Candace Bushnell talks New York, determination, Carrie Bradshaw, and how to not be invisible!
On a glorious Joburg spring day, I sat down with Candace Bushnell, author of Sex and the City, and numerous other bestselling books to ask her a few questions about what life as the original Carrie Bradshaw is really like …
G&T: From Connecticut to New York … was this the age-old story of the ‘small-town girl’ wanting to make it in the Big City?
CB: Yes, definitely. Even when I was a kid I wanted to move to New York. I always had it in my head that this was a dream place to go to, even though I think we’d only gone there once or twice as kids! But I read a lot of books, like Harriet the Spy, and From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankinholler, or something like that! So whatever I read where the kids in the book were in New York, it always seemed so interesting, and I just wanted to go there. It seemed to be the place where the writers went, and I just knew that’s where I needed to go.
I grew up in an area that was quite suburban. But it was also quite rural. There was a lot of farmland. Everyone had horses, but they were ‘backyard horses’, not ‘fancy’ horses. I remember when I was young and riding horses that I used to think to myself “Enjoy this now, because when you grow up you’re going to live in New York and you won’t have this life.” And that ended up being true!
G&T: – You say that ‘writers’ go to New York to make it big, but really, that’s the place that everyone goes to when they want to ‘hit the big time’.
CB: It’s true! It’s an ambitious city, made up of people who come there from someplace else to make it. Already that makes them a little bit different from people who stay in their hometown. So psychologically that’s a different type of person with a particular mindset. New York is full of strivers, and also full of people who will put up with certain amounts of hardship (I hate to use that word!), but it’s all relative. If you live somewhere else in the country, you’ll definitely have more space! You’ll have a washer and dryer – it’s taken for granted that you have that in your house! But in New York you just don’t have that – if you do have that in your apartment, you’ve made it! That’s the benchmark!
People are hyper aware of status in New York. There’s a lot of little minutiae to where you are in the pecking order, and that translates into dating and relationships.
G&T: Which leads me to my next question about the actual journey to the Sex in the City column. Because it was a journey. You didn’t just arrive in New York and land a job writing the column, did you?
CB: That’s right. Because I went to New York when I was 18, but only actually moved there when I was 19. I started writing immediately and was very determined that this is what I was going to do. I wrote a children’s book – which never got published – but I did get paid $1000. And then I started writing for women’s magazines.
G&T: Did you know people who were giving you these opportunities, or were you simply knocking on doors, hoping for the best?
CB: I didn’t know people. I would go out and meet people. In New York at that time there would be people on the street handing out flyers for parties, and you’d just go to all these parties and meet people. And those people knew other people. Everyone was very career oriented. If you said “I want to be a writer”, somebody would know somebody to connect you with. Everybody knew somebody, so you made all these connections. But it was all very competitive and difficult! I was always trying to get a column somewhere because I thought that would be the way to make it as a journalist. I wrote the first hundred pages of several novels, and nothing happened with those. I was 34 when I got that Sex in the City column and that was a really big moment. It was 15 years after I got to New York! I’d already been writing about young women, relationships and social politics for 15 years!
G&T: And the column was about you and your life in New York?
CB: Every column was about a particular social strata. So, for example, one column was about bicycle boys: guys who took their bicycles everywhere. Another column was about threesomes and another one about toxic bachelors. It was about people who I knew and who I interviewed.
G&T: So when did you come up with the idea of your alter-ego, Carrie Bradshaw?
CB: Well, that story is part of my show and there are reasons for it, so I’m not going to give that away here!
G&T: So many people have asked about Carrie’s Sex and the City friends: Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda. Are these based on actual people you know, or did you combine characteristics from a whole bunch of people to create these characters?
CB: A couple of the characters are based on actual individuals, but they’re different in the book. Miranda was an early tech sort of person. Samantha was a budding movie producer, but there were lots of other women in the book as well, so there were lots of their voices in the book too. But TV has quite a rigid structures, so Darren (Star – producer of Sex and the City) took the book and put it into the standard TV structure: e.g. 4 main characters who meet up in the same place. He did capture something unique from the book by using the voiceover technique, and by having Carrie tackle a different topic in each episode.
