“The running theme of my whole life, really, is wanting to do what I do now. I don’t take it for granted at all.” Zibby is joined by New York Times bestselling author Josie Silver to talk about her latest novel, One Night on the Island. Josie shares why she has used different pen names when publishing different styles of writing, what led her towards writing romance novels, and how writing continues to serve as her escape. Josie and Zibby also talk about their reactions to their teenagers getting older and the role family plays in this novel.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Josie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss One Night on the Island.

Josie Silver: Thank you. Thank you for having me. It’s really exciting to be here. I have to say, I apologize, I’m actually in my bedroom. I don’t normally do this from my bedroom. My office in the garden, the neighbors are having work. There’s a lot of banging. I’ll thought, I’ll come up here. Hopefully, it’s going to be quiet.

Zibby: That’s totally fine. I’m in my bedroom too, but nobody needs to know all of this.

Josie: You’re right. Rewind.

Zibby: I’m in the corner. Nobody can see. It’s fine. Doesn’t matter. I almost didn’t even get out of my pajama pants, but I did. You are a number-one New York Times best-selling author. You are a Reese’s Book Club pick. Now you have a new book out. Before you talk about the new book, I want to know what it’s like going from that to having to write another book once you’ve had such a massively successful experience and then being like, okay, now I’m just going to sit and face the blank page again. What is that like?

Josie: Oh, my gosh. It was, I think the word is probably terrifying. This is actually my second book since that one, so this one wasn’t so bad. That was just such an unexpected roller coaster. It hit the New York Times number-one best-selling spot at Christmas, which was like all of my Christmases come at once. It was just the most surreal and brilliant experience, for my first Josie book as well. It wasn’t actually my first book. I’ve been writing for more than a decade, but it’s my first Josie Silver book. It was just phenomenal. Then to try and sit down afterwards and think, okay, what’s next? it was difficult. Actually, I feel so lucky to do this job anyway because it’s my dream job. It was difficult, but if someone’s paying you to do it, you have to get your butt in the seat and actually do the job. I just feel incredibly fortunate, to be honest.

Zibby: Go back a second. Why different pen names? Why different branding? How did you get started? All of that.

Josie: I always wanted to write, but the time was never right in my life. I took an office job that I didn’t particularly like. Then whole life happens. I got married. I had kids. It was only when I was on maternity leave that I thought, I really don’t want to go back to that job. I’m going to give it a go. Entered some competitions. I was lucky enough to place second in a Mills & Boon competition here, Harlequin competition. That was the springboard. I ended up not being published by them in the end, but that really did give me the — I worked with an editor. It gave me a real taste. There was no going back once I started. Then I self-published. It was 2012. That was just in its infancy. I was quite an early adopter with that. That went really well. It was romance, but it was hot romance. It was around Fifty Shades time. That was what was being picked up, so I went into that direction under one pseudonym and then more towards romantic comedy writing for HarperCollins under the pseudonym Kat French, which did fine. It wobbled along okay. Then when it came to writing One Day in December, it’s just a slight shift more towards serious women’s fiction, so it felt like a good time for a bit of a rebrand and just to refresh everything. I moved from HarperCollins to Penguin. It was a good point, really, to kind of press the reset button. It went far better than even I expected it to, and certainly better than the publisher expected it to. It was like the stars aligned. It was a ten-year amble up to The New York Times. It can look on the outside kind of as a debut and as an instant thing. How fortunate would that be? It really was building up to that point for the decade before.

Zibby: Wow. Then you wrote One Day in December. Then the next book, that was Lydia?

Josie: Lydia Bird, that’s right, which was very different again, more entrenched in grief and recovery. Then it was such a flip-around to write that kind of book from writing a hopeful book with One Day in December to becoming far more — it’s a deeper book, Lydia Bird. It was harder to write, by far, with the balancing of the two parallel universes. It was quite a test to write that one.

Zibby: Had you been going through grief in your own life? Is that what made you go in that direction?

Josie: I’ve been very fortunate that the answer to that is no. I was lucky to have quite a lot of input from people on forums. I have a lot of friends in that kind of area that had been through difficult stuff. They were kind and opened up and shared their experiences. The thing that stood out to me was that everyone’s journey is different. How one person will react is absolutely different. Everybody’s journey is okay. Moving from that book then to this book now, One Night on the Island, which is kind of a return to the more hopeful, upbeat vibe of One Day in December, it’s nice, actually, to have gone back to that kind of balance of romantic comedy.

