“I’m having more fun in my fifties than I have ever had before in my life. I’m very aware now that I’m not somebody who fits in, and that’s fine. In fact, I love it.” New York Times bestselling author Jane Green returns to talk about her first biographical novel, Sister Stardust, which centers around the life of socialite Talitha Getty. The two talk about how Jane originally found her way into Talitha’s world, what projects her research may spin off into next, and which parts of her own coming-of-age story she infused into her protagonist. Jane also shares how her life has changed since she hit 50 and which decisions she made to help her feel most like her authentic self.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jane. Thank you so much for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to talk about Sister Stardust.

Jane Green: It’s lovely to be here, Zibby. Always great to be on your podcast.

Zibby: Thank you. Jane, tell listeners what your latest book is about, please.

Jane: Sister Stardust is my first biographical fiction. When I was young, I saw a photograph of an incredibly beautiful woman on a rooftop in Marrakesh — it was taken in, actually, 1970 — in this embroidered — actually, you know what? I have the photograph. I saw this.

Zibby: Wow.

Jane: This photograph, it struck me. It had a magical, ethereal quality. I found out that her name was Talitha Getty. She died very young and very tragically. I’ve spent my whole adult life wanting to know more about her. When my editor said, “Have you ever thought of historical fiction?” I immediately thought, I don’t know what her story is, but I want to find out. I want to tell it. Obviously, it’s biographical fiction. I created a protagonist, Claire, who lives in England in the sixties. England in the sixties, we were still recovering from the second world war. London was gray. It was covered in bomb sites where all the kids would play. My parents would play with their friends on bomb sites. All of a sudden in the sixties, Britain won the World Cup. The pill was introduced. All these things started to happen. Timothy Leary was doing research into psychedelic drugs at Harvard. Suddenly, London burst into color with its own music. We had The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Claire is desperate to get to London. Once she does, she gets a job as a shopgirl. She falls in with a rock band who are loosely based, inspired by The Rolling Stones.

They spirit her off to Marrakesh to stay with Paul and Talitha Getty. Paul Getty Jr. was the son of the richest man in the world. From the outside, they looked like they had everything. They bought this dilapidated palace in Marrakesh and had an American designer friend, Bill Willis, completely renovate it. It was spectacular. They threw these wild, orgiastic parties, hundreds of people under the stars, and picnics in the Atlas Mountains where all the houseboys would carry onion tarts and tagines on brass trays into the mountains. Of course, behind closed doors, it was getting very dark. There were jealousies. Free love was complicated. Living that lifestyle was complicated. Also, they were diving into, first of all, opium addiction and then heroin addiction. Claire, this young, innocent girl, she thinks she’s stepped into the Arabian Nights. After a while, she has to get pulled in. She doesn’t realize the danger that awaits. It’s a coming-of-age story that’s set in the sixties and my first biographical/historical fiction.

Zibby: Wow. You had the idea. You knew who you wanted to write about. Where did you go? How did you start researching her? What did you find that you got really excited about early on?

Jane: What was so interesting about her is that there’s almost nothing written about her. There’s so little. I rather suspect that — the Getty family are enormously private and insular. There were some mysterious circumstances around her death. I think Paul Getty, her husband, he felt culpable in some way. The story changed a couple of times about how exactly and when. There was so little written about her, so I had to find anybody who was in that circle. I read everything I could. It didn’t matter how extraneous they were or how much on the outskirts. I read it. Every now and then, I’d stumble upon a nugget about Talitha. Sometimes the nuggets were quite big. It was like finding the diamonds in the haystack. It was just amazing. It took me about nine months of just constant reading, reading, reading. By the end, I felt like I had a very good sense of who she was and why the things that happened to her happened.

The thing that I hadn’t known was the trauma of her early life. Her father was a painter. They had gone to the Dutch East Indies, to Java, as it was then, on a painting expedition. The Japanese invaded while they were there. They rounded up all of the Dutch and threw them into prison camps. There was a lot of inhumane treatment and torture. Talitha, one of her friends spoke of how he once made a joke gesture at her face with his fingers, and she shrunk back in fear and actually talked about how when she was a child, the Japanese, the guards in the prison camp would poke their fingers into the children’s eyes. Her mother then died shortly after. I think she was deeply damaged despite being extraordinarily beautiful and having everything that you are supposed to want. She wasn’t just beautiful. She was vivacious. She was fun-loving, free-spirited. Everybody fell madly in love with her. It wasn’t enough to save her from herself.

