It was while sub editing a magazine feature about authors under 30 who had all written a novel that she decided to give it a go. “I was 28 and a bit disillusioned with working in magazines and I had always wanted to write a novel but thought an ordinary person like me who grew up in Bradford and went to a comprehensive school wasn’t the type of person who became an author. But when I read that article it made me think that I could give it a go.”
She followed the article’s advice, bought a copy of The Writers and Artists Handbook and set about writing three chapters to send to agents.
“I didn’t even own a computer in those days,” recalls Potter, now 51. “I’d get up early and spend an hour writing before work in long hand and then type it up on the work computer in my lunch hour.”
Once she’d completed her three chapters she sent them off to ten different literary agents.
“I got a couple of rejections, some didn’t bother responding but two of them said they were interested and told me to write the rest of the book.”
Buoyed with the reaction, and looking back, she says, rather naively decided to pack in her job.
“I had a little Peugeot car and I worked out that if I sold that I could pay my rent and live for six months while I finished the book. I was 28, I had no children and no responsibilities and realised if I didn’t do it then I never would. If I knew then what I know now about publishing I’m not sure I would do it again.”
But her gamble paid off and two publishers were really interested in publishing her book.
“I couldn’t believe it. My agent called me and said we were going to start a bidding auction and the numbers just kept going up.” In the end she signed a two-book deal with Hodder & Stoughton.
Since then she has published 13 novels including Me and Mr Darcy, which won Best New Fiction Award at the Jane Austen Regency World Awards, Love From Paris which was shortlisted for the RNA Comedy Award and Confessions of a Forty-something **** Up published by Pan MacMillan. Her novels have been translated into more than 25 languages, sold over a million copies worldwide and been optioned by several major film companies.
“Before I wrote Confessions I’d got to the point where I no longer wanted to read or write about 20 or 30-year-olds and so I decided to make my hero a bit older to reflect where I was in life.”
The result was Nell Stevens, a single, childless, middle-aged woman, whose life is a mess since her business and her engagement went bust and she returns from her utterly Instagrammable LA life to cold and dreary London – heartbroken and broke.
“I had finished the book and it was due to be published in April 2020 but then the world stopped and everything shut,” says Potter. “We pushed it back six months just as we went into the second lockdown but we went ahead anyway and through word of mouth it went down extremely well. The Telegraph did a piece saying Nel was the new Bridget Jones for our Covid-ridden times’ – I couldn’t have been happier as I love Helen Fielding.”
Now American production company Fox has just finished filming a pilot for ABC and Disney Plus series starring Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguqez.
“I have sold the option to four or five of my books before that have never really come to anything but this time they have actually filmed the pilot so I am hopeful it might very well go ahead,” says Potter. Although based on Confessions the name has been changed to Not Dead Yet and the location moved from London to America.
“When you sign over a book you just have to let it go however hard it might be as the scriptwriters will do what they want with it. The scriptwriters are the people behind … And when I read the script I was really pleased.”
She is now in the process of writing a sequel to Confessions which picks up the story 18 months after the end of the last one.
“Confessions was very much based around true events and I reference Brexit and other things that were happening and so I felt that I had to refer to Covid but I didn’t want it to be the main theme of the book and so I decided to start it on Freedom Day in July 2021.”
Potter has an August deadline for the book that she is trying to write while promoting her latest novel. One Good Thing was published in April and is her first novel set in the Yorkshire Dales where her parents lived.
“My dad died 11 years ago and when they moved to the Dales he said they were twinned with paradise and so as a tribute to him I have set this novel in the Yorkshire Dales with all the fabulous scenery and funny warm people,” she says.
She maintains that she doesn’t use her own life experiences in her books, rather she is inspired by the things that happen around her.
“My writing has changed over the years,” she says. “I deal with some pretty heavy issues that we can all relate to but include humour. I really love the Richard Curtis films like Four Weddings and a Funeral and I wanted to write books that dealt with some serious stuff but were still funny.
“One Good Thing deals with grief, dementia, autism and loneliness. I wrote it during lockdown and while out walking my dog I would see people in my community that I wouldn’t normally see and we’d wave or stop for a quick chat. This sense of connection was vital and that’s what I wanted to show in this book. That no matter when you are going through it it just takes one good thing to make everything bearable.”
Her love of Yorkshire also sees Potter holding her launch event and a number of events in her home county although she does live in London with her Californian husband and Bosnian rescue dog. “I feel that so many things are London centric and so I really wanted to do more events up in Yorkshire.”
One she is really excited about is an event with fellow romcom author, Barnsley’s Milly Johnson.
“I have known Milly for years and really admire her. We met when we were both up for an award which Milly ended up winning. I am so looking forward to doing an event with her.
“ I feel there’s something really special about Yorkshire writers – they have a unique Yorkshire sense of humour and something about telling it how it is.”
One Good Thing by Alesandra Potter is published in hardback by Macmillan – £14.99
Where you can see Alexandra Potter: Tuesday 10 May – 2:30pm Meet the author and Cream tea at The Stripey Badger, Grassington; Wednesday 11 May – 6.30pm event with Milly Johnson at Waterstones York – the popular Yorkshire authors talk about fiction in their home county; Thursday 12 May – 6.30pm Alexandra Potter event at Truman Bookshop, Leeds.