Abbie Greaves is still perplexed by the question posed on the cover of her latest book, Anywhere for You: “How far would you go for the love of your life?” Abbie and Zibby discussed heartbreaking truths about missing persons, why they love stories with a large cast of characters, and all of the amazing things we often overlook during our daily commutes.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Abbie. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Anywhere for You.

Abbie Greaves: Thank you for having me.

Zibby: Now you talk.

Abbie: Thank you for having me. I was just admiring the cover of my book. I’m mid-move, so I have no books behind me. I was just admiring it there. Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: I’ll just keep holding it up so you can see it. It’s a beautiful blue cover with stars and this little train station with the subtitle, “How far would you go for the love of your life?” Aw. Abbie, why don’t you tell listeners what Anywhere for You is about? Also, I want to know why the different title for the UK edition? How did you pick which one for which area and all that?

Abbie: Brilliant question. First of all, I’ll tell you a little bit about Anywhere for You. It’s the story of a woman called Mary O’Connor. She’s forty years old. She lives in Ealing, which is in London. She works in a supermarket. What’s unusual about her is that every day when she finishes her shift, she walks to the tube or subway station, and there she stands with a sign that says “Come home, Jim.” No one knows who he is. No one knows where he’s gone, that is, until the beginning of the book. Seven years on from when Mary last saw Jim, she gets a phone call from a man who she thinks is him. It sets into motion a whole chain of events where suddenly, she needs to come to terms with just what happened when Jim disappeared. It’s a love story really at its heart, but it’s a mystery. There’s a lot about mental health, which is a subject really close to my heart. I loved writing it.

In terms of the titles, that’s a really good question. The title I chose, or my working title, I suppose is a better way to put it, was actually the UK title for this book, which is The Ends of the Earth. It doesn’t give anything away, really, to say that because it’s a promise in the book that Mary and her partner, Jim James, make, which I suppose is a promise that we make to many people who we love, which is that you will go to the ends to of the earth for them. In the book, you’re seeing Mary come to terms with that promise when Jim is no longer there. What does it mean to have made that promise if it can’t be held? That was the title I had working. My US editor, I think she was a little bit worried that The Ends of the Earth sounded a bit sci-fi, of all things. I can see that. Publishers, they like a really clear proposition, don’t they? They like clear title, clear strapline, clear cover. Together, we came up — well, we came up with everything. It was a long process. We came up with a few things riffing on waiting because obviously, she’s waiting there with her sign. Nothing there quite worked. Then we came up with Anywhere for You, and it just kind of stuck. Yes, two titles: Anywhere for You in the States, The Ends of the Earth in the UK. It’s fun. It’s different. I’ve grown to love them both, I should say.

Zibby: It’s so neat, this whole, you get your own cover and your own title. It’s like a focus group experiment in real time with the US and the UK. I feel like every book should try this. Not that it dictates the success of the book by any stretch, but just even which one feels more authentic to you and that you relate to. I was debating if I should throw out a few other titles it could’ve been as well, but maybe I’ll stop.

Abbie: This time last year, I was tearing my hair out over this. Every day, to my mom, to my boyfriend, to my neighbor, “Any ideas what I could do with this?” I love hearing them. I kind of love hearing alternative titles.

Zibby: We should’ve chit-chatted. I love brainstorming. I think Waiting for Jim would be interesting, but maybe that’s not as interesting. It doesn’t really, of course, capture the whole thing. It’s a great title. Moving on. In your novel, first of all, you’re struck by the fact that Mary, who’s your protagonist, is both lost and yet has this regal beauty to her. She’s sitting in the basement of the train station with a sign as if she’s a beggar looking for money or something, which of course, is not the case. She’s just searching for her love and wondering where he is. The first thing that’s interesting is how people are responding to her, all the people who walk by, the people who try to give her money, the people who try to help, very few people who try to help, then finally, the woman who decided to exploit this situation for her own gain. It’s the whole gamut of how people respond, the selfless, the self-motivated. It’s like a mini commentary on society in the way that they treat her as she sits there desperately hoping to reunite with someone in this heartbreaking moment. Tell me a little bit about that and how you thought about that.

