Rosie Walsh returns for an Instagram Live with Zibby to discuss her latest novel, The Love of My Life, which is this month’s GMA Book Club pick. The two talk about how this book took Rosie over four years to write and how she managed to work around her writer’s block by typing her draft in white. They also talk about where to steal time for writing when raising young kids, what makes obituary writers so fascinating, and the research Rosie conducts to help make her characters feel so true-to-life.

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Rosie Walsh: Hello. Hello, Zibby dear. Hello, everyone else.

Zibby Owens: Hello, everybody. Thank you for coming and letting us talk about Rosie’s amazing new book, The Love of My Life, with this beautiful GMA seal. Were you so excited? Tell me about finding out.

Rosie: It was insane. We’d just moved house, so everything was in chaos. I knew that it was a possibility. I knew that we were in the running. Obviously, you never assume it’s going to happen. I think they’d said we’ll know by the end of the week. It was five PM on the Friday afternoon. I suddenly remembered. I was like, oh, man. Never mind. Another one bites the dust. Then I looked at my emails for something else. There was an email from the head of publicity of Pamela Dorman Books and Viking, who publish me. It was written in the subject line. Everything stopped. I just looked at it. I opened the email. I just thought, it’s not going to actually happen. Of course, it had happened. I couldn’t speak. I had tears in my tears. I just showed the phone to my partner. I don’t think I’d even told him I was in the running, so he was just like, “What is this?” I didn’t have the words. Oh, gosh, talk about dreaming. Like so many things that have happened since I wrote Ghosted, I can’t believe it’s real. I am just a mom running around with disgusting nappies, or diapers, as you guys would call them. I’m just a mom dealing with nappies all day long. To have stuff like this going on in the background across the Atlantic, it’s quite unreal.

Zibby: The last time I spoke to you, I feel like Ghosted was just coming out. I don’t even know if it had come out yet. Then of course, that went on to sell over a million copies. It’s so amazing. Translated into all sorts of languages. Now this, it’s really so exciting to watch your whole career blow up like this. It’s amazing. When you posted this morning about your house and the acres of Legos and being in this medieval castle doing your live events from the one clean corner and the rest was completely messy and boxes everywhere, thank you for giving us the visual because I think it’s easy to think that everybody else’s life is all tidy and neat and in order.

Rosie: I think anyone who’s followed me on Instagram for longer than five minutes knows that my life is never in order, nor is my house even when I haven’t just moved into it. If your life is chaotic too, you’re in good company. I feel like you’ve nailed it, though, Zibby. Your whole handle, “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books,” I don’t. I really don’t. You seem to not only be able read books, but also write them and interview about a million authors and now be a broadcaster and all of the other many things you do, all the events you hold. You really are nailing it in a way that I am convinced I never will.

Zibby: That’s very sweet of you, but I have to say — your kids are, what? Five and one? My youngest child is seven. It’s a huge turning point.

Rosie: Is there light at the end of the tunnel, then?

Zibby: There is. That’s what I’m trying to say, yes. This morning, I was like, you know what? I’m just leaving the cereal out and saying, pour it in the bowl yourself. They did it. My daughter’s like, oh, that’s great. She went and got the milk. I’m like, yes, of course, they can do this. They’re seven and eight years old. It’s a huge difference. It means that I don’t have to be on top of them. I don’t have worry that someone’s going to fall down the stairs. I don’t have to be so physically involved the way you are right now. You’re in the thick of it. The idea that you can write these books is mind-blowing. When did you find time to write this new book? How did you write your last book? How do you get the mental clarity, even, when you’re not totally overwhelmed to focus on your characters?

Rosie: As you know, it really doesn’t work the way it needs to. The way it needs to work is, okay, baby’s napping. I’ve just done a vague job on the devastation of the kitchen. Sit down. Go. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work, but unfortunately, it needs to work because that is quite literally your only time. I had this whole lovely section on my website before about how boundaried I was with time. I use Pomodoro Technique. I do eight of those a day. I go out for a walk. Obviously, then I had children, and the situation changed quite significantly, shall we say. I will be honest. This book, The Love of My Life, has spanned my entire period of early motherhood. My son was five months old when I started it. I finished it four years later last November, at which point my daughter was one and a half and my son was four and a half. My writing has been totally chaotic. I’ve had to literally delete that entire page from my website because it’s all lies now, about how boundaried and relaxed I am. You’ve got to take a walk because even though it takes time out of your day, it’s opening time up. No, no, no, that is not the case anymore.

Zibby: There’s nothing else. You can’t get that time back.

Rosie: Exactly. I don’t actually have a good answer to your question. I have just written whenever I’ve been able to. Morning sickness was a gift. With both pregnancies, it really brought me to my knees. I spent any time that I could when I didn’t have my two-year-old with me in bed sort of crying and writing, crying and writing because I felt so awful. For me, unfortunately, morning sickness went on for the full nine months with children. That was helpful.

Zibby: You’re the first person I’ve ever heard who’s said morning sickness was a gift. Just wanted to flag that. Anyway, keep going.

Rosie: Feel like a gift. Some days, I would just sit there googling “Can you die of morning sickness?” or “Morning sickness has ruined my life.” There were often days where I . Also, to a certain extent, lockdown was a gift because even though it was pretty awful for anyone with small children, I got two hours a day where my partner would take our kids out come rain, come shine. It was in the winter, so not pleasant, muddy walks in nice fields; horrible walks in overused woods and fields. The entire city that I used to live in was just full of people desperate to do something with their children because everything was closed. That was a salvation too. I went through phases where I would go work at a coworking space. That was helpful. The short answer is that there was no time. I fitted it in as and when I could. It took me four years to write. I don’t think it needed to. Although, I’m glad I did. I do think it’s a better book for that. There was a lot of and a lot of layering.

Zibby: Did you know how it was going to end up and how everybody was related and all that from the start? When I was reading it, I was continually surprised by the way it was weaving and bobbing and all of that.

Rosie: Good. I’m glad you had that experience. Did I know? No. Again, all of the writing experiences I’ve had prior to this have been fairly boundaried and tidy and sane-ish, in as much as I’m ever going to be sane. This one was absolute insanity from start to finish. I didn’t have a solid plan. I didn’t know what Emma’s secret was. I didn’t know what she was hiding from Leo. I didn’t have any twists. I had endless, ridiculous conversations with author friends, with editors, and my agents about what the twist was going to be. A twist is either going to happen or not. You’ve just got to wait for it. Normally, my books are planned quite meticulously in advance. This one, I’d been officially writing it for six to eight months, and I still hadn’t written a word. Though at that point, I thought, I’ve got to just sit down and trust this is going to happen because I cannot sit around here planning any longer. I’ve got a young child. The conditions are not going to improve.

That’s what I did. I just started writing and hoped and prayed it would work out. It did and it didn’t. There were some pretty hairy times. When I hit the big reveal that those of you who’ve read the book will know about, when we actually finally find out why Emma has been lying to Leo for all these years, I couldn’t find a way of doing that without it just being a massive information dump and then after that point, just sort of a bit of dumb squib. What you have now once the information is revealed is quite a dramatic story in the past tense followed by what turns into quite a dramatic story in the present tense, but I didn’t have that in the beginning. I got stuck for ages. I got stuck for ages, and I kept on going every single day because there is no other option. There is no solution to writer’s block other than to just keep showing up at your desk every single day no matter what. There were days when I would write with the font color turned to white so I couldn’t even see what I was writing.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, that’s hilarious.

Rosie: I just wasn’t going to make any progress otherwise. That was quite good because it stopped me going back and editing work that probably was going to get binned anyway.

Zibby: Wow, that’s crazy. Wait, tell me about developing a character who is an obituary writer. I love reading obituaries. They are, as you said in here, sometimes the most hopeful stories because they find the good in people’s lives as opposed to . That must have been fun research to do. Fun is the wrong word. That must have been interesting research to do.

