Bestselling author Paige Toon chats with Zibby about SEVEN SUMMERS, a beautiful, heart-wrenching story about second chances, grief, and everlasting love. Paige shares the inspiration behind the novel (it involves sand art and a Taylor Swift song) and then delves into the story of Liv, a woman living in a beachside town, and Finn, a singer-songwriter who returns each summer. She also talks about Liv's challenges, including caring for her brother with Down Syndrome. Finally, she describes her journey from magazines to novels and her excitement about bringing her stories to a North American audience!


Zibby: Welcome, Paige. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss Seven Summers. Congratulations.

Paige: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. 

Zibby: So tell listeners where the idea for this book came from and what it's about, please.

Paige: Hey, well, I've got a copy here too, also. And as you can see, I have my stack in the background. So Seven Summers, I came up with this idea, initially it was going to be an idea based around sand art and stuff, and I remember pitching the idea to my editors, and my American editor really loved the sound of it, and I hadn't told my UK editor the same idea, I told them a different one, and somewhere, you know, like basically the idea that I ended up pitching wasn't the one that this was more my, my American editor's favorite one.

And in the time that it took for us to all talk together about what, which idea I was going to write, I heard the song. I was just really listening to the lyrics of Tis the Damn Season by Taylor Swift. And it just brought the whole idea together, like with sort of breathtaking clarity. Like I had five days between the time that I'd said, I think I could write this idea, the sand art idea, which is basically about a girl who lives in a tourist town and the same person comes back year after year.

And then when I heard the song, basically I've flipped the narrative. So Finn is the singer songwriter who comes back year after year and my character Liv is the person from the hometown. And if they're both single, then they spend the season together. There's a lot more, there's other things. Well, it's a whole love's, a love triangle.

You know, I sort of found myself wondering how long it would, how long a person might put their heart on ice in a situation like that, when they might be open to, you know, looking into new possibilities. And so the story is told across Seven Summers. This summer when Liv is, Opening herself up to a potential with a permanent love and the previous six summers where you see her falling in love with this hot singer songwriter, Finn, who comes back year after year and they go through lots of sort of ups and downs together.

Zibby: Wow. So the sand art, did, were you walking around one day and saw something beautiful in the sand and you're like, I should write a novel about that? 

Paige: Well, I go to Portugal every year. It's a place that I've just been going to with my family since I was like 10 years old. And I was down there a couple of years ago and talking to a friend and she was telling me about the beach where I used to live.

I used to sort of have this house. My family did, you know, have this house overlooking this beautiful sort of beach. And she said that a sand artist has been coming back. Every winter and drawing art down on the sand and that just kind of made me think about, you know, this idea of living in a place that is a tourist town and in the case of Seven Summers, she lives in Cornwall, which is this beautiful beachside town.

I decided to make a set in Britain just because I thought I'd be able to identify a little bit more with a character who wasn't Portuguese, but she comes back, you know, when, when he sort of comes back year after year to see her, you know, I did have this, same sort of idea about this character who feels that she can't leave.

And in the case of, you know, like the, the Taylor Swift song, there's that lyric, which says, I won't ask you to wait if you don't ask me to stay, and I've, I've made it. I won't ask you to leave if you don't ask me to stay because she can't leave because something happens at the end of the first summer that basically roots at Cornwall and at Cornwall and, you know, with her family and equally Finn has reasons why he can't stay. 

Zibby: So, and that totally took me by surprise, by the way. And I was like holding my heart. So anyway, big twist, lots of twists that I was not expecting particularly that, but anyway, I'll leave that alone. So we don't spoil anything. I will say though, uh, the character of her brother, Michael, it's Michael, right?

Michael, the brother with Down syndrome, was so interesting, particularly when you talked about how when she was growing up and she got to age 12, and she suddenly overtook him in height, and just the balance of that relationship and the caretaking, and yet he was taking care of her by slipping her. like Cocoa Puffs or whatever.

I mean, it's a really beautiful relationship and one that we don't often see depicted in fiction. So tell me more about that. 

Paige: Well, I wanted to have a reason ultimately for why Liv would feel like after the, after what happens at the end of the first summer, she feels like she can't leave St. Agnes in Cornwall, this, this beachside town.