Zibby: I know this is a long way to get to this question. Why don’t you tell audiences what that book is about?

Josie: One Night on the Island, that book is about a girl called Cleo who’s turning thirty. She’s at a crisis point. She’s a dating journalist, but she’s really jaded. Her boss sends her away to an Irish island called Salvation Island. Her mission is to marry herself. That’s what she goes for, which kind of sounds comedic. It is in one sense. In another way, she needs to strip back down and discover who she is and what makes her tick and what she’s really looking for because she’s got into this rut of thinking that she’s half a person looking for her other half. What she really needs to embrace is that she’s already whole and that she’s on her own. Single doesn’t necessarily mean lonely. It’s self-empowerment, really, and self-discovery. She goes away to this remote Irish island to this little cabin to do this. When she gets there, she discovers that someone else has already gone there to do exactly that, to be alone, who is Mack, who is this tall, handsome, very grumpy American photographer who’s at an emotional clinch point in his life, too, but for very different reasons.

He’s just come off the back of a marriage that he considered to be happy, but he’s discovered that his wife wasn’t happy. They’re separated. He has two little boys, who he is absolutely — they’re his world. He’s trying to navigate how to be a father without living in the same house. He has his own issues. Fatherhood’s a massive issue for him anyway because his own relationship with his dad is so complicated. He’s at the bottom. He’s really in a difficult position. He’s gone there to take a breath, be alone. The last thing he wants is a roommate. They find themselves stuck together in this lonely place. They’ve both gone to be alone. The last thing they want is romance, but life happens, doesn’t it? Romance finds its ways between the cracks if it’s going to be there. They were such a fun couple to write because they’re so sparky and so different. You know the old Parent Trap movie? Is it Parent Trap?

Zibby: Yes.

Josie: It’s The Parent Trap, isn’t it? I love the relationship between the parents in that. They were kind of in the back of my head when I was writing this book, that funny, sparky, charismatic kind of relationship. That’s the basics of it. Then it’s set on Salvation Island, which is my dream island, basically. Obviously, it was written during the pandemic, so I couldn’t go and visit the remote Irish islands. I spent lots of time researching and reading and watching videos and all that stuff and cherry-picked all the bits of other islands and created this perfect small island with this eccentric cast of characters that formed the perfect backdrop for Cleo and Mack to get to know each other and to find what they need.

Zibby: Amazing. I actually listened to part of this on audiobook. I love the accents and the whole thing. It’s so immersive to get into this world. I also love — I’m forty-five. I remember turning thirty. That felt sort of like the end of the world to me at that time. Then turning forty felt the same way. Now I’m like, oh, my gosh, turning fifty. I feel like she’s in that moment where you just can’t believe you’re about to hit the next decade. Oh, my gosh, is it over? What next?

Josie: That’s exactly the position I’m in personally now. I just turned fifty. I’m like, oh, my god, what just happened? How have I reached this number? It shouldn’t matter, but it just does, doesn’t it? It feels a bit seismic. That’s the position that she finds herself in. She needs to shake everything up and then see which bits matter and which bits don’t.

Zibby: I feel like after you graduate from school, there aren’t as many milestones. It used to just be all about getting to the next grade. That was a way to mark time. When you’re just sort of living, I either mark it by my own kids’ ages or big milestone ages for me. Then all of a sudden, you’re like, wow, okay.

Josie: A double-whammy here. I turned fifty just a few weeks ago. My son turned eighteen. He’s at the other end of his journey. I’m like, oh gosh. Being a parent informs so much, definitely, of my writing. Parenthood is a big theme of the book. I’ve got two boys as well, so I guess that kind of came easy.

Zibby: How old are your boys? Eighteen and what?

Josie: Eighteen and coming sixteen. Every age is difficult for different reasons. This age, it’s just the letting go a little bit age. That’s difficult. My eldest is going on his first holiday with his friends in a few weeks. I’m like, oh, my god, how am I going to cope? All of that informs your writing. All those feelings kind of come out on the page.