Zibby: That is a powerful story. The effects of trauma early on, you wonder, what would she have been like? What would her life have been like had that not been her start?

Jane: Also, had she been alive today. Of course, now we have access to so much, therapy and programs and retreats and treatment and medications. In the sixties, particularly in England — her father went to England, so she was raised, first of all, in Holland, but then in England. It was a very different generation. Also, our sensibilities were then, you’re very stoic, stiff upper lip. There’s a reason why the British colonized the world. It was because the soldiers — the boys were sent off to boarding school at six. There was very little love and nurturing. I do think Talitha had that from her stepmother. I think she was very good. They had a very good relationship, and her father. I wonder whether so much of the people who did dive into addiction in the sixties were self-medicating. They were running from their pain and drowning it in alcohol or drugs. I wonder whether so many of those extraordinary talents that we lost so early, Jim Morrison, the list goes on and on, the twenty-seven club, Marc Bolan, whether things would’ve been different had they had access to some of the things we now have access to today.

Zibby: Who do you think Talitha would be today? Who is she comparable to in the celebrity world these days, even at her peak before the damage? Is there anybody that kind of resonates in that way?

Jane: I think Kate Moss, actually. The other huge inspiration for the book, although I didn’t realize it when I started writing about it — I didn’t really how much The Rolling Stones were linked to Morocco in the sixties. Morocco was really an enormous retreat from whenever things blew up in London. Whenever drugs were found or there was a drugs bust, The Rolling Stones would head out to Morocco. There was a love triangle. Brian Jones was the founder of The Rolling Stones. He was this extraordinarily gifted musician. He put the band together. He found Keith and Mick. He named The Rolling Stones. They always used to say about him, he could pick up any instrument and even if he’d never played it before, he would create something magical immediately. He was also enormously damaged. His girlfriend was a woman called Anita Pallenberg. Forgive me for being stuffed up. I’m getting over a cold. Not COVID, happily.

His girlfriend was this woman, Anita Pallenberg, who was terrifying and brilliant and beautiful. She was very much the muse for The Rolling Stones. Actually, she and Brian had a very troubled relationship. He would beat her up. It was really problematic. After one of the drugs busts — it’s a famous one called the Redlands bust, which happened at Keith Richards’ home in England. Keith, Brian, and Anita jumped into the back of his Bentley S3 Continental, went to Tangier. Brian got pneumonia on the way. They dropped him off. Of course, Keith and Anita then fell madly in love in the back of the car. That inspired the story, a lot of the story in Sister Stardust. Anita Pallenberg was great friends with Kate Moss as an older woman. I think that Kate Moss has that kind of almost magical quality. She’s a hard partier. Friends of mine have worked with her on shoots. They always said it didn’t matter how hard she partied. Once the camera was on, she was just magic. She is probably the one today that I think is most like the women of that era.

Zibby: Interesting. I love it. You have a whole nother piece of this book, which is Claire and Claire’s story and the loss of her mother and her father and her stepmother and also her relationship to her own body and how she tries to come to terms with that. The impetus for leaving home is sort of sneaking food and all that. You have some really interesting lines about her relationship with food. I was going to read, if that’s okay, just a couple quick lines. This is towards the beginning. It’s about Claire and her body. She said, “I tried to fight it. I tried to bury myself in a book, but the words swam on the page. I could taste the chocolate, feel the chocolate, and I couldn’t think about anything else. I raced downstairs, grabbed the , and took them up to my bedroom; guilt, fear, and excitement making my heart pound.” Then you say, “For those few minutes of eating, I felt absolutely nothing. I didn’t understand then that I was using food as a drug, numbing myself from pain, that no amount of numbness would stave off the crushing guilt and shame that would sweep over me the minute I finished eating, the minute that chocolate was all gone. I knew I had to finish them.” Then later, you say, “Oh, what misery, I think now looking back at young me. I was perfect just as I was. Why did we think that being thin was the answer to everything? How did we buy into such a ridiculous thing?” Tell me about this piece of the story.

