Monica Heisey: ‘I Am Open To Writing Anything That Feels Creatively Fulfilling’ – Interview

By Olivia Emily

1 month ago

Really Good, Actually is available in all good book stores

Monica Heisey’s debut novel Really Good, Actually has been shortlisted for the British Book Awards’ Debut Fiction Book of the Year 2024, after making a splash upon publication with its wicked humour yet wise insight into divorce in your twenties. We sat down with Monica ahead of ceremony on 13 May to talk all about the novel, plus what she has planned next.

Interview: Monica Heisey On Really Good, Actually

Monica Heisey

© Rachel Sherlock

Hi Monica, how’s life going at the moment?

Life is very nice, thank you for asking. I just got back from some time in California which was both productive and restorative – my favourite combo. I had some very good raspberries with peanut butter on a muffin for breakfast, and my cat is being unusually needy today. Later I’m seeing a friend for dinner and I think I’ll walk to the restaurant – London is so, so wonderful in the spring.

Your novel, Really Good, Actually, is up for Best Debut Fiction at the British Book Awards. How does it feel to be nominated?

It feels lovely, of course. It’s so nice to be recognised by booksellers, in particular, as they’re inevitably the most passionate and discerning readers you’ll meet. Everything about this year has been a little surreal, but I’m trying to enjoy it, too. I worked really hard on the book and I’m glad it’s resonated with people.

What was the experience of writing the book like?

I started it in January 2020, just before the pandemic took over, so it was nice to have something I could turn to and focus on when everything locked down. I think lockdown was a helpful reminder of that early heartbreak, shut-in energy: all online shopping and depression naps and feeling like your life as you know it is over.

How would you describe Maggie?

A well-meaning car crash with a big, wounded heart and no coping skills.

What made you try novel writing, after previously writing non-fiction essays and screenwriting?

It’s something I’d always wanted to do. I feel like everyone wants you to have one thing that is your Special Area, but I honestly am happy to write basically anything. Any kind of writing you do informs all your other writing, regardless of genre or form or whatever, and trying new things only ever enriches your work.

How did it feel when it finally came out?

It was a little nerve-wracking – as a TV writer you never really have to be the ‘face’ of the finished product. You can kind of hide in the back and do the creative part and all the media and audience-facing stuff is the actors’ job. But it was so rewarding to meet readers and see the book connecting with people, it almost made it worth it to have to submit to the indignity of a photoshoot…

What has been your favorite Really Good, Actually related moment since (or before) publication?

A woman came up to me in a cafe and gleefully whispered, ‘I just left my husband!’ It was nice to be able to conspire with her… And tell her to buckle up.

What inspired Smothered?

Smothered came from some of the real-life experiences of its co-creator, who was a young stepmum, and from my love of classic British romantic comedies.

How does it feel to watch your writing come to life on screen? 

It’s the privilege of my life to get to film some of the scripts I write. Watching a team of incredibly skilled people work together to elevate something that came from some silly idea I had is almost overwhelming, it makes me feel so lucky. I definitely missed being able to run to a script editor or production designer while writing the novel… Until the publishers come on board, you’re all alone out there.

Do you plan on writing another novel?

I’m in the middle of one right now!

Would you ever delve into another genre or time period with a future novel or screen project? Which one(s)?

I really am open to writing anything that feels creatively fulfilling. My airplane go-to is always heist movies, so maybe one of those would be fun: a neurotic woman needs to steal a rare diamond for reasons relating to her fear of vulnerability and/or her relationship to food…. If any producers are reading this, I’m with 3 Arts…

How does novel writing differ from essay writing or screenwriting for you?

Novel writing feels like the most independent expression of creativity available to me. With essays, you’re trying to describe things as they are, or I suppose as they could be, but you’re certainly beholden to the truth in a more literal way than you are in a novel. And so much of screenwriting ends up being about what you can afford to film or fit in the schedule, or what the weather was like on the day. In a novel, the weather – and everything else – is up to you. It’s very freeing and also feels like an enormous responsibility.

What is your ideal work set up? Is it day or night? Is it loud or quiet? Private or public?

I prefer to work in the day, between 11 and 4. The earlier morning is for making a long breakfast and answering emails or taking any required phone calls, and in the afternoon I’ll walk over to a coffee shop or a bar or something and sit and read or maybe share drafts and have a drink with a friend. I am trying to get out of the house to write more… I had a very stern conversation with a shoulder specialist recently about working from bed.

Do you have a writing playlist? If yes, what are your top writing songs?

Spotify has a ‘Peaceful Piano’ playlist that is on heavy rotation in my house when I’m working. ‘Calming Classical’ also works. Sensing a theme here…

Any projects in the pipeline you can tell us about? 

I’m in the middle of writing a pilot for a potential Really Good, Actually television adaptation, and working on a second novel. Plus, now I have this heist movie to finish!

Monica Heisey Recommends…

I’m currently watching… Mr. and Mrs. Smith on Prime Video. I love it. If everything has to be a reboot now, I hope more of them get to be like this.

What I’m reading… Everything Meg Wolitzer has ever written.

The last thing I watched (and loved) was… I recently watched Bringing Up Baby for the first time and was not prepared for how insane it would be. Not necessarily a masterclass in plotting but a really wild and fun ride.

Favourite film of all time… When Harry Met Sally, forever.

Favourite song of all time… This is a riotously uncool answer but when I really want to be moved by music I turn to Sondheim every time.

Band/singer I always have on repeat… Fleetwood Mac is an important part of most Sundays at mine.

My ultimate cultural recommendation… Wander around and go into places that look interesting. Everyone is consuming the same four things off the same three lists. It’s boring! Try to discover things for yourself if you can.

Cultural guilty pleasure… I don’t feel guilty about the things that bring me joy.

Really Good, Actually book cover


Really Good, Actually by Monica Heisey is available at all good bookstores now.