Oh, how I loved this book. Annabel Monaghan’s debut novel Nora Goes Off Script was a joy to read and reread. The protagonist Nora Hamilton is a romance channel screenwriter so she knows the formula for love better than anyone. When her good for nothing husband Ben leaves her and their two kids, Nora turns her marital collapse into the best script she’s ever written. Enter former Sexiest Man Alive Leo Vance, who is set to play Ben and suddenly Nora’s heavily managed single mom life – (sunrise and coffee, kids to school, jog, write, nap, get kids from school, homework and dinner, Wheel of Fortune and wine, bed) goes wildly off script. It’s a love story and a story about motherhood where the characters pull you in and don’t let you go until The End.
Now for my questions with the gifted author:
I read that the story idea came to you after watching a lot of Hallmark movies while recovering from surgery. Can you expand on this?
I was stuck in bed recovering from surgery for a few weeks in 2019, and I got hooked on the Hallmark Channel. It’s not hard to do; you just have to watch one. I got lost in all of those beautiful small towns with their independently owned hardware stores and festive community events. After the first few I thought, wait, didn’t I just see this one? But maybe last time she had a cupcake store instead of a custom wreath business? It was the same movie over and over again, and I got to a point where I could predict the exact moment that the handsome guy would be called back to the city, only to have a change of heart and return immediately after the commercial break.
I started wondering about what kind of person wrote these super romantic movies. And I wondered what it would feel like to write them if you’d never really been in love. And that’s where the idea for Nora Hamilton came from – she’s newly divorced and has never been in love so she writes these scripts with a bit of eye rolling. I thought it would be fun to see what would happen if she fell madly in love.
One of the things I loved about your book is what a great mother Nora is and how in real life motherhood interrupts a lot of things, including a hot romance. Nora’s two children Bernadette and Arthur are such perfectly drawn characters. Can you describe your inspiration for them both?
I have three sons, none of whom are anything like Arthur. I thought that he came right out of thin air until I was completely done with the book, and I realized that he is exactly like I was at ten. He embodies all of my childhood worry about my family and all of my magical thinking about how I could fix things with the right amount of pep and determination. This is one of the many ways your subconscious asserts itself when you are writing, and it was actually very healing for me to write about things turning out great for him. Having said that, my oldest son did play Fagin in Oliver Twist in the fifth grade. And he killed it.
Bernadette is my little day-dream daughter. I smile just typing this and thinking about her big ideas and enthusiasm.
On the section on your web site called “Things You Don’t Know”, you confess that as a child you always thought you’d end up marrying Steve Martin. You have an MBA from Wharton and briefly worked as an investment banker. I guess you grew up, saw Steve Martin was married, and decided (briefly, Thank God) to pursue a life with few laughs?
That’s such a fun question. As I kid, I always felt like Steve Martin was a person I would meet and should probably marry. Today, I think that being married to a wild and crazy guy would drive me right up a wall. I always wanted to be a writer, but I went into banking as a means to support myself, and it wasn’t until I was 37 that I got back to writing. Even then, it took me a while to find my voice and to be comfortable with attempting to write anything humorous. It is no small act of bravery to try to crack a joke.
Please tell us a few surprising things about yourself- that aren’t on your website?
I’ve had three Volvo station wagons in the past 25 years. All different colors – silver, then black, and now champagne because I’ve gone completely wild. Also, I really like to iron. I do a lot of writing in my head while ironing ratty t-shirts.
Thank you Annabel! And to everyone else out there, you can read the rest of my interview with Annabel here on 26’s August newsletter.