I'm thrilled to be interviewing Rosie Walsh today, my first guest who’s British. Rosie Walsh is making her US debut with Ghosted, a novel set in Stroud, Gloucestershire, where she was raised. It was actually called The Man Who Didn't Call when it came out in England. The US seems to be the last to get this amazing book, as the rights have been sold to thirty countries already. In many, it’s already a bestseller. Rosie has written four books and many articles, including a blog for Marie Claire, under the pseudonym Lucy Robinson. Her Lucy Robinson books are called The Day We Disappeared, The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me, A Passionate Love Affair With A Total Stranger, and The Greatest Love Story of All Time. This is the first novel with her own name attached. A former documentary filmmaker and huge animal lover, she currently lives with her partner who she calls “the man,” and with whom she has a baby in Bristol in the UK. She thought was going to become an actress but says, “For a while I thought I was going to be an actor, but at university it came to my attention that I was crap at acting.” Lucky for us, she became a writer.
Rosie Walsh: Hello, hello.
Zibby: How are you?
Rosie: So excited, very excitable, as you probably saw on my Instagram.
Zibby: Congratulations on your US release. So exciting.
Rosie: Oh, my gosh. Yes, it’s the most exciting time ever. I feel completely hysterical.
Zibby: I love how you documented the whole process from sitting in your Pilates pants finding out that the book was going to be sold in the US and everything, and now to seeing it come out, it must be so wild for you.
Rosie: It is. I was just on a radio [indiscernible] earlier and thinking, “Oh, my god. I'm talking to a whole load of people that are [indiscernible] than me in the States.” This is completely insane. How did this happen? How many times do you tell yourself that it’s real? It doesn't feel real. Even now, I only partially believe it. I really should start believing it because it’s out today.
Zibby: I know. It’s so awesome. It’s really awesome.
Rosie: I’ll just hop on a plane and see it.
Zibby: If you end up hopping on a plane, I'd love to meet you in person eventually. That's at least one US person.
Rosie: Likewise. That would be fun. I have a fourteen-month-old. It’s challenging.
Zibby: Aw, so cute.
Rosie: I’ll get over there soon I'm sure, maybe next year for the paperback.
Zibby: I loved your book. It makes it so much more fun to talk to someone -- I love almost everything I've been reading for the podcast, but I really, really enjoyed it. I was on the edge of my seat reading it. It was so good. Thank you for writing it.
Rosie: Thank you. That's lovely to hear.
Zibby: Can you tell listeners who have not read Ghosted yet, because it’s coming out now, what it’s about and how you came up with the idea?
Rosie: Ghosted is the story of Sarah who believes that in Eddie she's met the love of her life, only for him to disappear off the face of the earth. Her friends are convinced she's been ghosted, of course. Sarah’s certain there's a more sinister reason for his disappearance. Her quest to find him turns into a story about love, grief, culpability, forgiveness, mental health, family, all sorts of things. Above all, though, it’s about the pair of stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and about other people.
Zibby: Amazing. Is that all? That's everything. What else could you squeeze in there?
Rosie: [laughs] I finished and thought, “Gosh, that’s quite a list.” Am I being a little ambitious there?
Zibby: If you think of a few more, feel free to jump in and add them later.
Rosie: If you could just update your website please, that would be ideal, thanks.
Zibby: [laughs] I was interested to learn you started out by writing a blog for Maire Claire about life and love. You chose a pseudonym, kindly, to the men you were dealing with at the time not to out them in any way. Your pseudonym Lucy Robinson became her own famous creation. You wrote four books under her name, went to Buenos Aires, wrote The Greatest Love Story of All Time because a women’s fiction editor suggested it.
Can you tell me about that whole transition from blogging to writing a novel and what that whole thing was about?
