I think it’s safe to say that all writers have wild imaginations. Our daydreams are cinematic, we have the ability to think of the absolute worst-case scenario when in an everyday situation, and experiencing what most would see as a regular, benign occurrence, like a train ride, or a trip to the playground with the kids, has a lot of us wondering ‘what if such and such happened right now?’ And those moments are where story ideas are born. That little what if – that spark in the belly, that you’re onto something.That’s how my novel, Eight Perfect Hours came to be. Britain had been hammered by snow and storms thanks to The Beast From The East, and a tiny voice in my head, as I washed up after dinner one evening, said, ‘what if you met someone in standstill traffic? What if after spending hours together, you had to go in opposite directions and say goodbye?’
But even with my imagination – the one that daydreams-up romantic scenarios but also generously taunts me with bad things that might happen (and usually at three AM when I need to be up at seven for cereal and school uniforms), I don’t even think I could’ve ‘dreamed up’ having to write it during a global pandemic. ‘Locked down.’ Three children at home, instead of at school. My boyfriend working upstairs in our bedroom on a makeshift desk between our bed and my pyjama drawer. And anxious, as so many of us were.
Writing has always been a sanctuary for me, of sorts – like the gym, or baking is for others, something I turn to, to clear my mind, for comfort. And although having that fictional world to disappear into everyday during lockdown was a balm, writing Eight Perfect Hours was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write. Not only because of the scary time we all found ourselves having to function in, but because with almost black comedy timing, self-doubt came for me with gusto.
Self-doubt takes many forms for me – fear, imposter syndrome, procrastination, and even apathy. But mostly, it’s a villainous voice in my head that tells me horrid things. The cry of ‘you’re not good enough to do this!’ and ‘what are you, of all people,doing writing a book?’ and ‘It’s terrible, this thing you’re writing. People will actually gather in groups to discuss just how bad it is! I promise! I know these things!’
Some people seem surprised when I talk about this – I used to think published authors were probably ‘over’ any sort of doubt too, and why wouldn’t they be? They had the ultimate validation! I used to be so sure that my self-doubt would go from a boil to a simmer if I ever got a literary agent, and perhaps disappear altogether if I got published (and a reader who wasn’t my mum told me they enjoyed my book.) But the truth is, self-doubt has stayed for me. It flares up, definitely, and also simmers down, but it’s always there. I’ve fought it, tried to ignore it, and on so many occasions, given into it, exhausted, and let it win.
But last summer, after I let it talk me away from the laptop far too much during a time that was already difficult, with sad news, and no childcare, and no way of seeing people I loved and missed, I decided that maybe. . . I have to accept it. This thing called self-doubt. That maybe it’s just a part of the process. That it lurks, yes, but it’s a liar, and like a dodgy salesman, even I can hear them harping on, but I don’t actually have to buy what they’re selling.
This is something I’m still working on. You could say my relationship with my own doubt is very much a work in progress of its own. But it’s like Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic – fear will always be along for the ride – it keeps us alive. You just have to make sure you don’t let it drive the car. It can sit quietly in the backseat, but in control of nothing. (Not even the radio.)
A year on, there is hope in the world where there wasn’t any last year, and I’m lucky and proud to say that Eight Perfect Hours is finished and published – all those words I doubted are an actual book I can hold in my hands. But self-doubt – it’s still here, lurking in the backseat, trying to talk me into letting it give me directions, or to change the station. And it probably always will be.
That’s why, if you too, are familiar with that villainous voice, that dodgy salesman, you should never let it talk you out of or into anything. You may never feel ready. I still don’t. You may never feel good enough, or sure, or certain. And if you give into it, you definitely won’t write. But if you keep going, even when the voice is loud, and life comes along with something ready to throw you off course, you’ll have a sanctuary. And all those words, even the ones you doubt, will become an actual book you can hold in your hands.
(c) Lia Louis
About Eight Perfect Hours:
What if you fell in love…and then he disappeared?
When Noelle and Sam’s lives collide one snowy evening, they spend eight perfect hours stuck side by side believing that they’ll never see each other again.
But soon their lives become entangled in ways they never expected – and it’s going to change everything…
Don’t miss the latest, hotly anticipated love story from Lia Louis! Perfect for fans of Beth O’Leary, Josie Silver and Cecelia Ahern.
‘Lia Louis has become a must-buy author for me!’ JODI PICOULT
‘An utterly delightful novel from one of the most charming voices in modern romance. I loved it’ LOUISE O’NEILL
‘The sweetest, most romantic, most heartwarming book!’ MARIAN KEYES
Order our copy online here.