Zibby interviews bestselling author Alexandra Potter about CONFESSIONS OF A FORTY-SOMETHING F**K UP, a hilarious and heartwarming novel about the highs and lows of having to start over in your forties. Through heartfelt anecdotes, the two discuss midlife challenges, societal expectations, and the role of humor and camaraderie in confronting life’s uncertainties.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Alexandra. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up.

Alexandra Potter: Thanks, Zibby. It’s wonderful to be here.

Zibby: It’s so meta because the protagonist of your book ends up being a podcaster. Here I am as a podcaster asking you about the book about the podcaster. It’s a full-circle moment here.

Alexandra: I know. It’s awesome.

Zibby: Tell listeners what your book is about. By the way, because this came out earlier in the UK, your second book is already out, so we have to hear about that. It’s not available here yet, but soon. Anyway, the first book, Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up.

Alexandra: This book came about because I was in my forties, and me and my friends were all talking about our lives. We were saying, it’s kind of not how we thought it was going to be. We thought everything would be all figured out. We’d be sorted. We’d totally know what we were doing. Still, nobody really knows what they’re doing. I was looking on social media, and everybody’s lives seemed perfect, the kids all in their little white outfits. They were with their husbands walking on the beach at sunset. Their houses looked amazing. I was thinking, my life looks nothing like that. That’s how the idea was born of this character called Nell. She’s forty-something. She hasn’t ticked the boxes. She hasn’t got it all worked out. Her life’s this messy life. Then I had the idea that she would meet an older character called Cricket, who’s in her eighties. Nell starts to write obituaries, and she writes one for Cricket’s husband. They form this unlikely friendship. They sort of start their lives over again. It’s about starting over. It’s about trying to figure out life. It’s about telling it like it is. I wanted to tell it like it is. I wanted to show a character that falls in love with her life and not about falling in love with a guy.

Zibby: I love that. Telling it like it is, that’s my mantra. As a forty-something myself — I’m forty-seven — there are so many things in here that I was laughing out loud, nodding my head, covering my face, smiling, like, oh, my gosh. It’s so great how at one point in the book, Nell and all her friends go through the same thing where everybody feels like everyone else has it figured out. Yet you see here in plain truth how in fact, that is a lie. Everybody feels that some area of their life is just a mess.

Alexandra: It’s that idea that in some element of your life, you feel like you’re failing, and everyone’s succeeding. The title of the book was that no one is an F-up. It’s just that society can make you feel like that. Once Nell starts this secret podcast — it’s kind of an anonymous podcast. All her friends start to relate to it. Again, she’s forty-something, but I’ve had messages from twenty-somethings, sixty-somethings. I think it’s kind of universal for everyone, really.

Zibby: It’s so true. The podcast itself is so great. All of it is just so fun. There are deeper — not deeper, but more long-lasting, more serious messages, I feel like, sprinkled throughout the book in different passages about life itself. I was hoping I could read just two quick scenes if that’s okay.

Alexandra: Yeah, sure.

Zibby: There’s this one section you have called “It’s Complicated” when you start by saying, “Tonight I watch the News at Ten. It should be renamed the Bad News at Ten. It was one horrible headline after another.” Then you go down, and you say, “As a human being, when I see these things, I suffer the expected emotions — horror, fear, sadness — but also a sense of shame, not just shame at how we are treating the inhabitants of our planet, but shame that my own problems are completely insignificant when held in context. How can I wake up with the fear when I’m lying in bed safe and warm, and there are people out there without food or shelter? How can I look in the mirror and feel gloomy about my saggy knees when women younger than me are dying of cancer, and it’s a privilege to age? How can I feel sad about not finding my happy ever after when so much of our planet is being destroyed? And how can I even concern myself with my faltering career and failed love life when we have Brexit and Trump? In short, how dare I complain about my life when I have so much compared to so many? The answer is, I don’t know, truly.” One more paragraph. “I know all these things to be true, and yet I still feel all of these other things. They jostle alongside each other like the paradox that life so often is. For so much of the day, I forget about the big stuff. Like most people, I’m just focused on getting through each day and the small stuff that affects my life and those closest around me, but then I’ll hear about some tragedy or watch the news, and suddenly, I’m reminded again…and I swear to myself I’ll never complain about anything ever again, but of course, I do. We all do.”