Rosie: I think a lot of people write a blog in the hope that a novel might come out of it. I really couldn't handle [indiscernible]. That was not my intention. I'd never planned to be a writer. I oftentimes feel guilty telling this story because so many of my writer friends had to work so incredibly hard, but I guess we’ve all been on the same journey. We all had to write a book that was publishable. I really had never considered being a writer, though many people had said that I should be. I never imagined that would be something that I could do or that would be possible for me. I had an email from a woman called Kate, who was a women’s fiction editor, saying, “I've been following your blog. I love it. Would you like to talk about writing a novel?” I replied saying, “No, don't think so. Not sure that's really me.” I mentioned it to a friend who said, “Are you out of your mind? Of course you want to write a novel. Don't be ridiculous. Email her straight back.” So I did.
We met up. She said, “Yeah. Write a novel.” I was thinking about this saying, “Sure. How do I actually do that though?” She was very uncompromising with her advice. Any advice I ever give to anyone who says, “I'm an aspiring writer. What would you think?” -- she said, “No, you just need to write a novel. There's no how-to. You can waste a lot of time on creative writing courses and lectures and such. If I were you, I'd just write the thing. A hundred thousand words, roughly, would be great. Send it to me when you're done.” I was like, “Oh. Okay. Right.” I sat down to write it one Sunday evening, got into bed with my laptop, and two hours later emerged from the bedroom and said to my housemates, “I can't do this. This is impossible.” He sent me straight back to bed and said, “No. Just write. Even if you write a hundred words, write something.” So I did. That was the start of it.
Zibby: I thought you were going to say you came out of your room after two hours and you had magically figured the whole thing out and it was almost done. [laughs]
Rosie: To me, that is not what happened, not even close. I came out and said, “No. I can't do that. Thanks. I’ll give that up.” I wrote a few words, just some character notes on my first main character. That was it. That was all I could manage. I thought, “Gosh, this is stressful.” It still makes me laugh when people come to me saying, “I want nothing more than to be a writer.” Yes, it’s a fantastic job. It’s an incredibly privileged job to have. It’s incredibly hard. When you are an unpublished writer, none of the stressful realities of having a contract are obvious. I've met a lot of unpublished writers in my time who preach [indiscernible]. I'm incredibly grateful that it’s my full-time job. There's nothing else I want to do. As with all jobs, it’s a job. That’s why there are things about it that are difficult. Luckily when I wrote that first novel, I had no idea. I was in the middle of doing another job in telly at the time. I was just cramming in bits here and there, often in the middle of the night,
Zibby: You wrote somewhere that you were writing from 5AM to 9AM, and then going to your day job in TV and working all day, and then coming home and writing the novel some more? That’s insane. How did you manage that?
Rosie: I think I was going mad. There was a lot of sugar, a lot of caffeine, neither of which I would recommend, quite a lot of madness really. I was going to go to Buenos Aires anyway. I'd already decided that I wanted to go there and have a very polite, middle-class midlife crisis. There wasn’t really a crisis. I loved the idea of uprooting my life and moving there. I was already in the middle of packing my life into a storage unit. I was directing my first documentary film as my career. Then to have a book to write on top, I don't honestly know how I survived.
I remember sitting in bed at one, two in the morning, typing furiously away and thinking, “[indiscernible]. I’ll get up in three hours and carry on writing.” Of course that was not sustainable. By the time I finally made it to Buenos Aires, by which point I'd written about a third of the novel, I was completely exhausted. I got the first virus that came my way. I was in bed for four weeks. At that point, I actually needed to. From that point on I calmed down and wrote a lot more calmly and began to work out a more practical method that would keep me sane.
Zibby: I love how you've written a lot about how to survive bad writing days and been very self-effacing and funny about the fact that writing is not always so easy. It’s not just sitting with a view of the ocean, crafting some sort of miracle. I'm going to read this back to you if you don't mind. You wrote, “Here is what my head says when I hit on problems with my novels. ‘Oh, god. Oh, god. Oh, god. I'm doomed. My agent is on holiday. I couldn't possibly send it to my editor because she’d then realize that I am not perfect. I've never understood what the hell people are on about when they're having a writing mentor, so I ain’t got one of them either. I am totally and utterly fucked. Ahh! There is nobody that can help me. I am alone. Doom! Death!’” [laughs]
Rosie: Nothing like a good melodrama.
