The idea for Something to Live For came when I stumbled across an article following the day in the life of council workers whose job is to investigate the situation when someone has died alone. I was struck by what an unusual way to make a living that was – searching for someone’s next of kin, sifting through their possessions. The workers in the article were painted as stoic and matter-of-fact – even though, heartbreakingly, they’d often attend funerals of the deceased just to make sure someone was there. I couldn’t help but wonder what their lives must be like.
At the point I’d had the idea, I had just finished writing a novel about something completely different. This was my second novel, the first having not found a home (a lovely euphemism for ‘rejected by every publisher in town’!). But when I got to the end of my second book I just wasn’t feeling particularly confident about it. I’m not entirely sure why, I just couldn’t quite imagine the fiction editors having it land in their inboxes and getting excited about it, the way that I do in my day job as a (non-fiction) editor when something great comes in. But the the idea for what would become Something to Live For really grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. So around January of 2017 I bit the bullet and put the 90,000 words of the other novel aside in order to start this new one.
The major theme of the book is loneliness. That had been something I had dealt with myself a fair bit since moving to London in my early twenties. It is something that comes with stigma – certainly with younger people – and sometimes it’s hard to explain why you can feel lonely even when you are seeing people you know every day at work, but it was something that had just crept up on me and I hadn’t been very good at talking about it. I think I ended up channeling a lot of that in the book through the character of Andrew, and it actually ended up being quite a therapeutic thing to do.
Along the way I had started to read more books about how to plot and structure, and that meant I had a better sense of how to plan my story. Things changed along the way, of course, but I had all the main beats nailed down. I also stuck to a writing routine – hitting my word count every day. That meant I had a first draft in three months. After letting that draft ‘incubate’ for a few weeks, I came back to it and spent the rest of the year redrafting until I was ready to send it to a new agent – the brilliant Laura Williams, who now represents me at Greene & Heaton. Laura gave me some invaluable editorial guidance and tasked me with reshaping and polishing the novel before she sent it to publishers. I had no real sense of how likely it was that a publisher would go for it. All I knew was that I had tried my absolute best this time, and the rest was out of my hands. The book went out on submission on a Thursday. By the following day, remarkably, we’d accepted an offer from a German publisher. A week later, we accepted a pre-emptive offer from Orion in the UK and Putnam in the US on the same day – the latter coming to me as I sat watching Friends and eating pizza. It was surreal, to put it mildly.
Writing this now, with the book out in paperback, it hasn’t got any less strange, as it hasn’t really sunk in that I am a published author. One of the most incredible things has been the amount of emails and private messages I’ve received on social media from people who have identified with the characters in the book, or saying that it has helped them come out of their shells to try and fight back against loneliness. I even had a letter from someone who does the same job as Andrew in the book, and said that I done people like him proud. That completely blew me away. I never would have thought my writing would connect with people like that, and it makes all those early mornings and late nights banging my head against the wall trying to figure out what happens next worth it. It’s something I’m very much using to help me press on with book two.
In the book, Andrew is faced with a choice about whether he is going to get out of his comfort zone or not, and having the book published meant I had to do a fair bit of that myself – doing interviews, travelling around the UK and America to talk about it in front of people at live events. It’s funny how in writing the book where the central message is for people to be brave and put themselves out there, I’ve really had to put my money where my mouth is!
(c) Richard Roper
Author photograph (c) Natalie Dawkins
About Something to Live For:
Everybody likes Andrew. But they don’t really know him.
They know what he’s told them – that he’s happily married with two kids. Living the kind of life that’s either so boring it’s true, or so perfect it’s a lie . . .
Peggy arrives in Andrew’s life in a burst of kindness and possibility. For the first time in ages, Andrew feels alive again. So now that he has everything to lose, can he risk it all and tell Peggy the truth?
A big-hearted story about love, loneliness, and the importance of taking a chance when we feel we have the most to lose.
See what everyone is saying about this summer’s most uplifting bestseller!
‘A perfect, quirky summer page-turner. A life-affirming debut’ The Sunday Times
‘Funny, moving and thought-provoking – I loved this’ Clare Mackintosh
‘If you loved Eleanor Oliphant, try this brilliant new read’ Fabulous
SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR by Richard Roper is published by Orion Fiction. Order your copy online here.