“My marriage ended because I was cruel. Or because I ate in bed. Or because he liked electronic music and difficult films about men in nature. Or because I did not. Or because I was anxious, and this made me controlling. Or because red wine makes me critical. Or because hunger, stress, and white wine make me critical, too. Or because I was clingy at parties. Or because he smoked weed every day, and I did not think it was ‘actually the same thing’ as my drinking two cups of coffee in the morning. Or because we fell in love too young, and how could our actual lives compare to the idea we’d had of what our lives could be when we were barely twenty and our bodies were almost impossibly firm?”

MONICA HEISEY’S DEBUT NOVEL Really Good, Actually is a laugh-out-loud bittersweet comedy about an unexpected break-up as narrator Maggie grapples with the uncertainties of  modern love, friendship and the quest for happiness and fulfilment. Adored by readers and critics alike, it is now shortlisted in the 2024 Indie Book Awards, which run as part of Independent Bookshop Week (15 to 22 June) with the winners for Fiction, Non-Fiction, Children’s and Picture Book announced on Scala Radio on Thursday 20 June.

Where are you now, and where would you rather be?
I’m in a coffee shop in Marylebone after a meeting. It was an early morning one and although perfectly pleasant, I’d rather be in bed (this is almost always the case).

Where and when do you do most of your writing?
In bed, naturally. Although I have been told this must end by a very stern shoulder specialist. When not in bed I like to work at my kitchen table or at a pub with a friend.

If you have one, what is your pre-writing ritual?
A large coffee and a short putter around, preferably outside.

What comes first – character or story?
In television, character. In a novel, story. Often I start with an image: a woman sitting across from her ex-husband on the bus like they’re strangers; a dinner party where everyone cries. 

When you structure your writing, are you a planner or a plotter?
Coming from TV, outline is everything, so I try to have a very clear and detailed outline before I start any writing. The writing is the fun part, the plotting is sort of hellish, but once you get through it, you are really free to write without worrying where it’s all going or if it will work out in the end, since you’ve done that work already.

How do you relax when you’re writing?
By being semi-reclined at all times; by taking myself on brief ‘writing retreats’ and working from a mid-budget European hotel.

Add a single word to complete this sentence: Really Good, Actually is about _____

Umberto Eco once said: “We make lists because we don’t want to die.” Maggie sees lists all around her. Do you?
This is an extremely stressful quote to bring to me on a Tuesday morning. I spend a lot of time making lists, NEXT QUESTION.

The writing is the fun part, the plotting is sort of hellish, but once you get through it, you are really free to write without worrying where it’s all going or if it will work out in the end.”

Who do you share your work in progress with?
My friend Joel sees everything, and my friend Dolly and I like to send our best bits to each other in screenshot form to show off to each other/solicit encouragement during slow writing days.

What gives you greater joy, script or novel writing?
I really do love and struggle with them both equally. Writing a novel you feel very powerful and also very alone, and writing a script is an act of near-constant compromise, some of which feels very good and some of which is extremely annoying.

How would you pitch Really Good, Actually to a screen exec?
Imagine Hannah Horvath getting divorced

Share with us your favourite line/s of dialogue, poetry or prose.
Frank O’Hara always gets me: Now I am quietly waiting for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful again, and interesting, and modern. On the subject of Frank O’Hara, I think my favourite poem I’ve ever read is ‘Having “Having a Coke With You” With You’ by Mark Leidner, which cannot be excerpted and must be read in full.

Which books do you treasure the most?
Nothing hits like the books we read when we were ten, right? I was obsessed – like, adapted it into a play I made my fifth grade class perform obsessed – with The Count of Monte Cristo, and honestly I stand by it, that book has everything: romance, prison breaks, treasure hunts, murder, stolen identity, more information than a ten-year-old requires about the Napoleonic wars… I’ll always love it.

Which screen adaptations did the original books justice (or even surpassed them)?
Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility is a perfect film adaptation.

What are you currently reading and how did it come your way?
I just finished Margo’s Got Money Troubles, by Rufi Thorpe. We met in Los Angeles and had such a good time yapping that we decided to do an event together to launch her novel in London. I’m so excited to talk to her about it.

Which books do you feel you ought to have read but haven’t yet?
God, so many. I am extremely under-read when it comes to the Big Russians, to the point that I barely know where to begin. I keep taking The Waves on holiday and giving up a third of the way in – it’s not really a holiday book, or if it is, the holiday needs to be about… reading The Waves.

Which book/s last made you laugh out loud?
This may not surprise you but I really love the great British tradition of the whiny diarist: Bridget Jones, Georgia Nicholson, Adrian Mole. It’s hard for a book to make someone laugh out loud. If you want to do it multiple times in one sitting, Wodehouse is unbeatable. If you want something more contemporary, Patricia Lockwood.

Kindle, physical or audio?
Physical, always, with respect.

Imagine you’re the host of a literary supper, who would your dinner guests be (living or dead, real or fictional)?
This is a chaotic question so let’s throw a chaotic party with some of literature’s greatest perverts: Chaucer, Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller, Arno Strine, Alexander Portnoy, Sheila from How Should A Person Be?… and maybe give them all plus ones and see who else shows up.  

If you weren’t writing, you’d be…?
My dream job outside writing would be restoring old paintings in a museum somewhere. I would be catastrophically bad at it, like, “Spanish woman who made Jesus look like an Impressionist painting of a monkey”-level bad, but it seems like peaceful and creatively satisfying work.

How can we make peace with our planet?
Bookanista, I really thought this would be sort of a light “what are we reading, girlie” kind of questionnaire and I must admit you have sent me into an existential spiral in this west London coffee shop. I guess a good place to start re. making peace with the planet would be to have adequate respect for trees.

Monica Heisey is a writer and comedian from Toronto. She has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Vogue, Elle, the Guardian, Glamour, New York magazine and VICE, among others. She has written for television shows including Schitt’s Creek, Workin’ Moms, Baroness von Sketch Show, Everything I Know About Love and Smothered, and currently lives in London. Really Good, Actually is published by Fourth Estate.
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Author photo by Rachel Sherlock