Jane: I can’t say it’s all women’s relationship with food. I am enormously gratified to see my daughter and her friends having a very, very different relationship to their bodies and to their food. A lot of is about timing, is about growing up in the — I was in born in 1968. It was about growing up in the seventies and also growing up in a family where beauty and thinness was celebrated. There wasn’t really an option. I was clearly neither of those things. I grew up feeling like I was just a disappointment and inadequate in every way. That has fueled a lot of my books, from my first book that was published in the States, Jemima J, to — I didn’t think I’d be writing about it again now, but I realized, really, the culture of that time was extreme skinniness. Twiggy was who everybody aspired to be. She had the figure of a boy. The pressure on women was enormous. I decided that Claire would be somebody who had to go through some of that journey. Actually, look, in that time, you needed to be a certain way to have — I don’t know that you needed to be because there were people who didn’t, but it made life easier then.

I’m so happy that it’s not that way anymore. I’m so relieved for my children and the younger generation. I certainly felt it. I wanted to put that in the book because that was all part of her journey. The truth is, it doesn’t really make much of a difference. My weight has fluctuated my entire life. Sometimes I’m bigger. Sometimes I’m smaller. Do I feel different when I’m thinner? I get to wear whatever I want. I love being able to wear smaller, tighter clothes. I’m also turning fifty-four this year, and I’m really happy in a caftan or a poncho. It’s also menopause. I probably have to start doing some exercise now because I’m really, really bad at it. Menopause sort of turns your whole life upside down. I’m too busy to fight it by doing three hours of exercise a day. That’s never going to happen. I do walk. I could probably walk more. The things that have made me stop and think, there are so many situations that have come up again and again in my life. They always find their way into my books.

Zibby: Interesting. I’m glad to hear that about your daughters. I don’t feel like it’s totally gone, though. I do feel that, at least from my vantage point or not just my kids, but social media and all that, I do feel there’s a lot of pressure still. With COVID, there’s been a rise in eating disorders in young kids with Instagram and all of that. I hope that what you’re saying is the case as we move forward, but I’m not sure it’s completely gone.

Jane: I agree with that. I also think there’s a socioeconomic factor in that. When you live in a big city like New York or like LA, you have these girls who have a tremendous amount of pressure. I think a lot of is actually, for them, the pressure of living up to their parents’ standards of going to schools that are intensively competitive, of the fear that they are not good enough. I was eating disordered because of that reason. I think in towns that have that kind of pressure, absolutely, the girls are still very much under it. I know a number of families right now whose daughters are struggling really hard with eating disorders. I live in Westport, Connecticut. Of course, that’s going to happen. You go to somewhere like Austin, Texas, where my daughter is at university, that’s not the case. Actually, all sizes are celebrated. I am seeing that more and more on Instagram with younger people, not perhaps in the cities. I think the pressure is still very much on.

Zibby: So it’s time for me to take a trip to Austin, Texas.

Jane: I once did a keynote. It was somewhere in the Midwest. I don’t even remember where it was. It was somewhere like Ohio. I wasn’t feeling very good about myself. I was definitely on the bigger side. It was a tech thing. There were a lot of men in the audience. Afterwards, the organizer was like, “They were all saying how pretty you are.” I was like, oh, my god. I felt so good. I was like, I want to move here. I was feeling so awful about myself. I was getting this validation. That’s also food for thought. It’s cultural as well.

Zibby: That’s true. I know. We think that where we are sometimes, these are the only people. These are the only views, but there’s a whole world out there. For any people who need the conciliation of that, it’s very true. Jane, after all of this time you spent into Talitha’s life and this crazy time in history and all of that, what has changed now about your view of the world and how you’re going about your life? This research and this writing and this process, how, if at all, has it changed you?

