What was your inspiration behind One Moment?
There were a couple of ways into the idea for me. The first one is quite sad – a few years ago, I lost a close friend of mine. Sophie was only 28, and she died very suddenly of a brain aneurism. I was volunteering in Mozambique at the time, and had been out of signal all day. I remember coming into the signal area and seeing lots of missed calls and messages – people telling me to call them. When I found out the news, I completely broke down – I remember collapsing where I was in sobs. I’d experienced grief before that – I lost my mum when I was 7, for instance – but it was the first time I really had to work through it as an adult, and it felt so unfair that someone so young, and so brilliant, should have died, just like that. It was a couple of years after that that I actually wrote the book that would become ONE MOMENT, but in many ways, writing about Evie’s grief was something that felt painfully familiar – and I’m not sure I would have been able to write the book in quite this way, if it hadn’t been for Sophie. I remember her once telling me to write something real – and I suppose I have, in a way.
I supposed linked to this, is the fact that I wanted to write something that celebrated female friendship. I’m single and in my thirties, and that can feel really daunting at a time where it seems like everyone around you is settling down in one way or another. ONE MOMENT is a classic love story in many ways, yes, but I hope it is also a love letter to friendship – and emphasises the fact that it’s not only the romantic leads in our lives that are the relationships that make us.
Ultimately, though, I think the book was in part inspired by the fact that I’m obsessed with the ‘what if’ moments in life – what if I had or hadn’t done such and such? Would my life be different now? I think we all have those moments, to a greater or lesser degree, and this is a book that very much plays with that idea…
Without giving away the ending, did you always believe it would end that way, or did you explore other options?
I had a really clear idea of how I wanted the book to end – it was a scene that I had in my mind really strongly from the outset. If you read the end, you’ll see what I mean when I say that there is another way it could end… And I did play around with that idea, but I never actually wrote the alternative ending. I came close a couple of times. I had a panic right before my agent sent the book out on submission, worrying that the book wasn’t ‘uplifting’ enough, and wondering if I should change the ending… But she reassured me that it was uplifting, and she believed it was right to end the way it did. Then I had one US editor who was keen, but wasn’t sure on the ending, so I talked again about possibly changing it… But ultimately, I was lucky enough to find both a UK and US editor who liked the way it ended – and so it stuck. I’m glad because to me this feels like the right ending.
This is your debut novel, can you share the process you went through to get it published?
Oh gosh, how long do you have?!
I have been trying to write for over ten years, dreaming of having my name on the front of a book. In actual fact, I first tried to write a book when I was eleven, on the very first computer in our house – big and clunky and with the dial up tone we all grew to love. It was called THE GHOST, and was, unsurprisingly about a ghost – and the girl who fell in love with him (and a necklace that was a beautiful, perfect triangle, as far as I can recall). I remember writing it as a short story, and reading the story to my dad’s girlfriend at the time, who asked if it was just the beginning of a book… I vividly recall sitting at the computer and forcing my older sister, Jenny, who is nearly 10 years older than me and was much better at typing than me, to type out the story as I dictated (something my niece, Jenny’s daughter, now does to me – it all comes full circle…). We were supposed to be going somewhere and were being told to hurry up, but I was refusing to leave until we got to a certain point in the story. I don’t know how or why, but at this point I managed to do something on the computer – and I deleted The. Entire. Thing. Jenny was so cross – this had been hours of work – and I was distraught. My future bestselling novel was GONE! She managed to see the funny side and we kept going and tried to remember the story. I have no idea where THE GHOST is now, lost somewhere on a very old computer, but it definitely kindled a love of writing.
