I’m waiting for Dolly Alderton, journalist, podcast host, and author of the memoir Everything I Know About Love, coming in February from Harper. We’re meeting at the Prince Albert Pub in Camden, a neighborhood in North London where she’s been living on and off for the past seven years. She arrives, a big beautiful Brit (she’s six feet tall). In her press photos she looks like a movie star, but today she just looks like a big beautiful Brit.
Published in the U.K. in 2018, Everything I Know About Love recounts the adventures of a woman navigating her 20s (Alderton turned 30 that year), a decade of ill-advised relationships, one-night stands, and booze-fueled evenings. But ultimately, the book is a tribute to female friendships.
“I knew I was writing a coming-of-age book about battling personal demons and my friendship with my best friend Farley, but at the end I looked back and thought, where is the story?” Alderton tells me. On every page, she says, she saw a recurring theme: “There was this chorus of women. And I realized it was a love story about girls. There’s so many conversations about male privilege, but men don’t have the relationships we have, the intimacy. I wouldn’t change all the power for this closeness.”
That said, Everything I Know About Love is a rollicking if sometimes terrifying romp (the reader wonders: is she going to get through this one?), and it’s always honest and always revelatory.
Alderton’s career right now is as good as it gets. Everything I Know has sold 300,000 copies across all formats in the U.K., according to her agent there, and has sold in 21 territories to date, including the U.S. She has a column in the Sunday Times and cohosts the High Low, a leading woman’s pop culture/current affairs podcast. Her debut novel, Ghosts, is under contract, and she’s written the intro for a new edition of her hero Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck.
The trajectory of Alderton’s success feels a combination of serendipity and determination. “I only went to uni because my parents said I had to,” she tells me. “And I went to Exeter because I followed my best friend Farley.” But she adds that her family has a strong work ethic. “My brother is an actor and when he’s not acting he’s dressed up as Jack the Ripper giving tours!”
Alderton switched her major from drama to English, did a masters in journalism, and landed a job in television in 2010 after a reality show producer read her review of his show. “I accidentally ended up working in television for the first five years of my career,” she says.
What Alderton wanted, though, was to be a journalist. In 2015, at 26, she had a dating column in the Sunday Times’ style section. But she also wanted to be a nonfiction writer. “I wanted to write about my 20s, and at 25, I felt the clock ticking,” she says.
Alderton notes the irony of writing about surviving her 20s when she was only halfway through them. “Such a young person’s sensibility,” she says. “I thought I was being cynical and self-aware, that I knew all the problems of my generation.” Then she met Clare Conville of C+W Agency at a party and asked if she would look at her manuscript.
“I thought she was spectacular, and I was struck by her directness,” Conville tells me over dinner at her private club, the Academy in Soho. (The club was founded by Evelyn Waugh’s son, Auberon, and directions to it are mysterious: “It’s above Andrew Edmunds restaurant,” and, “Go through the black door.”)
“Clare took me out for lunch and told me that nobody would publish the book, but we stayed in touch,” Alderton says. “She has this wonderful worldview, a sense of satire, and she’s openhearted and sincere. We worked on the book together for about three years.”
In February 2017, Conville submitted the proposal for Everything I Know in the U.K. to about 14 publishers, she remembers. “Six or seven came in with bids,” she says. “It sold quickly to Juliet Annan, publishing director at Penguin Fig Tree. Dolly met Juliet and knew instantly she wanted to be published by her.”
Meanwhile, Anna Stein at ICM sent out the proposal in the U.S. in spring 2017. “I tried so hard to sell it,” Stein says. “I sent it to 41 people. Jonathan Burnham, president and publisher at Harper, to his credit, didn’t reject it, but he sat on it.”
Stein tried again in March 2019 after the book became a bestseller in the U.K. “I sent it out at every phase,” she says. “I’m relentless. I love Dolly, and I love the book. I think she’ll take this country by storm the way she did the U.K.”
Just around the same time, Mary Gaule, Burnham’s assistant, was promoted to assistant editor. She had read Everything I Know on the first round and says, “I never stopped thinking about it. I love memoirs about young women and this one particularly spoke to me.”
Gaule convinced Burnham to get off the fence. There was a small auction, Gaule’s offer was accepted, and the contract was signed in July. “This is a big book for me,” she says. “We had a brunch meeting in the office with Dolly and did a q&a. She is so easy to talk to. I felt I knew her. We worked on some of the Briticisms, but for the most part left it alone. Part of the charm is Dolly’s language, and the feelings are universal.”
Marketing plans include national radio, print, online, and podcast coverage. And as for the end of Alderton’s “roving, raucous, and rebellious” 20s, she admits to having dreaded her 30th birthday—the book is even capped off by a recipe for Meltdown Birthday Cake. But she comes to terms with the big birthday in an additional chapter in the U.S. edition, “Everything I Know About Love at Thirty.”
“To choose to love is to take a risk,” Alderton writes. “Always. That’s why it’s called falling.... But passion awaits me. And it awaits you too, if love is what you’re looking for.... All of us deserve an occasional pair of arms around our waist as we stir the soup on the hob.”