Dawn O'Porter talks lockdown, grief and her new book 'Life In Pieces'

Digital Features Editor Jenny Proudfoot sits down with Dawn for MC Book Club to talk about her new book, Life In Pieces, or as she calls it her 'accidental memoir'...

Digital Features Editor Jenny Proudfoot sits down with Dawn for MC Book Club to talk about her new book, Life In Pieces, or as she calls it her 'accidental memoir'...

2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, with COVID-19 imposing restrictions and confining us to our homes, uniting us all in a rollercoaster of emotion, contemplation and self-discovery.

This is something that bestselling author Dawn O'Porter writes about in her new book, Life in Pieces: Thoughts from a year that changed us all.

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Straying from her usual territory of fiction, Dawn's new release is a memoir, made up of diary entries from her lockdown experience and structured into themed essays.

'I keep calling it my accidental memoir because honestly if you had told me in January that I was going to write a book about my life this year, there’s no way I would have believed you,' Dawn told Features Editor Jenny Proudfoot over a sit-down for MC Book Club this week. 'I swore I would never write any sort of memoir...but something about this year just cracked me open in ways of thinking "If we all don’t share our experiences while we’re locked away then we’ll go mad."'

Dawn's experience of lockdown was a unique one. After entering her 41st year in January with high hopes for a decade of colourful kaftans and weed gummies, Dawn lost her close friend Caroline Flack in February, before moving immediately into lockdown in LA with Hollywood actor husband Chris O'Dowd and their two young sons, Valentine and Art.

While stepping up as parent, processing grief and exploring life meanings, Dawn wrote down her feelings and musings each day, with those very frank words now making up Life in Pieces, one of 2020's top books to read.

What should you expect? Tears, belly laughs, a lot of talk about food, midday Margaritas and to come out the other side wanting Dawn O'Porter to be your best friend.

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BUY NOW: Life in Pieces by Dawn O'Porter

Head to the Marie Claire UK Instagram to watch Jenny and Dawn's IGTV virtual chat about Life in Pieces in full, but here are some of Dawn's takeaway musings from the interview...

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On how Life in Pieces came about...

'I set up a blog at the beginning of the year. I found it quite scary because it’s a subscription blog, so people have to pay to read it - and I knew that was a fair transaction if I produced work. But as soon as I set it up, I was like "I don’t know what to talk about! It’s so much pressure!" Then, lockdown started. What I learnt about myself is that I have to write. It’s not just something for my job, I have to do it anyway, I have to get stuff out on paper. It’s something that I need emotionally. We were potty training Valentine, I was cooking loads of meals, I was sad, I was happy, I was missing people, I was angry at the world, and so I wrote it all down in my phone and then after the kids went to bed at night, I would pour a huge glass of wine and write it all into a blog and I pretty much wrote a diary that I posted every day for the first three months, and then a little more sporadically until July. There was this huge body of work and that’s when my publisher said that if I wanted we could turn this into a book.'

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On what we will all take from lockdown...

'I think it’s really difficult for us to see what the good is going to be that comes out of COVID. I don’t have the answers to what that is, but it’s not going to be all bad. There’s so much bad - the deaths, the illness, the missing family, the businesses and jobs that have been lost - all of that is just going to be so hard, but there is something about the finite lesson that we’re all being taught about in life, of love and the people that we love the most, and taking care and appreciating everything. I think for me personally, I’ve always had this desire to live a huge life, to be known by lots of people, to know lots of people, to spread myself quite thin, and just to get as much as possible from as much of the world as possible, and I think I have pulled back a little bit. I’m focusing more on my family, my immediate friends, on what’s really important to me work-wise, on what work I can take on while still being a great mum - rather than overloading myself so I’m just distracted all the time. I do think we’re learning more about ourselves and there will be positive elements to it but who knows what they are just yet.'

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On writing while grieving...

'I found it really difficult to talk about, but for some reason I could write about it. And, here’s the thing about grief, it’s not a unique experience and that’s what you have to understand when you’re experiencing it. You feel so alone and you feel like your sadness is so consuming, but when you open up about grief, everyone has their own version of it. Even if someone hasn’t lost somebody, the fear of grief is still there. We all have an experience of grief in some way. I’m very protective of Caroline so I don’t really talk about her at all, I only talk about it in terms of the way that I felt, and I couldn’t write about lockdown without adding in grief because it was a huge part of it. People talk about this grief bullet and that’s really what it is. You think you’re OK and then suddenly it hits you in the face, takes you half an hour to get over it and then you crack on a bit - that was what it was like. And the weird thing about 2020 is that so many people across the world are grieving - they’re grieving the life they miss, some people can’t see their families, some people have lost people, some haven’t been able to go to funerals - and it was this weird collective feeling. I don’t know if I would have been so open about my feelings about Caroline dying if I didn’t know that there were lots of people out there who were sad and whose lives had been turned upside down as well. So I think this collective experience of sadness, fear and not knowing what happens next has opened me up and I did take a lot of solace from writing about it.'

