January 2014


Jemma Forte is a TV presenter and author of novels Me and Miss M and From London With Love. Her latest novel, If You're Not the One, is out in February. She lives in London with her two children. (Interview by Jade Craddock)

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  1. 1. Tell us about your new novel If You’re Not the One?

    If You’re Not the One is about a woman, Jennifer, who finds out what life would have been like if she’d stayed with three different men from her past. I was desperate to write about someone who had already met the man, settled down, had the wedding and the children and was now wondering ‘Is this it?’ Her malcontent can easily be labelled a ‘mid-life crisis’ but the book looks at how this is something which shouldn’t be dismissed as a silly phase. It’s also a book about decisions which explores how who we partner up with has a hugely far-reaching effect on our lives.

  2. 2. Where did you get the idea for the novel?

    One day I was pondering how my life could have gone this way or that and the idea was born in one of those all too rare lightbulb moments. I think it’s fascinating how much who we choose to share our lives with affects every aspect of our world – where we live, who our friends are, even our finances. I also believe that many people have someone from their past who they think of from time to time, wondering how things might have panned had they not split up with them.

  3. 3. In the book, we see the different ways Jennifer’s life could have panned out - do you believe in destiny?

    More and more I believe that we are in charge of our own destiny. I think if you float along without questioning anything, life will simply happen to you but personally I like to be pro-active in giving it a helping hand along the way, steering it in a direction I want. That is to say, trying to address things I’m not happy about. Fate is such an interesting concept and when you’re in love, it can feel like it was written in the stars, meant to be. Was it though? Well, possibly, only surely there are many people in this world you could potentially live happily with? The romantic side of me loves the notion that the people we meet are put our way for a reason and yet my brain tells me that this is a pretty fanciful idea. These are the kinds of themes I hope this book will make people want to debate.

  4. 4. Each of Jennifer’s various ‘lives’ are like mini stories. Were the paths of each of these stories quite clear to you from the start or did they develop as you wrote?

    A mixture of both. I worked out the characters and their individual plot lines before I started but often when I write, things can go off on a bit of a tangent. The main challenge with this book was to create all these different male characters and yet have the reader totally believe that despite their differences, at each particular point in her life when she met them, Jennifer would have fallen for them. I also wanted to show that ultimately we usually split up with people for a good reason. Yet at the same time I wanted to make it interesting and thought-provoking and for things not to be too obvious. Perhaps Jennifer could have been happy with someone different? And perhaps she could never have imagined how staying with these men would have actually turned out in reality.

  5. 5. Aidan, Tim, Steve and Max all have their good points and bad points, did you have a personal favourite?

    They were all really good fun to write but the one I had the biggest soft spot for was Joe who is part of a sub plot which is incredibly important overall. I was a bit in love with him as a character. I really enjoyed the challenge of writing husband Max over so many years too. Meeting him as a young single and seeing how he had essentially remained the same and yet been changed too by responsibility and getting older.

  6. 6. Did you ever feel torn over what path/which guy Jennifer should have chosen?

    Not really because I had worked out exactly what her past was, what her present was and what her ‘flash sideways’ would be like. I felt it all made sense that she had ended up with Max and that she had married him for good reason. I hoped to demonstrate that she also had good reason at the time for every one of her break-ups. The bit I felt torn over though was her future!

  7. 7. You’ve left the ending quite open, did you always plan on this?

    Ah, the ending. This was the part of the book I agonised over most. Ultimately it seemed fitting for a book about decisions that Jennifer should be faced with the biggest one of all at the end of the book. I didn’t want anything to be too black and white because of course real life rarely is. I also thought it was important to write an ending which didn’t feel cliche and trite and which supported the fact that here was a woman who was having a very serious ‘not to be taken lightly’ mid-life crisis.

  8. 8. Did you learn anything about yourself through writing If You’re Not the One?

    That, like Jennifer, I don’t have all the answers and that actually life seems to get more complicated as you get older, not less. That’s a cheery thought eh? It’s funny because although that sounds heavy and rather gloomy, one of the things a lot of people have said about the book is that it’s funny. Of course there is a lot of humour in truth and I think Jennifer’s sense of humour stands her in good stead throughout. Perhaps that’s the other thing she’s taught me is that all you can do is muddle through, listen to your heart and that you always have the power to change things.

