RH: You were hounded by the publishing industry into
becoming a novelist, weren't you?
AM: (laughs) That's a nice way of putting it. I did get a
lot of encouragement. The hardest thing to do is to start. I think very
few people want to start because we're so scared of failing. I was
very fortunate in that I had a lot of people harrassing me to get
I wrote some very lighthearted self-help books for the publishers of
British Cosmopolitan, and the woman who edited the
manuscripts kept telling me that I should write a novel. Without my
asking her, she called a publisher friend of hers, who called me and
suggested that we should meet. Even though I had nothing to show
him, I thought that I couldn't let this chance go. So I took a week and
scribbled down a load of rubbish about a girl whose father died,
because that's the subject I knew and that I wanted to write
He offered me a modest deal, but I didn't know if I could afford to
take it. So I spoke to some of my writer friends, one of whom put me
in touch with a literary agent, and he told me, "Look, you haven't got
a plot. Go away and come back when you've got something proper." I
went away stunned, and now I had to decide whether I wanted to
take the first deal or try to do better. And I decided to try to do
better. I spent a month trying to figure out a plot, and when I went
back to the agent, this time he liked it, and it all went from there.
I didn't start writing the book until about two years after my father
died, when I was very nearly thirty. I was nervous, because I'd told
people I was writing a novel, and there's nothing worse than doing
that, because everyone is writing a novel. It just sounds like a
RH: Plus you set yourself up for all those rounds of
"How's the novel going?"
AM: Yeah, yeah, and they're still asking you ten years later.
(laughs) So that was scary, but the thing was that I did work
very hard on it. And when I sent out those first three chapters, I do
remember feeling very happy. I thought, "OK, if nobody wants to buy
that, I give up. That's the best I can do." I sent it off on a Monday
morning, then went out for a coffee with my mom. And I said to
myself, "It's the middle of the day, and I'm not working. This is very
friviolous, but I still feel great."
RH: Many first-time novelists are very cagey about the
relationship between their lives and the plots of their
books, but you've been very upfront about writing what
AM: I did do a lot of research, though. I nterviewed
bereavement counselors, and interviewed people about their
relationships with their fathers. I talked to a lot of people, because I
didn't want the book to be just about my own experiences. However,
I don't think that bereavement is something that's easy to write
about unless you've been through it. It's unlike anything you can
possibly imagine, at least that's how it was for me. And even if it
does happen to you, three years later, you forget what it's like. I
remember somebody talking to me about a relation who had died,
and I found myself nearly asking how old he was. As if that
mattered. It doesn't matter if somebody lives to be 150 years old,
you'll still feel, "How dare they die? It's not right." But those are the
kinds of things people ask, and it's insulting to the grieving person,
because it's as if you're trying to make it better. "Oh, well, he had a
good innings. Look on the bright side." There's no bright side. He's
dead. I loved him. It feels awful.
For that reason, it was important that I went through what I'm
writing about. I just think whatever a person writes, their view of
the world always seeps into the book. So whether an author
professes that nothing in the book is related to their real life, or a
half of it, or whatever, a book is the most personal art form there is.
RH: It's a romantic comedy, but you also tackle some
very serious subject matter, in addition to the bereavement
at the book's center.
AM: One of the issues I wanted to tackle was domestic
violence. Even though this is a romantic comedy, and I wanted it to
be lighthearted in many ways, I didn't want the message of the book
to be "find a man and everything will be okay." Certainly a lot of
women are brought up to believe that that's the case, and it's really
hard to learn that nobody is going to rescue you, you have to rescue
That's what Helen has to do. That's what Tina has to do. Adrian,
Tina's abusive lover, is the only truly evil person in the book, I think.
The others are all very flawed, and they're not all pleasant, but he's
evil. I wanted to...not shock people, but maybe rattle them a bit. I did
have an agenda. I wanted to make a few things plain. But I didn't
want to lecture people.
RH: Instead of a cute book about the foibles of finding
the man of your dreams, you've managed to write an
emotionally substantial story.
AM: I wanted to write a book that worked on different levels.
So if somebody wants a romantic comedy for a beach read, they have
that. But I also wanted it to be substantial, I didn't want to write a
throwaway book. You have to write what you're passionate about if
you're going to write an engaging book. You have to be honest with
the reader. If you're just doing it for ulterior motives...people aren't
stupid. They know when they're being patronized. And this is a book
from the heart. I hope that comes across.
RH: There's been a boom in the last few years of fiction
written by and for younger women. So there's a unique set
of challenges in writing a book that will be compared
against the genre, while distinguishing it as your own, as
something to value on its own merits.
AM: It is very hard. Of course everybody wants to stand
alone. But then I can't protest too much. A large portion of the book
is the young woman, the foibles, the job, the dating. But these
are things I can relate to, and I can imagine my friends and other
young women relating to them. That's what I want to write about, so
why shouldn't I?
There is enough room for all these books. I always get stuck on this
question, because I just wrote the book I wanted to write. It can be
galling when somebody compares it to Bridget Jones' Diary, but
then what a great thing, to be compared to such a successful book.
That said, the critics have been fair. They'll draw the comparison, but
then say, "However," and that's gratifying. I feel that I've been
RH: You signed a two-book deal with your publisher.
So...are you ready?
AM: I'm about three-fifths through the second book. It was
hard at first. About halfway through Getting Over It, I did start
thinking about what the next book would be about. The first novel
was swilling around in my head for two or three years, so once I had
the plot down, it flowed quite easily. With the second book, I've had
to think a lot harder to get the plot together, and to get the voice. I
start off with an idea for a character, and the character grows as I
write. As I write, I get to know the character, and it takes on a life of
its own, until you start noticing things in the real world and thinking,
"Oh, that's something Helen would say," or "That's the sort of thing
Luke would wear." The characters become real to me in that sense,
and they have to for the book to work. If you don't believe in your
characters, why should the reader?
It took a while, in the second book, for me to get to grips with the
character, and I went through moments where I wondered what I
was doing, convinced I was out of my depth. Thank goodness the
character has evolved, and I'm really happy with how the book's
doing, and my agent is really excited by what he's seen so far.
It's a very different book, with a very different character. It's about
a young woman whose best friend gets married, so now she feels left
behind. As the story progresses, you realize that she has bigger
problems she isn't admitting to. It's about friendship and the
pressures on women to be and look a certain way. There's serious
subjects in there, but again I hope to treat them with some humor.
RH: Will you still work in journalism?
AM: As much as I can. I have a column for Esquire that
I'll bring to an end, then work freelance for them, as I do for
Cosmopolitan. The editors there have been very patient with
me, letting me do as much or as little as I have time to do. And I do
the occasional piece for newspapers. It's nice to be able to pick and
choose, but I don't want to do too much, because my job now is being
a novelist, and I can't get too distracted from that.
I'm not pretending that I'm digging ditches, but this job is quite draining. You
put quite a bit of yourself into it, and it takes up so much time. But I love it. It's
a privilege, really, to enjoy my job. It's an opportunity, and I do feel grateful,
thankful that I'm in this position. There are thousands of really good writers
who don't get the chance I got, so I want to make the most of it.