And, Michael is the main reason for her. And although her perspective sort of grows and develops over the, over the years, at the time she feels very much like she needs to be there for her family. I'd never written a character like Michael before. It took an enormous amount of research. I really wanted it to be authentic you know, I wanted the whole, every, everything about it to, to just ring true for anyone who might, you know, have a, have a friend or family member who has Down syndrome. I didn't want it to be characteristic, you know, of, it couldn't be a caricature. And so I just did a lot of research and I, in my sculpture research, Liv is a sculptor.

I did so much research with this book. It was insane. I'm never going to write about so many subjects that I know nothing about because I did so much research, but Liv's character, she's a sculptor. And in speaking to a couple of famous sculptresses and I was telling them about the story and one of these sculptresses, Hazel Reeves, is friends with a lady who'd been writing a memoir about her experience of having a younger sister with Down syndrome.

And so I reached out to Hilary, her name's Hilary Standing, and she very, very kindly allowed me to read her memoir of her experience with her sister. And we also had a really good chat. She sort of pointed me in the direction of, you know, good things to sort of read and, and watch, you know, for authentic representations of a, you know, person with Down syndrome.

So it was super, super helpful and I just, Michael is just one of my favorite characters. Like I love how he takes no prisoners, you know, he's just, he's just, and I've had so many readers in the UK write to me. Telling me that I've, you know, really sort of captured his personality based on their own experiences of, you know, people just, people who've said, my uncle, he just sounded so much like him in so many ways.

It's been lovely. It's been really touching. It's been one of the nicest things, you know, about having this book come out. 

Zibby: That's wonderful. It's always fun to have a character with a modified filter, if you, if you will. It just says what's on their mind. Like, what happens then? Like, if we all could do that, you know, what would that novel look like?


Paige: I might have to think about it. I'll write that down. 

Zibby: Yeah, seriously. That could be, the title could just say, be no filter and we could, you know, I don't know. Take it. Run with it. 

Paige: I like it. I like it. 

Zibby: Add me in the acknowledgements if you do it. There's also this whole, you know, the high school quiet guy, or not even high school, was it high school?

You said 10th grade or 10th class or something, and I was like, is that even the same thing as 10th grade here? But 15. 

Paige: Age 15. 

Zibby: Yes. Who was this like quiet, you know. Reclusive, more, you know, soft spoken guy, and what happens when he comes back, and they've both changed, and the sexual tension, and then what happens next, and how that carries on and on and on.

But also that you lace it with this sort of foreboding, right, like this warning that you have pretty early on, so I feel like I'm not spoiling too much, but. You know, that the mom had been known more about his mom back in the day and was a little bit nervous about the whole thing. So tell me about that and that set up and how much to give the reader when. 

Paige: Yes.

So there has to be a reason, again, why Finn can't stay in Cornwall. And so, you know, when I had this, you know, this inspiration from this, this song, especially this, this, you know, one line, I won't ask you to, you don't ask me to stay. I was trying to think about why he wouldn't be able to stay. And so much of the time, you know, like with characters, it's just, it's such a rich kind of exploration when you, when you can delve into their families and what might've happened.

So. Finn's mum was a very troubled soul. She, you know, she does, you, you find this out very, very soon. Like as soon as, you know, you meet Finn really, Liv remembers that he had to go and live in LA because his mother had, you know, jumped from the cliffs when he was 15 and he has two younger half brothers and a really sort of, you know, a bit of a traumatic childhood.

So he's a troubled soul. And then Liv's mother is a GP and she was actually Finn's GP and the when they were growing up, their doctor. And And so when the mum sees that Liv is, you know, with Finn, she's like, just be careful. You know, I can't, obviously I can't talk about my patients, but, you know, you don't go through something like that and come out of it unscathed.

And she, and, you know, I mean, it could have turned Finn into a totally different person to what he is. He is so sweet and he's so supportive of Liv. He's very sexy, you know, like I love the chemistry between them too. You know, he's, he's absolutely gorgeous, but he's not like your typical bad boy rock star.

However, the emotional damage that did, that his, you know, upbringing did pass on to him means that He feels he can't stay in St. Agnes. Ultimately, he was like, I come back for this brief period of time, but this place is still so full of darkness for me. 

And what I went through with my childhood that I will not live here.

And so Liv has the situation where she can't leave. And it just, it, you know, I think as you're reading, you just, you will get this sense of foreboding because. You know, ultimately these two people are in this kind of impossible situation, as it turns out, maybe it's not as impossible as things kind of come to light, but obviously when you meet Liv.

