Penguin.com (usa)

Reading Guides

INTRODUCTION

At thirty-one, Charlotte Merryweather has it all: a successful public relations business, a loving and committed boyfriend, designer clothes, and a fabulous apartment. Life is much different than when she first came to London after graduating college in the States – her job is better, her clothes are better, and her residence is better. Of course, she has to work constantly to maintain her business, and she never really gets to see her flat or her boyfriend because she’s always out meeting clients, and since turning thirty she’s developed a slew of allergies – but her life is truly fabulous.

Or so she thinks, up until she’s redirected during rush hour traffic one morning, and she passes a VW Beetle that looks just like her own first car, driven by a young woman who looks unmistakably like her twenty-one year old self – the same curly, scrunch-dried hair, tan skin, and reckless, carefree spirit (demonstrated by the young woman’s slightly reckless driving – Charlotte’s much better than that now). When Charlotte sees her more than once on the same street, out of curiosity she follows her . . . back to the same address where Charlotte used to live, when she was working as a puzzle editor and her greatest concern was getting the sexy and elusive rocker Billy Romani to notice her.

And so when Charlotte literally bumps into her former self, Lottie, at the corner pub, she strikes up a friendship. Strange coincidence or no, Charlotte knows that this is the chance few people have – to impart some words of wisdom and help her former self avoid the mistakes she’d rather not have made over the past ten years. Yet as she spends more time with her twenty-one year old self, thirty-one year old Charlotte realizes that perhaps she’s lost some perspective over the years – and that maybe there are some things that the impulsive, fun-loving Lottie could help her remember about love, friendship, and living in the moment.

ABOUT ALEXANDRA POTTER

Alexandra Potter

ALEXANDRA POTTER was born in Yorkshire, England. Having lived in Los Angeles, Sydney, and London after university, she finally decided to settle where the sun is and now lives full-time in California. She has worked variously as a features editor and subeditor for women’s magazines in the United Kingdom, and currently writes full-time.

A CONVERSATION WITH ALEXANDRA POTTER

Q. Where did you get the idea for this book? How does it reflect (or not reflect) your own ideas about fate and destiny, and about pursuing one’s happiness in life?

When I was 21 years old I lived in LA for a year and worked as a nanny for a lovely family. I used to drive to work in a beat-up old car and drive the same route every day, from my apartment to their house. Recently, after moving back to LA in my thirties, I found myself driving along exactly the same route as I used to when I was 21, and I stopped at the same intersection. I was suddenly flooded with memories and thought to myself, ‘wouldn’t it be funny if I could somehow turn back time. I would see myself, aged 21, sitting at these very lights’. From there my imagination started to run wild!

This idea is one that I’ve had mulling around in my mind, but stopping at this intersection was the catalyst for actually writing about it. I am always thinking ‘imagine if’ about everything and anything, and fate and destiny is something that completely intrigues me. The idea that your life can be mapped out, that every decision you make is pre-destined to take you one step closer to your destiny.

But do I believe in Destiny and Fate? The jury is still out on that one. Sometimes I think not, that you make your own life and your own happiness, and that your life can go in many different ways depending on what choices you make in life. But then there are other times, when strange things happen, that I do make me think that there might be some bigger force at play….

Q. You’re a woman from Northern England (like Charlotte’s mother) who’s transplanted herself to the United States, and California in particular. Your protagonist is an American who’s moved to London. Do the similarities stop there? What do you like best about your main character, Charlotte Merryweather?

There are many similarities between myself and the characters of Lottie and Charlotte. There is the obvious one of me being British and moving to America – and I used this by turning it around and making Charlotte an American moving to London, as there are so many differences between the two countries, and I wanted to highlight these. I was very like Lottie when I was 21 – I was very carefree and I was all about living in the moment and having fun – and as I have got older I have become more like Charlotte (though obviously not as extreme). So it was fun to think about what I would learn from my younger self if I got the chance to meet her.

I really like Charlotte as a character – I like the way she finds herself throughout the book – her willingness to change – her desire to find true love – her sense of adventure and her bravery. After all, it would take a lot to change her life, as she does at the end when she lets Beatrice take over her company and she follows her dream of being a writer.

Q. Was it fun to lampoon some of the Hollywood celebrity types you (may) have met since moving to California? What do you find particularly striking (both good and bad) about Americans since moving to the United States? What do you miss most about England?

I had a lot of fun with Larry Goldstein and his wife. Living in LA I have met lots of weird and wonderful characters, and Larry was actually based on a doctor I met in LA (no names mentioned!) However it was all done in good humor as I love America and I love Americans. Americans are just so positive and enthusiastic which is incredibly refreshing as in England we can be terribly negative about things, though I do think that has a lot to do with the weather! Living in constant sunshine in California makes everyone happy! I also love the fact there is no class system in America and that if you work hard you can succeed.

I am very fortunate that my sister lives in LA so I have my family close by, but I do miss certain things about England: I miss my parents, English pubs, the British sense of humor, and Heinz Baked Beans!

