‘Lessons in laughing out loud’ by Rowan Coleman is one of those books which ticks all the boxes, combining a clever mix of wry humour, raw honesty, brilliantly imagined characters, romance and a little bit of magic. I couldn’t put it down and read it in a matter of days (which is no mean feat with young children demanding your attention 24/7), but I digress……
Willow Briars is a size 18, divorced thirty-something whose life seems to be going nowhere, fast. Preferring to spend a night in watching a movie in her bra, with a bottle of wine for company, Willow’s social life isn’t exactly sparkling either. Her self-confidence is at an all time low and her life mainly revolves around keeping her terrifyingly ruthless boss happy and trying to suppress her feelings for her good friend Daniel. Willow reminds me a little of Bridget Jones, Ugly Betty and a voluptuous Sophie Dahl all rolled into one.
From the very start of the novel, we understand that Willow’s life has taken a very different path to that of her size 10, happily married mum of two, twin sister, Holly, but we’re left guessing as to why and this is just one of many clever plotting devices which keeps us reading to the end.
When Willow’s boss (a brilliant character who truly rivals the horror of Miranda Priestly in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’) asks her to hide a young actress in her apartment until a PR storm surrounding her affair with an A-List Hollywood star dies down, Willow’s life is thrown into turmoil. Things get even more complicated when Willow’s fifteen-year-old step-daughter Chloe arrives on her doorstep announcing that she is pregnant and has left home. The ensuing dilemma Willow faces and the dynamic between the three women in one small apartment is played out brilliantly. There are some touching scenes between Willow and Chloe as they gradually let their guards down and open up to each other about their lives before and after Willow’s divorce from Chloe’s father.
In the middle of her crisis, Willow discovers a junk shop in a hidden alleyway and leaves with a pair of shoes and a fur coat which seem to have called out to her, her life starts to turn around. When she wears these items, she feels better about herself, and people start to notice; the love interests of Daniel, ‘Serious James’ and her ex-husband, Sam, included.
With the help of her shoes, as Willow’s confidence rises, so does her sense of purpose and with her sister Holly’s help, Willow returns to visits her estranged mother at the family home and finally faces up to the dark and shocking secret of her childhood; a process she realises she has to go through in order to enjoy her life again – and to be able to laugh out loud.
This is a terrific read which never stops throwing up surprises, crackling dialogue and laugh-out-loud moments. Rowan also isn’t afraid to tug at the heart-strings and there are plenty of scenes where the reader will be hard-pressed not to empathise with Willow and wish for a happy ending for her.
I would highly recommend this book – it is a wonderfully engaging, well plotted and brilliantly delivered tale of hope and courage. Oh, and after reading it, you will, undoubtedly, all want a pair of Willow’s ‘magic’ shoes.
Rowan Coleman grew up in Hertfordshire secretly longing to be a writer despite battling with dyslexia. After graduating from university she worked in bookselling and publishing for seven years before winning Company Magazine Young Writer of the Year in 2001. Her first novel ‘Growing Up Twice’ was published in 2002.
Rowan has gone on to write eleven novels for women, including the bestselling ‘The Accidental Mother, The Baby Group’ and ‘The Accidental Wife‘ and eight novels for children and teens including the paranormal adventure novels Nearly Departed and Immortal Remains under the name Rook Hastings. Her books are published around the world. She now lives in Hertfordshire with her family and standard Poodle, Polly.
When did you start writing – and why?
I’ve always been a story teller, as my mother would tell you, I often came home from school with tall tales. But being an undiagnosed dyslexic for most of my childhood meant I didn’t really have the tools to write confidently until I was in my early twenties, and then it just seemed like the most natural thing in the world for me to spend a few hours writing, when ever I had time.
What is the best part of life as a writer?
You do get to go to some wonderful parties, most recently I was a beautiful party at Kensington Roof gardens sipping champagne amongst the real live flamingos and celebrity spotting. For me, the most exciting part about being a writer is actually seeing your book in the shops. That thrill never goes away.
And the hardest part?
There is a lot of solitude, so you have to be good at being on your own. And you have to be very resistant to knock backs and rejection. For every success you experience there will be at least five failures, and if you can’t take it on the chin, get up, dust yourself down and start again, then you shouldn’t try and be a writer. A tough skin is essential.
Which three words would best describe your writing style?
Engaging, Emotional, Unexpected.
Other than your own novels, which book would you love to have written?
Oh, where do I start? I’ll stick to my own genre to narrow the field down and say anything by Marian Keyes, she blends humour, romance, darkness and emotion with the finest of touches.
If you could choose a celebrity to play any of the characters in your latest novel, which celebrity and which character would it be, and why?
Brilliant question, we writers think about this all the time. Willow, my lead character if one of a set of twins, which might prove tricky to cast because although they are identical, Willow is a size 18 and her sister is a 10. In my head she is very much like Jo Joyner (Tanya Branning in Eastenders) to look at, but a little fuller figured and a bit posher.
Do you base your characters on people you know, or are they a figment of your imagination?
Its really a blend of both. Although we don’t look alike physically, Willow is like me in many respects, she is perhaps the most personal character I’ve written since my first novel. On the whole though, my characters tend to come mostly out of my imagination so fully formed I feel like I know them. I do sometimes base the way they look on someone I know or admire, particularly the romantic leads…. it helps with the kissing scenes!
Does the junk shop in Bleeding Heart Yard really exist? If so, are the shoes still there?!
No, sorry. It doesn’t exist and neither does that particular Bleeding Heart Yard – although there is at least one in London, I saw it from a taxi which is where I got the name. The shoes are a figment of my imagination entirely, I didn’t even try and find a picture to describe, I wanted them to be what ever the reader imagined them. I would really like a pair though…
Have you ever spotted anyone famous reading your novels?
A long time ago someone told me they saw Amanda Holden reading The Accidental Mother, which made me wish she’d buy the films rights because she’d be perfect as the lead character, Sophie. But then she got Britain’s Got Talent and that never happened! I can tell you I’ve sent it out to a few famous ladies, in the hopes they might read it….but we’ll have to watch this space. If I hear anything I’ll let you know.
Are you working on your next novel and if so, can you tell us anything about it?!
I am beavering away on it at the moment, its about a woman called Rose who has fled her marriage and run away to Cumbria, to her estranged father who she hasn’t seen for over twenty years. I still need a title for it though, I’m thinking of running a competition on my facebook page if inspiration doesn’t strike me soon!
What are you reading at the moment?
I can’t read anything until I’ve finished this book, I always worry I’ll accidentally mix up plots, but first on my pile is ‘The Hand that First Held Mine’ by Maggie O’Farrell.
With thanks to Marissa at Random House for arranging my review copy and to the lovely Rowan for taking the time to answer all my questions!