Skip to content

Monica Heisey says divorce in her 20s inspired debut novel 'Really Good, Actually'

TORONTO — Writer Monica Heisey says her own divorce at the age of 28 inspired her novel "Really Good, Actually," because she didn't see her experience reflected in pop culture and wanted to change that.
Canadian writer and comedian Monica Heisey, who has written for TV shows like “Schitt’s Creek” and “Workin’ Moms,” says her own divorce at the age of 28 inspired her debut novel "Really Good, Actually." THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Harry Livings *MANDATORY CREDIT*

TORONTO — Writer Monica Heisey says her own divorce at the age of 28 inspired her novel "Really Good, Actually," because she didn't see her experience reflected in pop culture and wanted to change that.

“Everything out there about divorce was about people many decades, and further along, in their lives with different and bigger concerns about custody of children and splitting up houses and property,” she said. “And that was just not my reality at all.”

The 34-year-old comedian from Toronto, who has written for “Schitt’s Creek” and “Workin’ Moms,” has created a tender yet sharp debut, detailing the self-discovery and absurdity in heartbreak.

"Really Good, Actually," out on Jan. 17, has already been optioned for a TV series and is receiving plenty of praise, landing on numerous publications’ anticipated books of 2023 lists including The Guardian and BBC. 

It also fits into a buzzy new subcategory of women's fiction dubbed on social media as "hot-girl books," with readers reclaiming the word "hot" to refer to not just their own looks or style, but the quality of the literature they're into. These books often feature female protagonists that may seem polished, but turmoil lurks just under the surface. 

“I think the hot girls are maybe not doing so well, emotionally, but they're looking very good,” said Heisey, who now lives in London. “And they're reading good books while they do it.”

Heisey said she would love it if her book got dubbed a "hot-girl book."

“I would be honoured if they wanted to pop it in their tote bag," she said. "Hot girls’ bags always have a lip gloss, some cigarettes and a novel of a woman having a complete breakdown.” 

"Really Good, Actually" follows a 29-year-old womangoing through a divorce and her attempt at finding joy in her everyday life while navigating heartbreak. 

“It’s a very ironic experience in that it’s so big and so mundane at the same time,” she said. “Whatever age it hits you at, it always sort of feels the same and it hits just as hard.”

Heisey said TV shows and books that she watched and read on breakups were intense and focused on the painful parts of heartbreak, butas a comedy writer, she's used to mining her own life for funny experiences and stories. 

"I was surprised to find when I was going through a divorce at a young age myself, even in the very darkest parts of it, I could see that there was something kind of funny about it," she said.

She started writing “Really Good, Actually” in January of 2020 and finished within a year.

“I thought I should really challenge myself,” she said, adding she felt vulnerable showingher book to editors and publishers.

“It had taken such a long period of my life and drawn on some really difficult feelings,” she said.

To help convey the protagonist's state of mind, the book incorporates modern influences such as Google search histories, unanswered emails, and a call log detailing charges per phone call from a divorce lawyer.

Heisey said those pieces were the earliest things she wrote as character exercises to get into the head of the narrator.

“Borrowing from my emotions, I was still fictionalizing a person and events and I really wanted to get a sense of where this character and I differed and where we crossed over, and just who she was,” she said.

She said she started writing the character’s Google searches and fantasies as a way for her to ground the book in its setting while also revealing something intensely personal about the protagonist.

“I would rather die than expose my Google search history to anyone,” she said.

Looking ahead, Heisey said she wrapped on an untitled British romantic-comedy series she co-created, was the head writer of, and executive produced, which is slated forrelease in the spring. 

She's also hard at work on the pilot for the TV adaptation, which she hopes to be a love letter to friendships as well as to Toronto, and has plans to write a second novel.

“I think it's going to be a busy year in a way that I never could have hoped for,” she said. “I feel so lucky.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 11, 2023.

Christian Collington, The Canadian Press

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks