Writing a Cold Feet sequel: from cold sweat to a warm glow
‘I strongly felt that I should focus on what happened directly after Rachel died’: Carmel Harrington on how she went from being a fan to writing a standalone Cold Feet novel
The Cold Feet cast
In this advanced technological age of binge-watching Netflix and Amazon Prime, it’s hard to remember a time back in the ’90s and ’00s where it took commitment to watch a favourite show every week. You either set your VCR to record (I never quite worked out how to do that!), or you watched the show live. With adverts.
Back then, I had a few never-miss shows. I’ve never been one to turn down a good night out, but there were certain programmes that were guaranteed to have me curled up on the couch, remote control in hand. Long before Dr McDreamy, there was Dr Doug Ross getting up to all kinds of shenanigans both in and out of the emergency room. Other US shows like Frasier, Sex and the City and Friends were also much loved by me and my flatmates.
Then one Sunday evening in 1997, we sat down with a glass of wine to catch up on our own weekend dramas. The important stuff, like who snogged who, that kind of thing. And by pure chance, we flicked onto ITV and came across the pilot of a new comedy drama – Cold Feet. Within 10 minutes of the opening credits, all chit-chat ceased and we were hooked. We laughed till we cried when Adam became a human vase, all in the name of love.
The Manchester-set comedy drama shared the lives and loves of three couples: Adam and Rachel; Pete and Jenny; David and Karen. As they fell in and out of love, had affairs, started families, as they each tried to live their best lives, getting it wrong as often as they got it right. There was much to identify with. It was compelling TV, thanks to Mike Bullen’s sharp wit and the talented actors who portrayed his words so skilfully.
When the show came to an end in 2003, with the heartbreaking death of Rachel, while I was sad to say goodbye to the cast, it felt like the right time for the show to conclude.
News of the show’s return to our screens in 2016 caused much excitement on social media. And like millions of others, I couldn’t wait to catch up with the Cold Feet gang. But I was worried too. What if the show was like a bad school reunion, where within five minutes of meeting old friends, you realise you no longer have anything in common and wish you’d stayed at home.
But of course it didn’t disappoint. Mike Bullen, the creator and writer of the show, was back, this time with all the angst of middle age and the fun of teenage children. The writing was still sharp and witty, warm and funny, poignant and honest. And the characters were as beloved as they had been 13 years previously.
When my agent Rowan Lawton asked me if I was a fan of Cold Feet, I thought she might have been referring to some Twitter love I had shared about the show. But to my surprise she told me about the standalone novel idea and said that I’d be the perfect person to write it.
Before I knew it, my name was not just in the warm slipper (get it?), I was short listed. Next step was to write a sample chapter. I started to binge watch Series 1-5, taking copious notes. The hardest part was trying to keep track of all the affairs. Quite a few when you list them out. I watched the show with writer’s eyes, listening to the rythmn and tone of each of the characters’ voices, watching their mannerisms.
When I sent my chapter off to my agent, I was satisfied that I’d written a solid piece. I was quite proud of it, truth be told. And I was excited by the mere thought that I was being considered. News came that along with a number of other samples, my chapter had been chosen to go to Mike Bullen and the team at ITV, who would have the final say.
They won’t pick me, I told my husband. Nah! I’ve never been so glad to be wrong in my life!
Next stage was to write a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline for Mike Bullen. This gave me all of the fears. But throughout this process, Mike has been incredibly generous and supportive. He gave his blessing to the storyline. I strongly felt that I should focus on what happened directly after Rachel died. I wanted to dig deeper into the inner thoughts of former womaniser Adam, now a widower and single father. His love story with Rachel, throughout series one to five, had captivated millions of viewers. What was his life like now, grieving and trying to circumnavigate parenthood on his own? I was also intrigued as to how the down-to-earth Pete and Jenny, newly reconciled, were coping with her pregnancy to another man. Not to mention the fact that since David and Karen amicably divorced, he had started to date his divorce lawyer. I began to get excited about the project.
About halfway through the novel I had a bit of a panic attack. Fear that I could never match the emotional undertones of the show. Fear that Mike would hate it. Fear that I’d never get to 100,000 words. Self-doubt has always been one of my least attractive qualities!
I hightailed it to Tyrone Guthrie, a wonderful writers’ retreat, that always seems to bring out my inner writer warrior. In Lady Guthrie’s room (it’s as nice as it sounds) overlooking the glass lake, I immersed myself into the story. Soon the joy of catching up with old friends took over and the novel began to take shape.
Waiting for Mike’s verdict, when I finished the novel was terrifying. When he told me that I’d done Cold Feet proud, I never felt more chuffed.
When I watched the show back in the ’90s and ’00s, I could never have dreamt that one day I’d see my name on a Cold Feet book. I feel privileged that I was given the opportunity and I loved every bonkers moment of writing the story.
Now it’s down to the fans to pass judgement.
Carmel Harrington has written seven novels, including the Sunday Times bestseller The Woman at 72 Derry Lane. She is translated into eight languages. Cold Feet The Lost Years is on sale now.