Father of two Joe Clarke is about seventy-eight per cent sure he's just had an affair. After all that is the hopelessly attractive office intern in bed next to him isn't it? But then again if he did have an affair why can't he remember anything at all about the night in question? Mortified by his mistake, Joe vows to be a better man. But when his adored wife Penny puts two and two together and leaves him, things start to take a turn for the decidedly strange.
Joe is told for a fact that he DIDN'T have an affair after all.
He just thinks he did.
Which is great news...or at least it would be if the person who'd just delivered it wasn't the crisp-eating, overly perfumed and mean-spirited GHOST of his least favourite ex-girlfriend...
Funnily enough it came to me while I was in the middle of another book which actually happens more than you might think! Subconsciously when I reach a difficult part of a novel and everything feels like hard work my brain starts trying to tempt me with other idea as if to say, 'Why struggle on with what you're working on, when there's a lovely fresh idea right here for the taking?' I've learned now that the best way to deal with this is to resist the temptation to start over, quietly jot down the idea and put it in a drawer for safekeeping.
I think it was something along the lines of 'Bloke has affair...with a twist,' but the twist was so bonkers that I couldn't take it seriously at first but the more I thought about it the more I grew to love it.
That's pretty much it in a nutshell. What really drew me to the idea was the prospect of exploring the emotional highs and lows of a guy going through a crisis like this but with an added twist. Then, when I was outlining the idea I kept referring to it as being like a grown up Wizard of Oz with Joe wanting to get back to the real world and suddenly it seemed to click. So often, when people cross a line they talk about wanting to get their old lives back or being able to turn back the clock somehow and Joe is no exception.
I needed someone to guide Tom in this new world and explain things to him and I was tossing ideas around with my wife when she suggested it should be the ghost of an ex-girlfriend. The minute she said it I knew it was the right idea because I was grinning from ear to ear. I mean, what could be worse than being hounded by the ghost of a malevolent ex? The fact that she's constantly playing with Joe's mind and expectations made her a real delight to write but more than that I loved the fact that she continually provokes him to think about the consequences of his actions.
They were great fun to write too, especially Van Halen, who just appeared in my head fully formed and larger than life. What I like most about them as characters is that they illustrate some of the many different ways fathers can end up estranged from their children and partners. Sometimes it was their own fault, other times the fault of the other party and occasionally it was just one of those things.
I think it's an interesting question and one that's definitely explored in the book. At the time Joe's flirting with Bella seemed harmless but without it taking place he would never have been tempted to have met up with her and if he hadn't met up with her then he would never have slept with her and if he hadn't slept with her he never would have lost his family. This is one of the fatal flaws of being a human: we're rarely aware of the consequences of our actions until it's too late.
Ha, now that really would be telling wouldn't it? I think the important thing isn't so much whether Fiona was real but rather whether Joe has learned his lesson. I like to think that he did and that right now, he, Penny and the kids are having the time of their lives.