Zibby: I loved it. I thought it was amazing.
Rosie: That’s a place that many writers’ heads take them. That's one thing that's been very comforting about having loads of writer friends, making those writer friends over the years. We’re all mad. We all hit on those times. I've certainly got a lot better at dealing with them. When I really allow things to spiral out of control, there are many years later where my heads take me. It’s a shame, really. That kind of thinking is not conducive to good writing.
Zibby: Although if writers didn't have an ongoing interior monologue, there would be no book. Isn't that where they all come from? There's so many voices going on.
Rosie: I agree. It is a prerequisite of any good writer to be slightly insane. It’s keeping that insanity fenced in a little and finding ways of creating boundaries to keep yourself sane and sensible, that's what I've done over the years. I haven't developed creative writing techniques because it’s not something I got involved in. I write using my gut. I do have a lot of boundaries and tools and techniques now. I work in short bursts. I do lots of lists. I do tick boxes. I turn off the internet. I turn off my phone. Also, the most important thing that I do is to not write too much. I know that many writer friends do find shutting themselves in room with a computer for eight or ten hours -- that, for me, would end up in an asylum.
I find that if I'm really boundaried and disciplined about my writing, I get way more done in four hours than I could ever do with a unboundaried, undisciplined eight to ten hours dash. That's good. It means I have time to see other people. Writing’s a very solitary job. You're sitting in a room on your own all day. Human interaction is absolutely critical for writing good dialogue, and also reacquainting yourself with humanity, and reminding yourself what it’s like to be a person, and to watch other people and to spy on people, to do all the things that writers do, the way we are constantly filtering other people's behavior. To me, it’s really important to have some of my day dedicated to that, basic human interaction.
Zibby: A lot of people could benefit from getting up from their desks instead of sitting there for eight hours a day, honestly.
Rosie: I couldn't agree more. Sitting up straight, getting up, shaking your legs, running on the spot, anything is better. A static body at the desk grappling with a problem very quickly turns into a fast, anxious mind for me, whereas if I can get any kind of negative, anxious thinking out physically, then I'm here again and ready to go. That's not going to happen if I'm sitting still slumped in front of a desk.
Zibby: I love how your advice on the website is, “Just get outside however possible, on a bike, on foot, however. Just get moving. Get out there.”
Rosie: Yes. Sometimes I have to go and actually read my website. Sometimes I'm like, “But I'm really cold.” Well, great. That’s why you need to get up and get out and actually move so that you're warm again. Sometimes I think, “If I go outside, I’ll have less writing time.” It’s so counterintuitive, that sort of thinking. Actually taking half an hour to get outside can transform the rest of your writing day. If you don't go outside, the chances are the entire day will be a write-off rather than just half of it.
Zibby: I love how you said, “Even if it’s freezing, wrap yourself up in a blanket and sit on your porch.” I'm imagining you sitting there all wrapped up and waiting. “Is my outside time done now?” [laughs]
Rosie: Sadly -- well, not sadly -- we've had some work done on our house. We don't actually have that little perch that I used to sit on anymore. I'm going to have to find a new one, maybe on our front door. It’d be a bit weird. My neighbors would be walking past all the time. I'd cocoon myself in a blanket and make some strange movements or noises so they don't disturb me. They’ll think I'm having a moment or something.
Zibby: What is this Pomodoro Technique time management method? Do you still follow that? What it is exactly?
Rosie: I do. The Pomodoro Technique is something that -- a whole book’s been written about it. If you Google it, there's a lot of information on the Pomodoro Technique website. It’s an approach to working which was specifically for writers. Actually, people in all sorts of careers find it useful. It’s something that I’ve suggested to people in all sorts of jobs. They’ve found it to be transformative. At its most basic, it’s about spending twenty-five minutes writing and then taking five minutes off. After conducting quite a substantial body of research, they discovered that twenty-five minutes is optimum concentration time. You do that four times over and then you take a longer break.
