Oxford author Zoe May, who celebrated the successful launch of her third novel in January, talks about her experience as a new novelist over the last 12 months.

Growing up in Oxford, I used to feel somewhat intimidated by the bookish, high-brow, academic reputation of the place.

I loved reading but I liked books that grabbed me and felt fun to read, rather than ones that were challenging or overly intellectual.

I felt a little bit guilty that I preferred reading light-hearted romances and pacey thrillers to meaningful literary texts.

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I decided I wanted to be an author when I was a teenager, but I only got serious about it in my mid-twenties.

I was living in London at the time, working in copywriting. I attempted to write a dark descriptive book about illness and death and I was trying desperately to be literary, but it never really came together.


It felt like I was trying to emulate writers I admired rather than simply being myself. Eventually, I realised that the voice that felt most natural to me was a chatty, funny, upbeat and honest voice – the kind of tone you’d use when chatting to your best friend.

I decided to write in that voice – my voice – about things I knew about and the life experiences I’d had and my debut, Perfect Match, was born.

It was about dating, London life, flat shares, job struggles, friendship, fitting in and finding your place in the world. It was published by HarperCollins and has sold more than 25,000 copies since it came out in January last year and it was one of Apple’s top-selling books of 2018.

I wrote another book called How (Not) To Date A Prince – an escapist read which came out at the time of the Royal Wedding in May last year.

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My third book, When Polly Met Olly, came out in January. It’s about a struggling photographer living in New York called Polly who gets a job at a dating agency to pay the bills.

Despite never having been in a serious relationship, Polly starts trying to play Cupid to Manhattan’s elite singletons but things don’t exactly go to plan. Like Perfect Match, the novel explores things I’ve experienced in my regular life.

It features dating issues like figuring out what makes people compatible and how to choose a long-term partner. It also explores other topics related to pursuing a creative career, such as staying committed to your dreams while managing to pay the bills, being realistic about your goals without losing ambition, and the struggles of being taken advantage of by people who want you to work for free.

As well as being a romance, the novel is also a coming-of-age story about finding your feet and developing a sense of independent and belonging.


I researched When Polly Met Olly on a trip to New York in September last year. I visited places like Statue of Liberty, the New York Public Library, Brooklyn, Central Park and Grand Central Station and wrote about them in the book. It was an absolutely brilliant trip and I loved getting to capture such inspiring places in my novel.

When Polly Met Olly has been doing well so far. I’ve had some really positive feedback from readers and other authors have praised it too, with USA Today bestselling author Zara Stoneley describing it as, ‘Funny, quirky and delightfully different’.

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Around the time that When Polly Met Olly came out, I moved back to Oxford after 10 years in London. I’m living in Summertown and I’ve been finishing off my fourth novel, As Luck Would Have It, which is out in June.

I’ve been writing a lot in George & Davis on Little Clarendon Street as it’s open late and I prefer to write in the evening. It’s great to be back in Oxford, especially now that I’ve found my voice as a writer and feel comfortable with my place in the literary world.