I English U: RomCom author JR Laurence interview + #Giveaway

Today I have the great pleasure of interviewing author JR Laurence. We discuss their inspiration for the newly released international romantic comedy novel I English U, and thanks to publisher Top Floor Books we have 2 ebook copies and 1 audiobook copy to giveaway worldwide.

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Q&A with rom-com author JR Laurence

A very warm welcome to Booklover Book Reviews JR! Firstly, tell us a little about your debut novel I English U and its protagonist?

It’s about a young woman named Serena, who teaches English online at home for a low-budget language academy. As she puts it, she travels the world every day, spending time with people in colourful far-off places—Istanbul, Shanghai, Ecuador. But when the laptop is off, her universe shrinks to her lonely existence in a bland little apartment. Speaking of bland, so’s her dating life.

Surely a better life exists somewhere on the other side of the webcam.

So when Alessandro, a scrumptious Italian olive oil heir, signs up for online lessons, which soon extend into virtual walks under a southern Italian moon, she thinks she’s found the answer. Should Serena toss caution—and her life savings and possibly her job—to the wind and fly into his arms?

I know what you’re thinking: this is just another Italian billionaire romance novel, right? Well, Serena thinks it is at first. Until she starts tripping all over herself. But really it’s a story about the choices we make in life, friendship, and most of all, love, with a lot of humour and heart.

As wild as it seems, the story is inspired by the confessions of a real online language teacher I know, who I’ll talk about later.

I must say, this is the first rom-com I have come across that involves working via webcam. Given recent world events and the broader acceptance of remote working, do you see this replacing the ‘You’ve Got Mail’ style romance as time goes on?

Interesting that you mention ‘You’ve Got Mail’. I love movie rom-coms. They’re actually a lot different than book rom-coms. I find movie rom-coms to be more complex, richer, exploring serious themes and multiple relationships. Think of ‘You’ve Got Mail’, ‘When Harry Met Sally’, ‘Annie Hall’: in all of these the protagonists all go out with other people and are faced with life choices beyond the romance itself. In ‘When Harry Met Sally’ the question was, ‘Can men and women really be friends?’

That’s the kind of thing I was aiming for with this book, posing the question: ‘Is true love possible through a webcam?’ I mean, how do you fall in love without being able to smell the other person’s pheromones?

Oops. I dodged your question. But, yes, Zoom meetings have become such a part of our reality for the last three years. I think the situation is ripe for drama and comedy.

(Interviewer note: I hope there’s room for both, since I’m a huge fan of the epistolary novel format, e.g. I can highly recommend Sarah Lotz’ very modern recent release Impossible.)

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They often say, write what you know. Have you heeded this advice with I English U

A little bit. The story was inspired by the confessions of an online language teacher I studied with. We became good friends, often meeting online after work, though she lived in another country. One day she looked so sad, and told me, ‘Every day I feel like I travel the world, but when the computer is off, I’m stuck back here in my dark little flat.’ Then she pulled aside her blackboard and revealed to me this grungy, dark little flat. I knew instantly that there was a story to be told!

She didn’t actually do the things my protagonist does, but the behind-the-scenes details of an online language factory were straight from her mouth. And her fantasies—which she really took seriously—of running away with a handsome rich student on the other side of the world (after first getting such a student, of course) is definitely Serena. I asked myself: What if my teacher friend had the opportunity to act out on her daydreams? 

Some other details come from real experience. I studied linguistics in university and taught English to foreign students for a year. So the grammar mistakes that each student in the novel struggles with are entirely real and based on their native language patterns. Then a guy I know had a car accident and subsequent issues almost exactly like I describe in the novel.

The Italian family is loosely based on a real family I’ve known for many years who run a small farm in Italy, including a mute uncle. And I used to have pet hamsters, so I know whereof I speak about the trouble those tiny rascals can cause. So, yes, when you include things from your own life and experiences, it can add a lot of flavour to a book. But the story as a whole is not based on anyone’s real life. God help us if it was.

I love most things quirky in fiction, and romance and comedy are perfectly paired. Humour can be very subjective though. Can you give us a feel for the style of humour in I English U?

They say that describing humour is like a blind person trying to describe an elephant. And the more you try to describe it, the less funny it seems, so I’m reluctant to answer this question. But let me try.

Like I said earlier, I’m a fan of movie rom-coms, particularly the smarter ones. ‘When Harry Met Sally’ is one of my top two movies of all time that I watch again and again (the other is ‘Cabaret’). That’s the kind of comedy I’m going for.

Serena is sometimes her own worst enemy. But I want you to be rooting for her, even if she doesn’t know what she is doing.

I also like to throw in English vocabulary jokes. There’s a whole long dialogue on the topic of copulative verbs. Yes, there is such a thing, and it isn’t what you think.

What I said above sounds so clinical. Yes, humour is entirely subjective. I just hope that readers will appreciate my trying to push outside the boundaries of the usual rom-com novel.

In your bio, you list your passions as “cycling, fountain pens, and daydreaming in foreign cafés”. Explain ‘fountain pens’?

All of my notes and a major portion of my first drafts are written by hand, using fountain pens, same as many well-known authors like Neil Gaiman and Neal deGrasse Tyson. Queen Elizabeth signs everything with a vintage Parker 51 fountain pen. So why shouldn’t I?

I love the weight and feel of a finely crafted pen, the regal beauty of the nib, and the voluptuous flow of thick black ink onto smooth paper. The sensual pleasure is almost obscene. Once you start writing with a fountain pen, it’s easy to get hooked.

My current workhorse is the same one Gaiman uses, a Pilot Custom 823 with a 14K gold nib. But my EDC (everyday carry) pen for making notes is an inexpensive all-brass Pilot Metropolitan. Besides these, I rotate among my 25 fountain pens, always at least three filled with different coloured inks for my draft corrections.

I spend way too much time watching fountain pen reviews on YouTube; my partner calls it ‘pen porn’. I don’t drink or do drugs, so this is my addiction.

Most writers are avid readers. Tell us about the last book you read that you absolutely loved and recommended to all your friends?

It isn’t a romantic comedy, but I’m absolutely gobsmacked by Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. It’s a ‘biography’ of a fictional 1970s rock band in Los Angeles. The characters live this extreme lifestyle, yet they’re deeply relatable; every note rings true. The author took a huge creative risk, telling the story from around ten people’s perspectives. As a writer, I can tell you this is a hugely challenging task which could have ended up a tangled disaster, but the author pulls it off almost effortlessly. It’s the first book in a long time where I’ve woken up in the middle of the night desperate to read it, the next day’s work be damned!

So, what is next in your writing pipeline?

Just like I English U was triggered by someone’s offhand remark, I have another story in the works based on something I myself said in the heat of a candle-lit romantic moment. I won’t reveal what it is, but right after I made that statement, I spoiled the lovey-dovey mood by telling my partner what a hilarious story that would make and to please be quiet while I whipped out my notebook and Pilot fountain pen and scribbled down some notes. I will never be forgiven.

Find out more about I English U and get your copy from: 

Amazon Audible

If you’d like to find out more about JR Laurence and their writing, visit their webpage.

I English U Giveaway

I English U eBook and Audiobook Giveaway

We have 2 ebook copies and 1 audiobook copy of JR Laurence’s I English U to giveaway, thanks to Top Floor Books. Entries open worldwide, close midnight 11 June 2022.

You can improve your chance of winning by:

Do not forget to scroll down to the bottom of this entry form and press the SUBMIT button!

SORRY, ENTRIES CLOSED – See winners announcement.