Review & Author Interview: One by Jennifer L. Cahill - Contemporary fiction with a loving dose of reality

Friday, 31 May 2019

One? by Jennifer L. Cahill
Released: 21st June 2018
Published by: Clink Street Publishing
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Author
Pages: 356
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
One? is the first book in a contemporary fiction trilogy, looking at finding 'the one' in the modern world and how relationship models are shifting in the most innovative period in living history.

The story starts in 2005, and spans ten years following the characters from the challenges of their twenties into their thirties. It's London in the mid-noughties before Facebook, iPhones and ubiquitous wifi. Zara has just moved to London for her first real job and struggles to find her feet in a big city with no instruction manual. Penelope works night and day in an investment bank with little or no time for love.

At twenty-eight she is positively ancient as far as her mother is concerned and the pressure is on for her to settle down as the big 3-0 is looming. Charlie spends night and day with his band who are constantly teetering on the verge of greatness. Richard has relocated to London from his castle in Scotland in search of the one, and Alyx is barely in one place long enough to hold down a relationship let alone think about the future.

One? follows the highs and lows of a group of twenty-somethings living in leafy SW4.
 Jennifer L. Cahill has written a story which could resonate with any twenty-something as they navigate this important decade where we seem to be told that 'everything in life is supposed to come together'; from finding your feet in a full-time job to entering a serious relationship. Though at first glance 'One?' sounds like a romance novel, I was so glad to find that it was so much more. It's refreshing to find a contemporary read which is both fun and real enough to be able to see some of yourself in the characters - whether it is high-flying Penelope with more to her than meets the eye, or Zara who is facing the challenges of moving to a new city and making long-lasting friendships. Though set predominately in London, I was intrigued by the hint of some Australian influence later on in the book (though we'll see how that comes along in the next one!).

Jennifer has kindly stopped by on the blog to answer some of my questions about the book and her writing process...

One is set in the early 2000s, a time where Facebook messenger was non-existent and Tinder still years away. What made you decide to set the story at that time?

I wrote the story at that time, with a view to capturing the essence of the place and time, and the technological changes. Little did I know that our lives were about to be taken over by all of these apps etc. It would be challenging to write the same story now, based back then. Even re-reading it I was surprised at how life has changed so much in just over ten years. I guess I could sense the changes happening at the time, but obviously I had no idea how big they were going to be. Nobody could have predicted how huge Facebook, Twitter etc. were going to be, and of course how the iPhone has changed the way we connect. My day job is very technology/innovation/future focused, so I think that point of view or mindset permeates everything that I do. I also think there is tremendous value in looking back and tracking the journey from less technology, to a more technological existence. We are so busy dealing with constant change, that we don’t take the time to look at the broader themes/effects on relationships/careers/daily life. I’m particularly looking at how the role of women has shifted because technology is levelling the playing field and more women are working than ever before, and the impact that this is having on relationship models in the modern world.

It was great to see the characters in the book go into more than just their love lives, but also what life is like after university and navigating career changes, alongside moving out of home. What do you think some of the biggest questions young people are asking themselves in their early twenties?

I think that people in their twenties must be asking themselves questions around what their career might be. New careers and University courses keep popping up all over the place, so I think the choice is probably a bit ovrwhelming. I think that people in their early twenties now have only ever lived in a world of constant change, and I think that makes them well prepared for the road ahead. There is tremendous pressure on them to succeed, but there are also more opportunities and less limits than ever before. If you are good at what you do, you can really succeed particularly as a developer, or a YouTuber/Influencer. In the past nobody would have given you your own channel to potentially reach millions for free.

From a relationship point of view, I’m looking at how the relationship models are shifting and changing to fit into the modern world. So I’m wondering if this is something that twenty somethings are thinking about. I also think the constant ’selfie pressure’ is an absolute nightmare for people at that age. Navigating relationships is hard enough without the constant pressure to look amazing for selfies, and the fact that these can be posted online. I also think this kind of thing does put a lot of pressure on finding ’the one’, surely we don’t all have to look like super models 24/7 to find love do we? Dating apps can sometimes add a transactional flavour to dating. I’m hoping that people in their twenties are questioning this, rather than just accepting that this is the way it is, and that this is the way it will always be.

The environment and sustainability are front and centre at the moment, so I definitely think that this is something that people in their twenties now are justifiably concerned about, and questioning the impact the way we live is having on their future.

Without giving too much away, is there a favourite moment or quote from the book which you'd like to share?

This is my favourite quote that doesn’t give anything away. I think this little nugget distils the story into one sentence. ‘I always think, that if I’m going to meet him, I’m definitely going to meet him in London. It’s one of the most exciting cities in the world..’ ‘One?’ p.40. Here Penelope is musing about finding ’the one’.
As a debut novelist, what were some of the biggest challenges and exciting milestones when writing One?

One of the most exciting things about writing ‘One?' was the ‘aha moment’ when I realised that I’m a writer. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I have a career as a change specialist and I wish someone had told me sooner that I was a writer. We don’t have any writers in the family, if we had, they definitely would have spotted it sooner. It was the moment that I finally knew what I was supposed to be when I grew up. The minute I started writing life turned into an adventure, all of a sudden everything around me became potential inspiration, and that is a very exciting way to live.

