I have always been competitive, since a little girl. When I first began to play tournament tennis, aged 11, I was drawn against the number 2 seed. I was wearing green Dunlop Flash and carrying a wooden racket. The number 2 seed was dripping in tennis accessories. As I walked on to the court I muttered ‘be positive, I can win and I will. If I want to win but think I can’t, that’s negative’. Needless to say I was thrashed, but it didn’t stop me from entering another tournament. I am a huge believer in the power of being positive – and never giving up.
Which is just as well… because my tennis dreams came to an end aged 18. I was ranked in the top 10 juniors in my country and about to go to America on a tennis scholarship when I developed an incurable autoimmune condition, rheumatoid arthritis (RA). I could never play tennis again, a terrible sadness. It took me years to get over the grief of losing my old life – a necessary process, but I have moved on and I now use those experiences, both dark and painful, but also joyous in the love and support I have received – in my writing.
People say to me, ‘you are so brave’ – but really it’s my family, especially my parents, who are the brave ones. Watching someone you love suffer must be a terrible thing. I don’t have children, so it’s hard to imagine, but my father used to always say, ‘I wish it had happened to me, Alice, I wish I had RA’. Mum and I do laugh though, saying Dad swears so loudly when he gets cramp…
I think having a sense of humour is the most important tool to survive all the curveballs life throws at us. I have so many laughter lines that no amount of anti aging cream can cure! I believe laughter is the best medicine of all.
I love dogs and my Lucas Terrier, Darcy, has brought so much joy in my life – so much so that one of my novels, Monday to Friday Man, was inspired by my dog walking gang in west London – Darcy was very proud when it knocked Fifty Shades of Grey off the kindle number 1 spot.
Darcy isn’t named after Darcy Bussell (though I love her). Despite appearances Darcy is a boy and he’s named after Colin Firth, so it’s Mr Darcy if you please. Pride and Prejudice will always be my favourite book.
My agent, Diana Beaumont, was my first editor at Transworld and we’re now great friends. It’s so important to trust and love your agent, as it is like an office marriage!
My latest novel A Song for Tomorrow is inspired by the singer and songwriter Alice Martineau, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic lung condition, but against all the odds, never gave up on her dream to be a singer. It is, I believe, my most emotional story to date – the one book I was meant to write. It has been a joy working on it with my new team at Simon & Schuster.
If I weren’t a writer I would probably be a psychologist or a counsellor. For my books I love researching the characters, the work they do, their flaws and strengths and the motivation behind their actions. I don’t understand people who sit next to you at a dinner party and talk only about themselves! It’s important to be curious about others.
Finally, I think a glass of wine at the end of a working day is one of greatest pleasures in life. And coffee. Oh. And cake... In fact food full stop. There was a reason my father used to call me ‘Pudgit’ when I was a child…