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Thursday 24 November 2016

✉ The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets - Sophie Hannah

Today author takes over our blog to tell us about The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets (first published 1 February 2008, this reissue edition , Witness Impulse, 336 pages), a collection of Suspenseful Short Stories.

'Hannah's comic gift for unraveling the relationship maze makes the complexities of domestic life interesting again. As Sophie Hannah uncovers the dark obsessions and strange longings behind the most ordinary relationships, everyday life will never seem quite the same again.' The Independent

'The author brings a wealth of psychological and literary subtlety to bear... Smart and disarmingly unnerving.' Daily Mail

'Hannah has a keen ear for her characters' foibles, snobberies and hypocrisies, and the observation remains acute throughout.' The Observer

|| Synopsis || Teaser: KCR Preview || Author Guest Post || About the Author || Giveaway & Tour Stops ||

Everybody has their secrets...

In the title story of The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets, the narrator finds herself working in the laundry of a hotel in an unglamorous English town, after being fired from her job as director of a literature festival. (Her being fired was the result of a romantic obsession that she took too far, in a way that ended up inconveniencing the festival's star guest, Ian McEwan - but that's an anecdote for another blog post!)

Ian McEwan

My narrator is distraught to have lost her former life, and cannot bear the hotel laundry or her terrible boss, so she fantasises about escape. She is a literary sort, so naturally her fantasy involves a book. As the owner of a shameful secret (the one involving Ian McEwan), she wonders: what humiliating or guilty secrets do other people have that they would hide at any cost? Suddenly, she has a brilliant idea: she decides she’s going to publish a book. It will be called The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets and she will be its editor. Her plan is to invite people – complete strangers – to send her their secrets anonymously, to be published in the biggest anthology of secrets the world has ever known. What a fantastic idea! It will sell in huge numbers! As its editor, she will end up far more famous than Ian McEwan – and only then will she feel vindicated.

As research for my short story, in the summer of 2004, I asked almost everyone I met: if someone tried to put together an anthology of secrets in real life, would you send one in, if you were sure your anonymity was secure and no one would ever know the secret was yours? These were some of the answers I got:
  1. If I’m anonymous and don’t reveal my identity, then how can they pay me? And if I’m not getting paid, why would I give the editor of this book my secret or, for that matter, anything else?
  2. No way – a secret’s a secret. I’m not crazy. Why would I send my deepest, darkest secret to a stranger, to be read by lots of other strangers?
  3. But…this would just never happen. Yeah, I know it’s a hypothetical question, but I mean…I just can’t imagine it because it wouldn’t happen, not in a million years. No one would want to edit, read, or publish a book like that. Why would I want to read about lots of secrets when I don’t even know whose they are?

    The only answer I didn’t get was the one I’d have given if anyone had asked me the same question:
  4. An anthology of everybody’s secrets? Oh, wow! That sounds like literally the best thing ever! Count me in. Now, how many secrets can I send? Would ten be too many? I can’t wait to see what other people keep secret! This is sure to be my book of the decade!
One secret I was keeping from everyone I knew at the time was this: during the course of writing the story, I’d become convinced that such an anthology would be an amazing thing, and that it ought to happen. The ‘research for a short story’ line that I kept trotting out was completely true…but it wasn’t the whole story. Despite not having been fired, not working in a horrible hotel laundry, and not having alienated Ian McEwan, I was seriously wondering: could such a book work? Was there an appetite for it? Or was I just weird, a busy-body, and literally the only person on the planet who’d read an anthology of strangers’ secrets?

Nancy Friday I did more market research, asked more people, gathered more data. I pointed out that Nancy Friday’s anthologies of sexual fantasies had been well-received and popular, and asked if people weren’t almost as interested in secrets as they were in sex. No, I was told - everybody is obsessed with sex, but the secrets of strangers? Who cares?! I did not encounter one single human being, aside from myself, who thought an anthology of secrets was a good idea. This didn’t matter for my short story – my narrator was supposed to be rather unhinged, after all – but it was enough to put me off my possible plan to do the same thing in real life. In the story, the heroine makes a cardboard box, writes ‘Leave your secrets here’ on its side, and places it on the hotel’s reception desk. Disaster soon ensues…as everyone I knew had assured me it would if ever one attempted such an eccentric and ill-judged enterprise.

Imagine my surprise when, several years later, I came across the PostSecret project. I won’t describe this in too much detail – that would be far too painful for me – but you can easily find it online. There are books, there’s a website, there’s a Twitter account with 500,000 followers – all based on people sending in their secrets anonymously. On Amazon, it’s described as ‘the project that captured a nation’s imagination’. All of which means that when Frank Warren had the idea that my narrator had, and that I had in the summer of 2004, he didn’t allow anyone to talk him out of it. He listened to his heart, went ahead and did it, and it was a huge success. Good on him! I keep meaning to reward him by sending him huge sacks full of all my secrets, but I’ve been too busy up to now.

I can’t complain, I suppose. The short story I ended up writing is still one of my favourite things I’ve ever written. Ian McEwan, as far as I know, doesn’t think I’m unhinged. And I learned a valuable lesson: never let someone tell you your brilliant idea is not brilliant, because it damn well is!

Sophie Hannah

The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets
Available NOW!

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