Then you sum up by saying, “If getting older has taught me one thing, it’s that I feel so many conflicting things about so many different things, and to negate or stifle any of them doesn’t make them go away. Emotions don’t necessarily have a moral compass. Feelings can’t be shamed into disappearing. Suppressing and ignoring them will only make them come back to bite you in the therapist chair because this is what I’ve learned.” Sorry, this is a long excerpt. “I can feel like I don’t know what the hell I’m doing and refuse to look in mirrors with overhead lighting and still go on the women’s march and roar like a motherf**ker. I can weep for that father who lost his daughter and pray for the friend I don’t know and a few days later be scrolling and despairing that I am not taking beach selfies with my handsome husband, and I can marvel at a sunset and think how lucky I am and wake up in the night with the fear because life is complicated, and so are we.” I loved that so much. I was like, underline, underline.

Alexandra: Writing can be really hard, but that passage just completely flowed out of me when I wrote that because it’s something that I really feel. I do, I feel all those things. It’s complicated, isn’t it? How can I complain about all these little trivial things when the stuff that’s going on in the world when you look at the news — but we do. That’s being human, isn’t it? That’s human. A lot of people have related to that passage, that chapter because we care about the bigger and the little stuff. You say, I can’t believe I’m complaining about my saggy knees or having some cellulite or not having a gorgeous husband when there’s wars going on and people don’t have food and shelter. I tried to make this a fun book, but I wanted to put some deeper stuff in there because the age I am now, that’s the kind of stuff that I’m thinking about.

Zibby: It’s so true. I think about this kind of stuff all the time. Then I feel bad for all my feelings. It’s so trivial that I even have these stupid feelings. Then I feel even worse about whatever I was feeling bad about to begin with.

Alexandra: We shouldn’t feel bad. It’s human. We all do it. All of us do it.

Zibby: Yeah, but still, it’s hard. Then you also have — I won’t read such a long passage next time. I promise. You talked about the invisibility of aging women and how if you don’t want to be known to the construction workers who whistle when you walk by, don’t worry, just wait. You’ll be forty one day, and you will get this magical gift. You don’t even have to beg for it. At the end of this whole thing, which, of course, is so funny because you’re hilarious, Cricket says, “I’m not saying this to be trite or to make you feel better, but believe me when I say this. The people who matter will see you no matter what.” I loved that too. We become invisible.

Alexandra: It’s so true. Cricket says it’s your superpower. Being invisible is actually a superpower. It talks about how when she was a kid, she wanted to be invisible. Now she’s a forty-something woman, and she just totally feels invisible. Then Cricket spins it on its head. That line that Cricket says about, “Trust me, the people that are important, they will always see you,” those two characters see each other. Cricket, as an eighty-something woman, feels very invisible. That’s a really important thing that I wanted to get across, that it’s actually not such a bad thing, being invisible. It gives you a real freedom as you get older to be able to do things that you wouldn’t do when you were younger because you feel so vulnerable because you feel like everyone’s looking at you.

Zibby: Then Cricket’s like, now we don’t care. We just do whatever we want. That’s great.

Alexandra: I know. It’s great.

Zibby: I love the character so much. Nell feels like — this is a question that I hate to even ask a novelist. How close is Nell to you? Is this pretty much you or just a — how are you two the most different?

Alexandra: Nell is a fictional character. There’s bits of me in there. What I loved about writing the character of Nell is that she’s — Nell’s really nice. She’s super nice. She’s always helping her friends out. I think that there’s definitely elements of me in Nell. I think there’s bits of me in all my characters. There’s bits of me in Cricket. There’s bits of me in her other friends. She’s not me. It’s not a memoir. It’s really funny, when I first wrote the book, a lot of people thought they were reading a nonfiction book. I had to say to people, no, I’m actually not Nell. A lot of people were like, where’s the podcast? I was like, well, there isn’t a podcast. It’s a fictional podcast.

Zibby: Have you thought about starting the podcast?

Alexandra: I would love to start the podcast. It’s time. I have friends that have podcasts. As I’m sure you know, they take up a lot of time. You’ve got to be super committed to doing a really good podcast. It’s difficult when you’re writing books at the same time.

Zibby: Let’s go back to the writing books part. Take me back to the beginning of your career. How did you get started writing books? Where did this all come from? Take me back.

