Meet Gabi Coatsworth
Gabi Coatsworth was born in Britain and work brought her to America. She’s an award-winning writer and lives in Connecticut in a cottage that’s American on the outside, and English inside. If she’s not writing or traveling, She’ll be in her flower garden, wondering whether to weed or read, and holding a cup of her preferred beverage, strong English Breakfast tea. A Beginner’s Guide to Starting Over (Atmosphere Press 2023) is her first novel, and she’d love to connect with you through her website and social media. She loves to read reviews from readers who like her books, and she’s grateful for each one.
Gabi Coatsworth is also the author of a memoir titled, Love's Journey Home.
Love's Journey Home ~ Synopsis
It had been love at first sight when Gabi and Jay met in Copenhagen long ago. But Jay’s drinking had driven a wedge between them that she could no longer live with, so they were living apart. Gabi was relishing her freedom from worrying about the damage the booze was inflicting on them both. When she returned to his home to take care of Jay after his cancer diagnosis, she never expected to fall in love again.
This honest and romantic memoir doesn’t shy away from the realities of life, but the relationship between two lovers, tested to its ultimate limit by pancreatic cancer, proves that love—and a sense of humor—can conquer anything, even death.
Your heartfelt and relatable memoir, Love's Journey Home, is rich with dialogue that delivers. Effective dialogue is so difficult to write. How did you approach and meet that challenge?
I always include dialogue in my writing, because it makes the story move faster, and encourages readers to keep reading. Like most people, I can’t remember dialogue verbatim, but there are some sentences or phrases that are unforgettable. I use those as the basis for dialogue. What I remember vividly is how a conversation made me feel, and I try to recreate that in the dialogue I write.
Memoirs are tricky to write when living family members are included. How did you navigate that and secure their permission and blessings given the large family you and your late husband shared? What advice can you give your fellow writers of memoir?
I remind people that they’re writing a memoir, not an autobiography, and remind them that their family members will have different memories of the same event, so they shouldn’t let that hold them back. There’s no need to get their work vetted by the family – the truth is that most of them won’t read it!
A Beginner's Guide to Starting Over ~ Synopsis
It’s time for widow Molly Stevenson to stand on her own two feet. With blind dates, a needy ghost, and her small-town bookstore in trouble, she’s going to need all her inner strength to prevent another unhappy ending.
Forty-something Molly can’t bear to remove her wedding band. Still grieving the death of her beloved husband, the last thing she needs is her sleazy landlord raising the rent to drive her bookshop out of business. And she doesn’t need a new man, either, no matter what her friends say.
Now this mild-mannered indie bookstore owner must find the inner strength to turn the page to a brand-new chapter.
So, she’s relieved when the ghost of her husband arrives claiming he’s there to help. But is he? Seems he has some issues of his own.
With a little nudge from beyond the grave, the mild-mannered bibliophile hatches a plan to revitalize her boutique and keep the doors open. But with everyone, including her spectral spouse, insisting she start dating again, Molly isn’t sure what’s worse—the dates she meets online or the love of her life trying to find her a new man—who’s not quite as good as him.
Can Molly find the courage to fight for herself?
Love's Journey Home, is a realistic view of your life at that time. You discuss the challenges of blended families, how your husband’s alcoholism became the mistress in your marriage, then in the midst of starting over and settling into life as a single woman of a certain age, your late husband receives a fatal cancer diagnosis. Did the impact of these experiences prepare you to write, A Beginner's Guide to Starting Over? And what similarities or overlap if any will readers find between your memoir and your debut novel?
There is definitely a connection between the two books. After I was widowed, it wasn’t long before my friends began to ask me when I would start dating. I usually tell them what I told my husband, when he suggested I should marry again after he died, “Men are such hard work!” The other question that came up was what did I believe happened to people after they die, if I didn’t believe in Heaven? The real answer is that I think people live on within us, and we carry them with us forever. I’m not the only person I know who still talks to a dead spouse.
A Beginner’s Guide to Starting Over started as a way of answering both questions. In it, Molly still talks to her dead husband, Simon, but it isn’t until she’s beginning to consider dating again that he shows up in person to tell her that he’s going to help her find a replacement who’s not as good as him, but will do. He turns out to be terrible at choosing!
What prompted you to make the leap from memoir to fiction?
I already had a couple of terrible novels sitting in a drawer and had written many short stories, so while I was waiting for the memoir to come back from my editor, I began this novel.
Widows learn - either suddenly from an accident or incident, or over the course of an illness - that a husband is mortal, but the love you share is eternal. In your memoir, Love's Journey Home, we learn that your beloved Jay's death was from a slow battle with cancer. In your novel, A Beginner's Guide to Starting Over, your protagonist Molly lost her husband suddenly and unexpectedly to a cardiac event. How and why did you decide to write Molly's circumstances different from your own defining moment?
I didn’t want to revisit the difficult circumstances of Jay’s illness – it would have put a completely different slant on the novel, which you might call light entertainment. It’s humorous and poignant in places too. Another consideration was that people who lose someone they love unexpectedly often have that sense of unfinished business. I wanted Molly to deal with that, so the book begins three years after Simon’s death.
You write Molly as a 49-year-old widow with college-age children, self-aware, and conscious of her upcoming "big birthday." This is a radical and, dare we say, welcome departure from the older, 80-something widows we typically meet in literature, or the heroines of suspense in contemporary fiction who are 30-something, often childless, and ripe with little baggage for a second try at love. In reality, the average age of a widow in the United States is 59. How did you come to write such a realistic and contemporary widow?
