The journalist and former Cosmopolitan columnist Rosie Mullender launches her debut novel this month, just as she embarks on a new life in Worthing
How did your career as a journalist begin?
I’ve been a journalist for over 20 years now, although at one point I never thought it would happen for me. After graduating from York University, I worked at the Nestlé factory making Chunky KitKats for a year, then behind the till at a Texaco petrol station for the next three years, while also travelling between my parents’ home in Essex to London to do work experience on magazines like Heat and Glamour, desperate for my big break.
My career began, however, at a news agency in Bristol. Apparently, I was given the role because when I worked at Texaco, I’d read all the magazines from cover to cover and was the only candidate who knew the difference between That’s Life! and Woman’s Own.
What have been the highlights of your career?
Although I started out on weekly magazines, which is the world where my book, The Time of my Life, is set, I always dreamt of working for glossy magazines – specifically Cosmopolitan. After a few years, I landed my dream job as a feature writer there, and unlike most dream jobs, the reality actually lived up to my expectations. I worked with an amazing group of funny, talented women; got to interview celebrities including Daniel Radcliffe and Steve Carell; attended film premieres; was flown business class to attend the launch of the Apple Watch; and landed my own monthly column, called Sex and the Single Girl, which made me feel like a real-life Carrie Bradshaw.
The Time of my Life has been described as a modern take on Groundhog Day, was that an influence for the book?
I’ve always loved time-loop and time-travel stories, and Groundhog Day is one of my favourite-ever movies. I noticed that a lot of books that feature time travel are dramatic stories, but I wanted to write a comedy that could act as a bit of a palate cleanser after the pandemic.
Unfortunately, when I set out, I didn’t realise how hard it is to write the kinds of visual scenes that make Groundhog Day so funny – for example, seeing the main character fail at the same tasks over and over again on different days. It was an interesting challenge, which I tackled with the help of my editor, and I think we cracked it…
Is the main character, Jess, based on anyone in particular?
The first draft featured a completely different character, who was a lot like me – a stickler for the rules who loves writing lists for everything, and is generally a bit anxious. But as the book evolved, the main character was given a new name and a whole new personality – Jess is disorganised, chaotic, and lives life by the seat of her pants. Jess does have my sense of humour though, because I wanted to write a book which, if I hadn’t written it myself, would make me laugh.
Has it always been a goal of yours to write a book?
When I was 14, I decided I had five life goals: to work for Cosmopolitan magazine, see my name on a film poster, write a book, get married and own a dog. The first three seemed a bit unlikely, but I gave them a good go, and when I got my job at Cosmo I was assigned the role of film reviewer. That meant my name was printed on a film poster soon after, which was unbelievably exciting.
I’ve been trying to tick ‘write a book’ off the list since I was about 16, and there are lots of half-written novels, inspired by horrible teenage break-ups, stored on my old laptops, but this is the first one to actually stick. I’m also engaged, and planning on getting a dog soon, so perhaps all five ambitions will be ticked off after a mere 30 years or so. I’m not sure what I’ll do after that. Maybe I’ll learn karate.
You’ve recently moved from London to Sussex. What drew you to the county?
I’ve always had a real thing for Brighton – I knew I’d love it before I visited and stupidly saved my first visit for when I had a boyfriend, so I could enjoy a romantic weekend there. It meant I was in my late 20s by the time I visited Sussex, and I couldn’t stop grinning all day. It was exactly as vibrant and as much fun as I’d expected it to be, and I’ve always loved the seaside.
From that first visit, I had it in the back of my mind that I’d like to live in Brighton one day, but as my fiancé and I are both in our 40s now, we were looking for somewhere a bit quieter to live, that’s still within easy reach of the city. As soon as we visited Worthing we fell in love with it – it’s got old-school seaside charm, but it feels vibrant and exciting, too. I do quite like picturing myself as a tortured novelist, gazing intensely at the roiling sea as I come up with ideas but, unfortunately, I write comedies so that doesn’t really work. I’ll have to giggle at the sea instead, I suppose.
What are your favourite places in Sussex?
I’ve already found some favourite spots in Worthing: I love the New Amsterdam pub and Stacey’s Dive Bar for drinks, The Dome for the cinema, FioRDiLATTE for pizza, and Inspired on The Promenade for gifts. And a blustery walk on the pier with an ice cream is essential.
One of the things I love about Worthing is that on some streets, you can see the sea in one direction, and the South Downs in the other. I’ve never seen such stunning countryside, and can’t wait to take our future dog exploring there. And, of course, Brighton is for me a jewel in Sussex’s crown. The Laines are such an exciting hive of activity, I love going there just to soak up the atmosphere.
What’s next career-wise for you?
My next book, which comes out next year, is called Ghosted, about a girl who’s haunted by her dead ex-boyfriend. He keeps popping up at awkward moments as she tries to land a new boyfriend, and realises that she needs to work out how he died to get rid of him. Hilarious japes ensue.
The Time of my Life by Rosie Mullender is published by Sphere on 7 July