We're huge Alexandra Potter fans here at Novelicious and were thrilled when she stopped by to talk about her latest book, The Love Detective, which is out on January 2nd 2014.
Absolutely! I have just finished The Love Detective, which is the first book in a brand new series. I'm very excited as I've never written a series before, but it's been something I've been dying to do for a while. I wanted to combine all the elements of my novels – romance, comedy, and a touch of magic – but I've also added another element – travel. Travelling is one of my great passions in life and I want to share that with my readers.
The heroine of The Love Detective is Ruby Miller, a girl close to my heart, as she's a romance novelist. Like me, she's fascinated by love and everything connected with it; from legends and superstitions, to real-life stories of relationships, chemistry and how people got together, to the idea of soulmates and finding 'the one'. She thinks of herself as a bit of a love detective (hence the title), because as she says:
"People always ask me what kind of books I write and I guess you'd call them love stories, but I also think of them as mysteries. After all, what makes two people fall in love? I've written three books on the topic and I'm still looking for the answers. I guess, in a way, I'm a bit of a love detective. Not in a Sherlock-Holmes-in-a-deerstalker type of way. I'm not searching for clues to solve crimes, (though I did once spend hours with my friend Rachel, trying to discover why her online date never called her again. Which is a sort of a crime. As trust me she was a million times nicer than him.) But because detectives are always exploring mysteries, and what is love, if not the greatest mystery of all?"
I was inspired to set this first book in India as it's such a wonderful, magical country. I spent a month there researching this new book and went on a road trip that was an amazing and wonderful adventure. The trip also had a huge personal effect on me. I went there after my father had died and I was just terribly sad and heartbroken and India brought me back to my life. I knew immediately that this is where Ruby has to go, as when we first meet her, she's lost her faith in love. Her heart has been broken by her (now ex) fiance. She can't write. She just doesn't believe in anything anymore. So when her sister invites her out to Goa for week's beach holiday she jumps on a plane… and embarks on an extraordinary adventure.
A runaway sister, stolen bags and a chance meeting with a handsome American stranger, sweep Ruby into a magical, mystery tour across India. Amidst fortresses and fortune tellers and a whirlwind of weddings, her search to find her sister uncovers fascinating stories of love lost and found. But as the mysteries deepen, secrets are revealed that turn Ruby's life upside down. And what started as a journey to find her sister, becomes a journey to find herself – and love – again.
Your books always have a touch of magic about them, which makes them stand out from everything else out there. How do you come up with these concepts?
Good question and I wish I knew the answer! Getting the concept is really the key to each book and often the hardest part. There is no rhyme or reason to it. No hidden formula. I just do an awful lot of thinking and daydreaming and wondering 'what if'. Sometimes the idea can be triggered by a conversation with friends, or an article I read, or something I see when I'm travelling. I'm also fortunate to have a pretty good imagination – in fact I tend to live inside my head an awful lot (which I think can drive my boyfriend slightly potty) – but I do think having a good imagination is vital to writing the kind of books I write. Also – and I think this is key – I just absolutely love the idea of magic. That it can exist in real life. That sometimes strange, inexplicable things happen that can't always be reasoned away. I always make sure I provide my readers with a rational explanation to why this 'magic' has happened in my book, so that if they don't believe in magic, they have a 'get out'. However, for me personally, I always choose to believe in the magic…
We read online that you're a huge planner. How do you plan and how rigidly do you stick to that plan?
Oh god, my planning is legendary. And not just when it comes to books. I plan EVERYTHING, down to the very last detail. My boyfriend is Mr Last-Minute so when he met me we had an awful lot of compromising to do! I think I have got better in other aspects of my life (this year I managed to go away on holiday and not book every single night's accommodation, a first for me!), however when it comes to writing a book, I am still an avid planner. Last year I went to a whole new level when a very dear author friend gave me an excel sheet to fill in every day with my word count so that I knew I would hit my deadline. Did it work? Well put it this way – yes I hit my deadline (I actually was three weeks early) but I didn't stick to my daily word count. For me that's impossible, as some days the writing flows and some days I can't think of one single funny, interesting, thing to say…
Our favourite of your books is Be Careful What You Wish For (re-read a gazillion times!). What's yours?