Abbie: That actually ties in almost to my inspiration for the whole novel because I had the idea when I was commuting in London. I’m sure like New Yorkers or anyone else who lives in one of the commuting centers in the world, you’re flying through those ticket gates twice a day, minimum. You’re right, you see the full spectrum of humanity passing by you commuting, but also just in the station. That really got me thinking about people who stand out there, the people who go against the flow, which is obviously Mary with her sign. I think we’ve all seen it. If there’s someone distressed in the station for whatever reason, it’s that group of people who run to them. There’s a group of people who run away from them. I think the greatest group of people are those who just turn a blind eye. That’s what we see in the novel. For seven years, Mary’s behavior’s gone not so much unchallenged, it’s just ignored because there are so many people who just kind of sink into themselves instead of dealing with that for whatever reason. Then as you say, you get this one character who enters a few chapters in who ends up holding the key to getting to the bottom of what happened. Her name is Alice. She’s a journalist. She starts off from a place of self-interest, but I suppose her arc in the book, like Mary’s, is to come to a realization of just where that might have come from. It’s amazing what you can pick up on your commute. When I think about this novel, when I hold it in my hands, when I hear from readers — I had that idea on a Monday or a Tuesday flying into the office, probably late. I’ll never not think about that.

Zibby: That commute, you can definitely write that off for taxes or something. I don’t know how it even works or whatever. Another interesting thing about Mary is that despite the fact that she is in distress from her own loss and almost grieving for this lost character, she still decides to pass the time by getting a job at a help line overnight and helping other people. You just mentioned a second ago about your own connection to mental health. Tell me a little bit more about the crisis hotline, why she’s drawn to that, and what your own role in this in.

Abbie: It’s interesting. When I first had the idea, as I was just saying then on the commute, it wasn’t immediate that I had the idea of her working at a crisis line. As I began to research missing people, particularly the kind of processes in the UK, which have many, many holes in them — it’s a complete mine field, how we go about dealing with missing people. I kept coming again and again to the crisis lines that exist for missing people. Obviously, got me thinking more broadly about crisis lines, be it something like the Samaritans, which we have in the UK, suicide lines, lines dedicated to children, the elderly, all of these. As I was digging into Mary’s character, she was not the sort of person, necessarily, who would phone one of these lines, but she was the sort of person who would entirely understand the importance of them and want to be involved.

As you read in the book as well, and you see that there’s a slight element of not so much self-interest, but kind of hope and desperation there too, if Jim needs something from her, she can be on the end of the phone. I really enjoyed writing that part of the book, not only because it helped me to introduce a whole cast of other characters, the sort of people who would be working for a crisis line like that, but as you say, because I just think it’s such an important theme in my writing of Anywhere for You, but also in my previous book, The Silent Treatment — we all know it, don’t we? Mental health affects all of us. We all have one, whether we feel it in that moment or in a particular moment of crisis. It’s something that is always not even beneath the surface of my writing, but I just think it’s a really important part of all my characters to show how they are authentically in their minds. It’s very important. Having the book release at this time as well, it’s something that readers have really responded to and I kind of see as a theme in the messages that come through saying that it resonated. That means a huge amount to me.

Zibby: You actually manufactured many ways to include a ton of characters. If this is a movie, you’d have to hire a whole casting agency, I feel like. Even at the grocery store, Janet, and you have Ted at the hotline. You have your great scene on the train where she’s like, I can’t breathe. This is now a whole, big thing. I feel like you should make #Where’sJim? T-shirts. You have a whole thing going here. Have you thought about this becoming a version on the screen or anything like that?

Abbie: I think any author would be lying if they didn’t say that they —

Zibby: — I know. Why do I even ask? I shouldn’t even ask that question.

Abbie: It has been a wild daydream. It’s definitely true. It’s obviously a challenge when you write a larger cast of characters because you can’t give everyone equal breathing space, or you don’t have a main character. You want everyone to feel like a fully rounded human. It’s obviously lovely to hear that you can kind of remember all these characters. I think about them too. I go into my local supermarket. I’m looking for Janet there. I think it was, with Anywhere for You, why I felt it was important to see this network, was because Mary feels very isolated and in those seven years. She’s the sort of person, if you said to her, do you have many friends? she’d be like, . What I wanted to show to the reader is that actually, you don’t need to force a network down someone’s throat. It’s just there. If you have a job, you have a network, for better or worse. If you have a network where you live, you have a network that you just come into contact with when you’re putting the bins out. That was where it came from in terms of casting those kind of subsidiary characters. I even have favorites. I shouldn’t really say that, but it’s Kit.

