Zoe Folbigg talks about her debut novel, The Note, and how she followed her heart with a handsome stranger on the train.
1. Can you tell us more about The Note?
The Note is a story about following your heart, taking a chance to make something happen. It’s about a twenty-something woman called Maya, who falls for a stranger from afar on her daily commute. The novel follows how she manages to pluck up the courage to give a handsome stranger a note – and the consequences when she finally does. It’s about being brave, it’s about love, and it’s about friendship.
2. What are you most proud of about the book?
I’m proud that I jumped so many hurdles to get it published! I had so many setbacks along the way: knocking on a lot of doors to get an agent, being offered a book deal that wasn’t right… I could have given up at so many stages. But I kept on believing in it, the way Maya believes that James is the man for her, so I’m most proud of having finished the book, getting my wonderful agent, who got me together with an amazing publisher, and getting to this point.
3. If you have to pick one favourite character from the book, who would it be and why?
It would be Velma – a sage septuagenarian New Yorker who’s lived a colourful life, from Broadway to Buenos Aires – but somehow ended up in the same quiet Home Counties commuter town as Maya lives, and they become great friends. She was so lovely to write and I feel her whole backstory could be another novel in itself.
4. Where did you get the inspiration for the novel?
Well that’s easy – I fell for a handsome stranger on my daily commute. And through the saga of loving someone from afar; having to explain to friends that I didn’t want to go on dates with men who weren’t Train Man; and me plucking up the courage to give him a note, I took inspiration.
5. Have you ever been stuck while writing your book? How did you get over it?
I would often get stuck: because I have two young children, my writing time has to be compartmentalised to fit around them: naptimes, playgroups, playdates… So when I did have a couple of hours, the pressure was on, and I wasn’t always feeling creative. I found going for a run helped me clear my head: while I was running I would structure scenes or work out ways to make the story better. I always felt more creative after a run and raring to go. And it helps now my boys are at school, so I have longer windows in which to run and write!
6. Who are your favourite authors?
I love Isabel Allende for her romantic heroes and heroines. And Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Laura Esquivel, Octavio Paz. I studied Latin American Literature at university and was blown away by epic magical romantic stories. Of writers in the same genre as me, I love Katy Regan and Ali Harris. I also owe a lot to Jackie Collins, who shaped my teen reading list and I think influenced a lot of women’s contemporary fiction, and popular culture beyond it. Not just the 1980s soaps and sagas, but Candace Bushnell and Sex And The City. But right now my favourite author is children’s author Andy Stanton, who has me and my sons in fits of giggles every evening with his Mr Gum books.
7. Has any other writer in particular influenced the way you write?
I suspect Isabel Allende shaped my slight erring towards magical realism. And I always come back to Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist – a fable about following your heart, which I guess The Note is too.
8. What message do you want readers to take away from your novel?
To question, ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ when you’re not feeling brave enough to do something. Really, taking a chance and being brave can shape your whole life. It worked for me as I married my Train Man. But will it work for Maya?
9. When did you decide to write and what prompted you to start?
My husband and I were travelling and I had more time than usual on my hands and a tiny netbook. I just looked at him and thought, ‘This is a great story!’ and I wanted to fictionalise it to make it even greater. At first as a fun record of how we got together for any children we might have, but as more people started to hear about the Train Man story, I got braver about properly turning it into a novel.
10. Can you tell us a bit about your plans for the future?
Yes, I’m currently writing my second book, which doesn’t involve any form of public transport at all, but does involve another girl and guy, falling in love in peculiar circumstances!
Based on Zoë Folbigg’s true story comes an unforgettable romance about how a little note can change everything…
One very ordinary day, Maya Flowers sees a new commuter board her train to London, and suddenly the day isn’t ordinary at all. Maya knows immediately and irrevocably, that he is The One.
But the beautiful man on the train always has his head in a book and never seems to notice Maya sitting just down the carriage from him every day. Eventually, though, inspired by a very wise friend, Maya plucks up the courage to give the stranger a note asking him out for a drink. Afterall, what’s the worst that can happen?
And so begins a story of sliding doors, missed opportunities and finding happiness where you least expect it.
The Note is an uplifting, life-affirming reminder that taking a chance can change everything…
Zoe Folbigg is a magazine journalist and digital editor, starting at Cosmopolitan in 2001 and since freelancing for titles including Glamour, Fabulous, Daily Mail, Healthy, LOOK, Top Sante, Mother & Baby, ELLE, Sunday Times Style, and Style.com. In 2008 she had a weekly column in Fabulous magazine documenting her year-long round-the-world trip with ‘Train Man’ – a man she had met on her daily commute. She has since married Train Man and lives in Hertfordshire with him and their two young sons. The Note is her debut novel.