Monica Heisey on her debut: Really Good, Actually

I’ve always been interested in moments where laughter sneaks in, especially in places it feels unlikely: a giggle fit by a hospital bed; an inside joke at an intervention; a sudden, shared peal, mid-argument. I remember being ten years old at my grandmother’s funeral, my grandfather clasping my arm as we launched into the all-time Catholic banger ‘Be Not Afraid.’ Somewhere between ‘the raging waters’ and ‘the power of hell,’ a huge green glob of snot fell from his nose onto my hand. As a textural experience, I do not wish this on anyone. My grandfather – somehow – did not notice, so I had two options: drop the grieving widower’s palm to wipe my own or allow an old man’s boogies to slowly harden on my person. Even as a child, I could see that this was an emotionally complicated situation. I could also see that it was pretty funny. Telling my mother the story later was the first time I heard her laugh that day. As a comedy writer, this is how I make my living: mining personal experiences with the other writers in the room for the strangest times life has made us laugh and twisting those experiences into stories that will make others do the same.

I could not find what I was looking for: a story about somebody in my situation

Monica Heisey

So when my marriage ended a year and a half after it started – and a decade after the relationship began – I was curious to find out which parts of the experience would turn out to be funny… and by ‘curious,’ I of course mean ‘desperate to a humiliating degree’. Usually, you find the funny by talking to others – comparing horror stories, laughing at the discrepancies between them and especially at the places your experiences overlap.

But I got married at the relatively tender age of twenty-six; not only was I the only person I knew getting divorced, many of my friends weren’t even in committed relationships yet.

Fortunately, as you may be aware, there have been a couple of novels and even one or two films on the subject… but despite the incredible depth of material available, I could not find quite what I was looking for: a story about somebody in my situation, who had no children or family home or artistic legacy to fight over, who had simply chosen someone to be with forever, then woken up one day and thought, Shit. Preferably that person would be handling things even worse than I was, would be embarrassed and sad and behaving badly… and would survive anyway, because heartbreak is an odd business that really does feel like the most important thing in the world, until the second you snap out of it and realize, That was silly. I was being very silly.

Having spent the year after my own divorce emotionally and physically on the floor, I did not want to read a book that made heartbreak seem easy, but I did want to hear about the ways it is ridiculous. Even as I lay there, burger in hand, heart a kind of slurry in my chest, I could tell that, actually, this was kind of funny. So I wrote my debut novel, Really Good, Actually, that you now have in your hands, and I hope it makes you laugh, whether or not you have been put through a meat grinder of a breakup. In case you haven’t, there is also a great deal in it about having a body, and being a youngish woman, and wanting to find a job you love that pays a living wage, and trying to find an apartment, and how to be a good friend, plus a bit about queerness and a lot about being horny. I really hope you enjoy it, and I’m sorry I told you all that stuff about my grandfather’s snot.

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