I’ve always been fascinated by where authors get their ideas. I love understanding how something small like a snippet of conversation, a song lyric, a view, or a building can grow into a novel.
The Secret to Happiness came from the merging of two ideas around a concept and a setting. The concept came from a song lyric on Leona Lewis’s 2012 album, Glassheart. ‘Un Love Me’ is about a cheating partner. She knows she needs to let him go, but she can’t find the strength to say goodbye and needs him to un love her and end it with her instead. This triggered an idea about a group of women each needing to say goodbye to someone for different reasons. What if they couldn’t find the strength to say goodbye on their own, but found this strength through others?
The more I thought about this, the more excited I became. It wasn’t plausible to have a group of friends all facing a goodbye-scenario at the same time which meant I needed a setting where friendships would form quickly. Bootcamp.
Fed up of being overweight and unfit at age 40, I joined a bootcamp in February 2013. For a year, I rose at 5.20am three mornings a week (and slightly later on a Saturday) to complete a one-hour bootcamp in the great outdoors, whatever the weather.
I started a blog – www.mybigfatbeachbootcamp.wordpress.com – to document my fitness journey and it had a huge readership.
Bootcamp hurt a lot, particularly in those early weeks where my body groaned in pain after years of neglect. I suffered from injury and I suffered from doubts in my ability, hating being the one at the back: ‘I cried at bootcamp this morning. Proper tears; not just the wind making my eyes water. I’ve just hit a massive, massive low.’
But I kept going. The coaches were so motivational and made us laugh a lot. Sessions were full of friendship as a group of strangers got to know each other, cheering on those who, like me, struggled. My husband’s twin sisters joined too and the three of us loved it so much that we couldn’t imagine life without bootcamp. It truly was a special period in my life and I never expected it to end.
Sadly, things change. The company expanded rapidly, doubling in size, yet halving the number of coaches per session. The fun, family, supportive feel faded and my insecurities re-surfaced. As I wrote in my blog, ‘I [can be] quite shy. I feel very self-conscious about my weight, my age, my height and a million other insecurities. I got partnered with young, slim girls who looked at me in disgust. I wasn’t paranoid about what they were thinking (and judging); it was written all over their faces. I’ve been bullied enough in my life. I don’t need to surround myself in one of my hobbies by people who judge me for my size and age and make assumptions that fat equals unfit.’
Around the same time, losing my job put some serious financial pressures on me and I made the difficult decision to leave bootcamp. It actually broke my heart to stop, particularly as working out on the Yorkshire Coast had been so inspiring: ‘I miss the outdoors. I ache for the outdoors’. It had been incredible, but it was over.
After that, I joined a gym and then a competitor bootcamp for another 18 months. I worked hard at that bootcamp and I enjoyed the exercise, but it was a much more serious setting and I missed the banter and camaraderie. Then another change in job meant I couldn’t fit it in anymore. Fast forward a few years and I’ve regained all my weight and lost all my fitness but I do have some very fond memories, particularly of my first bootcamp experience.
And, of course, I’d found the setting for The Secret to Happiness. The bootcamp environment had been full of support and encouragement from strangers who quickly became friends. It was intense and emotional, which was perfect for my women needing to say goodbye. I realised that my own journey wasn’t going to make a novel, but the journeys of Alison, Danniella and Karen would.