Book Column: Annabel Monaghan and Her Novel “Nora Goes Off Script”

As I pondered what book to examine for this week’s article, I instantly gained inspiration as I walked into the Colgate Bookstore (3 Utica St.) and saw Annabel Monaghan’s “Nora Goes off Script” sitting centerfold on one of the front tables. Seeing this book in its entirety in this small bookstore in central N.Y., it immediately reminded me of home. This past summer, when I read the novel, I could not put it down. To make it all the more special, the author of the book, Annabel Monaghan, lives in my hometown of Rye, N.Y.; she actively participates in community outreach programs in order to promote her book, which adds a special touch to the reading experience.

The novel centers on a struggling writer and single mother, Nora, who grapples with her separation from her husband. Besides this emotional burden, she struggles with financial issues stemming from her ex-husband’s innate selfishness, prolonging the impact of the detachment. Due to these hardships, she writes her most passionate script yet; it is loved by many, to the point where a film adaptation comes into the picture. To make the film all the more personal, filming takes place at Nora’s charming, colonial style home. Although Nora is skeptical at first to have her home invaded by actors, crew members and well-known directors with all of the debts she has accumulated from her husband, she decides to take up the opportunity. 

Soon after filming begins, Nora comes in contact with Leo, a hotshot Hollywood actor with an ego that is a little too big for his own good. As he instantly falls in love with the coziness and security of a small-town lifestyle, Leo prolongs his stay, and I’m sure you can assume what happens next.

As I mentioned earlier, the author of this novel lives in my hometown, and she actively participates in community discussions on the novel. Monaghan seems to make herself available to anyone that wishes to speak with her. She even hosted two of my friends as interns and gave them insight into her book writing process. I was lucky enough to get in touch with Monaghan, and ask her a few questions that I believe readers would love to know about her perspective on the novel.


ME: What was your inspiration (if any) for writing Nora Goes Off Script?

AM: I was stuck in bed watching a lot of romance movies on the Hallmark Channel, when I started to wonder about the people who write them. I wondered if they were super romantic people or if they were cynics who think love stories are all the same. I wondered what it would be like to be churning these scripts out year after year if you were stuck in a loveless marriage. And then I wondered what would happen if that writer fell in love for real.


ME: What part of the book was the most difficult for you to write? What part of the book was the most fun part to write?

AM: I think the hardest part was figuring out how it was going to resolve. I don’t do a lot of planning when I write a book, I just start and see where the characters take me. While this is very fun, it is also a little scary – flying around and not knowing how to land the plane. I was so relieved when I’d written enough to know how it was all going to come together.

The most fun part was writing Leo because he’s so foreign to me. I’ve never been famous, no one waits on me, and it’s been decades since I could luxuriate in my own schedule. It was fun to get inside his head and be sort of entitled and casual and then lead him down a different path and show him the things that mean a lot to me. I liked taking The Sexiest Man Alive to the Stop and Save, just to see what would happen.


ME: If you could cast Nora and Leo as any known actors or actresses today, who would you choose?

AM: I’d pick Leslie Mann and Mathew McConaughey. But I admit I am not good at this game.


ME: Do you relate to Nora (or any of the characters), and if so, in what sense?

AM: Nora and I are both writers, of course, and I gave her my schedule: wake, kids, run, write, nap, kids, dinner, Wheel of Fortune, wine, bed. But other than that we don’t have much in common. I think I relate most to Arthur, as he grew out of my own childhood experiences of being a little kid and thinking it was on me to fix my family.


ME: If you could meet Nora, what advice would you give her?

AM:I’d tell her to keep up the good work and keep relying on her own mind and talent to make things happen. I really grew to love how self-reliant she was and how she used her voice and her life experience to create art. I’m so proud of her – she doesn’t need any advice from me.


ME: What is the most important message you would like readers to take away from Nora Goes Off Script?

AM:The world tells us that after thirty a woman’s value starts to fade. She’s seen some life, maybe she’s had some kids and, yikes, men should really turn their eyes to something fresher. To me, that line of thinking is dismissive of both women and men. What if your life experiences made you a stronger partner? What if being a mother increased your capacity to be brave? What if all the things you’ve learned about forgiveness and heartbreak made you more desirable than a starlet? With my whole heart, I believe this to be true.


Interpreting loss, financial struggle and newfound love makes “Nora Goes off Script”  universally relatable to readers, regardless of their background. “Nora Goes off Script” is more than a page-turner; it empowers women by highlighting female successes and potential. Having spoken with Monaghan and read the novel, I cannot recommend this book enough.