From their first meeting at the student union over a decade ago, Jim and Alison succesfully navigated their way through first dates, meeting parents, moving in together and more. Then they split up and divided their wordly goods (including a sofa, a cat and their flat) into his'n'hers. Now, three years later, with new lives and new loves, they couldn't be happier. Until a chance encounter throws them back together and to embark on a journey through their past to ask themselves the big question - where did it all go wrong, and is it too late to put it right?.
Before I started His 'n' Hers I'd been thinking for a long while that I wanted to do something different. I knew I wanted it to be about relationships but I wanted to look at it from a different angle. I'd long thought that no one ever writes about the middles of relationships—the bits where it's all working. It's always the getting together that gets all the attention and of course the horrible ends but no one ever wrote about the middles. And it occurred to me that when so many people are in the middle then that was a bit of a shame. Then I came across the Meg Ryan quotation "There's so much mythology about getting together, and there's none about staying together. And staying together is what's really so hard." And I realised that she had perfectly encapsulated what I wanted to write about "staying together".
Initially I planned a story about a couple in their early thirties who go to see a relationship counsellor in order to try and save their marriage but I just couldn't get it to work. So instead I decided to keep it simple and just have the two voices from the relationship telling their story directly to the reader in a diary style.
The idea I wanted to explore was to look at the thoughts and feelings of both sides in a relationship. This was something I'd never done before and I hoped it was saying something new. In a lot of ways however it's not just two voices in the book because changes in perspective are happening to both Jim and Alison, as they get older. The Jim and Alison who meet at university are a lot different to the Jim and Alison who meet after Disco's death.
It was fine. I knew what sort of person I wanted Alison to be and I tried my best to sketch her to the best of my abilities. I knew that I didn't just want her to be a Mike Gayle "bloke" character in drag but at the same time I wasn't going to suddenly have her talking about cellulite, handbags and expensive shoes either. I just wanted her to be like the kind of women that I have as friends. Down to earth, personable, talkative and real. And thankfully judging from the responses I've had from female readers that's exactly what I achieved.
The front cover of His 'n' Hers says: "A flat, a cat and a couple who think it's all over." Tell us more about Disco the Cat. It's funny but Disco just came to me when I was thinking about the couple splitting up. I thought there would be some laughs in watching them arguing over who would get the cat. As the book progressed however Disco became increasingly important to the plot and it was only when the first draft of the book was finished that I realised that he would be the hook for the entire thing. Originally I'd planned his death to happen later in the book but after discussions with my editor I realised that it would make more sense at the beginning.
Not really. What I like about it is that it perfectly sets up the fact that both Jim and Alison have moved on with their lives. Having gone through the demise of the longest relationship of their lives they have managed to come out of the other side. And because they've done that they have a different perspective on their ten years together than they might have done if they were still feeling the effects of the break-up.
Exactly. And they might never have seen each other again if it hadn't been for Disco's death. It's actually another one of my favourite scenes that I've written. I love the fact that Disco meant so much to Alison and that despite everything that happened she knew it would mean the same to Jim too. What's also really interesting about this scene is that since His 'n' Hers was published I've been surprised by the number of readers who have been in similar situations. Cats and their relationship to co-habiting couples — I'm sure there's a sociological study in there somewhere.
I think by "good enough" what they actually meant was an anti-climax. I think they were expecting some sort of dramatic reason and were disappointed with what they got. The truth is the reason for Jim and Alison's split was a topic of much debate amongst the people I work with. Some felt strongly that it needed to be a black and white issue like infidelity or an affair while others felt that was too dramatic and it needed to be something more grey and less tangible. If you've read the book (which I hope you have) you won't be surprised to find that I was in the latter camp. Yes, Jim's announcement does come as a surprise but I actually think that it was a surprise to him too. My feeling was that Jim has spent so much time and effort getting through the different stages of relationship that he hadn't stopped to question whether it really was what he wanted.
That's the bit that seemed least convincing. Talking this very question over with a friend of mine he argued that nine times out of ten the reason why most relationships fail are rarely dramatic. Things like affairs and infidelity are often symptoms of a change in philosophical outlook and as such are far less theatrical. And for Jim the scene with the couple in the supermarket makes him ponder the question: "But what do you do when you reach the destination you've been trying to get to for a whole lifetime and discover you don't really want to be there?" and ultimately leads him to end the relationship. Yes, I agree it is an anti-climax but that's the point: Jim feels that his relationship with Alison is a bit of any anti-climax too.
That's a difficult one to answer. In a lot of ways this is probably my least satisfying ending because so much is left up in the air. This was a deliberate ploy on my part because whether or not Jim and Alison stayed together could almost be a book by itself. What I am sure of though is that the relationships that Jim and Alison were in weren't the right ones for them. So at the very least their re-encounter has saved them from making decisions that they would have lived to regret.
The lyrics to the song 'The Smile On Your Face' (written by Jim after he graduates from university) were in fact written by a friend of mine who used to be in a great band called The Liberty Thieves.