Rosie: Oh, no, it was great fun. I think what most people don’t know about obituaries is the obituary writers, there’s a global community of them. They’re a thing. They’ve got online forums. They’ve got closed websites. They’ve got all of their Twitter hashtags that they follow. Best of all — I love this. I’m devasted that I’ve not made it yet, largely because of COVID and having children. There’s an international obituary writers’ conference every year, an obits conference. How awesome is that? I think they call it The Grimmies. They have an awards section called The Grimmies. It’s the most fascinating world. It’s fascinating because as you rightly picked up, it’s a joyous profession. It’s a joyous subject area. It’s not about death. It’s got nothing to do with death. Actually, the only encounters that obituary writers have with death are when they sometimes do need to speak to the family, which does happen fairly often. I’ve watched them have those conversations. They’ve very businesslike. Of course, they start with their condolences and sympathies. Really, they’re just interested in information. They are interested only in life and painting a portrait of that life.

As it says in the novel, The Daily Telegraph in London, I believe, is considered the world standard in obituaries, so that’s where I asked if I could go and hang around the obituaries desk. They were wonderful. They kept apologizing for how boring it was. I was just saying, you cannot imagine how fascinating this is to an outsider. They were dealing with some aristocrat. He’d just died. One of the things he’d done before dying was, he’d knocked over some animal. He hadn’t shot it, but he’d knocked over some animal whilst driving once, probably drunk. Not that that’s funny. He’d wanted this entire animal mounted on the fender of his car. That’s one of the last things he did before he died. I spent my whole time there laughing. They write about extraordinary people. They love their work. Generally, they are brilliant writers. They’re sharp as hell. They’re witty. I think, actually, it’s one of the best jobs on the news floor in any newspaper.

Zibby: I feel like I would want to see my obituary. Not that I would necessarily get one, which I probably wouldn’t. Let’s just pretend there was one. Wouldn’t you like to read it? I would like to know and be able to have an input. Maybe your next book could be, what happens when all the files for all the obits go out and everybody reads their own obituary? Would people change their lives?

Rosie: That’s the thing. I believe, actually, GMA’s Book Club pick a few months back was about a similar subject. I deliberately haven’t read that book because, you know what it’s like, it might just drive me mad and make me go crazy. I read a little bit of her description of the book. It sounds great. She was talking about exactly what interested me about obituaries, which is the agency that we have in our own story and the stories we tell ourselves about our own story and the extent to which we can curate our lives and make people sort of buy into these ideas about us that we want them to believe. It all came about, actually, as a result of a conversation at a slightly awkward dinner party. The conversation was not flowing. Then one of the guys said that he was writing an obituary for somebody. I didn’t realize that obituaries were written in advance. I had no idea. It started me thinking, gosh, if you knew you were going to die, would you start taking obituary writers out for dinner and just dropping wonderful anecdotes about your life and your goodness and your kindness into the conversation? We’re so obsessed with our story. It’s really funny. It’s sort of tragicomic that we still want to control how people feel about us after we’ve gone, one time it really doesn’t matter. That’s what started it off, this fascination with not just the art of writing an obituary, because it really is an art, but our obsession with our story, what we think our story is, and the tragicomic lengths we go to to try and propagate that story out in the world both during and after our lives.

Zibby: What about marine biology? These are very different professions. One minute, you’re analyzing crabs. Then the next minute, you’re dealing with obit sadness and whatever. What was that like? Do you have an inherent interest? How did you even pick that? Was it totally random? Was it so that you could be on a beach or in a beach community or whatever? I don’t know. I’m just guessing.

Rosie: It was purely selfish. You’ve read Ghosted, so you will probably remember that in Ghosted, the British countryside, the natural world was almost like a third character in the novel, a silent third character. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to write books that brought the natural world into the story and into the characters’ DNA. As soon as I had my headline idea, which was, obituary writer starts researching his wife’s life, discovers that she’s not who she says she is, my first thought, of course, was, well, who is she? What’s her secret? The answer to which was, I don’t know. What I did know straight away was that I wanted her to be alone with those secrets under a vast sky with waves rolling in and out. That’s all I knew. That’s how integral the natural world has become to my process now. Just that image alone is enough for me to start. I knew straight away that she had to have some kind of a job to do with the sea.

