It’s not everyday that you get to chat with your favorite fiction writer but that’s exactly what happened when I decided to reach out to Alexandra Potter on Twitter a few weeks ago. I was in the middle of reading one of her books, You’re The One That I Don’t Want, and was in near hysterics at a particular moment in the story. I decided to tweet how much I was enjoying the book and a few minutes later she responded. Rest assured, it made my day. I have to say, Twitter is pretty awesome.
One of my favorite things about Alexandra’s stories is that they are based in some of my favorite cities — London, New York and Venice to name a few. After conducting this interview and learning that Paris and India are other locales, my reading list is looking pretty good right now.
Her characters aren’t the only ones traveling; her readers do as well. In fact, I first discovered her at a hostel in San Diego, CA during my senior year spring break. A friend and I decided to skip the typical Cancun adventure and instead opted to head west for Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles and finally San Diego. The hostel was one of the nicest I’ve been to and they had a book swap in a quiet corner of the lounge. Intrigued by the playful cartoon cover of Who’s That Girl? I picked it up and didn’t put it down. Unfortunately I didn’t have a book to give in exchange so sorry about that, hostel of San Diego!
As a writer myself, I find Alexandra’s journey from magazine editor to full-time author inspiring to say the least. In her books, the city doesn’t serve as just a backdrop but rather a central character. I hope you find the interview below as motivational as I do! Oh and her pictures will likely give you a serious case of wanderlust!
Alexandra, can you start by telling us where you’re from and where you are right now?
Right now I’m sitting in a little cafe in Kensington in London. I have an office at home but often I like to get out and about to write as I find it inspires me.
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer or did you sort of “fall into” it?
I think I was born wanting to be a writer. As a child I was forever writing short stories and novels, many of which I recently found when I cleared out my parent’s attic. English was always my favourite at school and I went on to read English Literature at university.
When did you decide to take the leap and go from magazine editor to a full-time author?
I was twenty-eight and had recently moved back from Sydney, Australia where I had been living and working for the past year. Back in London I found myself editing a feature all about several young female writers who had published their first novels before they were thirty.
I read their first chapters and thought “I can do that!” It really inspired me. Several months later I’d written the first few chapters of my novel, What’s New, Pussycat? and secured an agent who loved what I’d written and told me to go away and write the rest of the book. I sold my car and lived on the proceeds for six months until I’d finished it. Within 24 hours of handing it in to my agent a bidding war broke out between several publishers and I was thrilled to sign a two-book deal. At that point I suddenly became a full-time author. It was life-changing and I will never forget that moment. It’s the kind of moment that you dream of.
One of my favorite things about your books is that there is usually some whimsical element to them (a legend or characters meeting their former selves and the reader not knowing if it’s real or imaginary). How do you strike that balance?
I started out writing what I call ‘straight’ romantic comedies, but after I’d written four books I was looking for something a little different. I moved to LA and it was there I had the idea to write about a girl who wishes for things and all those things come true.
Not big wishes. Just little, small, inconsequential wishes, the kind we make every day. That book was Be Careful What You Wish For and it became a huge success. It was also incredibly fun to write as I got think ‘what if’ a lot and let my imagination run wild. This led me to start thinking ‘what if’ about all kinds of different things, such as ‘what if you got to date Mr Darcy’ (which was the idea behind Me and Mr Darcy) or what if you got to meet your younger self (Who’s That Girl?). I love writing romantic comedies but I also love having that extra ‘magical’ twist.
Many of your novels take place in some of my favorite cities. Can you give us a glimpse into how you choose what destination to use as the backdrop to your stories?
I adore travelling. Always have. Always will. So my inspiration comes from all the places I’ve travelled to and loved. I think about my characters and the plot and then decide where I want to set the story, what can this city add to the novel. Often the city or backdrop acts as a third character. This was the case in my most recent book, The Love Detective, which is set in India. India played such a strong role in this book, it was both the inspiration and the passion that drove both the storyline and the characters.
What do you look for when researching a city? Do you already have characters in mind or does that come later?
I usually have the characters in mind from a very early stage, especially the heroine. I use the main character as a jumping off point and tend to research a city through their eyes. For example in the new book I am writing, The Love Detective in Paris, my main character Ruby goes to Paris and so I spent several days there in the new year, walking around the city, imagining I was her and the kinds of things she would think and feel.
How has travel inspired you in your own life and in your career as an author?
Travel has always played a huge role in my life. My earliest memories are those of travelling through France and Spain with my family, stopping in different towns and villages, eating local produce, learning foreign words, and seeing a completely different world to the one I lived in back home in Yorkshire.
My parents were huge travelers, my father especially, and as I grew up they instilled in me and my sister a desire to go out and see the world. I’ve lived in several different countries and travelled to many different places. Seeing new places, meeting new people and discovering different cultures has had a profound effect on who I am and how I see the world. This has affected my writing in many ways as I try to bring into each book many of my experiences. With my latest series,
The Love Detective, I wanted to add travel to the mix of romance, comedy and magic, making sure to set each book in a new and different location. So for the first in the series my character went to India and Rajasthan and in this next book she travels to Paris. I want to inspire my readers to travel, and if for some reason they’re unable to, then by reading my books they can travel from the comfort of their armchair.
As a freelance writer myself, I’d love to know what a typical day in the life of Alexandra Potter is like. Can you give us a peek into your creative process?
A typical day is quite hard to describe, because often my days are different, depending where I am in the world. However, whether I am in London or LA or further afield such as India or Paris, several hours each day will usually be spent writing in a library or a cafe – or my office if I am at home. I am a terrible in the mornings so most of my writing is done in the afternoon, after I’ve drunk a strong cup of espresso and dealt with paperwork, and the evenings I like to exercise, meet friends, or stay home and cook.
What are your favorite places in the world to travel?
India, and specially the region of Rajasthan has a special place in my heart. It simply is quite magical. If there is one place in the world I would recommend, it would be to spend time in Udaipur, taking in the view of the lake, or camping out in the desert in Jaisalmer.
I also love Ibiza. It has a reputation for being a party island but there are are some lovely unspoiled parts of the island, especially in the north, that are simply stunning. And the south of France will be forever be a favourite of mine. All that stinky cheese and rose wine. Delicious!
Any exciting plans in the works? A new book, perhaps?
Yes! I’m currently writing a new book called The Love Detective in Paris which is the next in the series. It’s set in Paris and has a wonderful magical mystery attached to it. And a love story. There’s always got to be a love story…. Speaking of, I have one of my own as I’m getting married this summer, which is very exciting.
Ok, time to do a lightning round of your favorite places to:
- Shop: Delhi
- Eat: Bangkok
- Play: Los Angeles
- Read: Paris
- Write: London
Photo credit: Alexandra Potter