Zibby: I have fifteen-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. Then I have two little guys, nine and seven. With my older son, he’ll be like, “All right, I’m going out.” He’ll leave the place. I’m like, “Check in.” I know it’s just the beginning of all of it. When you see somebody you — this sounds ridiculous, I know, and so obvious. I was just fifteen two seconds ago. Now he’s fifteen going out and doing all these things. What does that say about me? It’s his turn now. It’s their turn. I kind of assumed that my parents’ life was whatever. It was all about me growing up. If you’re that age, forget it. Now that I’m that age, I’m like, oh, man.

Josie: Absolutely. I find it so difficult, especially having been through the pandemic, because we’ve had two years of being locked in, forced proximity where we’ve all not had to worry about them going out and doing stuff. My eldest in particular went from being sixteen not doing anything to now eighteen and wanting the world. There was none of that little letting out bit by bit. He’s just gone from being a little boy to suddenly being a man and wanting to do everything and wanting us to back off. It’s life, isn’t it? It’s just so difficult. I’m finding a glass of wine is really helping at the end of the day.

Zibby: Do you feel like the writing helps?

Josie: Absolutely. It’s my escape. I had a garden office built just before the pandemic, actually, so I was quite fortunate that I had that put in before anything happened. I’ve got a sanctuary down there. This house, it’s noisy. It’s all boys. I go down to the garden, shut the door. It’s like, okay, this is my space. It just is a sanctuary. I love writing anyway. I can’t believe I actually get paid to do it. It all goes in. Everything that happens around you comes out on the page in some way. It was the same with the pandemic. My idea with writing One Night on the Island, I didn’t want to mention the pandemic. I didn’t want it to come onto the page at all, but it kind of still does subconsciously through the forced proximity and not being able get away from each other. The pandemic definitely informed the story.

Zibby: They’re abandoned alone. It’s out of your control. They’re there for a set period of time.

Josie: The weather is against them. The boat is — they just cannot escape that island. They’re kind of stuck.

Zibby: And just what happens when life goes one way. Suddenly, from one minute to the next, it’s very, very different. You can’t do much about it. I feel like there’s that same vibe. It’s this way, and now whisking out of the editorial rooms or whatever of a magazine or a wellness site or whatever it was and then just being in nature. What does it even mean to marry yourself? All this stuff. I feel like there was so much, not pressure, but advice to getting through these hard times, self-care and doing this. Ultimately, I don’t know if it’s effective or not. Then the pressure to do that adds onto everything else, the pressure for self-care. Do you know what I mean? Maybe it’s not making sense.

Josie: It’s all well and good, but sometimes I think it’s too much. Some people’s idea of self-care is other’s idea of hell, isn’t it? Some people just don’t want to do that quiet, calm thing. Some people need that noise and that energy. Everybody has to find their own way. I think that is very much the theme of the book. It’s about finding what works for you.

Zibby: I love that you have been into writing romantic comedies or romances forever. I loved the picture that you posted of the cassette tape. I still have some of my old tapes. I used to listen to Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus on tapes in my car commuting to work. I would put in the cassette and listen to it back and forth. That’s amazing that you, A, did that, and B, saved the tapes.

Josie: Do you know what? It’s one of my most precious possessions now. I’m so glad that I did because it, for me, validates me. I did want to do it when I was fourteen. I might be fifty now, but it’s been the running theme of my whole life, really, is wanting to do what I do now. I don’t take it for granted at all. My eldest is eighteen. My youngest is sixteen. It’s been fifteen years that I’ve been writing. I was thirty-four, thirty-five when I started. I sometimes think, gosh, I wish I’d started when I intended to do it when I was younger. Life just is life, isn’t it? I don’t think I was ready, perhaps, when I was younger. If anything, you’ve just got to do it, haven’t you? I wish I had done it earlier, but I’m just glad I did it at all.

Zibby: Maybe it wouldn’t have been as good. You can have the skills, but until you have the experience — it’s almost like being a chef and you have amazing knife skills, but if you’re only practicing on a cucumber, you’re not going to make the best meal. Do you know what I mean?

Josie: You’re absolutely right. I think bringing more life experience to the table definitely helps with depth. You have to have your heart broken to write about it convincingly. I’ve definitely had mine broken a few times.