I thought, great, marine biologist, done, then discovered that there’s about a thousand different jobs within the term marine biologist. I had to speak to a whole load of people, most of them unsuspecting people that I’d tracked down on Twitter, about their jobs until I spoke to somebody at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth who is an intertidal ecologist. When I listened to her talking about what she did, I thought, yes, that’s the one. As with many of my books, once I’ve got the jobs that the people do, I get to go and spend a bit of time in those workplaces. As soon as I’m wandering around in those workplaces with my notebook and as soon as I’m wandering around outside somewhere in the natural world, ideally somewhere beautiful, with my notebook, the ideas just come. I will not stop scribbling. I have hundreds and hundreds of pages of notebook musings that aren’t research. Although, I have hundreds of those too, pages of those, in fact, hundreds of books of those, just musings that I write when I’m in situ researching somebody’s job or some beautiful outdoor place.

Zibby: Can you use any of those things for your next project or subsequent work?

Rosie: It’s a really good question. I would like to because I’ve got so many beautiful things that I’ve seen and experienced and heard and listened to and smelled. I do a lot of smelling when I’m researching a book because, actually, the smell of the air is — smell is so evocative for so many of us. For me, it’s the sense that’s most likely to make me cry within seconds, a smell that will take me back to a time from my childhood or something. I do a lot of sniffing. It seems a shame to waste all of those smells and sounds and tastes and views. Maybe. Good idea. I might return to my notebook. Although, the next book, I think, is going to be set largely in Thailand, so might just have to over to Thailand.

Zibby: Have you started that? What’s the progress on that?

Rosie: What’s the progress or the premise?

Zibby: Both, actually.

Rosie: The premise — I don’t know if I should be talking about this, but what the hell. It’s my book. The beginning of the book, we meet a young couple, a backpacking couple, who have just got married on a beach in Thailand. They’ve been together awhile, although not for a hugely long time. They’ve just got married. It’s beautiful. The sky is darkening. All the ferry lights are coming on. You can see the squid boats out at sea with their amazing, beautiful lights on. The music’s starting. Then the beach is strobed with the lights from police cars. A whole bunch of police cars descend on the beach. They arrest the husband, this young man. He’s taken away. She’s screaming trying to stop it. He’s taken away. In spite of her attempts to stop it, he is imprisoned in a Thai jail for life. She never sees him again.

Zibby: What?

Rosie: Until the beginning of the novel twenty years later when she’s married and has children and this guy who she loved so much turns up at her doorstep. I have written about two paragraphs of the prologue, but I have now stopped. I need to get something down so that I don’t panic, but I’ve stopped now. I’m not going to start writing it for quite a while because I need a break. I really need a break. If I’m going to write a good book for my next book, I need a break.

Zibby: I feel like, how could she just leave him in the prison all that time? Wouldn’t she have all sorts of guilt?

Rosie: Oh, no. She’s going to fly her father over, because her father’s a lawyer, to try and get him out. She’s going to be doing a lot. I think over many years, she will have gone over there trying to get him out or to find him before she finally gives up and then falls in love with someone else. This is twenty years later, Zibby. Come on.

Zibby: Okay, fine. Twenty years is . You’re right. All right.

Rosie: Would you expect your husband to wait for you for twenty years if you were imprisoned?

Zibby: He better.

Rosie: He better. Actually, same for mine. They’re only, probably, in their early twenties. She’d be losing her childbearing years. No sympathy?

Zibby: A little bit.

Rosie: May need to rethink this story, then. , though. That’s the important thing.

Zibby: I love the idea of him turning up at your doorstep. All those stories about war where people think that they’ve lost — then years later, they’re in their other lives, and somebody comes back. I’m always fascinated by how they deal with that situation. It’s the same thing. I can’t wait to read it. It sounds amazing.

Rosie: I can’t wait to read it either. Quite a big obstacle between here and there, but that’s fine.

Zibby: Again, with little kids at home, it is hard. For even the most focused, talented person, to be creative on demand is tricky. It’s tough, constant distractions.

Rosie: I decided I’m going to get a writing coach for this one, not a creative writing coach — I feel like I know how to write a book, sort of — but one of those coaches that helps you with blocks and just getting your bum on seat and getting certain amounts of work done every day. I need that because I spent four years trying to do that with this book, and I got nowhere. invite some help in. Have you got someone for me?

