For her novel “Writers & Lovers,” set in Boston in the late ’90s, Lily King, “drew on a lot of the emotions I had as a young woman in the ’90s, broke and trying to somehow become a writer,” she said. Her protagonist is 31-year-old Casey Peabody, an aspiring novelist and waitress.
“The sense that the rest of my life, the life I wanted, was out in front of me but I couldn’t reach it. [O]nly afterward did I recognize how hard Casey had to swim upstream against routine, everyday misogyny,” said King, a native of Manchester-by-the-Sea.
The story about the artist’s age-old struggle to say what she needs to say, and about pursuing dreams, struck a chord with readers. A New York Times bestseller, it made the Washington Post’s Top 10 Books of 2020, and a host of other “best” lists.
Count Toni Collette among its fans. The Oscar nominee will make her feature directing debut with a movie based on King’s novel. Collette will also adapt the screenplay with “The Crown” writer Nick Payne.
“Writers & Lovers” is “an empowering story that speaks to me as a woman and an artist,” Collette said in a statement. “It’s ultimately about coming to know and believe in oneself. It inspires me on so many levels.”
Known for indie hit “Little Miss Sunshine,” Collette more recently starred in “Hereditary,” Netflix’s “Unbelievable,” and “Knives Out,” which was filmed in various towns in Massachusetts.
King can’t yet talk movie details, but said “I’m thrilled about the movie and feel it is in fantastically talented hands with Toni Collette.”
“I didn’t ever expect to get so many letters from people saying they’ve started writing or painting or playing music again after reading the book,” said King, who now lives in Portland, Maine, with her family.
That “makes me think maybe this novel about the hardships of a creative life is more of a celebration and an urging on than I realized.”
Boston — all of southern New England, really — figures prominently in the book, with references to Boston streets, and locations, from Comm. Ave. to Dunkin’ Donuts to Walden Pond. At one point, after a trip to Pawtucket, characters in the car call out “all the funny names of Massachusetts towns” they can remember. “Billerica.” “Belchertown.” “Leominster.” Geese, notably those by the Charles River, figure prominently.
King graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1985 and earned her master’s in creative writing from Syracuse in 1991. After time in Spain and California, she lived in Brookline, Jamaica Plain, and Cambridge. “I ended up back in Massachusetts in ’95, broke and lugging around an unfinished novel, much like my character Casey,” she said.
“Writers & Lovers” is King’s fifth novel. Her fourth, “Euphoria,” won both the Kirkus Prize and the New England Book Award in 2014 and was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award.