Some of you may know that, a couple of years ago, I had a pretty bad time of things – a car-crash of divorce, being fired, identify fraud and even a literal car crash. (I wrote about it here) At the time of that last one I was writing my first women’s fiction book, a romcom about life lists, starting again, and wondering what would Beyoncé do. When I got back from hospital after the car hit me (luckily I was OK, more or less), I sat down at the rickety Ikea table in my new rented flat – I had no sofa or internet and only owned three spoons – and despite my very swollen elbow, I kept on writing. I was working on this hopeful, funny (well I hope it was), uplifting story, even though my own life was a bit of a dumpster fire, or whatever the British equivalent is. A skip blaze? That book eventually became The Thirty List, which came out two years ago. Thanks to that, I didn’t have to get a full-time job, and I was able to support myself in my little flat (and buy some spoons). I like to think I wrote myself out of a bad situation.
So, I believe in lists, and goal-setting, and visualisations and positive thinking and all that. At least, I believe in them a bit. I keep reams of life lists, from places I want to travel to restaurants I want to try. I plan and dream big. I have vision boards (don’t tell anyone). Here’s a terrible secret I am ashamed to admit- for my new book, I wrote myself a fake cheque with the amount on it that I wanted to get as an advance. And you know what, it actually did happen that way. Crazy. So yeah, I kind of believe.
But I’m also a Northern Irish Catholic by birth and accordingly, can be a real pessimist. (Right now I’m terrified my new book is going to flop, for example.) To give you an idea of what Ireland’s like: when I was a kid my great-aunt, a staunchly Catholic chain-smoking single lady, would never refer to anything in the future without saying ‘if God spares us, of course’. In other words, ‘sure we’ll go the beach, if we’re NOT ALL DEAD BY THEN’. It’s fair to say we enjoy a bit of misery. So I channelled both of these traits into my new book, How to be Happy (it’s called Something Like Happy in the US).
It’s out 100 days from tomorrow – and even less in America; how did that happen? –and so I’m going to do a 100 happy days of sorts to lead up to it. The kind a cynical, pessimistic, slightly-dour-at-times person might do. Because that was the whole point of How to be Happy –to explore what happens when someone who’s truly at rock bottom tries to make themselves happy. Is it even possible? Is it just flippant to think tiny things, like cake or new stationery, can make a difference to real and tragic problems?
In my story, angry, drab Annie, who’s fed up with life after a series of tragedies, meets annoying, upbeat Polly, who’s so positive she must have swallowed the Little Book of Inspirational Sayings. But Polly also has just three months to live. She reasons this is roughly 100 days, and so she plans to make the most of her remaining time by spreading happiness while she can. And she wants Annie, the biggest buzzkill around, to join her. Can these two very different women learn from each other and become friends – even when the worst happens?
As you can see, it deals with some darker topics than my last two Eva Woods books. I see it as a bit of a response to the depressing state of world news these past 18 months – a bit of hope and realistic positivity. It’s also told over 100 chapters – one per day – which was a fun challenge to write. I love books with structural ‘hooks’ myself, so I definitely enjoyed working out how to do this. I’ll be posting some more in the run-up to the book’s release, as I try not to panic too much or cry with nerves…bear with me! If you’ve ever done 100 Happy Days, I’d love to hear from you too.