Jane: I started this journey, actually, when I turned fifty. In fact, my birthday party was a sixties Moroccan birthday party. As I turned fifty, I just thought, who the hell am I? I’ve spent fifty years of my life trying to fit in, not feeling good enough. I’m really, really fed up with this. I’ve got to figure out who the hell I am because I don’t want to step into what Jung called the afternoon of life not knowing. I don’t want to live like this anymore. In fact, when I look back on my ideas for what I would wear, because it was a costume for my fiftieth, it’s all pictures of Talitha. It’s Talitha all over my photo feed. It started then, diving into her world. I think I have a freedom that I didn’t have before. I was so frightened that people would see that I wasn’t good enough, that I was quite stiff and was very rarely able to relax. I think that I am much more relaxed.

I definitely drink much more. I definitely do drugs more than I used to, sometimes a little bit too much. The influence is, I’m very aware of the bad things that could happen, probably because I’m a lightweight, actually. That’s the real problem. It’s not even that I do too much. It’s that I can’t handle it. What for everybody else is totally fine, for me, just wipes me out. A number of times, it’s like, ugh, I have migraine. You have to take me home. I think there is a freedom. I’m having fun. I’m having more fun in my fifties than I have ever had before in my life. I’m very aware now that I’m not somebody who fits in, and that’s fine. In fact, I love it. I wouldn’t want to be somebody who fits in. It started with the pink hair. I think that was my experimentation of trying to figure out who I am. Now I realize, you know, I am whoever I feel like on that day. It’s sifted out the wrong people. Also, I think being authentically me has attracted the right people. I’m in a really good place.

Zibby: That’s amazing. I love that. It’s inspiring and awesome. I feel like there’s so much fear about getting older and this and that. There’s not enough, hey, you know what, it gets better. It gets amazing.

Jane: It really does. I still care a little bit. Somebody wrote to me today that there’s drama, an author who has sort of bullied me fairly regularly on social media channels. I went and found what had been posted and watched it. Five years ago, I would’ve been devastated. Every time this has happened in the past, I have been devastated. I watched it today. I just thought, gosh, this happened fifteen years ago. I’m sad that this is something that you’re carrying, that you’ve been carrying for fifteen years. The fact that it didn’t floor me, I didn’t have to spend the day in tears or try and think about doing something in revenge or kind of hit back, it’s just like, you go and live your life. I’m living mine. Actually, I’m good.

Zibby: I can’t believe someone is bullying you on social media. I can’t even begin to wonder what they’re even saying that could possibly be the negative in this. Now I have to go scroll and try to figure it out.

Jane: This is the thing. I realize when you carry things like that about anybody, it’s never about them. It’s never about them. Oh, I’m having a hot flash. You can see I’m going scarlet.

Zibby: I did. I actually did notice that. I was like, is she getting really upset about this? We can talk about something else.

Jane: No, I’m actually having a hot flash. You know what I’ve done? I’ve done a lot of work. I’ve been in twelve-step programs for twenty years. Clearly, alcohol is not one of them. Perhaps it should be. I’ve been in twelve-step programs for twenty years. Al-Anon has changed my life. I’ve done the work. What I know is that other people’s behavior is none of my business. It’s nothing to do with me. I feel that about just life in general, whereas I used to get so upset. I’m inherently a pleaser. I want to be liked. I want everybody to like me. It used to be so hard when people didn’t. Now it’s okay.

Zibby: Wow. I really like you. For whatever that’s worth.

Jane: You know, Zibby? Let me say something else as well. I think that because I felt so insecure, I think I also projected a very different image of who I actually am. I stepped into the role of who I thought I was supposed to be as a best-selling author. Also, I’m English. I speak Received Pronunciation. I think that can be intimidating. I think people often assume that I’m quite grand. They project things onto me that actually aren’t me at all. The thing is, today, this really is me. Fifteen years ago, I do understand how I came across. I also know from my own journey — I have given talks and walked into rooms of very beautiful Park Avenue apartments that have been filled with women that have looked me up and down and, I thought, dismissed me. Then I have talked, and I have then had those same women line up to hug me and burst into tears in my arms. I realize that I’ve made exactly the same judgements about them. It was nothing to do with them. They were just being them. It was me.

Zibby: Have you thought about writing a book about this type of thing that’s not fiction that’s about this? That would be really powerful.