Zibby: Yes, I have someone. She’s like a book therapist.

Rosie: Yes.

Zibby: I’ll DM you her information.

Rosie: I need her. I just need to commit to getting bum on seat and keeping confidence high even when you’re in that difficult middle bit. That’s what I need.

Zibby: I love how you brought in the diary/journal as a mechanism in this book. Do you keep your own diaries that are not musings on places that are specific?

Rosie: I don’t. I journal therapeutically sometimes when I need to figure out something that’s bothering me. No, I don’t keep a diary. I’ve really tried, but my experience since becoming a writer is that I don’t want to do any writing. I don’t even want to send a text message these days. I want to write my books, and then that’s it. No, I don’t do any journaling. Originally, actually, those Janice chapters were narrated by her for various reasons that didn’t quite feel right. That’s how it came about, really. It was more a process of trial and error. Actually, I think they work better as diary entries, one of many things that my editors suggested that I got rid of because it wasn’t working. So many of the good bits in this book are as a result of feedback from someone else. It really does take a village, as I’m sure you know.

Zibby: Yes. I know you’re sick of writing. What about reading? Do you like to read while you’re writing? Are you one of those people who’s like, I can’t read, it’ll distract me? How do you feel about it?

Rosie: No, I think it’s hugely important to read whilst you’re writing. My problem, again, has been time. Also, an unexpected side effect of having an unexpectedly successful book is that you get sent about a billion books for review, as I’m sure you know. Plenty of them are from friends as well. It’s a really difficult situation to be in because I just can’t read all of them. I just can’t. I constantly feel like I’m letting people down. I am reading, finally. I realized recently that I hadn’t properly read a book in about nine months. I’d read bits of books. I am prioritizing that now. I am making myself go to bed fifteen, twenty minutes earlier, so I have now carved out fifteen to twenty minutes a day to be reading. Gosh, isn’t it lovely?

Zibby: It is lovely.

Rosie: The joy of reading a good book. I’ve got a lot more brutal these days. If I’m not interested, it’s gone. I won’t even chapters. If I’m not hooked by the first chapter, no.

Zibby: What is a book that’s gotten you to actually focus before bed? What are you reading? What is the book? Can you say, or not really?

Rosie: What? That I’m reading at the moment?

Zibby: Yeah.

Rosie: I’ve literally just finished one two days ago, which was called Nora Goes Off Script. I believe it’s coming out soon, April, something like that. I loved it. It was really good fun. Have you read it?

Zibby: I’m interviewing her in two months. I’m saving it for then, but I have it.

Rosie: It was really fun. I’ve read some quite tough, meaty things lately. I’ve just finished that. Oh, yes, and I did start my next book last night. Finally, I’m getting around to reading The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse. We’re finally meeting. We have an editor in common. We live really near each other, but we both have crazy lives because we’re both full-time writers with young children.

Zibby: Do not feel any guilt. Obviously, it’s the name of my whole show, “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” No shame. There is time, a couple minutes here and there, audiobooks. There will be time. There are different ways to read. There are different seasons of reading, if you will. I have no doubt that you’re staying in the game.

Rosie: I’m a diehard reader. I always have been. I used to devour books as a child. I know my time will come again. I’m just in the season of raising children. Something has to go, and it can’t be my children’s welfare. I mean, sometimes it is.

Zibby: It will get better.

Rosie: It’ll get better. I keep proudly telling people that the book, The Love of My Life, is a book that’ll make people neglect their children and their families and jobs.

Zibby: your children, read this book, The Love of My Life. It has a lot of parenthood and motherhood and all of that too, so it’s on theme, if you will. Rosie, this was so fun. I could talk to you all day. Thank you so much.

Rosie: I know. I’d love to carry on, but we must .

Zibby: Best of luck. Congrats again on being the GMA Book Club pick for March of 2022. It’s really, really exciting. I’m so thrilled for you.

Rosie: Thank you, Good Morning America. I still can’t believe it. Thank you, dear Zibby. It’s so nice to chat to you.

Zibby: You too. Good luck. Have a good day. Buh-bye.


THE LOVE OF MY LIFE by Rosie Walsh

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