I think that no matter what their age, the emotions widows feel don’t vary very much, though they may manifest themselves in different ways. Perhaps there might be a sense of life’s unfairness if one is younger, but the pain of loss is both unique and universal. What makes the difference is the person’s response to it. Molly has been stuck, though she’s tried to move on, and it takes some crises to help her figure out what she wants going forward.
The gay characters in A Beginner's Guide to Starting Over are not token figures. Here, too, your novel is groundbreaking. Molly transitions to a successful solo senior with grace and lots of support from her entrepreneurial girlfriends, devoted associates, and fellow merchants - all of whom are written with genuine affection and camaraderie. None are ornamental or remotely stereotypical. How did this come to be?
I may have idealized this somewhat, but I have many different friends, and I suspect all my characters (male and female) have a little of me and a little of them. When I wrote Luke as the former owner of the bookstore, for example, I modeled him on a friend of mine (who also read the book after I’d finished, to make sure I hadn’t made any faux pas.) He provided me with the details of my character’s Thanksgiving party, among other things. As I kept writing, I began to feel that he deserved a relationship too, and suddenly, I had another character with possibilities.
You reference Hemingway and Dickens in your novel. Do you have a favorite author who inspired you to write?
I never found Hemingway inspiring, but the cat who bears his name in the book is something of a tough guy when he first shows up on Molly’s doorstep in a thunderstorm. He reminded me of the famous writer, and I imagined Molly would name her cat after a literary figure, because she loves books.
As for me, I read in many genres, from classics to romance, humor, mystery, and historical novels. I think if anyone inspired me, it might have been Jo March, from Little Women, who kept pursuing her dream of being a writer against all odds.
Molly is written as the relatively new owner of a beloved neighborhood bookstore. How did you decide to have her cut her teeth as a middle-aged businesswoman in this charming but challenging retail setting?
I love bookstores and have always thought that owning one would be the most amazing thing. I think the book represents my dream, though in writing it, I found out that running a bookshop involves much more than I’d realized.
Molly's wit accounts for the optimism that runs throughout the novel, even in the gloomy moments faced by widows in the process of reinvention. Her cat is named Hemingway. She views her daughters' punctuality in being all packed, their suitcases ready for loading at the curb with "amazement." "A Christmas miracle." How is the novel playing in England with all the layers of delicious British-style repartee?
I’m always apt to lighten a serious moment with a little humor, and the English readers who’ve been in touch seem to appreciate it. My mother brought me up to believe that tea and a sense of humor can help deal with most disasters – I think I must have absorbed that outlook!
Whom do you trust for objective feedback and constructive criticism of your work?
I have some wonderful writer friends whom I trust to tell me the truth about my work. Not only that, if something’s not working, they help me brainstorm solutions, which is a gift. I give my final draft to people whom I don’t know, because they have no idea what I’m trying to say, and if they don’t get it, it needs fixing!
The publishing industry is difficult to break into as is drafting a book and completing it. You published two books in two years which is amazing. What was that experience like in terms of time management, deadlines, keeping the ideas flowing, and accomplishing edits and rewrites? What advice would you give aspiring authors?
They were published a year apart, but they’d been in the making for much longer than that. I began my memoir six years before it came out, and the novel took about four years from start to finish. I found it helpful to have more than one project on the go, because if I was stalled on one, or waiting for someone’s input, I always had a second book to focus on.
I prefer to work to deadlines, and even if I don’t have any exterior ones, I’ll often set them for myself. They keep me moving forward!
Today authors have more publishing options than they did in the past. You chose Atmosphere Press to publish your debut novel, A Beginner's Guide to Starting Over. Aspiring authors, who may wish to use this publishing route, would love to know what it was like to work with a hybrid book publisher. Please share a few details about this experience.
A hybrid publisher is a company you pay to do all the things that you don’t have time to learn how to do. Things like formatting an eBook and a paper version, designing the cover, and making the book available not just on Amazon, but in a lot of other places, like Barnes and Noble, and even Target. With a traditional publisher, you have no control over how the book ends up – sometimes they even change the title! My hybrid publisher was happy to take all my input and keep working on the book until I was happy with it. They organized the distribution of my audiobook, and handled some promotions I asked them to do. And they did it in much less time than a traditional publisher. All in all, I was very happy with them and have recommended them to many other authors.
You’ve been involved with Writers’ Rendezvous, a Westport-based writing group. How valuable is this group to you in your writing career? Would you recommend that aspiring authors join a writing group?
I started the monthly Writers Rendezvous in response to a request from our local bookstore to come up with a series of events for writers. It seemed to me that writing was such a solitary business that having somewhere to get together and meet other writers might be a positive thing, which it turned out to be. I love having a community of writers around me – we support each other in many ways. Life during the pandemic would have been almost impossible without this regular contact (via Zoom) with my writing friends.
Rumor has it your third novel is underway, picking up with "Miss Elaine," the nearly 90-year-old firecracker in miniskirts who is a customer in the Book Boutique in A Beginner's Guide to Starting Over. How fun and meaningful to be writing again about gutsy women of a certain age! Can you tell us more?
I don’t want to give away too much – suffice it to say that her age means that Elaine has led a long life with many ups and downs along the way. In fact, the novel has become a historical one, which is great fun to write. In keeping with my custom of having two books ongoing, I have another novel set in the same little Connecticut town, but based in the library. Both books feature old and new characters who keep showing up. I’ve no idea where they come from, but I love writing about them!
Gabi Coatsworth will be one of the authors featured at the Connecticut Book Festival.
October 7, 2023
West Hartford Meeting & Conference Center
50 S. Main Street
West Hartford, CT 06107.
To contact Gabi Coatsworth or purchase her books:
Journey Home, came out in 2022. Find out more here.
Monthly Meetup for Writers: Writers' Rendezvous (leader)
Monthly Open Mic Meetup: WritersMic Rendezvous