G&T: Would you still identify with Carrie now, all these years later, or has that changed?
CB: I’m not the kind of person who identifies with a character on a TV show, but I find it interesting that people put themselves into these categories.
G&T: In a nutshell, what can people expect from your stage show?
CB: It’s about how I created Sex and the City, how hard I worked to get there, how I created Carrie Bradshaw, and what happened to me afterward!
(Best elevator pitch EVER!)
CB: Oh, and along the way I answer some of fans’ burning questions, like was there a real Mr Big, do I really have a shoe obsession, do I have three friends like on the TV show?
G&T: And if they’re still your friends? It’s something that’s not spoken about a lot – how friendships break down and how difficult it is to make friends when you’re older.
CB: I suppose that’s true. One of the things that really changes things is when you have kids. When you have kids, their parents become your friends. Over the years, people move away, but life goes around and sometimes people you’ve lost touch with come back into your life again. The kids grow up. So when you get into your 50’s and 60’s you might reconnect with some of those friendships that may have faded into the background because of previous different lifestyles. It’s definitely easier to make friends when you’re in close proximity to people. In New York, when you live in an apartment building, you see people all the time. People constantly want to tell me their dating stories! Generally about how awful dating is! I’m nosy! I like hearing other people’s stories – I can’t help it!
G&T: Do you feel any sort of responsibility to be a voice for “women of a certain age”, and the issue of invisibility once they reach that age, especially in the workplace?
CB: It’s definitely something I’ve written about: being invisible. I think the best way to not be invisible is to not go away! I’m doing this stage show, and when you’re on stage, you’re definitely not invisible. I know not everyone can do that (a stage show), but my last book ‘Is There Still Sex In The City’ was bought to be a TV series and I wrote the pilot. But it all fell apart during the pandemic. The big theme of that though, was becoming invisible as you get older, and how to turn that into a superpower. It’s something I think about a lot: can you turn these negatives into a superpower? In some ways there can be great power in being invisible. You can just sit back and watch and use it to your advantage.
We live in an ageist society. There aren’t any reality shows featuring women over 50, and that’s something I’m passionate about. I’m working on something and don’t know how it will go, but … The Golden Bachelor … women are still vibrant past their 50’s. People still want to have relationships at every age. So I’m certainly actively trying to do something about that invisibility.
G&T: Do you think women are still trying to have it all? Should we still be trying to have it all?
CB: It depends on what ‘having it all’ means to you. I never wanted to have kids. But most women do want kids and most of them do have kids. I just never had that gene. I couldn’t have worked the way I did if I had kids. Wanting kids also means taking care of those kids. So many women have successful careers and have kids but I don’t know how to do that.
G&T: Do we still care too much about everyone else’s opinion? We’re told not to worry about everyone else and what they think of us, but is that a myth?
CB: I’d say it’s pretty much a myth. It’s almost impossible not to compare ourselves to others. Instagram and social media are founded on that deep human trait. We can’t help it. And when you’re a kid it’s much more intense. When you’re an adult, maybe not so much. When you’re young, you notice tiny signifiers of status. We look at Instagram and we can’t help it, but we still do it. We all look at how many ‘likes’ we get, and in some way it’s probably healthy. We all have to do the best we can with the cards we’re dealt. That’s what we need to respect and admire about each other,
G&T: So what’s next for Candace Bushnell?
CB: Well I’m doing this stage show which is a new and exciting departure. I have a couple of other things in the works, that it’s too soon to talk about. I’m always trying something new and eventually something hits. Sometimes I think I should retire, but then I don’t know what I’d do … just sit around and write mystery books that nobody will publish!
Leading local show promoter and producer, Showtime Management in association with DStv’s flagship Channel, MNet and Johannesburg radio station, HOT102.7FM are proud to present Candace Bushnell’s True Tales of Sex, Success and Sex in the City at Montecasino’s Teatro with two performances on Saturday 23 September at 3pm & 8pm and two Cape Town shows at Artscape Theatre Centre on Saturday, 30 September also at 3pm and 8pm.