Zoë Folbigg was commuting from Hitchin to Soho to her job where she worked as a magazine journalist when she fell in love with a stranger on the train. After months of admiring this handsome man from a distance, on her birthday she finally plucked up the courage to give him a note inviting him for a drink. This act of bravery eventually led to a very happy ending, and Zoë is now married to Mark and they have two children. Zoë went on to use her own story to write her first novel, The Note. It’s the tale of Maya Flowers who spots Train Man on her daily commute to London and who one day dares to be brave…
Zoë and Mark
I bought a copy of The Note last year not realising that it was set in Hitchin. I read it in one sitting and I absolutely loved it. There are so many familiar places and it’s an uplifting and empowering story. On Thursday 8 March, Zoë is going to be at David’s Bookshop in Letchworth, talking about The Note. Last year, she was invited to be a guest on ITV’s This Morning, where she was interviewed by Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield. A friendly chat on the sofa has led to record sales, worldwide acclaim and several approaches from production companies to bring the story to screen.
Hitchin viewed from Windmill Hill
Zoë, have you come down to earth after all the excitement last year?
Just about. The school run keeps me grounded! I’ve been so busy finishing book 2, and with two young boys and all their football/drama/school activities to contend with, I forget all the excitement of what’s happened with The Note
and the craziness of the past six months. Then I remember and have to pinch myself – it’s been beyond my wildest dreams, I’m so pleased and so grateful to everyone who’s bought it and told their friends about it.
Are you working on, or have you finished book 2? Can you tell us what it’s about?
Yes I’ve just finished it – it’s another story about star-crossed lovers, but this time it’s set in Mexico and Norway (as well as closer to home!), where a couple fall in love and have to get to cross a gulf, an ocean, a sea and a fjord to find out whether they really are made for each other.
Are you Hitchin born and bred?
Yes. I was born in a house on Grove Road, and despite some years spent on the south coast, Spain and Mexico, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and I have lived back in Hitchin for the past 17 years.
One of the places I recognised in The Note was the bar and restaurant Hermitage Rd, I think it was the arched window. Are there any other Hitchin locations that you included in your book?
Yes, loads! I set the book in the fictitious town of Hazelworth, but for local people they’ll recognise it’s something of a love letter to Hitchin. The town square features. Velma’s apartment is the flat above Pizza Express; I reimagined the language school at Payne’s Park for the scenes where Maya teaches Spanish, and Maya goes for runs around Windmill Hill and Ransom’s Rec… She buys her vintage dresses from shops based on Jolly Brown and Rosita Lollipop, shops I love. It’s Hitchin all over really!
Hermitage Rd bar and restaurant
Are you more well known in Hitchin now as a result of your success with The Note?
Well strangers have come up to me in the supermarket or at the gym to tell me how much they’ve enjoyed the book, which is lovely.
I think you said that others have been inspired by your tale of bravery? Having the courage to speak to a stranger and ask him out?
Yes, female and male friends have taken the leap and given strangers a note. Strangers have messaged me on Twitter and Instagram to tell me they were inspired to do the same. The message of my book is really, “What’s the worst than can happen?” so I think it’s made people feel a little bit braver knowing it worked for me. As long as you’re polite and respectful and give that person space if they say no (which my husband did initially!) then you have nothing to lose by asking a stranger out.
Could you name a few of your favourite places in Hertfordshire?
I went to school in Letchworth in the 80s and 90s spent a lot of time in the old Broadway cinema
“flea pit”. It’s lovely to go back there now, such an amazing venue I feel so fortunate to have on our doorstep. And then my husband spends a lot
of time in the vinyl section of David’s.
We love Hitchin Lavender
. I ran the Baldock Beast last weekend and it was so beautiful and peaceful running through the villages of Wallington and Sandon. The white houses looked gorgeous under the bright (if freezing cold!) sunshine.
Wedding day at Tewinbury Farm
Mark and I got married at Tewin Bury Farm
, so that will always have a special place in our hearts. We took our boys there for afternoon tea last Easter, to show them where mummy and daddy got married. They were far more interested in the cakes than talking about our wedding, but I understand that!
Broadway cinema, Letchworth Garden City
What do you like about Hitchin?
The indies! I absolutely love the independent shops, cafes and restaurants in Hitchin. We’re very fortunate to have such a vibrant community with so much on offer. Browsing vintage dresses in Jolly Brown
followed by a hot chocolate in the The Groundworks
– I’m spoiled. And the tapas at Los Reyes
is better than any I had living in Spain, although I shouldn’t let my Spanish friends read that! And the new Hitchin Library
space is brilliant, the whole family love it. And just knowing that Hitchin is so near to London but retains its sense of community and charm, is lovely. We’re really very lucky!