An Interview with Alice Peterson
October 2014

Alice Peterson has published both non-fiction and fiction. Her memoir "Another Alice" deals with how her dreams of a tennis career were shattered when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She nowadays writes romantic comedies, and her novels include "One Step Closer to You", "By My Side", "Ten Years On", and "Monday to Friday Man". She lives in London, England.

How did you get started with writing?

I never thought I’d be a writer. To my friends and family I was always ‘Alice, the tennis player’. Tennis had been my childhood passion, and aged 18 I was ranked amongst the top 10 juniors in the country. However, overnight, my dreams of winning Wimbledon were shattered when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). I have never picked up a racket since, a sadness that will always be with me. In my early 20s I didn’t have a clue what my future held except for pain and grieving my old life. It wasn’t until a family friend suggested I write my story about my tennis and RA that I began to feel hope again. I loved writing; I’d always written a diary from the age of 10 and I’d written the drama plays at school. It was also therapeutic to write about my experiences, it helped me to make sense as to why bad things in life happen and it also revived my love of tennis. My autobiography, Another Alice, was published in 1999, and that was the beginning of a new career, a new path. 

How did you end up switching from writing non-fiction to writing fiction?

I remember having a chat to my agent who suggested I write about someone I am fascinated by, maybe a top sporting personality or someone from the past, or I write a make-up story. I have sort of compromised in that I write fiction, but my writing is usually inspired by a real event or real characters who have overcome adversity. I make up a story, of course, and introduce all kinds of fictional characters but the heart of it is very true. To give you an example, my most recent novel, One Step Closer to You, the central character, Polly, was inspired by a mother who nearly lost everything to addiction: her children, husband, family, her sanity – but she dug deep and turned her life around.

What do you prefer about writing fiction compared to non-fiction and vice versa?

I enjoyed writing my own story since it was so therapeutic. It was during a time when I was lost and scared and in a lot of pain, so writing became my saviour, something to get up for in the morning. But obviously I was limited to what really happened; I couldn’t give myself a wonderful hero that I skipped off with in the sunset, nor could I give myself a miracle cure! This is what I love about fiction; I can free my mind and invent the most wonderful characters, and there is usually always a happy ending. It’s nice to be in control that way.

You write romantic comedies, but your protagonists also need to overcome severe problems and challenges, like disabilities or mental illness. Is your desire to write about such darker topics based on your own struggle with rheumatoid arthritis and the sadness it caused you by having to give up your tennis career?

Yes, it definitely is. I love writing about romance and love, and I want my books to have the feel good factor, but it is important that my characters go through a lot to get their happy ending! I think good drama is when bad things happen to people and it’s how you deal with stuff that really shows what you are made of. Since having RA, my eyes have been opened to so many people with disability, some far worse off than me, which I find humbling. I want to write about disability because it’s all around us; it is every day life and I feel strongly it should be represented in fiction.

Your new novel "One Step Closer to You" deals with addiction. What inspired you to write about this topic specifically?

I wanted to research addiction after a chance meeting with a friend of a friend, who told me about her experiences. I think addiction is a fascinating, often misunderstood, dark subject.

How much research do you do for your novels?

A lot! For One Step I talked to many recovering addicts and addiction counsellors, and I attended one or two AA meetings to get an idea of the atmosphere and the sense of community and support. My main research was speaking to people who had been through addiction, they’d hit their rock bottom, but come out the other side. I have nothing but admiration for them – along with their family and friends who support. One Step really shows how addiction has a rippling effect on an entire family and generation.

Do you first write verbosely and then need to shorten a lot, or do you write a lean first draft that you afterwards flesh out with more details?

My first drafts are normally way too long; it’s all about getting something down, anything down really. It’s a strange feeling knowing that most of it will be deleted! But you have to start somewhere and ideas grow from that. I love the feeling when my first draft is completed. That’s when I can really begin to shape and sharpen and cut.

How long does it approximately take you to write a novel?

Between 6 – 9 months, and then add at least 3 months on to that for research. The actual writing is often easier than getting a plotline together, or finding a subject that I’m passionate about and want to live with for the next year or so!

Does suffering from rheumatoid arthritis sometimes make writing and typing difficult for you? Do you use speech-to-text software?

No, thank goodness, not. I find typing easy.

Please describe a typical writing day. Do you plan a particular word count, or do you wait and see how things go each day?

If I’m really into a script I try to write about 2000 words a day. Sometimes I write more, other days less, but I’d say it averages out at about that. I also write at weekends when I’m really involved with my characters and story – it’s hard switching off. Currently I am working on getting ideas together so I’m not writing at all. I don’t enjoy this time; I feel that awful panic, I start to think I can’t do this, how am I ever going to write a book again?!

Which aspects do you enjoy most about being an author?

The freedom. It’s the fact that I can drive down to my parents at a weekend and not have to head back up to London on a Sunday night. I love being able to have a job where I can have my dog, Mr Darcy – and take him out for walks to break up my day. I am lucky that I really enjoy my work. There is still nothing more exciting than seeing my finished book in print, it’s the biggest pleasure ever.

Which least?

The loneliness can be tough.

Are you usually confident when you start writing a new novel, or are you plagued by self-doubts?

I am plagued by self-doubt when I don’t have a good idea. The longer it takes for me to come up with something, the more I begin to think, ‘HELP!’

Did you ever suffer from writers block? If yes, how did you overcome it?

My dog, Darcy, was a huge help with writers block. I bought him 7 years ago, and it was during a time when I was trying to work out what to write next. When I began to take him for walks I met the most amazing group of dog walkers under the chestnut tree, each morning, and it dawned on me that I had a story right in front of my nose! Why not a romance in the park between two dog walkers? Darcy was the inspiration behind Monday To Friday Man, the romantic comedy that knocked 50 Shades of Grey off the number one eBook chart! Good for Darcy!

How do you deal with and feel about destructive criticism from readers?

No one likes a negative review, but I have definitely grown a thicker skin. My books can’t be for everybody, so if someone doesn’t like it, I have to just accept that and move on. I don’t like every book I read so I really don’t mind. What I do object to, however, are reviews that aren’t constructive, that just rip writers apart.

Which of your own novels is your favorite?

By My Side means a huge amount to me, since it’s about the incredible assistant dogs that transform the lives of those with disability. It was the most challenging to write and I have received such lovely reviews, which I have found rewarding.

What do you hope to achieve with your novels?

I love it when readers draw hope and strength from my novels. I also want to entertain by making readers laugh and cry and think about subjects they might not have considered before. I love receiving feedback, a short message from someone saying they enjoyed one of my books makes my day.

Which genres or types of novels do you enjoy reading most?

I read any genre but mainly the romantic comedy or true stories. 

Do you ever use celebrities as models for protagonists? For example, their physical traits, their facial expressions, a performance in a particular movie, or even some of their real-life characteristics? If yes, whom did you choose so far?

Rarely.  I did play on the X-Factor and Simon Cowell (I love him!) in Monday to Friday Man, which was fun. Jack Baker, one of the lead characters, was a producer for a reality singing show. Other than that, I am more inspired by real people – I know celebrities are real, but I mean people I can talk to, really get to know…

How would you describe your personality?

I’d say I’m down to earth, friendly, determined, ambitious & compassionate - and finally I love to laugh.

How do you celebrate a newly published book?

In different ways. For One Step Closer To You, my publishers took me out for a celebratory lunch and then I had a lovely evening with my close friends. For Monday to Friday Man, which was inspired by my group of dog walking friends, I threw a party for the entire park!

Thank you very much for your time, and all the best for your future!

 For more information, please visit Alice Peterson’s website.