"Nov 10 - Twitter followers: 0. Nov 11 - Twitter followers, still 0." Bridget Jones is back and this time the demands of social media are set to burden the everywoman heroine with a fresh set of anxieties.
Helen Fielding, creator of the Chardonnay-swilling singleton, confirmed that she is writing a third novel in the Bridget Jones’s Diary series, which will be published by Jonathan Cape next Autumn.
The new installment will bring the character firmly up to date, as Facebook, Twitter and internet dating offer Bridget even greater opportunities for social embarrassment.
Based on Ms Fielding’s column about a young, professional woman, first published in The Independent in 1995, the Jones novels have sold 15 million copies worldwide and spawned two hugely successful films starring Renée Zellweger, Hugh Grant and Colin Firth.
But Ms Fielding, 54, had not published a full-length instalment since The Edge Of Reason appeared in 1999. The character was revived in a series of Independent columns seven years ago, which concluded with Jones giving birth to a baby boy, fathered by the caddish Daniel Cleaver.
The third novel is “set in present-day London, with an entirely new scenario for Bridget,” Ms Fielding said. The author confirmed that Bridget would still be seeking love - this time via the trials of internet dating – and despite her best intentions, will never be entirely sober.
“I sort of lost my voice with Bridget for a long time after the unexpected success when it first came out,” Ms Fielding told Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. “It was very easy to write and be honest, then I got all self-conscious.”
“I found last Spring I had new stuff I wanted to say. Things that didn’t exist when I last wrote, like emails and texting. The way life is lived through Twitter. And a whole new idea for a phase of her life that I can’t jinx by describing it.”
Will Bridget still be charting her daily alcohol unit intake as before? “It’s actually more like ‘number of Twitter followers – nought, still no followers, still no followers.’ But she has grown up.”
Has Bridget really given up smoking and drinking? “She’s still trying to give up those things. She’s still on the diet, she’s trying a bit harder now and she’s a bit more successful but she’s never going to really change.”
Readers will be presented with a more mature Jones. “In the same way that the first Bridget book looked at the way a thirtysomething single woman was branded as a tragic spinster and we got the idea of singleton, it’s looking at later phases in life where you get branded as a certain thing,” said Ms Fielding. “It’s a bit scary bringing out another one but I’m really enjoying writing it.”
Bridget’s perennial suitors, the solid Mark Darcy and the romantic Cleaver, will remain a “presence” in the book, Ms Fielding promised. “Some characters remain and some may have disappeared. You keep your friends. People stay in your life. But everyone’s life moves on.”
Ms Fielding said the book would explore “this whole world of internet dating where there’s all these cyber-presences who aren’t actually real.”
“And texting - people can have entire relationships via text which are in some ways emotionally fulfilling and serve the purpose of a boyfriend, apart from sex.”
Twitter has encouraged users to create “little fiefdoms almost and they all have their own tone. So in some people are terribly sweet to each other and in others they are slagging each other off. It’s back to the days of Robin Hood.”
A Bridget Jones musical, with a score written by Lily Allen, has been delayed after the award-winning actress Sheridan Smith withdrew from the title role. Launching a new musical “is like herding butterflies,” said Ms Fielding, a single mother-of-two, who divides her time between London and Los Angeles.
A third film, based on her last Independent columns, is due to be shot next year after Zellweger was assured that she wouldn’t have to put on two stones for the part. “The stakes are very high, everyone really wants to get it right,” said Ms Fielding.
The author believes that Bridget has left a powerful legacy. “I would like to think that Bridget has allowed women to think it’s alright just to muddle through the complicated, over-stuffed world that we live in.
“And to look OK but mainly be nice and work hard and be honest and cheerful. That’s alright and you don’t have to be an airbrushed picture in a magazine or an image in an advertisement.”
Dan Franklin, Publisher of Jonathan Cape, said: “Great comic writers are as rare as hen’s teeth. Helen is one of a very select band who have created a character, Bridget, of whom the very thought makes you smile. Like millions of others I can’t wait to see what’s happened to her.”
Bridget Jones in numbers
15 million – total worldwide book sales
30 – pounds in weight Renée Zellweger gained for the two films
32 – heroine’s years of being single when Bridget Jones’s Diary opens
$544 million – Box office gross for Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) - $282 million & Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason (2004) - $262 million
9 stone 5 – Bridget’s weight recorded in her diary in 2001 film
35 (ouch!) – Alcohol units noted on New Year’s Day