Meet Alexandra Potter Who Wrote The Book That Inspired Disney+'s Not Dead Yet
A popular rom-com novel by Bradford-born author Alexandra Potter has inspired a hit TV show in the United States, and it's just been renewed for a second season
Alexandra was born in Bradford and lived there until she turned 18, when she went to university in Liverpool, then moved to London in her early 20s. ‘I wanted to be a writer and got various jobs working for magazines, then when I was about 28, I decided to try and write a novel,’ she explains. ‘I was subbing an article about six writers that had written their first novel before the age of 30 and they gave their tips and advice. I thought “I’m going to have a go at this”. I used to write in my lunch break, after work and during weekends, and my first book came out a week before my 30th birthday.
‘One of the best tips that this article gave was to get the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook (which they still sell on Amazon). It’s brilliant because it gives you loads of tips on how to write your submission. The other thing is, if you want to write and if you want to get published, you need to read as much as you possibly can. Read everything. Stuff you like and stuff you don’t like. Everyone talks about using your voice, but sometimes when you’re just starting you’re not sure what your voice is. I think that if you read lots, you’ll start to realise that every author has a certain voice and when you start writing you’ll find yours. Also, find the time in the day to write, because I know everyone’s so busy; just find little pockets of time wherever you can. The idea can feel overwhelming, or like a mountain to climb, but if you do it little by little, then you will get a book at the end of it.’
Alexandra is now a bestselling author of numerous rom-com books and her titles have sold in 22 territories, with worldwide sales of more than one million copies. Arguably her most popular book is Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up, which many readers are dubbing a modern Bridget Jones. Nell’s life is a mess and in a world of perfect Instagram lives she feels like, well, a f**k up. When she starts a secret podcast and forms an unlikely friendship with an 80-something widow, things begin to change. This book was so successful that it inspired ABC’s popular comedy Not Dead Yet, starring Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rogriguez, New Girl’s Hannah Simone and Superstore’s Lauren Ash (available to watch in the UK on Disney+).
‘It’s a dream come true,’ Alexandra says. ‘When you write novels, and I think I’ve written around 14 now, you can get them optioned (when you’re told someone is interested in making them into a film or a show), but the chances of it happening are so slim. When I heard the news, it was amazing. I flew out to LA and they invited me onto the set and I went onto the studio lot and went onto the sound stages and met all the actors and watched them filming. It was just amazing because you see these characters that you have created from nothing being brought to life – it really blows your mind.’
Despite her success Alexandra never thought she’d still be writing after 25 years. ‘I went to a regular comprehensive school and I didn’t think that people like me could write a novel and get it published,’ she admits. ‘I always thought that you had to know somebody, or have famous parents, or a private education, and I didn’t realise that anybody and everybody can write a book if they’re determined enough and have a good enough story. I know lots of people do creative writing courses and classes but I’d always written, even since I was a kid. I used to go to the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth; when the Brontë sisters were little they used to write these miniature books and me and my sister were just fascinated by them, and we made our own little books. I’d always be making up stories, that always came naturally to me.’
Alexandra doesn’t read psychological thrillers, but she reads pretty much everything else. ‘I like what they call “women’s commercial fiction”,’ she says. ‘I’m just reading Lessons in Chemistry right now, which I love. I like reading biographies, autobiographies, historical writing, it doesn’t have to be just novels.’ But why did she start writing rom-coms? ‘It’s probably because I used to love Richard Curtis films,’ she laughs. ‘I loved Four Weddings and a Funeral! But also Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally, and at the time there weren’t many books like that, so I wanted to write novels that were like those films in that they’re feel good, uplifting and funny, but can be heartbreaking at the same time. I wrote my first book in 1999 and it came out in 2000, and we didn’t even have the term chick flick back in those days.’
She finds inspiration in everything around her. ‘I could be reading an article in a newspaper, I could be watching something on TV or I could hear a snippet of a conversation when you walk past someone in a supermarket,’ she says. ‘For a long time I used to write romantic comedies with a magical twist. I’d always put some kind of high concept in there. I’m always starting questions with “what would happen if…” “you could date Mr Darcy” or “you could meet your 21-year-old self”. I always ask myself these sort of questions and I think my inspiration comes from writing a book that I want to read. What’s funny? What’s sad? On the whole, I just love making things up.’
Fans are currently reading Alexandra’s alternative love story One Good Thing – the paperback published in May. ‘The idea behind that was how, when life falls apart, all you need is one good thing to turn things around and make it worth living again,’ she says. ‘It could be something really small (you’re walking down the street and a stranger smiles at you, or you get a hug from a friend, or you turn on the radio to a song you really like). In this book a woman’s life is falling apart and she leaves London and moves to the Yorkshire Dales. I really wanted to set a book in the Yorkshire Dales because I’d never done that before. Being from Yorkshire, and with my mum living in the Dales, I spend a lot of time there. The Dales became a character in themselves. You see Yorkshire throughout the seasons and you meet all the villagers and learn all the different characters’ stories then find out how they’re all connected. From one good thing, lots of good things happen and there’s a little twist in there, and I think people are really responding to it. I wrote that book during lockdown so it’s all about community, which was so important when we were all so lonely.’
The laugh-out-loud sequel to Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up is publishing in August. Aside from promoting this new book, Alexandra is also looking forward to holidaying in the Dales. ‘Then I’ll start writing my next book. It never stops,’ she laughs.