There's many other elements too. You need to set out a plan for yourself. You need to have a list nearby, pen and paper. You know when you're sitting down doing a job and then suddenly you say, “Ah! I meant to call the insurance man back?” Rather than then calling him because you know you'll forget otherwise, just write a note. Then at the end of your twenty-five minutes, you've got five minutes with which to call him. Obviously if it takes longer, then it takes longer. The power of that pen and paper nearby is not to be underestimated. It stops you breaking off to do stuff that you would otherwise break off to do and keeps you at your desk typin’ away.
There's many other aspects to Pomodoro Technique. I urge anyone who’s interested to look it up. Give yourself a basic look. Pomodoro’s worth a chance. It’s twenty-five minutes to read through the website, taking notes. Give it a go. Just try it for a morning. I think most people will find it to be incredibly helpful no matter what their job, no matter what their approach is. Of course, sometimes you need to be flexible. Today I've got a scheduled day of back-to-back interviews and radio interviews and podcasts and so on. Obviously, it’s not going to happen.
Zibby: It’s not just me? I'm kidding.
Rosie: For days when you're on your own working time, it’s an invaluable tool. I would be lost without it.
Zibby: Let's go back to Ghosted if that's okay with you.
Rosie: That's all right.
Zibby: [laughs] What made you decide to write this novel under your real name, whereas your previous four have been under Lucy Robinson?
Rosie: I planned to write it as Lucy Robinson. I pitched the idea to my agent as Lucy Robinson. Then when I sat down to write it, what came out was so different to what I'd written before, not entirely. Fans of my previously written novels would still know it’s me. The way that I was writing, it felt so different. The type of novel it was becoming, it’s quite a crossover kind of novel. It all felt so different that even I could see that. I sent that thirty thousand words to my agent, which is normally the stage at which I send her some material for feedback. She said, “Now, listen. I really think you should consider publishing this under your own name.” I was resistant to that at first. I felt that my first Rosie Walsh book wouldn't be a love story because my previous novels under my pseudonym had been love stories.
Actually, this is so much more than a love story. It has elements of thriller, suspense. There's so many different things going on in this book. When I finished it, I knew she was right. I was really happy and proud to see it going out on submission as the first book by Rosie Walsh. It felt completely right. I haven't regretted that decision once. I really, really, really love my book. I hope that doesn't sound American. I do. I do. It gives me such an incredible thrill. I never quite identified when I heard other writers talking about how they'd never get over the thrill of unboxing their latest book. I never quite felt that, even though my Lucy Robinson books were really nicely published, really nice jackets and so on.
When I unboxed the first copy that I saw of Ghosted -- it was the French edition actually. I held it in my hands. I smelled it obviously, as you do. I read the first few lines. My French isn't great. I certainly know that opening chapter very well. I started crying. It was such a beautiful, emotional moment for me. It felt like such a huge personal triumph. I don't think I could have felt that had it been a different name on the front. Everything came together at the right time. I couldn't be happier that it says Rosie Walsh on the front. It makes me smile every time I see it.
Zibby: Not only does it say Rosie Walsh, but it says it in a million different languages and on different covers. Now, it’s been translated into how many languages? So many. Thirty?
Rosie: A million, like you said.
Zibby: A million. Good. [laughs]
Rosie: Thirty-one, which includes Catalan Spanish.
Zibby: I was looking at all the different covers. All different countries seem to have different designs. I've decided my favorite is Tudo Aquilo Que Nos Separa.
Rosie: Isn't that gorgeous?
Zibby: It’s so pretty with the hands outstretched to each other and the tree in the background. I thought that was so nice. What's your favorite? What do you think about having so many different cover designs?
Rosie: They're amazing. They're really fascinating. What they tell me, even though I already knew, but they finally bring it to the store and say, “This book is quite hard to define.” Some have gone with the romance packaging. Some have really gone to suspense, thriller-y packaging. Some have gone middle, book club appeal. That's fascinating how very different they are and what market each publisher has decided to direct their campaign at. I love them all, obviously. I couldn't not. I loved the one that you talked about. That's the Brazilian one. I liked that Renato, my editor there, how she did it. She looked at the Canadian edition, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, which is a really beautiful picture of two people. She looked at it and thought, “I really like the colors and the setup.” She felt that the important aspect was not the couple, but the fact that they're not together. That's why she kept many of the same elements that included two hands not quite touching, which I think is really powerful. That title translates to All That Keeps Us Apart. That one’s incredibly clever.
I love my US Ghosted jacket. I'm sure that goes without saying. It’s just beautiful. It Instagrams like a dream. A lot of readers got their hands on it a month early through the Book of the Month Club. So many of them have said, “I love this jacket.” I've heard more “I love the jacket,” than I've heard “I love the book.” It’s really original. It’s striking and beautiful and says a lot of things to a lot of people. My third top one is the Spanish one. It’s really beautiful. It’s so stylish. They sent me a tote bag of it. I carry that tote bag around all over the place. People must think I'm such an idiot, carrying around this bag with my name on it. I just love it.
Zibby: Come on, if you're not going to advertise for yourself, who will? Actually, your entire team. [laughs] In the book, you have Sarah watching her friend Jo and Jo’s son Rudi. Your characters are so amazing and so real. You wrote, “Jo took a photo of her son. Five minutes ago she’d been telling Rudi off about something. Now, she smiled at him with a love that had no edges.” That was such a great way to depict this parent-child relationship. One minute you're screaming and furious at the kids, the next minute you're beaming with pride and love. Your baby’s fourteen months old. Have you found this to be the truth as a mom as well?
Rosie: Yes. Obviously, I'm not going to scream or hit my child.
Zibby: I didn’t say hit. I did not say hit. [laughs]
Rosie: No, no, no. I was thinking about the times that I lost my temper with him. Even though, obviously, I would never scream at him or hit him or anything, there have been times where I definitely lost my temper. Literally seconds later I felt so overwhelmed by love I can hardly speak. Then of course you feel awful for having got cross in the first place. That's motherhood. I wrote that line before I had a child, actually. There's a woman in the book who has a baby too later on in the storyline. Writing about her, I wrote before I had been pregnant or had been myself.
I have spent a lot of time with a lot of friends who've had been babies. I was pretty much the last in my friendship circle to have one, so I'd watched that. Interesting that line that you picked out where five minutes ago she’s shouting and then she looked at him with love that had no edges, when I wrote that I was still baffled by that as an emotional experience. I've seen all of my mom friends doing that sort of thing but couldn't quite understand how you could get over the anger so quickly. As with so many of the emotional experiences of being a mother, that's impossible to convey to somebody's who not yet had a child. I wrote it because I'd seen it happening. I wrote it quite emptily then because I knew that to be the case, but I couldn't understand why or how. Does that make sense?
Zibby: That totally makes sense.
Rosie: I couldn't understand how you could be so angry and yet still love somebody that much. When I'm angry with somebody, I really hate them at that moment. [laughs]
Zibby: A lot of parenting makes no sense. It’s an emotional rollercoaster. Every minute there's something else. You got to be on your toes at all times.
Rosie: Yup. There's certainly nothing quite like it. [indiscernible] warned me about that but I didn't listen. I thought, “Oh, no. I’ll be fine. It’ll be easy.” We’re all very [indiscernible] about parenthood. Funnily enough, I'm having exactly same experience as everyone else.
Zibby: At a lot of parts in Ghosted I was holding my breath. At times I was calling out to my husband, “Oh, my gosh. Plot twist! I thought something totally different was happening.” I was physical in my reactions to reading the story.
Rosie: Oh, my god. You're a dream.
Zibby: Thanks. Did you plan the, not weaving path, but did you plan how the novel would go in the directions from the start, or did it unfold? A lot of people sometimes say, “It just wrote itself.” You must have had to plan it because it was so complex and intricate. Terrible question.