Zibby: I was wondering, do you know why you’ve been so drawn to romance your whole life? Do you know where that came from?

Josie: I think it came — my mom is a massive reader of romance. My nan was a massive reader of romance. I’ve got memories as a little girl. She had her stack of Mills & Boon next to the television. She’d change them every week at the library. I’d go with her. It’s been a running theme through my whole life. I’m always drawn to it anyway. I’m drawn to it in movies. I’m drawn to it in books. It just is my thing. I’ve tried to do other things, and I can’t. I can’t write dark, thriller-y stuff. I had a go, and it just wasn’t working for me. I just love romance. I love love. It is about human connection. It’s just fascinating. I can’t imagine that I would ever write anything else. Well, I know that I won’t.

Zibby: I feel like it’s the same with styles of writing. I’ve experimented with so many styles. I’m like, ooh, maybe I should write this as a present-tense literary novel. I am in the dark room. I’m like, okay, I can do that, but it’s just not very good. That’s not my voice. That’s not what I’m into. I think it takes some confidence or time or maybe reader feedback to realize that maybe what you like doing the most is actually the thing that people might like reading the most.

Josie: Definitely. I certainly prefer writing in first person now. I used to write mostly in third. First, it’s so immediate and in there and immersive. I think I prefer to read first as well now.

Zibby: I love first person. I think that’s why I like reading memoirs so much. I want to hear someone’s story. I want someone to tell me a story. Maybe it all goes back to bedtime as a kid or something. In terms of your process, how do you approach books? Do you have an outline? Do you know what’s going to happen with all of your characters when you set out?

Josie: I would love to say yes, but the answer is a scary no. I usually have the beginning in my head. I know roughly where I want it to end and perhaps a couple of the pivotal scenes that I know I’m going to include somewhere along the way. Then after that, it’s very much a case of getting to know them on the job. You sit down and write. They say things. They do things. You think, oh, okay, that’s the kind of person you’re going to be. I find it a really terrifying way to work. I’ve tried plotting, and I find it kind of deadens the story for me. I have to write it as it goes. I write linear, start to finish, rather than dotting around, and try and write it quickly. I’d rather write five or six thousand words a day and stay in the book rather than write here and there and have breaks. If I have breaks, it kind of leaves me. I’d rather sit down for as many weeks as it takes and just stay in the book and feed everyone corn flakes three meals a day. They kind of get it now. It’s chaotic on the outside to look in, but it’s just my process. I’ve embraced it rather than try and fight it. I usually have three months of chaos while I’m writing. Then the rest of the year is the tidying up and the editing and all of that jazz that makes it sparkle.

Zibby: If you could change something about the publishing industry, what would it be?

Josie: I don’t know. Perhaps to take romance more seriously, to take women writers more seriously in the industry. Romance is the biggest-selling genre and the most looked down on. If anything, it would just be to respect the romance genre more.

Zibby: It’s true. That is our basic human instinct, is love, connection. It is how our species survives, literally. There is some evolutionary pull to this, hearing the stories. There’s something very soul-fulfilling about going through someone’s love story and going through the motions and learning from that.

Josie: Absolutely. It’s humanity, isn’t it? It’s the basic connections. It’s family. I love writing about sisters and the relationships with family and how they all interact. The emotional inheritance is a lot of the theme that I harped back to with this book, particularly with Mack and his children, about how Mack’s experience has informed his life as a father. I think that’s what’s fascinating with people, how everything that’s happened to us makes us who we are and how that impacts our children and the people that we love. I think human connection is the thing that pulls me back constantly to writing love stories.

Zibby: Ironic, too, that to write them you have to withdraw from all human connection to do so.

Josie: No one speak to me. You want to get to the point where your characters are your everything. Everything that’s going on in their life is massive. What’s happening in your life is kind of secondary, but that’s the fun of the job. I wouldn’t change it.

Zibby: Amazing. Thank you so much. This has been so much fun. Thanks for the chat and the books and everything. I wish you all the best. I hope that your son comes home early.

Josie: Me too. Thank you. Congratulations on your success too. That’s wonderful to hear. I’m looking forward to reading your book.

Zibby: Thanks so much. Buh-bye.

Josie: Bye-bye.


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