In the pre, like the present day, she is still in St. Agnes, Finn is very much not there and, you know, and she's in this, in this situation where she's basically drawn a line under the relationship, but she's a bit, you know, jumps to, you know, jumps to doing that a little bit too soon as you find out at the end of the book, you know, effectively, you know, ultimately.

Zibby: It's so funny too, because I'm totally one of those people who always calls hotels and is like, okay, I'm going to be early. Can I get early check in? Like, I do that every time. And Liv, you know, runs this hotel situation at a hotel, you know, like manages this properties and that she's like so annoyed that, that, that this man, Tom, is doing the same thing and I was like seeing myself in there and cringing. 

Paige: I know. So basically the place where Liv, where she, like the house that she owns, her family home, she divides it up and she turns it into two separate apartments so she can rent it out and still live in his apartment.

So that's, that's how you find her in the, in the present day. And Tom is the character who arrives on the Friday. Early in the morning says, any chance, you know I've been here for a while. Any, I get early. And the thing is, that house that she stayed in is the very house that I stayed in when I went down to do the research with my family.

So it's no way it all exists. And I did the same thing,

So I was like, the owners of this cottage are gonna like, be like, oh yeah, you know, she literally did that. I'm sure like everybody does that, right? You wait till four, if there's a chance you can get in at two

Actually go and get the house ready for him and talk. 

Zibby: I also feel like, what's the deal with like four o'clock check in, 11 a. m. checkout? That's not even a day. 

Like how, you know, 

what is that? 

Paige: Crazy. Exactly. Yeah. 

Zibby: Should definitely, um, you know, get in and get out. Give us like, give us at least like 23 hours or something, but.

Paige: Clearly they're like cleaning lots of other houses too. 

Zibby: Yes. No, I understand. I'm just, you know, from the consumer standpoint, very, you know, demanding and, and whatever else. This notion of, of sort of waiting or separating your emotions by time, like the, the, the confines of time themselves itself has to, you know, be inserted into something that could go on and on.

And the notion of having to wait, or are you going to wait? I feel like this is something so many people think about when jobs take them to new places or the military, or, you know, just, there are so many reasons people have to. be torn apart. And I guess it makes everybody who reads it think like, what would I do?

Or how long would I wait? Or is this healthy? Or, you know, what should I do? What's your general take on this personally? 

Paige: I think every, you know, every day as it comes, like ultimately, you know, Liv and Finn say to each other at the end of the first summer, like, we're not going to be in touch because, and you know, and, and even going forward, they know that it's unhealthy to put their lives.

Whole lives on hold, you know, and especially in your twenties when you are likely to meet the person that you might, you know, spend the rest of your life with, to just be putting your heart on hold for a year. And she doesn't, she doesn't, like they both say to each other, you know, like, yeah, but there's no cheating involved here.

You know, like there's sort of very much like, you go and live your life, And if you, if we're both single, then we'll come back together again. And ultimately that breaks down at some point because, you know, neither of them want to be with anyone else. And they both make it that very clear. And so they try to sort of have a long distance relationship for, for, you know, a couple of years, but that is just so hard in itself.

So I think, you know, you just wouldn't know, unless you're in that situation, would you, you know, at some point you might just think, okay, enough's enough. And certainly, you know, by, you know, A few summers in, quite a few summers in, you know, like Finn's starting to really want Liv to be with him and she's unable to be with him and he's like, you know, gonna have to choose.

Yeah. And then, you know, like she obviously makes her choice as well to, to, you know, pursue something with somebody else and yeah. Oh God, this book broke my heart. Honestly, it tore me into like, I don't know if you've seen like, I actually did like an Instagram live when I finished writing this book, because my family had all gone away.

I, I knew, you know, that I was going to have to write the ending to this story and, oh, my computer, it just looks so dark and ominous on the day that I was due. Yeah, I didn't finish writing because I just knew I was going to have my heart broken. And I wanted to have my heart broken in advance, you know, like I'm always inspired mostly by the emotions that I want to feel with a particular novel.

And so with this one, it was like, I want to feel like, I want to feel torn in two. I want, I really want to feel this heartbreak. And then sitting down to actually know that you have to put yourself through that when you feel all of your character's emotions so deeply, and I do. You know, I'm like inside this character's head for so long and, you know, I've learned all of her loves and all of her passions, you know, I know all about sculpture now and everything that she loves, you know, and then to sit there and fall in love with these two characters and then have to sort of take her in one direction or another and then go through everything else that happens, you know, especially in the epilogue and stuff.