Alexandra: As a small kid, I was always writing short stories, always making things up in my head. I had a really great imagination. Then I loved English. I loved reading. I was that kid with my head in a book. I went to university. I did English literature. Then when I left, I really wanted to work in magazines. I worked in women’s magazines all through my twenties. I was always the freelance feature writer, or I was doing the subediting. I couldn’t climb up the ladder. I couldn’t get the jobs I used to apply for. Then one day, I was sitting at work. I was subbing an article about six writers under the age of thirty that had written their first novel. They gave advice about how to write a novel. I thought, you know what? I’m going to have a go at this. In my lunch hour and before work, I had an idea for a novel, and I would write it. This is 1998, 1999. You’re printing off your pages. I got a book, and it told me some agents. I went to the post office, and I posted the printed pages off. A couple of the agents called me in and said, “We really like this.” I signed with an agent, the agent I’ve still got today, William Morris . She said, “Go and write the book.” I was like, “How long have I got?” She said, “As long as you want. Just as quickly as you can.”

I had a car, so I sold my car, and I lived off the money from my car for six months. I finished the book. Then I finished the book, and we sold it. There was a bidding war for it. The first one came out. It was a week before my thirtieth birthday. That was amazing. Then I carried on. I’ve written fifteen books now. I’m fifty-three now, so it’s twenty-three years. It was a two-book deal, a three-book deal. Some were really successful. Some weren’t successful. I was writing a lot of romantic comedies. I started doing romantic comedies with a magical twist. That was sort of my USP. A woman who meets herself age twenty-one, it was a time travel book about, what would you tell yourself if you could tell your younger self things? The idea is, actually, it’s the younger self that teaches the older woman how to live life again. There was a book about someone that goes on a Jane Austen tour and gets to date Mr. Darcy. They’re all these kinds of books.

Then I got to a period where I was in my mid-forties, and I fell out of a book deal. They didn’t sign me up for another book deal. I was like, whoa. What do I do now? That’s all I’d been doing. I took some time out. I got married in my forties. I’d just got married. Then I was thinking, okay, I want to keep writing, but you know what? I think I want to write something different. Because I’d got older, different things mattered to me now. It wasn’t just about a twenty-something girl wanting to meet the guy. It was more about this kind of stuff that you just read, deeper things, the issues that we’re all facing. That’s when I came up with this idea of an older character. I wanted to just make it real. I wanted to make it really relatable and also weave in a lot of the issues that affect all of us. That’s how the idea for Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up came. I’d actually had that title for about fifteen years. I kind of kept it in my back pocket thinking, I’m going to use that title one day, and so I pulled it out.

Zibby: Amazing. Oh, my gosh, I love that. I haven’t read your other books, but do you use the same stylistic, clever, funny things that you do here where you have little lists? You have pretend excerpts of other articles. The formatting and the way you keep the reader engaged in this multi-format —

Alexandra: — No, not so much. This Forty-Something one was the first time I’ve done that. I think a lot of people find it difficult to find time to read a novel now, just like the name of your podcast. No one’s got any time. I make the chapters really short. I wanted to put funny little WhatsApp conversations in. You have the idea where Nell’s lost her libido.

Zibby: That was so funny.

Alexandra: It’s like it’s a lost dog.

Zibby: Missing persons.

Alexandra: I tried to put funny little things in so if someone doesn’t have a lot of time to read, they can just read one or two pages. They’re not feeling like they’ve got this really long chapter that they’ve got to finish. I really like having that multifunctional kind of book because I think it’s entertaining. It’s fun. A lot of my readers actually are people that have said that they have not read a book in ten years, that they’ve never read a book before. They came across mine, and they found it really easy to read, which is brilliant because I love the fact that I’m getting people reading.

Zibby: It’s amazing. I started reading this book in the summer with a whole group of my team around for this retreat. Within a page, I was laughing. They’re like, “Okay, what are you reading?” I was like, “You all have to read this.” It’s true because it’s so immediate. You’re right inside someone else’s mind, and someone who happens to be really funny and then, of course, have all these funny but also sad and — all these different happen, sad and life and aging parents and friends and God. It’s the full spectrum of stuff that’s going on in our time, but you make it all so entertaining, which I guess is the point of a great read.