Rosie: It did not write itself. It was hard work. The elements of suspense and the twists, the major twist that you get to at about the two-third mark, I knew that from the early -- when I set out to write the book, I knew there was a couple that had pretty much fallen in love and then he disappeared. What I didn't know was why. It took me weeks, if not months, to come up with a good reason for him not having called, a reason that would keep us guessing, a reason that we would never guess, a reason that would allow room for forgiveness too. It was important that once we discovered the reason, we didn't think that Eddie was an ass. It’s to gradually build up the tension. At first, I was concentrating on the love story. Then I realized if I just write a novel about a girl looking vaguely for a guy that she’d fallen in love with, I wouldn’t want to read that. I found that really tedious and annoying.
Every time I took another pass at it, I realized I needed to inject more jeopardy and more suspense and more surprise too. There's a figure who appears on the school field staring at Sarah, the main character, quite early on in the book. We don't find out until a very long wait who that was. That's actually a really key moment. I didn't add it in until one of my very final edits. It’s one of those moments where I saw, how can I rachet up the tension? I want people to thinking twelve different things at once when they're reading this. Above all, I want them to be thinking, “I have to know what happens. I have to know where he is. I have to know why he didn't call.” I wanted them also to be thinking, “Actually, hang out. This is a bit worrying. Why is that happening? That's a bit unsettling too.” It was a gradual layering rather than early intention for it to be so twisty and so, at times, tense.
Zibby: Interesting. If you had a friend who told you she'd fallen in love basically in a week and then the guy suddenly fell off the face of the earth, what advice would you give her?
Rosie: Despite having written the novel I've written, I would always recommend walking away with your head held high. Ninety-nine percent of the time people are ghosted because the object of their desire, affection, whatever, has been too cowardly, too rude, too ill-mannered to go through the messiness of ending a new relationship. It’s abhorrent that that happens, but it does all of the time because people are lazy and rude and selfish. As I said, ninety-nine percent of the time that's the only reason. If there is another reason, even if you walked away, there’ll still be a second chance. I would continue to say to anyone who’s been ghosted, just walk away. Don't text again. Delete the number. Walk away. If they have been in hospital with some terrible mystery illness, you will hear from them and you will be able to verify this with their medical records.
Zibby: I hope people hear you say that far and wide. I have a feeling this book is going to spawn a huge backlash. Men will no longer be -- not just men -- people will not be able to be running away from relationships. You're going to have all these people being like, “Oh, no. He’s not rude. There must be this complex story behind it. I have to figure it out.” [laughs]
Rosie: Oh, no. Let's hope that you're wrong. You could be right, though. To be honest, when people do finally understand why it is that Eddie didn't call, I don't think they particularly want that to be their story. It’s pretty awful.
Zibby: No. That’s true. I know. I agree. At least there's an explanation. It’s just the lack of closure in situations like that that I think really gets to people.
Rosie: Lack of closure and lack of control is awful. We've all been there.
Zibby: I know we have to wrap up soon. What is coming up next for you after this?
Rosie: I have been trying to write my next book for the last eight months, not really got very far. As well as being a new mom and trying to grapple with all that comes with that, I've been doing a lot of publicity. It’s exceeded my wildest dreams to have book deals around the world. With that comes a lot of work. It’s great work. Sometimes it takes me a day to answer all the emails that I need to answer about work stuff. It’s been pretty slow progress with this next book. I've had some breakthroughs recently. I had a good chat with a coach who I sometimes go to if I need to shift something. She's set me some fantastic goals. I actually feel really motivated and ready. After my day of interviews, radio and podcast interviews today, I'm going to be back at my desk tomorrow morning. I feel good about it. I feel finally that I'm ready to write this book and that it might actually be rather good.
Zibby: I can't wait. Thank you so much for coming on "Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books.” Thanks for your amazing novel. I'm sure it will be a massive success in the US. It’s amazing.
Rosie: Thank you so much. Moms don't really have much time to read, but we have some time.
Zibby: We have enough.
Rosie: If any moms do have time to read my book, I’d love to hear from you.
Zibby: They certainly have enough time to buy books. [laughs]
Rosie: Thanks so much for having me.