Susanna Hoffs Draws On Her Bangles Experience For Novel ‘This Bird Has Flown’


For the past few months, every day has been manic for Susanna Hoffs.

The co-founder of the Bangles has been preparing for the publication of her debut novel, “This Bird Has Flown,” on April 4. Three days later, her latest solo album, “The Deep End,” is scheduled to hit stores.

“It’s been crazy busy,” Hoffs says via Zoom from her home in Los Angeles where she lives with her husband Jay Roach. “It just turned out that both the novel and the album were going to drop at the same time, so it’s been quite hectic.”

Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles performs in 2012. (Associated Press file photo) Hoffs is used to frenetic schedules. She recorded five studio albums with the Bangles, and eight solo records, and has also written screenplays and acted in several movies. But writing a novel was new to her.

“It was a labor of love writing it,” she explains. “I just took that leap of faith like I did when I started back in the ’80s, going around and throwing flyers around at clubs and record stores, trying to find bandmates. It’s always kind of worked for me to just dive in.”

Hoffs draws from her knowledge of the music industry in “This Bird Has Flown,” which follows Jane Start, a 33-year-old singer and one-hit wonder whose career has seen better days. After she performs a humiliating gig in Las Vegas — singing her one well-known song, backed by a karaoke track, to a private party — her friend and manager Pippa insists she go to London to recharge.

On the plane, Jane meets Tom Hardy — not that Tom Hardy, but rather an Oxford literature professor who immediately catches Jane’s eye. The two start dating in England, but things get complicated, especially when Jane learns that the enigmatic pop star Jonesy, who wrote Jane’s sole hit song, is interested in collaborating with her.

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While this is her first novel, Hoffs has been interested in literature for a long time.

“I’ve always loved fiction since I was a little girl and all through my teenage years,” she says. “It had been a lifelong dream to write a novel. Then one day, when I was in between projects, I’d been talking about it, and my older son said, ‘Mom, stop talking about it and do it.’”

That was all the encouragement she needed. She started “marinating on themes,” and listened to some books she’d loved for a long time — Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre,” Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca.” Those novels helped give her the idea to set the novel in England. And it didn’t hurt that her son was doing a semester abroad at Oxford University at the time, which gave her the opportunity to visit.

But the U.K. has always been special to her. She grew up on the music of the Beatles, and when she played shows with the Bangles in England in the 1980s, she found that her love for the country was very much reciprocated. “It was so amazing for us to go there, being such obsessive British Invasion fans,” she says. “We were embraced by the British press. It was just thrilling.”

The setting for the novel came naturally to Hoffs, but so did the character of Jane. Hoffs is far from a one-hit wonder, of course, but she knows how unpredictable the music industry can be.

“I know the music business is a very hard business, and I feel so lucky, but it has its challenges,” she says. “I’ve experienced in my lifetime as a musician the range of experiences – in 1986, being on tour and playing big festivals with INXS and Simple Minds and all these big artists. Then there’s the other side of it, which is the kind of gigs like Jane has.”

Music, of course, plays a big part in Hoffs’ novel — the title is a reference to the Beatles’ famous 1965 song “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown).” Many of the chapter titles came from songs Hoffs was listening to when she wrote the book: “Tears of a Clown,” “Rebel Rebel,” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

“Songs informed the writing,” Hoffs says. “Music is the beginning, middle and end of every day for me, honestly. I usually go on a walk in the morning, and I have my earbuds in, and I’m listening to playlists that I’ve curated on my phone. And the cool, magical thing about it was that I’d be listening to these songs while walking down the street, and then it was almost like I’d go through a portal and I would be in the book, a movie version of the book.”

Speaking of a movie version of the book: That’s happening. Universal Pictures is developing a film adaptation, with Liza Chasin and Bruna Papandrea (“Anatomy of a Scandal”) producing and Hoffs writing the screenplay. She’s interested in writing the songs for the film, too.

“That’s my new challenge,” she says. “Now, if someone like Ed Sheeran wants to take a stab at it, then have at it! He’s a brilliant songwriter. But I do want to give myself the chance. I’m just now finally getting to the point where I have time to sit down and attempt it. I haven’t really doubled down and really gotten into the nitty gritty of it, but that’s my next challenge.”

For now, Hoffs is preparing for a book tour that will include an appearance in her native southern California: She’ll be in conversation with Susan Orlean as part of the Live Talks Los Angeles series on April 10 at 8 p.m. at the Ann and Jerry Moss Theatre at New Roads School in Santa Monica. And she’s preparing for the release of “The Deep End,” her album of covers of songs by artists including Ed Sheeran, the Rolling Stones, and Squeeze.

Asked if she plans a return to the world of fiction, Hoffs doesn’t hesitate.

“Oh, yes. Oh, yes, yes,” she says. “It’s like an addiction. And I’ve figured out ways to cram in more reading, too. My whole life seems to revolve around stories and books. I love just being lost in a story. So a hundred percent. I’m kind of tinkering now; I’m preparing.”


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