Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Q&A with Alexandra Potter


Photo by Rhian Ap Gruffydd



Alexandra Potter is the author of the novel Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up. A bestseller in the UK, the book is now available in the US. Potter's other novels include One Good Thing. She lives in London.


Q: What inspired you to write Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up, and how did you create your character Nell?


A: I was inspired to write this novel for a variety of reasons… it was during a time when I was looking at social media and I didn’t recognise my life - my messy, imperfect, but still brilliant life. It seemed to be full of perfectly curated lives that were unrecognisable to me, or any of my friends.


So I wanted to write a novel that told it like it is, for so many women. Women who might be single or married, with children or without, but who are all still trying to figure things out, because it doesn’t matter how old you are, whether you’re a 20-something, 40-something or 80-something, you can feel like you’re failing when everyone around you is succeeding in some way. 


The character of Nell was one such person - she’s in her 40s and yet she hasn’t ticked all the traditional boxes and reached all those goals that society expects of you - she isn’t married, a mum, a homeowner, she doesn’t have a successful career or a designer wardrobe or any of these things we see… instead she's single, unemployed, childless and broke and has to rent a room in a stranger’s house when her business goes bust and along with it, her fiancé.  


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Nell and Cricket?


A: I was also inspired to write Confessions because I wanted to write about older characters and inter-generational friendships. Nell is 40-something and Cricket is 80-something. These are two women who have lived a little! Each of them have found themselves in a place they didn’t expect to be - Cricket is a widow and Nell has found herself single again - and they both have to restart their lives.


What I love about this unlikely friendship between these two women, is that it shows age should not never be a barrier to anything, especially friendship. Both women learn so much from each other - Cricket’s girlfriends have died and Nell’s friends are married with children - and so they begin to spend time together, even going on holiday and they discover unlikely joys, each woman supporting the other.


Cricket is filled with wisdom, she teaches Nell so many wonderful lessons about life and in turn Nell helps Cricket deal with the grief of losing her husband and restarting her life. I love their friendship and their scenes together were a joy to write. 


Q: How was the novel’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: I had the title before I’d even written the novel! In fact, I’d had the title in my head for about 10 years! I loved this title, but I couldn’t quite see the characters or where the story was going to take me. Whenever I had time between other novels I was writing, I would think about this story and play around with different characters and storylines. I call it “noodling.”


And then one day I had my heroine Nell and suddenly the storyline and plot took shape. It was as if it had always been there, lurking in the shadows of my imagination, but it had to take the right time for me to see it. 


The title is very important for me, because the main point of the novel is that NO-ONE is a f**k up, it’s just that society can make you feel like one if you don’t lead a conventional life. If you don’t manage to tick all those boxes and reach all those goals that are expected of you. And, like I say, especially with social media these days, it’s so easy to “compare and despair.”


By the time you reach the end of this novel, you see that Nell is all of us - she’s completely relatable - and that so many of us feel like Nell at some point in our lives. 


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I’m a huge planner - so I knew exactly how the story would end. Before I begin writing, I plot out the novel with all the various scenes and character arcs - I have a large cork board that hangs on one wall of my study and I pin all the scans on there so that I can see the novel laid out before me. Only then do I start to write! 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have just finished the sequel to Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up - it’s called MORE Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up (I love the title so much, as have so many of my readers, so I couldn’t change it!).

Q: Anything else we should know?


A: That I’m super excited for Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up to hit the shelves in the US and for all my US readers to be able to grab a copy. This hilarious, warm romcom also became the inspiration for ABC’s popular TV series Not Dead Yet starring actress Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin), with Hannah Simone (New Girl), and Lauren Ash (Superstore) – the network’s “Most Watched Comedy Debut in More Than Four Years” (Deadline). 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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