The main challenges are finding the time to do it, you need to take a good chunk of time off work to get the book into production. That is something that writers need to budget for both in terms of time and money. Another challenge is managing your sensitivity, or ‘walking the sensitivity tightrope’ as I call it (see the video below), so that you don’t get blocked. On one hand you need to be sensitive to be a writer, it’s part of the job, but then you also need to have the courage to be able to deal with the media, critics, and you have to put yourself out there on Twitter, YouTube, live Radio etc.

I loved the vivid settings across London (and even Paris in some parts!) which captured the bustle of city living and all the chance meetings which come with it. Were any of the places the characters visited or experiences they had inspired by your own life?

As a contemporary fiction writer I try to capture the essence of a place and time in my books. London, and Clapham in particular, were definitely my main inspiration to write. I just thought that London, although a challenging city, is ultimately one of the most amazing cities in the world. I also couldn’t believe that when I arrived in Clapham I was surrounded by like-minded people, from all over the world, all in their first or second jobs, and pretty much everyone was in their twenties. It’s also particularly amazing in the summer with lots of festivals, open air cinemas and events on Clapham Common. There seems to be no need to leave Clapham at the weekends if you live there. I do feel that London is as much a character in the books as the actual characters. It’s a key catalyst for the changes that they go through, and it’s a key connector as the most amazing people are drawn to live and work in London. It was also important for me to include Paris and New York, as these places are so easily accessible from London. I have personal experience of all of the places that I write about. It’s usually the place, and actually the house that starts the book off, and the story takes off from there.

What's the best piece of advice you'd pass on to other twenty-somethings who, like the characters in One, are in that in-between phase of embracing the independence and opportunities which adulthood bring?

I have three main pieces of advice for people who are in that in-between phase:

I would tell them to have faith in their own abilities and to ‘run their own race’. We live in a world where people are constantly comparing themselves to each other, selfies, instagram, facebook etc. and these online versions are not always telling the whole story. You are better off owning and celebrating your uniqueness as you only have one life to live.

I also think that self awareness is really important. There are personality tests like Myers Briggs that can be very insightful, and can put you on the right career path. Some of the most interesting people don’t fit into a regular mould, and as the world is changing, new careers are popping up all over the place. They need to be open to these possibilities, and the concept that maybe their career hasn’t been invented yet.

I would also advise people at that age to see every relationship as a learning experience, rather than ask themselves ‘is this the one?’. In that in-between phase, it’s better to ask yourself ‘What is this person teaching me?' Or ‘What am I learning about myself?’. When ’the one’ comes along, they’ll know all about it, so I would advise them not to worry about it too much at that age.

Since One was released, could you give us a glimpse into any other writing projects you're currently working on?

Absolutely. ’Two?’is almost finished. Thankfully I wrote that at the time (mid to late 2000s) so I don’t have to travel back in time too much. That will be coming out in early 2020. I’m also working on ’Three’ simultaneously, but my priority is to get ’Two’ finished. I have another couple of projects going, but my main focus is completing the trilogy, as I don’t want people to have to wait too long to find out what happens.

About the author

I write contemporary fiction and try to capture the essence of a place and time in my books. Above all, my aim is to make you laugh, and hopefully learn a little, as you recognise yourself, your friends and your exes in my books. I love hearing from my readers, and you can contact me via my website, or @JLCAuthor on Twitter.

Waiting on Wednesday: This is How We Change the Ending

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly prompt hosted by Breaking the Spine where the participants tell their readers about an upcoming release they are looking forward to. This week I've picked This is How We Change the Ending, the latest YA novel released by prolific Aussie author Vikki Wakefield.

I have questions I’ve never asked. Worries I’ve never shared. Thoughts that circle and collide and die screaming because they never make it outside my head. Stuff like that, if you let it go—it’s a survival risk.

Sixteen-year-old Nate McKee is doing his best to be invisible. He’s worried about a lot of things—how his dad treats Nance and his twin half-brothers; the hydro crop in his bedroom; his reckless friend, Merrick. Nate hangs out at the local youth centre and fills his notebooks with things he can’t say.

But when some of his pages are stolen, and his words are graffitied at the centre, Nate realises he has allies. He might be able to make a difference, change his life, and claim his future. Or can he?

This is How We Change the Ending is raw and real, funny and heartbreaking—a story about what it takes to fight back when you’re not a hero.

New books on the #LoveOzYA scene are always an exciting addition to my shelves, and Vikki Wakefield's novels always speak straight to the themes of family, belonging and class relationships.

Releasing 3rd September 2019 by Text Publishing

Waiting on Wednesday: Expectation

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly prompt hosted by Breaking the Spine where the participants tell their readers about an upcoming release they are looking forward to. This week I've picked Expectation by Anna Hope, a coming-of-age novel about female friendship and managing the highs and lows which come with the shift into adulthood. 

Hannah, Cate and Lissa are young, vibrant and inseparable.

Living on the edge of a common in East London, their shared world is ablaze with art and activism, romance and revelry – and the promise of everything to come.

They are electric.
They are the best of friends.
Ten years on, they are not where they hoped to be.

Amidst flailing careers and faltering marriages, each hungers for what the others have.

And each wrestles with the same question: what does it take to lead a meaningful life?

I've seen this one described as something similar to a Sally Rooney novel (another author on my must-read list!), but what really has grabbed me with Expectation is the focus on the time in our lives where the future is at its brightest and the only thing left to do is see whether it retains the glow as the years go on. Stay tuned for a review on this book after its release!

Releasing July 2019 from Doubleday