It's been 17 years since Bridget Jones's Diary first appeared, turning freelance journalist Helen Fielding into a best-selling author and screenwriter.
Her latest instalment, Mad About the Boy, follows Bridget, now 51, as she copes with the loss of her beloved Mark Darcy while trying to raise their children. We talked with Fielding over the phone about how it feels to bring Bridget back into the public eye (while taking lots of heat from those Colin Firth fans).
How are readers reacting to the death of Mark Darcy?
A: I knew there would be a reaction but I did not expect to be watching the BBC news and see the Syrian crisis and then the next item, "Mark Darcy is dead". I just wasn't expecting the scale of it. For a writer it's pretty great to create characters that people care about so much long after you've created them. And Colin [Firth], too [who played Mark Darcy in the movie version], he created Mark Darcy because I based him on Mr Darcy played by Colin Firth in BBC's Pride and Prejudice so I thought it was amazing. He's a gentleman and he has such great qualities of kindness and decency as well as being gorgeous and a great kisser and all that. And it was a bit startling to come out of a local restaurant and some drunk man is running after me saying, "You've murdered Colin Firth".
I think what's interesting now is the readers are starting to read the book, and they realise the story starts five years after Mark died.
And I think my readers have matured, too. When I wrote the first book I was in my 30s and so were many of the readers. So now they're older now and things happen in life. There's no-one who gets through life without hard things happening or losing people, and this is a book about a woman like many women, finding herself single in life and getting back out there in the dating world where the landscape has completely changed. Then there's juggling children and work and figuring out the cyber circle of mass emails and texting and online dating and online shopping and you find yourself upset that the dress you put in your shopping cart doesn't "wink" back at you.
How do you celebrate when you finish a book?
A: I always think it's like Christmas or going on a holiday - it's all such a scramble and then you get these unexpected moments. So the moments I remember - I went to the pub with a few friends on publication day, quite low-key, but that lovely feeling of being around the people who've all supported me through writing it and being there through the years and giving me some stories. The characters are all based a bit on one and a bit on the other, and if the character is particularly attractive they all think it's based on them.
And then today - being in New York, I was thinking, "How did this happen?" I'm on The Today Show and it doesn't seem it's been more than a minute since I was a freelance journalist sending my columns to The Guardian and ringing them up every week to see if they've read it yet.
Are there any plans to make this a movie?
A: We haven't got that far yet. I'd actually written the whole thing before I'd shown it to anyone - I spent a lot of time editing. It's quite current. The book actually ends this Christmas. We wanted it to seem fresh. So there hasn't been any time to think beyond that.
Bridget finds a "toy-boy" as you call him - a 30-year-old love interest named Roxster. Who should play Roxster in the movie?
A: All I can say is I want to be there in that casting session. They should try lots of people.
Bridget gets into shape by going to zumba classes. What do you do to stay in shape?
A: I love Latin dance, so a combination of Zumba and "mummy pants", which are also called Spanx.
Are you addicted to Twitter or Facebook or any social media?
A: I got so badly addicted to Twitter that I had to stop. I couldn't live my life. Especially if you're trying to write. It's too seductive. And I found the more I tweeted, the less followers I got, because people don't want you to spew out tweets. It just fills up your tweet box.
I think it's interesting that the preoccupation with Twitter is how many followers you've got. It's a popularity contest.
Is anyone honest about their age when they date online?
A: Here's what I think about online dating - one of the characters in the book, Jude, says "It's a zoo out there". But through all that, people find each other and I think it's through writing, through the written word. I think that's the wonderful thing about social media - that people are having to be really creative with language to write short things. You know as a journalist, it's much harder to write short than long. I think in terms of online dating, you can pick up each other's tones with writing. (So in the book, Bridget meets Roxster on Twitter and they find they share a sense of humour and find each other through their words and then they find they fancy each other. A lot of people do find people online and I think it's great.
Another possible love interest for Bridget is the character Mr Wallaker. He doesn't seem like the tweeting type.
A: Well, you never know with Mr Wallaker. He's the real Mr Darcy/Captain von Trapp kind of archetype, you know. I love having two characters who are clashing to start with and then spend the whole book finding out they are the yin and yang and they need each other. I love that Jane Austen plot and I have no shame in stealing it from her. - MCT
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