Before my husband died, he used to ask me why I write. He was an academic himself, with 26 published books to his name, so we had much to discuss about writing and creativity. It was a conversation made more interesting by the fact that he was writing military history and I was writing romantic comedy, almost as if we were a RomCom trope in ourselves.
I only wish I could have his opinion on The Last Love Note. This is the novel I wrote in the wake of his death – an attempt to articulate the magnitude of my loss, and a life-affirming commitment to hope. It’s a legacy of the love we shared, fictionalised into the story of a young widow processing her husband’s death while opening her heart to someone new.
This week, I met with the selection panel for the Target Book Club in Minnesota. We were celebrating their choice of my novel as their book club pick of the month. During our chat, I was asked which review or critique has meant the most to me so far. Was it the Washington Post selecting the book for a ‘top reads’ article? Was it the vote of confidence in the novel being selected for both the Book of the Month club and Target? Was it the endorsements from superstar bestsellers in the genre, Katherine Center and Paige Toon, or some other piece of critical acclaim?
As writers we often look to industry measures of success. Bestseller lists, online rankings, sales figures, film and TV interest. When you’re making a career out of your words, those things can be important, but they’re not what sprang to mind in answer to this question.
I mentioned the high school senior from Illinois, who was so taken by the novel she pulled together a 54-song, Taylor-Swift heavy Spotify playlist to listen to while reading it. She forgot to study for her AP stats and bio tests because she was so deep into the book, into the early hours and I offered to write a note for her teachers.
It’s the widow, who may be a decade or two older than me, who I met at the Miami book fair and who shared photos of her beloved husband. We’re corresponding still, while I await her report about her first date with someone new.
It’s the kid at the most disadvantaged school in my home city in Canberra, Australia who made me sign his homework diary after a book talk because he’d never met an author before or admitted aloud that he’s a writer too. (I made him sign his name on a piece of paper for me in return.)
It’s the woman I met at a book event who lost her partner five weeks ago and wanted to know she would be okay. It’s the reader who drove 10 hours to meet me in Lexington, Kentucky, because her own father died from a heart attack when she was twelve and this novel reflects the experience of her mother. I told her I look to her as evidence that my son, who was only five when his father died, will still thrive.
It’s the sister of a recent widow who is using the book to help her know how to help her sibling through her loss. It’s the Uber driver who wants to buy a copy to place on his mother’s grave because this is exactly the kind of book she would have loved.
It’s the mother in Australia who quoted a passage from the book in a commemorative post about her son’s death, three years on. It’s the woman handling the roving microphone during a panel discussion at a book festival in Brisbane, who was first in line to tell me how much this story means to her as she lost not one, but two husbands…
It’s everyone crying in queues at book signings or in Instagram reels or on TikTok and readers sending me blow-by-blow updates as they read the book, highlighting the passages that hit home the hardest.
There are enquiries from various Hollywood producers right now. There are glittering celebrations in New York offices for Book of the Month club and in Minneapolis skyscrapers for Target. There is a 22-week wait to borrow the book from the New York Public Library, where I started writing it in my lowest moments of grief several years ago, and where I was privileged to speak two weeks ago, in a cathartic, full-circle, fairytale moment I’ll never forget. But when I look back on this year, it’s the personal interactions that will fill my cup.
I wrote this novel partly to heal myself, but also to help others through loss. Having spent almost a year in the company of Australian readers and a month in the company of readers in the US, hugging people, crying, sharing stories of loss online at 2am, I’ve realised it’s doing exactly what I’d dearly hoped. It’s bringing grief further into the room in a way that we can chat about openly and constructively, without running from loss as if it’s contagious. It’s packaging deep emotion into a Richard-Curis-esque romantic comedy so that it’s accessible – as one reviewer said, readers’ emotions are cushioned – a sad story told through a lens of light.
The reality is, if you love someone, you will lose someone. This pain and this hope isn’t just mine. It isn’t only for the people who’ve already experienced it. It’s universal.
Jeff. This is why I write.
This is my last love note to you.