Jane: Yes. This is something that my agent has been wanting me to do. I’m not quite sure what it would be. He said, “Don’t even worry about what it should be, whether it’s memoir or –” I’m so nervous about memoir, nervous about writing about my family and my growing up. I’ve done it a little bit. My first book, actually, where I did write a little bit about my childhood, my mother stopped talking to me for a while and then eventually phoned up and apologized for my childhood. I also recognize my parents did the best they could with the tools they had, which were none. Nobody had tools in those days. I’m nervous about it. He said, “Just stream of consciousness.” I do realize that every time I post something on Instagram or Facebook about this — the word authenticity, it’s hard for me because it’s just so ubiquitous now. We’re living in a society that is so judgmental. Particularly on Instagram, we make so many assumptions. I’m guilty of it. In my old house, whenever I posted pictures of my beautiful kitchen, I’d slide the three ceiling-high piles of crap six feet off to the side so that the kitchen looked amazing. We all portray our lives as beautiful. We don’t show the messy and the difficult and the hard. Sometimes we can’t because we’re just trying to get through the day. We’re just trying to get through it until we can talk about it. I think there is something in there. I’m getting ready to start writing about it, maybe.

Zibby: You have an open invitation to publish this with Zibby Books. If you want to do this memoir with us, honestly, this is exactly the type of story. I’m sure people would be clamoring for your memoir, but this is what we want, showing the mess, showing the real. All this hiding, it doesn’t help anybody. It doesn’t help people get through. The clean kitchens are not making anybody feel good. There’s something to aspiration, like, oh, I would love — your house, I completely fell in love with, as you know, on Instagram. I was like, I’m going to drive up and buy this house. I’m kidding.

Jane: I think the key is — you’re right. I love looking at pictures of gorgeous homes. I’m staying at my brother’s. You’ve met my brother Charlie. I was staying at Charlie’s a couple of weeks ago. Three weeks prior, he’d said to me, “Jane, I’m showing the house.” He’s selling his house. “I’m showing the house, just to let you know.” I went, “Oh, yeah, I’m really good at showing houses.” Then of course, it went out of my head. I’m lying in bed in my pajamas messing around on my computer. Doorbell rings. Some couple is there to see the house. Then an estate agent is there. He went, “Oh, sorry, we’re a bit early.” I went, “Give me ten minutes.” The kids’ toys were all over. I shoved them under pillows, but I hadn’t gone upstairs. Two sets of people came in to see the house. It wasn’t until they’d gone that I realized there was dog poo all over the garden. The beds were unmade. There were clothes all over the floor in the kids’ rooms. I was like, “Charlie, you can’t show a house like this.” I came up with a list of everything he needed to do. There is something for me about — I want to buy into the aspirational life, but I also want the realness. I’m happy to have it side by side. I’m still posting pictures of my house, my teeny, tiny, little cottage looking gorgeous. I’m talking about very real things. Often, in Stories, you’ll see me with no makeup looking pretty frightening.

Zibby: You have an amazing Instagram. It’s completely entertaining. You never know what you’re going to get. I love it. It’s a true entertainment channel. It’s amazing. What’s your next book that’s scheduled to come out?

Jane: I don’t know, actually. I don’t know. I have written a sequel to Sister Stardust which takes a few of the characters and takes them forward ten years to 1979. Well, slightly less than ten years, 1979. That is actually exclusively for a podcast for a new podcast company that I’m actually involved with called Gemini XIII. That will be coming out. It’s a novella. It will be exclusively available on podcasts. I don’t quite know what I’m going to do with the publishing of that. We’ll see. I don’t know. I’m not sure what the next one will be.

Zibby: So maybe this. Maybe this memoir. There you go.

Jane: Yeah, maybe.

Zibby: Amazing. Jane, thank you. It’s always so great to talk to you and just to be so real. You’re just telling it like it is. It’s the best thing that can happen. I love it. I really love it. It’s refreshing and open and honest and you and awesome. Thank you.

Jane: Thank you. It’s always just so lovely seeing you. Thank you, Zibby.

Zibby: Thanks, Jane. Take care.

Jane: Bye.

Zibby: Bye.



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