Alexandra: Thank you. I tried to throw it all in there. I tried to put everything in there that we’re all dealing with. That’s why Nell’s got her girlfriends, because every friend has an issue going on in their life. I think there’s something that everybody can relate to. Nell doesn’t have kids, but her friends have kids. Then Cricket didn’t want kids. I’m trying to look at it from all the different angles so there’s something for everyone.

Zibby: You had a funny line at some point when Nell read some article that a woman had just had a baby. She’s like, now I’ve become a woman. She’s like, what am I? A non-woman? What does that make me?

Alexandra: She’s on holiday. She’s reading some magazines by the pool. It’s all about having a baby or getting into a bikini, being bikini ready, or even worse, it’s having a baby and being bikini ready. She’s like, if I don’t have a baby and I don’t have a bikini body, then what am I? I don’t have any of that stuff.

Zibby: What is the answer to getting through this time? Our bodies are betraying us, in a way. We have all these new things to deal with every single day. Your life is not set, but it’s more set than it was. What is your go-to for getting through the periods when you’re feeling less than or whatever?

Alexandra: Laughter, humor, laughing about it. That’s what Nell says. Everything’s better when you can laugh in the face of it all. I was just saying to my sister — we were like, “When are we ever going to get to a period where we’re less busy and we kind of have a straight going on?” I’m like, “When we’re dead.” I just don’t think we’re ever going to get to a point where we’re less busy. I think we’re all still figuring it out. I thought when I got older, I would know more of the answers to these questions. Actually, I’m knowing less. I’m asking more and more questions. I think having great girlfriends, laughing about it — my mom’s in her eighties. My mom’s got these brilliant girlfriends in their eighties. I love hanging out with them because they’re all talking about stuff that’s relevant to them. I can see years ahead that we’re all still figuring stuff out. I do think humor is a huge, huge thing to get through.

Zibby: I think you’re right. Tell me about More Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up, which is already out, already best-selling. Amazing. Congratulations.

Alexandra: I know, thank you. I got number eleven on The Times best-seller list, so I’m just, just out of the ten. That just came out in the UK. That starts eighteen months after Confessions, the first one, finishes. You get to see what’s happened to everybody. We start just after the pandemic’s finished. We’re coming back out into the world. It’s really interesting to see what everyone’s been doing and how their lives have changed. The pandemic showed to everybody that you can’t plan for things. Stuff happens. I was really nervous about writing the second one because everybody loved the first one. I was like, oh, gosh, I hope it’s not going to be the sequel that nobody likes. I’ve had really brilliant feedback. Some people say they like it even more than the first one. That’s so great.

Zibby: Amazing. Is there going to be another one after that?

Alexandra: Yeah, there’ll definitely be another one. I’m going to write a completely different standalone book next because I just want to let these characters live a little bit and do some stuff. Then I’ll come back to them and write another book. They’re kind of real people to me now. It’s weird. I feel I’m hanging out with people that actually exist because they do in my head.

Zibby: What is this next one, the freestanding one? Do you know yet, or you’re just starting?

Alexandra: I’ve got a few ideas swirling around. I’m always really nervous about talking about anything. It’s quite interesting. I listened to a podcast you did with the author of End Credits.

Zibby: Patty Lin.

Alexandra: I read a really fantastic interview with her. She was saying on your podcast, she doesn’t like to talk about if you have an idea or a seed of an idea. You’ve kind of got to keep it close. I think that was her writing advice. That would also be mine. It’s to keep it close to you. If I talk about it and anybody goes, I’m not sure about that, it will just crush me. I have to really get it to live in my head first before I then start to talk about what I’m going to do next. I’m going to write something new, something fun, something in the same vein.

Zibby: Tell me a little more about your whole process. What does it look like when you’re writing? Are you on your lap on the beach?

Alexandra: I’m really super organized. I have a little office at my house in London. I have a huge cork board on a wall. I map everything out with post-it notes. Every character is a different color. I put it all out. I’m very visual. I like to see it. When I stand back and look, I can say, oh, I’m a bit character heavy here. We don’t have enough of this character there. I know some writers, some friends of mine, they just start writing. They just go for it, whereas I have to have had this whole thing plotted out. I feel like I need to know the end so that I can work backwards and put the reveals in, and the little twists and the pacing. Then once I’ve planned everything out, then I — it’s a full-time job. It’s Monday through Friday. I try to put in a full working day. I switch the phone off. I have to put it in the attic because it’s so addictive. Also, writing, for an author, you do so much social media now. Back in the day, it just didn’t exist. You didn’t have to do that stuff. That can be both distracting but also fantastic because I never used to know what readers thought of my books. You couldn’t interact with anybody. It’s so great interacting with you. It’s really great. I get these wonderful messages from people that say, we’ve read your book. They tell me their stories. I love that. I spend quite a lot of time on social media, which is work. You’re writing, but you’re also doing a lot of engaging and promoting. I really like that compared to how it used to be twenty years ago. I prefer it.

