Alice Peterson tells Jo Reynolds why she gave up tennis to write a hit.
When did you move to the area?
2004, so ten years ago.
What do you most like about it?
I love the park, and I love my neighbours.
For people unfamiliar with your writing, what have you written?
My first book was ‘Another Alice’, my own story. My other non-fiction book is ‘M’Coben, Place Of Ghosts’, a biography about my grandmother’s pioneering adventures in Zimbabwe.
Do you write only non-fiction?
No, I’ve written 5 novels, mostly romantic comedies. Comedy is important to me. I love to laugh. That’s why I have so many crinkles around my eyes. I think the time has come for Botox or the best anti-aging cream out there. Even though my books tackle serious themes and often feature disability, it’s really important to inject humour. Humour has helped me get through my situation.
When I was 18 and on the verge of signing a tennis scholarship to America, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). You need a sense of humour to get you through the tough times. My mother and I have such a similar sense of humour. We have been to hell and back together, but we’ve shared so much laughter and fun too. Humour is the best medicine. But I like to write something moving too – I like to make readers laugh and cry, take them through a whole range of emotions. So, my first novel, ‘Letters From My Sister’ is about two sisters, chalk and cheese, learning from one another. ‘You, Me And Him’ is a love triangle that questions whether women and men can be “just friends”. ‘Ten Years On’ is about two friends who lose touch but meet in unexpected circumstances ten years later. ‘Monday To Friday Man’ is a comedy about dog walkers in Ravenscourt Park. ‘By My Side’ is a love story and features one of my favourite characters, a golden Labrador.
What made you start writing?
I was driven to it. I wanted to be a tennis champion. I’d loved tennis from the age of 11. I climbed up the ranks, trained with Tim Henman and was one of the top ten juniors in the country aged 18. But then Iexperienced weird pain in my hands and feet and was diagnosed with RA. I have never played tennis since, a sadness that will always be with me. Instead, I went to Bristol University. It was pretty awful because I wasn’t well and I was grieving for my old life. After Bristol I moved back to my parents as I needed surgery on my feet. It was summer and I was in the garden with some friends of my parents, Robert and Mary Cross. Robert asked me how I was doing. Usually I’d say, fine, but I told him, actually, I’m really struggling, I’m in a really bad place. I told him everything. Poor man, I bet he wished he’d never asked. But he said, have you ever thought about writing? It might help. I said, I don’t know how to write and he said, just write from the heart. I dug out my old tennis diaries and scrapbooks from the attic and wrote a chapter about my really happy tennis days, all the tournaments with the pushy mothers. I showed it to Robert and he said, I like it, it’s funny. After that we met every week and worked on my book. I owe Robert so much.
So, writing was your therapy?
It was the best therapy. I loved reliving my tennis days. Even writing the darker times with the RA helped me to make sense of it all. As I was writing, I began to realize that all the grit and determination I’d had on the tennis court could be used to fight the RA and rebuild my life. Getting it published in 1999 was incredible, and it was the beginning of a new career. I dedicated the book to my parents who have been the best. Without them, I’d be lost.
Has writing turned you into a different person?
When I was young I was just a normal carefree teenager, pretty wrapped up in my own world, very ambitious to win. I wouldn’t say writing has changed me, the RA has. But writing gave my life focus and took me away from the pain. I could tap into a creative side that I didn’t know I had. I am definitely more compassionate and aware of others. I’m softer too. But I’m still a terrier!
Is writing painful?
It can be.
Do you actually like the physical side of writing, the slog of getting the words down?
Slog is a great word. Getting that first draft down can sometimes be a real mental block for me and I’ll do anything to avoid my desk. My sock drawer has never been more organised. In many ways I prefer doing the research. For ‘By My Side’, which features a woman with a spinal cord injury, I spent just as long researching it as writing it. I had to do the subject justice, especially such a sensitive subject. But after the research you just have to sit down and write. Often I head down to my parents who lock me up in their conservatory and feed me until I’ve physically got those words down.
Are you a champion of disability?
There’s disability all around us, which is why I like to represent it in fiction. The people I write about aren’t always stars or angels. They have strengths and flaws like anyone else. I think it’s inevitable I do include it in that I write what I know about. I write what I see. Since having RA, I have come across lots of people with disability, many so much worse off than me. It’s been humbling and inspiring.
Do you write about the life you wish you’d had?
No. I would never have been a champion. If I hadn’t become a writer, I’d like to have worked in the media, I’ve always liked the idea of being the next Sue Barker.
Which book do you wish you’d written?
‘Pride and Prejudice’. And I love Jojo Moyes. I’d also love to be a crime writer like PD James.
If you won the lottery, who would you give money to?
I don’t want to sound all worthy, but I’d give to Canine Partners, the most amazing charity who train dogs to transform lives. I’m a massive dog person – my little Darcy is my best buddy. And I’d give to NRAS, the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society. Can I keep some for a shopping spree though? Come on…
Do you do much charity work?
I’m involved with Canine Partners, and I’ve given talks for NRAS.
Do you get nervous?
I always get nervous about everything. Whenever I talk about tennis, I notice that tremble in my voice, as if it was still yesterday.
Do you base characters on people you know?
Sometimes. My friends laugh at me because whenever someone says something funny or interesting I get out that little notepad and they say, hang on, you’re not putting that in, are you?
How did it feel when ‘The Monday To Friday Man’ knocked ‘50 Shades Of Grey’ off the bestseller’s perch?
It was incredible, and something I so didn’t expect. My friends called me late that night before I’d seen the charts. I was over the moon and couldn’t sleep.
Do you enjoy book signings?
It’s the best part. It’s really wonderful when people say, your book made me think, or laugh, or cry.
What is your next book about?
Two recovering addicts who become best friends – a man and woman – but their pasts catch up with them.
What are you addicted to?
Mr. Darcy, of course. Colin Firth.
Thank you, Alice. It’s been a pleasure to meet you.
Alice’s next book ‘One Step Closer To You’ is out in Sept 2014.
You can read more about Alice and her work on www.alicepeterson.co.uk.