I was just, I was in bits, like my husband had taken bits away just so I could lose myself in writing for that last weekend and it was like one o'clock in the morning and I was just like, I felt so alone with like no one to tell and I suddenly, I know, I'll tell my readers. I just went on and did this Instagram live, woke up the next morning, was completely horrified by what I'd done.

Sobbing, you know, like absolutely look like the biggest mess imaginable and went on to delete it. But, you know, I had so many readers that already watched it, like thousands and, you know, so many comments and they were just like, you know, this is how you make us feel like, so. You know, it's nice to see that you actually put yourself through the wringer too.

Zibby: Oh, it is. It is. I think so many people wonder how, how the production of these emotions, right? Cause it doesn't, it doesn't feel manufactured, right? You feel like you're riding this wave and it's inevitable. Like you have to put it down that way. 

Paige: Absolutely. I mean, I know that, you know, I know that, you know, I've spoken to some authors who are kind of like, I think to myself before I write a book, how can I make my reader cry?

And it's not like that for me at all. I just, for me, it's like, it's what do I want to feel? I'm living with these characters for so long. How do I want to feel? Because I love writing. Like, I love, um, Love. There's nothing I love more than sitting down and actually getting lost in a story and feeling like I'm living inside this movie inside my head is my absolute passion in life, apart from being a mother.

That's my number one passion. But in terms of, you know, everything else I would do, I would choose to sit down and write and to just be fully invested. And it's about going on that emotional journey with the characters, you know, I love to put myself through all these emotions and things, you know, so yeah, I absolutely love it.

Zibby: Wow. And how did you get your start writing? How did, did you always know you wanted to be an author and how did you build your career to where it is now? 

Paige: Well, I did always know, like, the first job I ever wanted to do was to be an author. I don't know how young I was, but I was really young. Then I, when I was a teenager, I was reading magazines, and I was thinking, actually, what I'll do is I'll go and work for a magazine, and then when I have kids, I'll become an author, and then I can work from home.

Zibby: That was my exact thinking, by the way. Just FYI. Things never work out that way, but that was my original plan at age 12 or something. Yeah. 

Paige: Well, I was lucky because I actually managed it like it did happen. You know, I went to experience for a magazine when I was in my early 20s. And then I went and, you know, as I became reviews editor of this magazine, It's a super, super successful British weekly celebrity magazine called Heat.

And at the time that I was working there, it was selling like 600, 000 copies a week, you know, and I was just reviews editor. It was a really great time to be working there. It was just a moment really. And I'd had this idea for Lucy in the Sky, my first book for a few years, and this girl who was torn between Australia and England, which are two places. I also grew up in America. So I could have, I could have easily said it in America, in England or America and Australia, but I chose England and Australia. And she's torn between these two countries and these two men, you know, this lawyer and the surfer and one's older, one's younger, you know, one's kind of like, anyway, I had this idea.

And I just felt so scared, I think, of the fact that it had been my lifelong dream up to that point. I was in my early thirties and I still hadn't managed it. And I just, I felt so full of fear. And then it just happened to be that one, this publicist who I'd become friends with said to me, you should write a book.

You know, you'd get a book deal working at him. I'm like, I have an idea. And he said, tell me five minutes after I got back to the office, after this lunch, I had an email from him saying, I've told, you know, the managing director, Suzanne Babineau from Simon Schuster. She loves the idea. I get an email from her saying, can we meet in a week?

Now over that, over that week, I wrote the first three chapters of 5, 000 words synopsis we met within two days. I had a two book deal and I just said, why don't I write it by Christmas and we'll have it out next April. And this was September. I had a full time job, but we did, you know, and I basically, that was in September 2006, and, you know, I released Lucy in the Sky in April 2007.

Because of that, though, because of this tight turnaround and writing a book a year, I never stood a chance of having an American book deal, because American publishers are like, for a year in advance. And so that just wasn't happening. And I basically sort of after 15 years of being with the same publisher, I did decide it was time to move to, you know, see if somebody else could take things to the next level.

And so I moved to Penguin and, um, and now I do have this amazing, you know, Putnam, Penguin, U. S. Book deal. So yeah, I'm super excited for Seven Summers to, to reach American and North American readers. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. So exciting. Amazing. Well, Paige, thank you so much. Thank you for the joy of your characters, for putting me in the sculpture studio and inspiring me to make lots of sand art and, you know, to beware of who shows up on your porch.

So thank you. 

Paige: Oh. Yeah. Thanks.

Zibby: Okay. Bye. 

Paige: Bye.


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