Aside from the brilliance (ahem) of THE GHOST, I first seriously tried to write a book when I was twenty-one, still at university. I was convinced it was brilliant and would be a future bestseller. Needless to say, I was wrong, but I’m so glad I had this weird conviction at the time, because it made me see it through to the end – something I certainly wouldn’t have had the courage to do if I’d known just how hard writing a book and getting it published was. I wrote two more full novels before getting an agent and had to learn a lot. I spent hours online, looking up writing techniques, and signed up for a creative writing course, paying on my credit card and convinced that it was an ‘investment’. Maybe it was, but it would take a while to earn it back…
I think I’ve always loved writing because I loved reading – and the love of reading led me to a job in publishing. I’ve been working in the publishing industry for ten years now, mainly in the publicity department but also as a sometime-editor. Writing alongside working in publishing has sometimes been great – because you are inspired by brilliant authors and publishing people almost every day – and sometimes hard, because you see how competitive the industry is first-hand, and how difficult it can be to make it as an author. I first got an agent about a year after getting my first publishing job, for the third (proper) book I’d ever written. It was a YA thriller – so very different to ONE MOMENT! I was really excited – I thought, I’ve got an agent now, surely I’ll get a publishing deal! But I didn’t. The novel went out to multiple editors across all the UK publishing houses and the resounding silence was deafening. That was my first lesson in realising that there is a LOT of rejection in this world, even once you’ve got an agent.
I wrote another couple of books that weren’t great, and ended up moving to a different agent with a new book. I had the same experience – a novel went out, an adult novel this time, and one I was (and still am) quite proud of – and again there was rejection all around. There was no one reason given – and that is the name of the game in publishing, so much depends on luck and timing, and of finding the right editor who has the space on their list at the right time. I was on the verge of giving up at this point, but my very lovely, kind agent helped me to pick myself up – and it was then that I had the idea for ONE MOMENT. She loved it, and encouraged me to write it. I wrote the first draft in about three months – I had to write it fast, otherwise I would have let self-doubt get the better of me. And this one did get a publishing deal. Not just in the UK, but in the US and internationally, too.
So, it took me a long time – and a lot of rejection. I always wonder if the story makes me sound like I can’t write, but I hope it proves that not giving up does get you there in the end….
What advice do you have for aspiring writers to help them to believe in their writing ability.
I hope my story above emphasises this – don’t give up!! I won’t say ‘believe in yourself’, because that is hard at times. But I honestly believe that the writers who make it are the ones who don’t give up – and the ones who learn, with each new draft of a book or each new rejection. Listen to feedback – whether it’s good or bad. You might not agree with the feedback always, but I think listening and thinking about it (unless it’s just plain mean) is helpful, in the long run. And I know it sounds obvious, but I was told once that good writers are good readers, and I fully believe that. I have read more widely since working in publishing and I think that definitely made me a better writer – and hopefully I’ll keep improving. Read in your genre, read what’s doing well at the moment – even if you don’t love it, there will be a reason it’s doing well… Read things you love, read things out of your comfort zone. Reread books you think are great, so that you can see why they are great. There is reading as a reader and reading as a writer – do both, if you can….
Can you share a little about your next book?
I have just today handed in the edits to my UK editor for my second book! So that’s exciting/terrifying. It is going to be called (I think) MEET ME WHEN MY HEART STOPS, and will be published in the UK in April 2024. The semi-official blurb that we’re working with is:
What if you found your soulmate, but they’d been born at the wrong time?
Emery is born with a heart condition that means her heart could quite literally stop at any moment. The people around her know what to do – if they act quickly enough there will be no lasting damage, and Emery’s heart can be restarted. But when this happens, she is technically dead for a few moments.
Each time Emery’s heart stops, she meets Nick. His purpose is to help people adjust to the fact that they are dead, to help them say goodbye, before they move on entirely. He does not usually meet people more than once – but with Emery, he is able to make a connection, and he finds himself drawn to her. As Emery’s life progresses, and she goes through ups and downs, she finds that a part of her is longing for those moments when her heart will stop – so that she can see Nick again.
This is the story of two fated lovers who long for each other, but are destined never to share more than a few fleeting moments – because if they were to be together, it would mean the end of Emery’s life.
It sounds quite fantastical, but it feels, I hope, very grounded in reality. Currently, I’m feeling quite proud of it as it was a very HARD book to write, but ask me in a week and maybe I’ll think it’s terrible…
What makes a perfect weekend/holiday for you?
The perfect weekend would consist of: the beach, the sun, a pimms outside by said beach under the sun, after a day spent with horses and a good book… That’s probably a good holiday too – though I do love holidays where you get to explore new places and go on fun outdoor adventures, even if I’m not necessarily very good at said adventures…
Thank you so much for taking the time to share so much personal and inspiring details in your interview.