Art imitating life – Debbie Viggiano

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By Debbie Viggiano

‘You should write a book,’ said my bestie, ‘because your letters are certainly like one.’ This was in the “old” days. Before WhatsApp, emails and social media. My friend had moved miles away. We kept in touch by snail mail. My letters were long. Pages and pages. And when my first marriage came to a juddering full stop, those pages were full of angst. And that was when I heeded my friend’s advice, and wrote my first novel…♥

They say everyone has a book in them, and I really do believe that is true. They also say a writer’s first manuscript is autobiographical. Certainly, things that have happened to me have found their way into my writing!

My first marriage had parallels to the character Cassandra in my debut novel, Stockings and Cellulite. Indeed, the opening scene finds Cass at a New Year’s Eve party, listening to Big Ben bong the midnight hour as she wonders where her flirtatious husband has gone. She finds him upstairs, in the host’s bedroom, doing his own bit of bonging with a woman who just so happens to live at the end of her road. Did this happen to me? Well, not quite like that, no.

But can I talk with authenticity about infidelity? Oh yes! From accidentally discovering a neighbour being on horizontal terms with my husband to – even more cringy – telling hubby I was away with a girlfriend overnight… having said girlfriend cancel… going home and finding hubby out… getting into bed and falling asleep… then being awoken by a drunken cacophony as he staggered in with a cougar all set to have a giggly good time on the bed I was laying upon. That little scene did find itself playing out in The Woman Who Knew Everything.

It’s a wonder my first husband and I stayed together for as long as we did. Ironically his final fling was with the bottle… something he’d battled for years. And he died. My characters have also been widows, busily juggling work and children, putting on a brave public face whilst having a private meltdown. It’s nothing new. It happens everywhere. And it’s flipping great novel fodder!

Ideas come from everywhere. I read a tongue-in-cheek story about a married couple who owned a pub. They were playing bedroom games with proper handcuffs, but the key fell through a crack in the floorboard. Fortunately, there was a phone in the bedroom. One of them used their toes to ring the Fire Brigade. Blushing with embarrassment, they were eventually freed. Their story was the trigger for Flings and Arrows, which centres around a pub and a very cheeky landlady who causes some flirty uproar.

Other ideas seem to come from nowhere. The Man You Meet in Heaven had me rocketing awake at three in the morning with a beginning, middle and end that I was terrified of forgetting. I reached for the bedside light and emailed the outline to myself, before going back to sleep.

Writing is cathartic. It’s probably kept me sane. When I found myself in hospital with the shock diagnosis of Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia, I nearly went mental. What kept me going? Writing about it.

In my working life I’ve been a foster carer, piano teacher, wedding photographer, sales administrator and legal secretary. A Jack-of-All-Trades. I like to believe I’m now the master of one. A writer…

Debbie Viggiano lives in a Kent village with her husband, a dog made in Crete and a disgruntled cat. The Man You Meet in Heaven is her tenth novel, out now, and published by Bookouture.

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