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On spirituality in lockdown...

'I got some crystals earlier on in the year - and this is not who I am. Whenever anybody talked about crystals before I was like, "I just cannot believe the feelings that people put behind rocks". Anyway, 2020 dragged that out of me - I now sleep with my crystals under my pillow everyday! And there were so many things that happened this year that I just felt, "How can this not be connected?!" One day, I was having a really sad day about Caroline and I was really struggling. I went outside and these crows were going mad in my garden. This is the only time this has ever happened and I’ve lived in my house for eight years, but the crows were squawking and bomb diving into my garden and then flying up and fighting - there was no way that I couldn’t look at the sky. So I looked up and an airplane had written the words ‘BE KIND’ in smoke above my house - that was the hashtag that came out of losing Caroline and it’s associated with her. Of all the words to be written above my house on a day where I was feeling sad when the crows dragged my eyes up to the sky! I just stood there staring at it and then they drew a love heart which just stayed there for ages. I’m not a spiritual or religious person, but I couldn’t look up at the sky and not think that it was meant for me. I texted all of my friends and none of them saw it. What I learnt about spirituality in 2020 is just rather than deny it, to have an open mind about it. Of course we’re all connected, of course our auras go out there into the world and of course how we feel is an energy that affects other people - so I just started to feel that I wasn’t alone in the universe. I did lots of lying in the grass and looking up at the sky, just feeling like I was a part of it all which is very unusual for me but I really like this new side of me.'

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On stepping up as a parent...

'I stepped up as a mum in a really massive way. I’ve always been a working mum, I’ve always had deadlines and that’s not to say that I wasn’t there for my kids but my focus was on me and them - it was shared. In lockdown, I gave them everything I had - I had to be everything for them. My five-year-old had fallen in love with school, met all these friends and then suddenly was just stuck with us. So, Chris and I just parented so hard - I’m so proud of us. I’m so much better at playing now. I’m grateful for that.'

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On the book's focus on food...

'I love writing about food and I love food. It’s such a big part of my life and it’s an emotional thing for me, a happy thing. My social life is centred around it - Chris and I entertain a lot at home and it’s all about big meals and cooking for crowds. We haven’t been able to do that in lockdown but I just couldn’t stop the cooking part, so for the first three months, we ate like it was Christmas everyday - we both really struggled to put on clothes.'

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On making the perfect Margarita...

'You need good quality Tequila - none of the crappy shot stuff that you get in a bar - get good quality Blancos (I love Casamigos which is George Clooney’s one - it’s just really drinkable). So, a good shot of tequila - usually a double measure, a single measure of Triple sec or Cointreau (I use Triple sec), and then a three quarter measure of fresh lime juice - on ice and shaken. The challenge of lockdown was trying to get past noon until I had one, but the days would just last forever and you’d get to 11.30am and you’d think it must be 3 o'clock! We did a lot of afternoon cocktails - I haven’t actually had a Margarita in a while because I definitely overdid it. We thought it was going to be temporary so we were like let’s just drink through it and have a good time, but then suddenly four months later it can’t carry on. We can’t keep doing this to our kidneys.'

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On what we can take from Life in Pieces...

'I hope that people can look back on it and find the good bits in a "What the fuck did we just go through?" kind of way. I hope that it makes them think about the people that they love and what’s important. And, I just really hope that people are entertained by it because it’s been a really tough year, and while there are really emotional moments in the book, I feel like it ends on a hopeful note. I think we all need a sense of hope at the moment. There’s talk of you guys going into another lockdown and I think there’s a way to survive it with a good attitude, and the knowledge and hope that it will end and that we’ll all come out of it stronger.'

Life In Pieces by Dawn O'Porter is out now and available to buy.

Head to @MarieClaireUK Instagram to see the full IGTV MC Book Club interview.

Jenny Proudfoot
Features Editor

Jenny Proudfoot is an award-winning journalist, specialising in lifestyle, culture, entertainment, international development and politics. She has worked at Marie Claire UK for seven years, rising from intern to Features Editor and is now the most published Marie Claire writer of all time. She was made a 30 under 30 award-winner last year and named a rising star in journalism by the Professional Publishers Association.