13 Questions with Beth O’Leary

One of our favourite authors and creator of this months Zoella Book Club pick Beth O'Leary caught up with us about writing her latest novel and how it was inspired, her favourite characters and what you can expect when picking up one of her books.

First off, how are you and how is your 2021 going?

Well, hi! I’m good, thanks – I’m seven months pregnant, which has made 2021 a pretty exciting year for me and my husband! And I’ve been beavering away at my writing desk, juggling promotion for my new novel The Road Trip with edits on my next book (title soon to be announced). So I’ve definitely been keeping busy…

We’re so excited to be reading The Road Trip for our May Book Club, can you tell us about the process for writing it?

I am so honoured that you’ve chosen The Road Trip for your May Book Club! I actually wrote this novel in a kind of flurry of creativity – I finished The Switch, my second book, and it felt as though all the pressure of the ‘tricky second album’ lifted, and with The Road Trip I could just let the words fly. The first draft was done within a few months, though of course there were many months of editing afterwards. But it really was a joyful book to write.

Where did you first get the idea to write The Road Trip?

I had the initial idea – two exes crashing cars and then having to share a vehicle – way back when The Flatshare didn’t even have a publisher yet. But it never quite felt like a whole story. It’s hard to explain that feeling, but I have lots of ideas like this which sit at the back of my mind, waiting for their missing ingredient. I don’t know what they’re missing, I just know it’s something.

With The Road Trip, that ingredient came when I was on holiday in beautiful Provence, France. (Don’t ideas so often come when we take a break?!) I fell in love with the landscape, the vineyards, the dusty fierce sunshine. I wanted to write a love story set there! And it suddenly struck me that if my road trip idea was about exes… then it was about people who had already had a love story. Perhaps that romance could have happened in Provence, and could be woven through the story of their awkward road trip across the UK.

Once I had this missing ingredient, I was away. I started writing and just didn’t stop.

How has your process for writing changed during the pandemic?

My process hasn’t really changed: I still write 2000 words per day when I’m writing a first draft; I still try to be at my desk as early as I can when I’m editing; I stick to my routine. But it’s definitely got harder, and I’ve found this last year a struggle at times, as everyone has. I’ve been extremely grateful for my dog, Molly, who gets me out for a walk every day, which always does me so much good!

If the person reading this had never picked up a Beth O’Leary novel what would you tell them to expect?

Oh, I love this question. I’d say… expect an uplifting, romantic read that’s grounded in real life. I hope my books will engross you, make you laugh, and leave you smiling when you reach that final page.

We loved reading The Switch last year and absolutely adored the characters, who is your most beloved character you’ve written?

I am so glad you enjoyed The Switch! It’s so hard to choose a favourite character, but I do think Arnold in The Switch will always have a very special place in my heart. He just turned up on the page fully formed, really. I loved playing with the trope of the gruff romantic hero who can’t express his feelings well… and making that hero a man in his seventies!

Do you read novels in the same genre you write, or do you go for something else?

I read a lot of romance, romantic comedies and contemporary fiction – it’s what I love, which is why it’s what I write! I do pick up the occasional thriller, but I’m very picky about those, and if they’re too tense I get a little stressed out. And every so often I dip back into a classic when I’m in the mood for it.

What are some of your favourite books from the last year?

I loved Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto, which begins with the main character accidentally killing her blind date and then ringing her aunties to help her with the aftermath! It is brilliantly dark and so funny, and has a lovely romance woven through it too. I also loved Marian Keyes’ latest, Grown-Ups, which I think is her best novel yet (and I’m a huge fan of hers, so that is a high bar). And I recently read The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney, by Okechukwu Nzelu, and adored it – his writing reminded me a little of Jane Austen, with that wonderful combination of wry humour and perceptiveness.

What are you currently working on?

I’m editing my fourth novel, which is due to publish next spring. I’m so excited about this book. It’s definitely my most ambitious yet, and the characters are so real to me now, I love them all to bits. I can’t wait to share more about it soon!

What does your perfect weekend look like?

A long dog walk with my husband, a hot cup of tea with a really great book, and then making dinner for a cosy evening with friends. I love cooking and baking, and over lockdowns I have really missed catering for loved ones when they come to visit!

What do you always carry with you?

Dog treats, lip balm, a snack (I am very grumpy when I’m hungry…)

What would your last ever meal be?

My husband’s vegetarian lasagne and then my mum’s rhubarb crumble with custard for pudding. They are both delicious dishes, but they’re also special to me because they remind me of two of my favourite people.

What is one positive piece of advice you could give to our audience?

Be gentle with yourself – you deserve kindness. In fact, right now, while you’re reading this, think of something you’re going to do to treat yourself today, and commit to doing it. Go on. It can be something tiny, but it’s got to be something 🙂