SpareRoom meets Beth O'Leary, author of "The Flatshare"
Beth O'Leary's best selling 2019 novel The Flatshare is now a six part TV series starring Jessica Brown Findlay and Anthony Welsh on Paramount+... and we can't wait to watch it!
The plot follows Tiffy and Leon who share a flat but have never met. Leon works nights and Tiffy works during the day, so they share both flat and bed without having to see each other. And then their worlds eventually collide...
The novel is fresh, funny and reads like a cross between Bridget Jones and a Richard Curtis rom-com. We loved it, and we're pretty sure you will too.
But what about the woman behind the words? We interviewed Beth herself in 2019 to hear about her own experiences of flatsharing, and find out what inspired the novel...
So first of all, what setup were you in when you flatshared yourself?
I'd just got my first full-time job in London and I was starting out in the city. It was a given that I'd flatshare – it was just what everyone seemed to do when they moved to London. I decided to start looking for a flat with a close friend from university who was living in London already; her lease was just coming to an end so she was free to move. As we didn't know anyone else in London who was looking, we decided to hunt as a two.
Did any experiences from flatsharing inspire parts of the book?
Oh definitely! The toilet mushrooms mentioned in the second paragraph of the book are there to amuse my old flatmate because it’s something we battled with in our flat (seriously: we had a collection of large yellow mushrooms growing behind the toilet...)
In the book, Tiffy really struggles to find a flat that she can afford, and that’s what we found when we were looking, too, so that was definitely inspired by my own experiences.
What were your funniest experiences from flatsharing?
I once locked my flatmate inside our flat on my way out to work. We obviously both had keys, but hers couldn’t unlock the front door from the inside – one of the many oddities of that flat! We managed to work around it, mainly because I always left before her in the mornings, but one day I absent-mindedly locked the door as I left the house. She had to call her work and explain that she couldn’t come in to the office until I was able to come back at lunchtime and let her out! It’s funny now, but at the time I felt terrible.
Do you have any dramatic tales or challenging moments to share?
That period of life was full of challenging moments and dramatic tales! The toughest time, though, was when our flat was broken into – my flatmate was there on her own that week, and it must have been really frightening when she came home to find the place totally trashed.
The week after the break-in I had a real scare when I got home from work: the front door was ajar. I was sure the burglars had come back. But there was nobody in the flat (I eventually concluded, after grabbing a broom from by the front door and brandishing it as I scuttled fearfully from room to room). It eventually transpired that the handyman who had come to fix the broken lock had left the door ajar so it could all dry nicely! I was pretty furious about that...
Do you ever miss your flatshare now?
Absolutely. Living together as just a two really brought me and my friend closer, and now she’s almost like family – when you spend that much time with someone, you totally let your guard down and are able to be yourself. Now we live in different cities, and though we try and meet up as often as we can, it’s just not the same.
Tiffy and Leon have a very unique living situation. What inspired this dynamic as a writer – do you know anyone who shares a room?
The inspiration for Tiffy and Leon’s living situation came from moving in with my boyfriend, who is a junior doctor. We had been long-distance for three years, and now we were finally living together – but he was working lots of night shifts, which meant that even though we were in the same house, we saw less of each other than ever. I would get out of bed and go to work, and literally minutes later he would get back from work and get into the bed again! A friend of mine pointed out that my boyfriend could have rented out his flat when he wasn’t there if he didn’t live with me, and it struck me as an interesting starting point from a novel. What would happen if a night-shift worker did rent out their room to someone they didn’t know, and two strangers shared a bed, but never met?
The concept of domestic clues in the book is really interesting – i.e. the unowned coffee cups. Did you notice any of these when flatsharing/has this come from personal experience?
When my boyfriend was working nights, the little clues he’d leave around the house were often the small ways I could tell how he was. As much as you can WhatsApp each other through the day, you just can’t catch up properly when you’re living like that, so you do end up finding other ways to communicate. I’d notice how many coffees he’d had by looking at the mugs by the sink – that would tell me how tired he was. If his trainers were on the doormat, that meant he’d managed to find time for a quick run before he went to bed. The saddest thing would be if I found his packed lunch left behind in the fridge, a sure sign that it was going to be a particularly difficult night shift…
Did the housing crisis serve as inspiration for the book, or Tiffy and Leon's unique situation?
I suppose it did, actually, though I never consciously thought about tackling the housing crisis, just about reflecting the reality of life as a skint twenty-something in the city. It didn’t strike me as at all implausible that two people would share a one-bed flat even if they were strangers, because I knew so many people who were desperate to find an affordable place to live in London...