Briefly tell us about your book.
This Has Been Absolutely Lovely is a family story in the tradition of Marian Keyes or Nick Hornby. It is in turns funny, sad, and gut wrenching,
Molly, a millennial home organiser, is about to have her first baby. Obviously her mother, Annie, will need to help with the childcare. Everyone else’s parents are doing it.
But Annie’s dreams of music stardom have been on hold for thirty years, paused by childbirth then buried under her responsibilities as a mother, wage earner, wife, and only child of ailing parents. Finally, she can taste freedom.
As Molly and her siblings gather in the close quarters of the family home over one fraught summer, shocking revelations come to light. Everyone is forced to confront the question of what it means to be a family.
This Has Been Absolutely Lovely is a story about growing up and giving in, of parents and children, of hope and failure, of bravery and defied expectation, and the question of whether it is ever too late to try again.
The book traces three generations of women in one family, and explores how we see ourselves as we move through different roles in our lives: as children, siblings, lovers, partners, parents and grandparents and how those intersect with career and our fundamental identity as people.
It’s a story about expectations: of ourselves, of each other, of family. It’s also about secrets and lies, creativity and destiny.
The book is also strongly about motherhood: the different kinds of mothers people are and have, and the way society can make us think there’s only one right way to be a mum. There are so many different kinds of mothers in this book: Annie, who feels slightly resentful of all her children have prevented her from doing, Molly, who is terrified of the journey ahead of her as a mother, and who is deeply uncertain about how much she should follow the way her own mother Annie raised her. Then there are Naomi (freewheeling, hippie, intuitive) Diana (trapped by her relationship with someone from another country, struggling to support him through difficult times) and Heather (deeply selfish) and Jean (ignored, overlooked, trapped).
But wait! In examining motherhood, the book also shines a light on how many different ways there are to be a dad! From the devoted Ray, to the increasingly questionable Robert, the self-obsessed Simon, the hedonistic Paul and the sweet, kind stepfathering of Brian, and the tentative steps into fatherhood taken by Molly’s husband Jack, the book looks at all the ways fathering affects people as they grow up, and especially what happens when people aren’t what you first thought.
What inspired the idea behind this book?
Books come from the weirdest places. The original idea was sparked by someone talking about buying a house with a right-of-way driveway, and how the owner of the land that they were allowed to traverse would stare at them angrily every time they drove over his property. Then I was watching old YouTube videos of British band Bucks Fizz at Eurovision, and thinking about bands who are one-hit wonders. All the while I was deeply inspired by this image of ABBA that I have pinned above my desk: the idea of someone feeling left out in a group led me to the storyline of Annie’s band Love triangle, and their real life Love Triangle.
I wanted to write about family and inheritance – in all its forms: monetary, emotional, historical, familial. And I was intrigued by all the women I see looking after their kids’ kids, and how much that is expected of them nowadays, with the extortionate cost of formal childcare and the increase in two-working-parent families. So really it was a total mishmash of influences, which might explain why it took so long and was so tricky to wrangle them all into the story. But ultimately I realized the book was about parenting and being parented, and how those things build us.
I wrote the book because the relationships in a family are endlessly fascinating to me, and as my children grow up the myriad facets of parenthood keep revealing themselves to me more and more and I wanted to explore them in fiction. And it’s funny: families are funny; siblings are delightful to write. No adults can get away with being ruder to each other than siblings.
What was the most challenging part of writing this book?
There were so many! This was my first foray into writing in the third person, which is a very different kettle of weasels from the first person, I soon discovered. It was also challenging to write two protagonists of very different ages – Annie is 58 and Molly is 28 – and to distinguish between their internal voices. My way into writing Annie was easy: I asked myself how I might feel in twenty years if I hadn’t started writing, like I did only a few years ago; what would happen if I gave up everything for my kids, like Annie does.
To write Molly I cast myself back into my early days of motherhood: the terror, the weight of postnatal depression and the uncertainty she feels are all things I brought from my own experiences.
Writing about songwriting was a further challenge: I have no experience as a songwriter, though I do sing, so I turned to Megan Washington, who answered my all questions about songwriting. I also listened to a lot of podcasts about songwriters, to get into that headspace. I figured there would be a lot of parallels between writing fiction and writing songs, and it was fun to explore the idea of the earworm and the unoriginal song: at one point Annie isn’t sure if she’s written a song herself or if its something she once heard long ago. Several songwriters have confirmed for me that that’s a real fear and an ongoing issue for them. Tim Minchin has said that in this book I have written about music and songwriting in a way that doesn’t make him feel sick, which I consider a great compliment.
Do you write about people you know? Or yourself?
Every single character in the books contains elements of me, and I try very hard not to base characters closely on real life figures. It’s much safer to mine my own psyche, since I can’t sue myself for defamation. Also, many of the characters I write are fairly unpleasant individuals, and I don’t know many of those in real life: they’re much more fun to write and read about than to hang out with.
If I looked at your internet search history, what would it reveal about you?
You would discover an easily distracted person who hopes despite all evidence to the contrary that there is an easy fix to most problems (wrinkles, dirty windows, neck pain), who will follow almost any targeted ad on Instagram, who spends far more time researching seaside castles for sale in the UK than makes sense for a person who lives in suburban Sydney, and who toys with the idea of homemade advent calendars full of kindness prompts even though she knows no one really wants those.