Q. Was the plot catalyst – Charlotte’s time travel – a fun vehicle to explore? How much did you already know about time travel theories before you wrote this book? What do you like best about the idea of time travel? If you had a choice, would you, like Charlotte, visit your younger self?

I knew absolutely nothing about time travel theories and had to do A LOT of research! It was fun making the character of Beatrice an expert on time travel, and I used her to explain to my readers all the different theories that are out there, which are both fascinating and incredibly complex. Theoretically it IS impossible. How amazing is that? Once you start thinking of all the endless possibilities, it’s as if a whole new world opens up, one in which you can meet yourself in both the past and in the future. Just imagine all the other historical characters you could meet. All the events you could witness…

I’ve thought long and hard about if I would visit my younger self, if I had the opportunity, and I think the answer has to be yes. It would be too fascinating an opportunity to resist.

Q. What are you working on currently? What will we see on the shelves of bookstores in the near future?

I’ve just finished my latest book, which is coming out in the UK in the summer. Originally it was called ‘The One’ but has been renamed ‘You’re The One That I Don’t Want’. It’s all about, what if you found your soul mate... and then discovered you couldn’t lose him?

When Lucy meets Ante aged 18, it is love at first sight. As far as she’s concerned, he’s The One. Caught up in the whirlwind of first love, they kiss under the Bridge of Sighs in Venice at sunset and – according to the legend – are tied together indefinitely.

But ten years later, they’ve almost forgotten about each other. That is, until fate starts to bring them together. Again. And again. And again. It doesn’t seem as wonderful as it had before, but if Nate’s not The One – then why on earth is it proving so hard to break up with him?

A funny and magical romantic comedy about what happens when every girl’s dream of finding her dream man comes very true indeed...

It is due to come out in the US in 2011, which is very exciting. I’ve also just signed a new book deal so will start work on a new book very soon, so watch this space!

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Did you believe that Charlotte’s life could be as good as she claimed when the story first began? Discuss Potter’s use of dramatic irony throughout the book, and how it serves to add humor and suspense – as we, the readers, are able to tell that Charlotte’s job, health, and personal relationships may not be as wonderful as she claims.
  2. Similarly, did you trust Miles when you were first “introduced” to his character in the book? Did you believe he could be as trustworthy, or as perfect, as Charlotte claimed? What clues existed that these two were not quite as compatible as they assumed they were?
  3. Also, did you, like Charlotte, believe Julian was truly cheating on Vanessa? Why or why not? What clues pointed to his fidelity? Did you find his explanation for his behavior believable?
  4. Trust is a major subject of this novel. Discuss the ways and instances in which Charlotte is forced to confront her trust in herself (or, as Lottie puts it, her “gut”), her trust in her lover(s), her trust in her friends, and her trust in the advice of all of the self-help books she reads at night. What can we learn from her experiences?
  5. When Charlotte follows her twenty-one year old self and sees Lottie parking outside the same address where she once lived, she assumes she’s suffering from a brain tumor. What did you think at this point in the story? Did you imagine anything like the car accident at the end of the book, or the morphine-haze, as an explanation for Charlotte’s time with Lottie?
  6. After befriending Lottie, Charlotte creates a list of advice to pass on to her younger, more rash and impulsive self. What advice would you give your former “self” of ten years ago? If you could go back in time – or take a diversion, as Charlotte did – what three bits of wisdom would you impart to that less worldly, less experienced person? Why?
  7. Discuss the ways in which Larry and Cindy Goldstein are obvious caricatures of the ugly American abroad. Consider the ways they provide comic relief, while at the same time commenting on American ignorance, excess, and arrogance. (Also, how is this tempered by Charlotte, who is, also, an American by birth and heritage?)
  8. Discuss Beatrice, Charlotte’s trusted (and trustworthy) assistant, and the way she adds humor and heart to the novel. What did you like best about her quirky character? How was she a good foil for Charlotte? (Meaning, how did she “interrupt” Charlotte in a useful way and often save Charlotte from herself?) Were you pleased to see her find happiness with Dr. Hamish at the end of the novel?
  9. It’s through her interaction with Lottie that Charlotte realizes that 1) Olly/Oliver exists and that 2) he’s more compatible with and desirable to her than any of the men that she’s dated, including (or, perhaps, especially) Miles. What clues were laid early in the novel regarding Oliver’s significance in Charlotte’s life? Would you have forgiven Charlotte as easily as Oliver did for the things that she said and did over the course of 10 years? What does this say about his character?
  10. What did you think of the time travel concept of the book? Did you think that it was well conceived and executed? When Charlotte met her future self in the park (after finding out that Goldstein was responsible for shutting down Oliver’s grandfather’s antique store), did you guess at the identity of the old woman? What clues existed that this was Charlotte’s future self? How did this third “meeting” between Charlotte’s parallel lives add to (or, possibly, detract from) the novel?
  11. Through character and plot development, the novel makes several comments about fate and destiny, sexual chemistry and romantic love, trust and fidelity, and friendships and loyalty. Discuss the various messages of the book. Which one did you like the most, and why? Did the novel, and Charlotte’s character especially, help you come to any conclusions about your own past and/or present?