Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born and raised in Yorkshire, England in a happy, working-class family. My father Ray, ran an engineering company, and my mother Anita was a school secretary. I have one sister, Kelly, who’s a couple of years older then me and with whom I’m very close. Along with all of my friends, I attended the local state schools. I loved school and did well, staying on to do my A levels so I could gain a place at university. Most students at my school left at the first opportunity, so there were only a handful of us that remained past sixteen, but this had it’s advantages, in that for Art, History and English Literature (my chosen subjects) I was often the only pupil and had one-on-one tuition.
I have always wanted to be a writer, though I was also very good at art, so I alternated between wanting to be a writer and an artist right up until I was eighteen when I applied for university. For me this was something of a crossroads, because there were two degrees I was interested in: art and art history, or English Literature and Film Studies.
I chose English Literature.
A month before my 30th birthday I had my first novel published. What’s New, Pussycat? hit the bestseller’s lists. I had achieved my dream of becoming a real-life writer!
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That I would be officially ‘old’ at 40 and would feel completely differently to my eighteen-year-old self. I’m now 41 and I feel pretty much the same as I did back then. How funny is that?
I have always been very influenced by film, especially romantic comedies such as When Harry Met Sally, Annie Hall, or any of Richard Curtis’ films. When I started writing I wanted to create a novel that would leave the reader with the same feel-good feeling that you are you left with after watching one of these films.
Bridget Jones’ Diary was a great influence on me. I picked it up in a book store in Sydney in 1997 when I was living and working there. I had no idea what to expect but I could not stop laughing. I had never read anything as funny or as ‘real’. It heralded a whole new kind of fiction that was relevant to my life as a young, single twentysomething woman.
Tom Jones and his music. My first novel What’s New, Pussycat? was partly inspired by him as I used to listen to him growing up. In my book the heroine is called Delilah (the title of my favourite song) and her most precious posession is her Tom Jones’ record collection, which her mother left her when she died.
The publication of the book coincided with Tom Jones’ comeback and helped generate a lot of publicity for me, bringing me to the attention of film producers who bought the film rights to the book. I shall forever be grateful to Tom!
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I spent my childhood writing short stories and starting novels. I always had a very strong imagination and loved creating characters and plots. As I said earlier, films were a huge influence on me, but as I lived in England, it seemed logical I would try my hand at writing a novel. However, I do believe that if I had lived in America, particuarly Los Angeles (where I later moved) I would have written a screenplay instead. I just wanted to tell a story. The form it took was secondary.
Going La La is based on my experiences when I first moved to LA when I was twenty-one and fresh out of university. It tells the story of Frankie who, in less than a week goes from having everything – a great job, lovely flat and a gorgeous fiance – to have nothing at all. Devestated, dumped and on the dole she packs her bags and flies to Los Angeles to stay with her old friend. She does not, repeat not, go to LA to fall head over heels for an American photographer called Reilly and to run away to Las Vegas.
And that’s just the beginning…
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I write escapist feel-good fiction. Life can be tough and hard and my books provide 350 pages of pure escapism. I want them to get to the end of an Alexandra Potter novel and go away feeling hopeful and happy about life. I want to fill them with optimism, tug at their heartstrings, make them laugh and dip them in what I like to call, ‘melted happiness’.
From the emails I get from my readers, I think I’m doing a pretty good job…
Any female novelist who has children!
But if I had to mention one novelist, it would be Audrey Niffenegger for her wonderful novel, The Time Traveller’s Wife. I wrote a novel called Who’s That Girl? (BB Guru’s note: This title has also been published as The Two Lives of Miss Charlotte Merryweather) about a thirtysomething girl who meets her twenty-one-year old self, and all the things they can teach other. A great idea, I thought, just imagine all the things you could tell your younger self! But it was one that meant I had to involve the idea of time-travel – mindboggling at the best of times – and not only that, but I had to make it believable.
Niffenegger achieves this beautifully in her novel. Logistically she does an incredible job of jumping inbetween the past, present and future, and immediately gets the reader to suspend their disbelief. I truly believed in the story and the characters and found myself quite teary-eyed at the end. As someone who has written several ‘magical’ romantic comedies this is no mean feat!
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To write a better book! I’ve just finished my latest one, Don’t You Forget About Me which is out in the summer, and now I’m turning my attentions to a series. Writing a series has always been an ambition of mine, and after nine books, I think it’s time to have a go. I also want to see one of my novels on the big screen. I recently sold the film rights to You’re The One That I Don’t Want, and I’ve been working on the adaption with a screenwriter, so I’m hoping that dream will be realised in the not-too-distant future…
I get a lot of emails to website (www.alexandrapotter.com) asking for advice on how to get a novel published. And I say the same thing over and over: If I can do it, so you can you. But you have to really REALLY want it.
I love being a writer, but it’s not all about book launches and bestseller lists and glossy interviews. Writing isn’t glamorous. In fact most of the time it can be deeply frustrating, lonely, terrifying and long… very, very long. A book takes me eighteen months from start to finish and a lot of that time is spent battling writer’s book and thinking it’s all a big mistake and is anyone ever going to read this!
So you have to be determined. You have to keep putting in the hours, even when you only have one deleted sentence at the end of a weekend you’d devoted to writing a whole chapter. You have to believe you can do it, even when that inner critical voice of yours is yelling, ‘Give up! It’s rubbish’.
And you just have to keep writing. Day in, day out. Like you’re running a marathon. A few words. A line. A whole paragraph. Until one day you will finally reach the finishing line, and you will look up from your computer screen and realise that all those words have made a novel. And the pain will all have been worth it. Trust me. There is no feeling in the world like it.
Just don’t give up.
Alexandra, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.