Pin It
photography by Rachel Sherlock

Monica Heisey’s new novel is really good, actually

The author and Schitts Creek writer talks to Lauren O’Neill about heartbreak, bed snacks, and her new coming-of-age novel

There are few human predicaments more universal than heartbreak. Most of us have been there in some shape or form, flattened under the monster truck wheel of rejection by someone we loved – it’s why so much art gets made about it.

The thing about heartbreak, however, is that you almost always learn something useful from it (annoying). You see the ways in which you could be better, and you get a little bit closer to understanding what you want out of your own relationships too. There’s also usually a part where you get a fringe or take up something like “bouldering”, but hey, everything worth having comes at a cost. 

It’s in this predicament that we find Maggie, the narrator of writer Monica Heisey’s debut novel – and one of the most hotly anticipated books of 2023 – Really Good, Actually. Aged 28 and unexpectedly on the cusp of being divorced by the husband she married at 26, Maggie goes into an emotional freefall, like a pinball being pinged against dating apps, late-night Etsy purchases, wellness and fitness culture, and simply getting drunk, as she tries to figure out who she is outside of her relationship. 

A coming-of-age tale for young women, the book is a wise and funny exploration of what your Big Breakup looks like from the inside. With it, Heisey – a screenwriter for TV shows including Schitt’s Creek and Workin’ Moms, and the author of the essay collection I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better, who hails from Toronto and now lives in London – announces herself not only as a comic literary voice who articulates the absurdity of finding yourself alone, again, but also as a deft satirist of the many ridiculous trappings of modern life. 

To hear more about Really Good, Actually and its many prescient observations, as well as topics ranging from Nora Ephron to bed snacks, I gave Heisey a call a few weeks ago. You can read a slightly condensed version of our conversation below.

Hello Monica, how are you this morning and can you please set your scene for me? 

Monica Heisey: …I’m in bed still. We’re doing a bunch of interviews today and they’re those recorded Zooms. But I love speaking on the phone!

Doesn’t it feel like we’re school friends? 

Monica Heisey: Yeah. It’s a very 90s, throwback thrill. I really only speak to my parents and my therapist on the phone so you’re going to get a very intimate chat I think. 

How is Being an Author treating you? What is the most fun thing you have done as a result of Being an Author so far? 

Monica Heisey: Definitely the best thing that happened is that I had a friend visit from Canada and a very nice young man came up to me and said he had read the book and liked it, which made me look very impressive to the friend. I was like, “I paid him.” 

Your book, Really Good, Actually, is out on the 10th of January. Why should people read it? 

Monica Heisey: I think people should read it because I think it’s funny! I tried really hard to write a funny novel and personally that’s the only kind of thing I ever want to read. I wrote it because when I was going through my own divorce, I really wanted to read something that treated heartbreak with a bit of a light hand.

It kind of doesn’t have to be Adele all the way down. 

Monica Heisey: Part of it is Adele! Adele is an important part of the process. But she’s not the only part. 

You’ve talked about Nora Ephron being a touchstone for you, but I wonder what it is about the romcom genre that attracted you to working within it?

Monica Heisey: I don’t want to overly intellectualise it, but we all know that romcoms have kind of a bad rep, as schlocky films or bad writing, but actually they are just films and books about relationships between people. And that’s the main thing that’s interesting to me in life. Like, dinner parties and interpersonal relationships. My working theory is that if you can write a good dinner party you can write anything.

One of the things I really enjoyed about Really Good, Actually is that it spoke a lot of truth about “being a woman”. I enjoyed, for example, the things you say about how wellness is sold to us, but how ultimately the only way of achieving actual wellness is by being good to ourselves. Why did you want to write about that and did you have fun sending up all of the ways these things are sold to us? 

Monica Heisey: Yeah I really did have fun. The book is ultimately about a woman who is completely petrified of being alone with herself, and particularly of being alone with her feelings. Most people in a crisis will try one or two things to avoid having to sit with themselves. But Maggie throws everything at it. She gets into fitness stuff, she gets into “self-care” stuff, she racks up some credit card debt, there’s a long app dating foray, she’s taking classes. But in addition to running from herself through all those activities and purchases, she’s also running from the other thing that I think is really important that we neglect a lot when we talk about self-care, which is community care. Maggie feels so lonely in the book but she’s actually surrounded by people who want to help her. She behaves like a brat towards these people in her life who are giving her nothing but love and care and a gentle ribbing. Which is my love language incidentally. 

The conversation is like, “Oh it’s so important to have a bath, girl!” “Buy some fancy oils to put on your face and that will make you feel better.” And it’s like – sit and talk with your friends about what you feel like. That’ll really make you feel better. Maggie is someone who has ingested a lot of those articles about how to take care of yourself and honour your femininity and actually, the real answers are a lot simpler and a bit more boring. Wake up early and think about how you feel, then go cook a nice meal for your friends. It always comes back to a dinner party! 

You wrote a lot of this book in bed. What is the best thing about working in bed? 

Monica Heisey: I think everything about it is pretty good. The hardest part of it is – at the end of the book, Maggie talks about how she calls her bed The Restaurant, and her husband doesn’t like that, and I actually lifted that from my current relationship. My boyfriend hates it when I eat in The Restaurant. So I think that’s the hardest part, but also maybe the best part. It’s so luxurious. It’s like “What am I in a hotel? No, I’m at home!”

Can you give me your top three Bed Snacks? 

Monica Heisey: Ideally you would want to avoid crumbs, but it’s not any of my business if crumbs get in the bed. I know that’s gonna cause controversy among readers. But you just wipe them out. Clean your sheets! My favourite snack full stop is an English muffin with peanut butter and a couple of raspberries mushed on top. And then a cup of coffee. 

“I wanted it to be a picture of moving through a crisis: even if you handle a problem with almost no grace whatsoever, you can still decide to start over and move forward” – Monica Heisey

So that’s the starter at The Restaurant, right? 

Monica Heisey: Yeah. And then another good breakfast snack is: the morning after your birthday, bringing cake to whoever is with you, and having cake for breakfast in bed. And then the third one would be, maybe like, a salty crunchy. While you’re watching a movie on your laptop. I’m a real popcorn head. My mom gave me for Christmas last year her family’s popcorn bowl from the 70s and I got so emotional about it I cried.

To wrap up, I think we can say that the book has been optioned for TV. Can you dream cast it for me please?

Monica Heisey: I would really like Dev Patel to play Simon, that would be my number one. The casting question is kind of interesting. People are like, “Who would you cast as Maggie?” And it’s like, “Well we would have to go and find someone!” because we like to think that we’ve progressed as a society, but there are not that many actresses who are a size 16 in the world. 

My last question is just: what do you hope readers take away from your book? 

Monica Heisey: I get asked this a lot. I didn’t write the book with a moral in mind, and I don’t want there to be a neat lesson. It’s just supposed to be a picture of a crisis. But then, thinking about it more, I did build in a little bit of hope at the end. I wanted it to be a picture of moving through a crisis: even if you handle a problem with almost no grace whatsoever, you can still decide to start over and move forward. 

And I think that’s beautiful. Thanks Monica! 

Really Good, Actually is out on January 10 on Fourth Estate

Join Dazed Club and be part of our world! You get exclusive access to events, parties, festivals and our editors, as well as a free subscription to Dazed for a year. Join for £5/month today.