  9. 9. What was the best thing and worst thing about writing this particular book?

    The best thing was writing the flashbacks and creating a lovely contrast between her carefree youth and more responsible life as a mum of two in the suburbs. I had so much fun writing her Greek holiday with the girls and felt it bought a splash of colour to the story. There’s also one moment in the book which I hope comes as a real shock. Though I don’t want to give anything away so won’t say when it happens. The worst things about writing it were, firstly that I didn’t have a book deal in place so was writing on a wing and a prayer, hoping that all the time and effort would pay off. And on a writing level, working out the structure was tricky. The book leaps about from past to present, to imagined present and of course the reader has to be completely clear about what was going on. There were a few headaches along the way as I tried to stay on top of that but overall writing this book was a brilliant experience.

  10. 10. The book is really fresh and innovative, were you aware when you were writing it that you were working on something special?

    When you’re in the midst of writing a book it’s hard to have total objectivity about what you’re creating. However, what I did know from the start was that the idea was really interesting and that it was one of those great ones you can explain in a sentence. Those are often the best hooks so I knew the foundations were good. Having said that you just never know how people are going to feel about a story or the characters you’ve created. If people like Jennifer I will be so happy.

  11. 11. What was the last really original book that you read?

    A book called Wonder by R.J Palacio is pretty stunning. It’s actually aimed at kids but has been a huge hit with adults too and I know the film rights have been snapped up. It’s about a boy who was born extremely deformed, to the point where his face is so alarmingly hideous people almost don’t know how to handle it. It begins at the point where he has to stop being home schooled and start high school. Incredibly it manages to be one of the most heart-warming books I’ve ever read and hammers home the importance of kindness. It had me in floods!

  12. 12. I believe there’s a possibility of a film, how far along is this process? And who would be your ideal cast?

    Working Title Films have optioned the film rights for If You’re Not the One which is one of the most exciting things ever to happen to me. They are responsible for films such as Notting Hill, Bridget Jones and are a company I’ve been a huge fan of for years so it’s a huge thrill and compliment to the book. Of course though these things can take years and so now the development process begins, the first stage being for a screenwriter to adapt the book into a script. I have lots of ideas about the cast but at this stage almost don’t want to say as I want people to read the book with no one in their head so they can have their own Jennifer, Max, Tim etc. But I’ll keep you posted!

  13. 13. You worked in TV presenting for many years, how did you make the move to writing? Do you miss working on TV?

    I began writing my first book when I was still working in TV. I had just left the Disney Channel where I was for five years and had a daytime show on ITV starting but not for three months. I spent those three months writing what eventually became Me and Miss M. Since then I’ve combined writing with doing commercials, bits of presenting and acting so I’m still involved in that world, which is great. It gets me out the house and means I’m always meeting people who provide inspiration for characters!

  14. 14. Has being a published author lived up to your expectations?

    Absolutely. It is something I’m immensely proud of and I’m just as excited about this book coming out as I was my first. I have to pinch myself still when I tell people I’m a writer and when I see a hard copy of my own book for the first time it’s a brilliant moment. It’s like seeing all your hard work and time encapsulated in an object.

  15. 15. What do you think is the biggest challenge to women’s fiction writers in 2014?

    Coming up with fresh ideas and then persuading publishers that women do have an appetite for ‘different’. Too often they want to follow a trend of something that’s worked previously, for example, to find the next Fifty Shades or Gone Girl. But the point is that imitations of something are never as good as the original so although those books sold in their millions surely it’s better to be hankering after the next big idea instead? It’s a tough market and with so many books being published all the time you have to hope that word of mouth will work its magic.

  16. 16. Have you got any other ideas in the pipeline?

    I do. I’ve already handed in my next book which I’m very excited about so am now ruminating about the one after that. The idea is at germ stage at the moment. If you know what I mean?!

  17. 17. And finally the book makes the reader think what if. What is the big what if in your life?

    Well, like everybody, I do have some personal ones but I also do wonder what life might have been like had I pursued a slightly more standard career path. Being freelance has huge advantages but also means you never have a break from hustling for your next job or bit of work. Sometimes this takes its toll and yet I found myself on a plane to Budapest just before Christmas to film a commercial for France. It was all very last minute and I thought, this is why I do this. For the crazy spontaneous bits which make it all worthwhile.

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