Oh, I love that one too. It was the first romantic comedy I wrote that had a magical element and I had so much fun with it. Also, I think it was really believable as it was taken from real life – that's something that I do all the time! I try not to do it so much now (writing that book taught me a bit of a lesson about wishing my life away) but I still can't help those silly subconscious wishes. In fact, only this morning I found myself wishing for an extra hour in bed…
However if I was pushed to say a favourite – I might have to say this new one. The Love Detective really was written from the heart. I think the main character, Ruby Miller is one of my favourites so far and I loved her personal journey. Plus it's set in India and specifically Rajasthan where I spent a month doing research. If ever there was a magical place, that has to be it. And, though I say it myself, I think there are some very funny scenes in there… and I do love writing a funny scene – the one in the desert actually had me laughing out loud at my keyboard (I got some very funny looks from the rest of the people in the cafe where I was writing). So I'm hoping that my readers will love this new book as much as I do.
Your first book was published in the year 2000. How has your writing life changed since then?
Wow – now I feel old. It's strange because in some ways so much has changed about my writing life since then, and in another way, so little has changed.
In terms of a typical writing day little has changed – I still sit at the desk with my laptop (though back then it was a huge elephant of a thing and now it's as small and light as a feather) – though I have trained myself to be able to zone out and write in libraries and coffee shops. I have to sometimes as writing can be a very lonely profession and it's nice to get out there and be surrounded by people. I can find it quite inspiring.
What else has changed? Well my readers have grown,which is lovely, and I also get to do a lot more book tours abroad to meet my foreign readers – which again, is lovely.
But I think the biggest change that has come about has been the different social media platforms that authors are now involved with. Back in 2000 I didn't have a website, Facebook page or Twitter account, so connecting with my readers was much harder. Now, a vital part of my writing life involves these sites. Saying that, however 'online' an author might be, writing a book still involves actual writing, so once I've updated my blog on Goodreads, or posted on Facebook or Twitter, it's back to business as usual… and that's good old-fashioned writing.
What is the biggest myth about being a writer?
That it's easy and not a real job.
Most people I've met seem to think that writers float around all day having a fabulous time doing very little and then, at some point, sit down and write a few thousand words as and when the mood takes them. They have no idea that it is a job like any other and it requires a lot of hard work and some very long hours. I often work evenings and weekends, especially towards my deadline. Also, it's a job that you can never switch off from. When you have a book to write, it's always bubbling away in the back of your brain, there's always a scene you can be writing, a character you can be working on, dialogue that could be better.
Don't get me wrong – I'm not complaining – I love being a writer; it's who I am and I couldn't imagine doing anything else. But it is a real job!
What advice would you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Get off the internet! Ha, but seriously… actually, I am being serious. Being online is the curse of writing. Yes, you need to research your novel but a lot of time can be wasted faffing around online. That's why I often write at a cafe or library, where I can't get online and I HAVE to focus on writing my novel (and not looking at a fabulous places to stay, eat, or shop in Paris, which is kind of research. Paris is the location of the second book in The Love Detective series, which I'm currently working on, so I can call it research… well, kind of… ahem).
Can you give us three book recommendations?
Oooh.. now let's see, that's a tough one. I love so many books. But if I could only have three books on my bookshelf, it would have to be these three:
1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.
I read this book at school and it had such a remarkable effect upon me. It really taught me about passion and heartbreak and tragic love and I think Heathcliff is just one of the most amazingly well drawn characters in literature.
2. Bridget Jones by Helen Fielding.
I was 26 years old and living in Sydney when I walked into a bookshop and picked up this book. I was hooked from page one. This is arguably the first chick-lit book ever written and it's still one of the best. I mean, who doesn't love Bridget?
3. Rod Stewart – The Autobiography.
I do love a good warts and all autobiography and this one is great. Rod's very funny and writes with a lot of humour, there are some great celebrity anecdotes in here. I devoured it on one long transatlantic plane ride. #Iloverod
Can you tell us about your typical writing day?
That would look something like this – wake up early, make a cup of coffee (in my beloved red espresso pot), drink said coffee and reply to emails, go on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads and then read a bit of the news. Next up is writing. If I am working from home, I tend to stay in my pyjamas and uggs and slide over to my desk – not very glamorous, I have to say. But if I'm going to write in a cafe or a library, I make myself reasonably presentable, wrap myself up in lots of warm clothes (even if I'm writing in 85 degree I get cold, it's all that sitting still!) and head out for the day. I have a MacBook Air, which is very light and transportable, which is lucky as I have a terrible back – a curse of all writers it seems. Around 6pm, I'll usually do some exercise, then it's home, dinner and a nice glass of wine. I try not to write in the evening as it's important to switch off and spend time with my boyfriend, but if I'm on deadline or feeling inspired or struggling with a particular scene, I can often write until I hit the pillow… then I get up the next morning and do it all over again!