Zibby: Oh, yeah?

Abbie: If anyone reads it and feels similarly, let me know. I have had quite a few people say, Kit, bring him back. I don’t know. Maybe sometime. That’s the joy of just coloring in the side characters.

Zibby: How did you begin writing fiction? Tell me about your whole writing journey.

Abbie: A great question. Like so many writers, I was always a reader. It never really struck me that I could or should write, though, until post-graduation when I ended up working in publishing just because of love of books. I worked in a literary agency. I was an intern. I worked my way up to an assistant. I was agenting a few nonfiction projects. I suppose just that proximity to a first draft really gives you a sense of it maybe not being quite so unattainable. The book you pick up with the lovely cover and whatever else, that’s been through umpteenth edits. You don’t want to think how many rewrites that’s gone through. That got me thinking it was more possible. It also me thinking I need a really good idea to sustain me for eighty thousand words to then get the attention of an agent, to get the attention of a publisher. I suppose I kind of waited for that idea to come along. Fortunately, it did. From that stage, I just started writing it early mornings before work, before the commute. I was fortunate enough to get an agent and to get a publisher for my first novel, The Silent Treatment. A little while later, I decided to go freelance so I just had a little bit more time to work on my writing because it was a very full-on day job. That’s me now, freelance writing. Like everyone, it’s a different path. I’m grateful for the steps that brought me here. It was definitely eye-opening working in entry level in publishing for a while.

Zibby: The Silent Treatment came out during the pandemic. What was that like as a debut novelist for you?

Abbie: It came out right at the beginning of the pandemic at that stage where the supermarkets were empty. I don’t know if you had that in the States, but we did, empty supermarkets, closed shops, kind of sheer panic. Having gone from my debut being at the forefront of my mind from the moment I really started writing it and definitely since I got a book deal for it, it kind of then just fell to the back because your , your family, you’re worried just how you’re going to get through the next few weeks. It was psychologically a little bit odd. It definitely made me appreciate, A, our glorious book sellers who have been heroic, how much we need them, but also, just the readers and the different ways you can connect. While on the one hand we’re so connected Zooming during the pandemic, you can also feel really disconnected. Getting an email from a reader who’s taken the time to find your details to say, this book resonated with me, or even just to drop you a DM on Instagram or Twitter or whatever, to take to the time to share it with their book group, to take time to share it with a neighbor, that means more to me than it could’ve done outside of this climate. I suppose that’s a long way of saying it’s far from ideal. Books have been my sanctuary in this time. I’m sure they’ve been yours too, to some extent. To feel that I might have done that for a few people, wherever in the world they might be as well, it’s a lot that I’m grateful for too.

Zibby: They have been my sanctuary, for sure. I’m debating if this is becoming some sort of a problem. I’m like, what is it with books? Maybe this is not healthy. I should probably get back into the real world. Somebody yesterday was saying to me, books allow you to just constantly be in other people’s lives. I’m like, it’s not that I’m unhappy in my own life. What does it mean to be such a huge reader? There’s something about the magic of it that I find irresistible.

Abbie: There’s something so reassuring to seeing someone else’s life reflecting problems in your own even if it’s not a one-for-one mapping. You might be feeling anxious about, say, your kids starting a different school. You read a book about someone who’s having a completely different anxiety. There’s something in the phrasing. There’s something in a sentence. It just clicks. I don’t know. It’s magic. It’s absolute magic.

Zibby: It’s true, or at least, I can forget about my own anxiety for a few minutes and deal with someone else’s. Your book got me thinking too. Mary, in dedication for seven years, what would I be willing to throw my whole life behind for seven years? What would happen? Would I ever get to a point where I would be handling it this way? This point of desperation, what ends up meaning that much? Have you thought about this? What would you do for seven years? What’s worth the waiting?

