Alexandra Potter is a British author, whose first novel ‘What’s New, Pussycat?’ was published in 2000, a week before her 30th birthday and immediately made the top ten. She has since written twelve novels of romantic comedy including ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’, ‘Me and Mr Darcy’ (which won Best New Fiction Award at the Jane Austen Regency World Awards) and ‘Love From Paris’ which was shortlisted for the RNA Comedy Award.
Her latest book is Confessions of a Forty-something F##k Up and features a totally relatable single, childless, middle-aged woman as the main character, ‘Nell Stevens’, whose life is a mess since her business and her engagement went bust together and she returns from her utterly Instagrammable LA life to cold and dreary London – heartbroken and broke. All of her friends are married and sprogged-up and the only place she can afford to live is a rented room in a stranger’s house whilst tries to sort out her life.
Moving into your forties as a single, childless woman can feel pretty shocking. It was to me as I cannonballed out of a marriage that had taken up most of my twenties and thirties and into the dating scene at forty. And to be honest, even harder than how much harder meeting a partner had become, was the way that society now viewed me as some kind of failed female. When I was a teenager, school and society had told me that the worst thing that could happen to me was to become ‘a single mother’. At forty, I discovered this not to be true – those young mothers were now respectable middle-aged women (whether partnered or not) and trotting out ‘As A Mother’ bingos like the rest of them… whereas those women who were both unpartnered and childless were treated like social plankton. I looked around me and thought, ‘What the fuck happened to feminism?’ and then… ‘What the fuck happened to MY feminism?’ I confess, I’d gone to sleep in my marriage, so desperate was I to be loved and accepted after an exceptionally tricky childhood and, when I woke up, the ‘have it all’ superwoman of the 1980s had turned out not to be some brave new frontier for women but in fact, yet another hurdle to be vaulted to be granted entry into what was still a man’s world. Potter’s ‘Nell’ sees this too as she moves into her forties:
“Time feels like it’s speeding up. And running out. You start looking back, trying to figure out how on earth you got here, instead of forwards, as frankly it frightens the living daylights out of you. You’re hurtling past the halfway mark if you’re lucky, and nothing is how you thought it would be when you were yelling in strangers’ ears in dodgy nightclubs. But then maybe that’s how everyone feels about their birthdays at this age. Though, judging by everyone’s photos on Facebook, of weekends spent celebrating in cosy cottages in the Cotswolds and family selfies where everyone’s wearing matching smiles and wellies–even the Labrador–I’m not convinced. They do not look shocked and bewildered at how this can be happening to them.”
What I loved about this book is that smuggled into the fluffy rom-com genre is some serious social commentary. The kind of awakening that so many single, childless women I know have had to reckon with and which I did too. But then, Jane Austen’s books were the same – 1813’s Pride and Prejudice, beloved of rom-com authors and readers ever since, is also a biting social satire on how women’s social position and power is entirely predicated on who she marries, and how fragile and fleeting the moment is when her ‘currency’ is at its peak. And Chris Van Dusen’s 2020 TV-series Bridgerton, produced by Shonda Rhimes and based on Julia Quinn’s books, also uses the genre admirably to explore patriarchy, sexism and racism, all wrapped up in a Regency swash-buckling bow.
‘Nell’ faces the dilemma that I, and so many other women arriving childless at midlife face. How the hell do we do this when everything around us has prepared us for something different?
“Of course, I realize this is just a new stage of life, and one that–if all this midlife stuff is to be believed–I should be embracing. But what if you’re not ready for this new stage? What if you haven’t even reached the old stage yet? Even if you’re not sure about having kids it’s comforting to know you’ve got options. No one wants to be The Woman For Whom Time Ran Out. You want to be the one making the decisions. Sitting on the fence is one thing, but what happens when the fence is taken away from you? Do you jump off joyfully or fall crashing to the floor?”
I’m not going to share any more of Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up as I don’t want to spoil it for you. However, I do want to reassure you that it does not end with the curse of the genre – a miracle baby! You can find out more about the book at Alexandra Potter’s website and order your copy to read in time to meet the author with the Gateway Women Nomo Book Club on 23rd January if you wish.
Alexandra Potter is a guest for January 2021’s Nomo Book Club, hosted within the Gateway Women Online Community by Lisa Kissane, the Host of the Nomo Book Club. Come and join Lisa, Alexandra, and plenty of other forty-somethings (or fifty-somethings now in my case!) on Saturday 23rd January 2021 at 10am UK time as together we show that it’s not only in rom-com that we get to write our own endings.
The Gateway Women Online Community is a membership community – the first month is free so you could join us just for this event if you wish, and take a look around to see if you’d like to stay with us. It’s the only ID-checked online community for our tribe and with 35+ subgroups, many different weekly live-events and a host of special features you won’t find anywhere else online, it really is worth a look!