Dolly Alderton makes people feel SEEN with her writing.

The award-winning UK author, screenwriter and journalist is known for her captivating love stories, laugh-out-loud prose, and sharp observations on love, life, and friendship.

Alderton’s work has captured the hearts of so many readers— whether through her memoir Everything I Know About Love, her podcast The High Low, or her weekly column for the Sunday Times Style magazine.

Her newest novel fixates on an all-too-relatable torture…trying to figure out why a relationship fell apart. Good Material tells the story of exes Jen and Andy, as a heartbroken Andy pieces his life together in the wake of the breakup, trying to understand why Jen dumped him…so maybe she can find her way back to him. 

The novel has received rave reviews— Lena Dunham called Alderton “the bard of modern day love” while the New York Times likened her to a British Nora Ephron. The universality of her work has propelled her to become a cultural phenomenon, even across the pond. 

We were thrilled to catch up with Alderton after her sold-out Toronto event at Hot Docs Cinema for a heartwarming chat about Canadian chip flavours, Good Material, and all things love, romance and writing.

Let’s get into Good Material! Can you tell me what the process of creating the characters of Andy and Jen looked like?

I knew I wanted to write about someone going through the altered state of heartbreak and how mad that can make you feel. I wanted to write about someone totally different to me and explore how heartbreak presents itself differently in a male perspective to a female perspective.

And then in terms of Jen, I really was interested in what it would look like to have a character who craves freedom. Who chooses an unconventional path. Who confounds expectations of how women should use their bodies in their 30s and their 40s and how women should be in romance. I know lots of women who really struggle with that tension. They want to have security, they want to be in love, they want to feel like they’re a part of a unit but they equally don’t really want to be a part of any of the conventions of relationships and domesticity and marriage and family. 

In your opinion, what are the essential ingredients of a love story?

Flawed, likable characters that are human, that are not perfect and make bad decisions sometimes. Chemistry and wit. Easy dialogue.

Music is SO part of a love story for me. There’s a bit in the new David Nicholls book all about the songs that they swap with each other. I thought that was so clever and so reflective of what falling in love feels like.

Hope. I don’t think all love stories have to end with a couple together. But I think hope that love is possible, and that there is an abundance of it in this life, I think that’s a wonderful feeling to have when you read or watch a love story.

I wanted to talk about the humour in the book. Is that something comes naturally to you as a writer? 

Humour is the love language amongst my group of friends and in my family. It’s the way that we connect. It’s the way we hold a thread to the past with all our in jokes. It’s a way that we tell each other about our lives. It’s the way that we make light in the darkest times. It’s the way that we cheer each other up. It’s the way that we show off to each other.

When I’m writing I’m thinking about whether it would make people I love laugh and whether I would laugh at it. You just have to follow your instincts of what you find funny.

As someone with experience in non-fiction as well, how does your writing process differ to writing fiction? Do you tap into a different creative flow or mindset? 

Nonfiction is technically much easier, but emotionally it comes at a much higher cost. You’re very self-conscious when you’re writing nonfiction, and you’re very aware of how you’re being perceived. Whereas with fiction, I very rarely think of my reader. I very rarely think about me as an author and what people will think…it’s technically much more of a challenge, but I find it much more liberating.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Alfred A. Knopf (@aaknopf)

There are a lot of women in the audience at your Toronto event and many women resonate with your stories. How do you navigate the negative stereotypes that still exist when it comes to women writers and readers, especially in the romance genre?

Men who write fiction about relationships, those stories are often seen as great, searching works about relationships and the human condition. They’re seen as brave and vulnerable and they still can be classed as literary works, whereas with women, it’s seen more as a trivial subject matter.

Feminine interest is still so demeaned. But you know, Barbie and Taylor Swift basically propped up the entire western economy last year! I’m always really interested in how much young women shape and control the world. In Greta Gerwig’s Little Women adaptation, Jo March’s book gets published because the editor’s daughters read the book and rushed in and said you have to publish this, which is what happened in real life with Louisa May Alcott.

That’s happened to me so many times in this life. A powerful man who makes creative decisions who probably would never have taken notice of me has a daughter or a wife or a girlfriend, who tells them to take notice of my work. 

Female writers, we can all do each other a favour. We can keep championing each other and speaking about those books with the same reverence and respect that we would talk about the next great David Nicholls book. 

So many people read your work and really feel seen and understood. Whose work makes you feel that way?

Lena Dunham. I feel like she’s always saying something not just about the female experience, but about the human experience. I feel like she’s been brave to look into stuff that’s often not comfortable about our innermost thoughts or desires. 

I think David Nicholls writes about the pain of relationships as well as the joy in a way that I find really resonates with me. 

And then obviously, Nora Ephron. She captures the bittersweetness of life in her writing, and in her films. In my experience, that’s what life is, it’s in one moment joyful or romantic or silly or comforting and the next moment, it’s disappointing and sharp and hard and difficult. And I think she gets that balance right in a way that feels really recognizable to me.

As people whose work you admire, how does it feel to receive comparisons to Nora Ephron and a review from Lena Dunham?

Yeah, it’s incredible. One of the best bits of the job is having people that you admire endorsing your work. It’s a dream come true. It’s not something you ever think will happen and it’s hugely flattering.

What do you find most rewarding about writing about love and relationships?

I think that increasingly, people keep going back to stories about relationships. Not just romantic relationships, but friendships and family and the relationship you have with yourself, and the relationship you have with your passions and your career. 

Relationships are the most important thing of our time on Earth. They’re the things that enrich us the most, that form who we are the most. I think it forms our politics and our values and how we treat each other. The most palpable thing that we leave in the world is love. Why would you not want art to reflect that?