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4 November 2020

Dolly Alderton Q&A: “Writing is professional neediness“

The writer discusses Dolly Parton, Victoria Woodhull and Carrie Bradshaw's outfits.

By New Statesman

Dolly Alderton was born in London in 1988. Her first book, “Everything I Know About Love”, won a National Book Award. She is a co-presenter of “The High Low” podcast.

What’s your earliest memory?

My brother being born. I was 11 months old. My parents left a teddy for me in his crib, which he’d “bought me” as a present. I was absolutely sold from then on.

Who are your heroes?

As a child, Shirley Temple, and as an adult, Dolly Parton: women with hair as impressive as their sunny disposition.

What book last changed your thinking?

Intimations by Zadie Smith, particularly the essay in which she explores privilege and suffering; how both can exist together and neither cancels the other one out.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Victoria Woodhull. She was the first woman to run for president and the first to start a weekly newspaper, as well as a single mother, a campaigner for the legalisation of prostitution and an advocate for free love. All in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I’d love to write her biopic.

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What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

The albums of John Martyn, the carbohydrates of Italy or, I’m afraid tosay, the outfits of Carrie Bradshaw.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

London, 1964 to 1978. I would have liked to have had the end of my teens and all of my twenties from the year of the Rolling Stones’s first album release to the year of the release of their last great album (Some Girls). Then I’d head to 1980s Lower East Side Manhattan for my thirties spent in shoulder pads in basement clubs. Then straight back to London for my forties in the 1990s, drinking white wine spritzers in an Agnès B cardigan.

[See also: Mary McAleese Q&A: “No one comes close to John Hume’s unerring leadership”]

What TV show could you not live without?

Old Stars in Their Eyes episodes on YouTube.

Who would paint your portrait?

I love an Italian artist called Roberto Ferri, who paints romantic, baroque-inspired nudes, which might be handy if I ever lost my mind and rejoined Hinge.

What’s your theme tune?

“Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

When I interviewed Kirsty Young, she said: listen to your friends because they’re the only ones as invested in your life as you are, but they have the objectivity of distance from your experience. I try very hard to follow it.

What’s currently bugging you?

Boris Johnson.

[See also: Ocean Vuong Q&A: “Batman is just a billionaire with a cool butler”]

What single thing would make your life better?

Kitchen drawers. I rent a flat with not one. My cutlery is soon going to have to be relocated to my sock drawer.

When were you happiest?

In the sea with my friends. Or in the middle of writing my novel. Or in love.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

Anything that is professional neediness, like writing. Anything with a potential to yield love and affirmation from strangers, like comedy or catering. 

Are we all doomed?

Of course! Life is by its very nature tragic because it ends. But there’s a tonne of lessons to learn and fun to be had in the meantime. 

“Ghosts”, a novel by Dolly Alderton, is published by Fig Tree

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This article appears in the 04 Nov 2020 issue of the New Statesman, American chaos