Abbie: You know, that’s such a good question. For me, that question was felt so keenly that I could write the book. I needed a question that burned inside me. I think it must be incredibly hard — through the research process of this, I read a lot about missing persons and listened to a lot of podcasts. In particular, there’s a series, UK based I think, just called “Missing People” run in conjunction with one of the charities where they interview friends, family of the missing person. In some cases, we’re talking twenty, thirty years on. There’s something, and this is something I explore in Anywhere for You, about the lack of closure, meaning that moving on is, for many people, simply impossible. That’s something Mary struggles with in the book. Although, in a book, you’ve got a finite space of time, so obviously, there’s going to be some closure there. It must be incredibly hard. That’s why the strapline on the front of the book still gets me thinking. How far would you go for someone you love, particularly someone that you promised the earth to? I don’t know. I’m not a terribly patient person, but I am fiercely loyal. I suppose there’s elements of me in Mary. I suppose through her character, I was trying to figure out some of those contradictions in myself. I like that she’s got people thinking, whether they’re like, whoa, I could never do that myself, or I can completely see how she got to that point because desperate people do desperate things. It gets them thinking.

Zibby: By the way, the way that British people pronounce Mary is just the greatest. It reminds me of Downton Abbey with Lady Mary. The extra syllable or whatever, the drawn-out A, I love it. I could just sit here listening to you talk about Mary all the time. There’s another book — recently, I had on Hannah Mary McKinnon, is an author. It was more of a thriller about a missing love interest. You should maybe check it out. I can send you a link afterwards. It’s her latest book. The husband — not even husband. The paramour, basically, disappears. The woman goes in search. It’s not seven years. It was only a couple months until the rest of the drama unfolds. It was that same thing of, did this person drown? Is this person dead? Did this person live? How do you go about waking up and making yourself breakfast the next day with the whole ground beneath you so uncertain? It’s just such an interesting question.

Abbie: That sounds brilliant. That sounds really good. One thing since writing the book that I’ve been thinking about a lot as well, and you can kind of see it in books in popular culture, is this culture we now have of ghosting people. You start seeing people and you know them, and they don’t reply to your texts. They just disappear. Maybe you’ve been seeing them for a few months. How psychologically affecting — if it wasn’t so affecting, we wouldn’t have such a wealth of culture coming out about it. It feels really prevalent. Everyone has some experience. Some people are okay to kind of chalk that up to the way of life. I think for a lot of people, probably more than who let on, psychologically, you obsess on it because your mind hooks on worst-possible scenarios. That’s just the torment of the mind, really, regardless of the truth of it. That sounds brilliant. I’m going to look that up. I love that the theme can take you in so many different ways as well, to a thriller, to a love story, to a book club discussion. It’s really fascinating.

Zibby: My sister-in-law is in the dating world now after a very long time of being in a relationship. She was showing me some texts with a guy. She’s like, “But then he just stopped.” I was like, “Is he okay? Maybe he’s not okay.” She’s like, “No, no, this is what everyone does.” I was like, “How do you know, though? How do you know? Maybe you should send him a message and just be like, are you okay?” She’s like, “No, pretty sure he liked a post on somebody else’s feed or something.” I’m like, “Okay, fine.” Anyway, so are you working on another novel now?

Abbie: I am. I’ve definitely found writing in the pandemic quite tricky. I don’t know if any other authors have told you that. I had a lot of ideas that I could not quite settle on. I wonder if that was just a symptom of all our minds kind of lily padding, leapfrogging from idea to idea. Finally, I settled on something which myself and my agent are both very excited about. I’m in the process of writing that. I’m super superstitious, though, when I’m writing. I’m at that stage where I don’t want to breathe a word in case some of the magic kind of , but it’s going. I’m tentatively hopeful that as things brighten up, the writing’s going to kick in a bit faster too. It’s good in its own way.

Zibby: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Abbie: Yes. Although, I always feel like I want to caveat that by saying, no one trust me. The best advice is just to read widely. Try not to be scared of authors who you perceive to be way better than you. I have that right now just because you always want to be inspired to aim up. Read widely. Read everything in your genre, but in other genres because you can learn. I learned plotting from crime novels. I learned detail from historical novelists. Read widely. I suppose, not to get too hung up on waiting for the muse because I think bum in the seat typing words gets the book done. Thick skin, that’s another big one, but it’s just a learned thing, isn’t it? Those would probably be my top three tips to aspiring writers.

Zibby: Excellent. Great. Can you just say Mary one more time?

Abbie: Mary.

Zibby: I love it. Mary. So great. Thank you, Abbie. Thanks for coming on. Congratulations on all of your success. I can’t wait to see what you write next.

Abbie: Thank you so much, Zibby. Thank you for having me on too.

Zibby: Take care.

Abbie: Buh-bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.


ANYWHERE FOR YOU by Abbie Greaves

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