suggestion of a friend who promised to buy her dinner if she could write three chapters. That novel became Ralph’s Party, a rom-com released in 1999 after Bridget Jones’s Diary ushered in the chick lit age. “It was the right book at the right time,” Jewell says. “London publishers wanted to snap up as many young female writers as they could. Had there not been that zeitgeisty thing going on, I might have missed my moment.”

As Jewell’s readership expanded in the 2000s, she began to focus less on romance and more on the dark sides of human nature—and she used her first marriage as source material. “I’m constantly drawn back to writing about coercive controllers,” she reveals. “My first marriage was probably the most interesting thing that’s happened to me—in the bleakest, most gothic way imaginable. It’s character building for a writer.”

“Lisa’s stories come from a place deep within her,” says Atria publisher Libby McGuire. “They come from an interest in exploring women, men, and control. She’s a number one bestseller and her profile is building, and that’s what I find most heartening. She’s on the cusp of being that big brand-name author that so many strive to become.”

Sophie Kinsella, author of the bestselling Shopaholic series, has been friends with Jewell for more than 20 years and chats with her often about life and work. “Lisa’s writing has changed over the years,” Kinsella says. “I love the thrillers she writes now. Lisa knows exactly how to play the reader, what details to drop in and when, and she creates such compelling characters that you want to follow their stories, whatever happens. I’m so proud of her.”

When Jewell isn’t writing, she’s spending time with friends and family, especially her daughters, who bring her boundless joy. “I love living with teenage girls,” Jewell muses. “I love their sass and potty mouths. I love their mess and wet towels. I love driving them places and fixing meals. I like looking after teenagers in a way I never liked looking after children. I’m not a fan of babies. Toddlers do my brain in. Whereas with teenagers, I’m in my element.”

Clearly Jewell has hit her stride—as a parent and a novelist. “I’ve found myself in a position where, by any reasonable measure, I’m comfortable now and could actually stop writing,” she says. “Truly it’s nothing to do with money. I just have to do something with these feelings I get, where people jump out of the street and get in my head, or I see a house and want to walk into it and find out who lives there. I need to use these weird things and make something out of them. With every book I publish, it seems like an extreme privilege. I’m not sure what the secret is. I’m just following my instincts.”

Elaine Szewczyk’s writing has appeared in McSweeney’s and other publications. She’s the author of the novel I’m with Stupid.

A version of this article appeared in the 07/03/2023 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: Stranger Danger