This Time Next Year

by Sophie Cousens

(G. P. Putnam’s Sons)

by Diane Slocum,
Authorlink columnist

Minnie Cooper grew up absorbing her mother’s message that all her bad luck started when she was born one minute after the first baby of the year who not only got the prize but stole her name which was supposed to have been Quinn. Every year after, she hated her birthday because New Year’s Eve and Day seemed to bring nothing but misfortune. Her thirtieth birthday was no different. Her boyfriend took her to a New Year’s Eve party that was doubling for a birthday party for the hostess’ boyfriend. Minnie wound up losing her coat on the bus, getting someone’s drunken barf on her blouse, crashing into a tray of canapés that doused her with goat cheese and finally getting locked in the bathroom with a dead cell phone. Her rescuer in the morning is none other than the party’s birthday boy, who turns out to be her nemesis, Quinn Hamilton.

AUTHORLINK: What came to you first about this story? Was there a line or a scene that stuck in your head that you wanted to use, and did it wind up in the final story?

“…I wanted to explore the idea of misleading first impressions,…”

COUSENS: The seed of inspiration for this book came from the idea of one small moment changing everything for two characters. In this case, it was the moment of their birth. Minnie being born one minute later, meant losing out on significant prize money, and on her ‘lucky’ name; this has colored her whole life, and her perception of herself. While this was the starting point for the story, thematically, I also knew I wanted to explore the idea of misleading first impressions, “luck” and whether you can be “born unlucky”, and the impact our friends and family can have on our self-esteem.

A line that ended up being used in some blurbs, which sums up the starting point well is – “she was born with a chip on her shoulder, while he was born with a silver spoon”. Just unpacking that, and whether that was really true was the essence of this book for me.

AUTHORLINK: Once you had your initial idea, how did the story and the characters develop? How much did you plan ahead and what developed organically?

“The novel ended up being highly structured.”

COUSENS: The novel ended up being highly structured. I knew at the outset I wanted it to span the course of a year, while having flashbacks to New Year’s Eves of the past dotted throughout. The idea being that these flashbacks would illuminate something new about the characters behavior in the present. Beyond that though, I didn’t have a set plan for how it was going to evolve as a story. I found this a great way to write, sticking to a structure, but still having the fun of exploring how the characters would evolve or behave along the way. For me, some of the best scenes in the book were spontaneous decisions (like the proposal scene) and I don’t think I would have thought of these if I’d sat down and mapped out the whole novel chapter by chapter before I started.

AUTHORLINK: Since the flashbacks don’t follow chronological order, how did you decide where they should be placed? What purpose do they serve?

COUSENS: The intention was that the flashbacks would relate to some facet of the character’s personality we were seeing in the present day timeline. They are put in a specific order so that you slowly built a picture of why Minnie and Quinn are as they are. For Minnie, her relationship with her mother, her friendship with Leila, and her bad experience with men, and for Quinn you slowly see why he has commitment issues, and where they might have come from.

I think we are all a product of our upbringing and experiences, and I hope the flashbacks illustrate that no one comes to a new relationship without some kind of baggage! I also wanted to offer a particular experience to the reader where they would join dots and make connections as they went along, without spelling it out too obviously, or serving it up too neatly. Without giving away any spoilers, I think working out the connections between the flashbacks is all part of the fun for the reader.

AUTHORLINK: What about your story makes it distinctly British and specifically tied to London and what about it would make it work just as well in, say, New York?

COUSENS: I think Minnie’s self-deprecating humor, and the way the characters talk to each other is particularly British. The special bond formed over swimming at Hampstead Pond is also a uniquely London experience. However, I think many elements of the story are universal and could happen anywhere. Most major cities have rich and poor living in close proximity to each other, you can walk a block and life can suddenly look very different. What I love about London, and dating in a big city – the parks, the zoo, the restaurants, the buzz, the diversity of people – all of that is what I love about cities like New York too.

AUTHORLINK: Have you always been interested in romance and comedy? What attracts you to them?

COUSENS: I was always a fan of rom com movies growing up. This book has probably been influenced by more films than other rom com books, and I think the story feels very visual because of that. I just love how relatable stories about relationships are; movies like When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle really don’t age because the emotions in them are so timeless.

Nora Ephron is a huge inspiration for me. I think when it’s done well, the lightness of comedic moments next to the inevitable highs and lows of romantic love really brings out the full spectrum of human emotion. I love the kind of books where you will be laughing one minute and then the next page you will be crying.

AUTHORLINK: How does writing a novel compare with your experience as a TV producer?

“I adored working in TV.”

COUSENS: I adored working in TV. I worked with some very talented people and there was such camaraderie on set and behind the scenes. When it’s just me alone with my laptop I often miss having other people to bounce ideas off and wish I was in a room full of TV brains again. When I’m stuck with a scene that needs a funny moment, I’d love to be able to brainstorm with some of the professional comedians I used to work with! Having said that, when I worked in TV, I was always executing other people’s ideas, creating what other people thought was funny. I love the fact that as a writer I now get to write my own stories and the jokes I think are funny.

AUTHORLINK: Who developed the recipes in the book? Do you have an interest in baking in common with Minnie?

COUSENS: I do love to bake, but mainly cakes rather than pies. The fruitcake recipe in the book is mine, but for the pies, I had to ask my mother and my mother-in-law for their top tips, and then I did a lot of recipe testing. It was my US publisher’s idea to add some additional content in the form of recipes, which was such a great call. I have loved readers sending me photos of them baking the pies after enjoying the book. I challenge anyone to read This Time Next Year and not get a craving for a savory pie by the end of it.

AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?

“My next novel Just Haven’t Met You Yet will be out in November.”

COUSENS: My next novel Just Haven’t Met You Yet will be out in November. It is a romantic comedy about a girl called Laura who picks up the wrong suitcase at the airport. Looking though the contents, she decides this is her meet cute, the owner of the bag must be her soulmate, because they have so many things in common, it just has to be a sign from the universe! I’m hoping fans of This Time Next Year will love it.

About the Author: Sophie Cousens’ television career included producing The Graham Norton Show, Big Brother and Ant and Doc. She is writing full time while living on the British island of Jersey with her husband and two small children. This Time Next Year is her first novel.