Zibby: What’s the trick to longevity and staying a working author, a working novelist for your whole career? It’s an enviable spot for many who are just starting out.

Alexandra: Definitely, being dogged about it. Also, it’s a wheel that turns. You’re going to have some books that you think are great, and they are just not going to sell. Then the wheel will turn. You’ll write a book, and it will be a best-seller. I’ve been in this game for twenty-four years now, which I never thought. I thought I would write one book, and then that was it. Looking back, it’s just about being really determined, putting your bum in chair and writing even though you’ve got a million other things to do. We’ve all got a million things to do, haven’t we? You could just spend all day doing life stuff. I think it’s about being really determined to write, knowing that you’re going to have highs and lows, and also loving what you do. I really am passionate about what I do. I love creating characters. I love writing books. I love making someone feel seen. Someone that felt lonely has read my book, and they relate to it. It’s made them laugh. It’s made them uplifted. I love that. That’s such a humbling and brilliant thing that I can do, and I want to keep doing it.

Zibby: I love it. Everything you say is everything I feel in my brain. It’s the same. I was like, this is amazing. Do you have authors who either are good comps to you or that you love or that you admire or you can’t put down their work or just any other authors to call out or books you’ve loved?

Alexandra: Lessons in Chemistry, Bonnie Garmus. I read that book. I looked forward, every night, to reading that book when I would get into bed and I’d read it. I just thought it was so fantastic. I just loved the characters. I loved the message of the book. It was a really important message. I actually messaged her on Instagram. I kind of did the whole fangirl, “I’m sure you get thousands of messages, but I had to say that I thought –” She messaged me back. She’s like, “Wow, thank you so much. As an author, I’m sure you know what it’s like.” I thought that was a brilliant book. I’ve recommended that one to everyone. I love that my mom, who’s eighty-four, loved it. My sister loved it. It appeals to lots of people. I really liked Daisy Jones and the Six. I read that one on holiday. Again, it was so realistic. I felt like that was a real band. I’m working through her books. I like a lot of nonfiction, especially when I’m writing because I feel like I can’t enter someone else’s fictional world. I read an autobiography by an actress called Miriam Margolyes. She’s a big actress, British actress. She was in the Harry Potter films. She’s in her eighties. It was a fantastic autobiography. I just read Richard E. Grant’s Pocket Full of Happiness about his wife that died. He intertwines stories about Hollywood and acting, which was wonderful. Then I’ve got a lot of friends, British writers, Jojo Moyes, Lisa Jewell, I love reading their stuff when that comes out. Then of course, I’m always reading my phone.

Zibby: Gosh, amazing. Lisa Jewell and Jojo Moyes were on this podcast. In fact, Lisa, I think twice. I love them. They’re amazing.

Alexandra: They write fantastic books. They’re prolific. Every year, Lisa’s got a book out.

Zibby: It’s amazing. She credits gin and tonics, though, or something for her success.

Alexandra: A good Negroni, I think.

Zibby: Yeah, a good Negroni. Maybe that’s what it is. Yes, a good Negroni. That’s a much better answer. Do you listen to any podcasts? Since Nell is a podcaster, did you do any research about podcasts before you wrote it?

Alexandra: You know, it’s actually really funny. I’ve listened to a few podcasts. I listened to yours. I loved yours.

Zibby: Thank you.

Alexandra: I’ve listened to a few, but I’m actually not a big podcast listener, which is really funny because my heroine does a podcast. I do know that there’s only so much time I have in the day. When I’m working and then I’m reading and then I’m chatting to my friends and stuff, I don’t have a lot of time. My husband listens to a lot of podcasts. Every time I see him listening to a podcast, it’s put him to sleep. He said that’s the perfect way to go to sleep. I’ve listened to quite a few. There’s some really good ones in England, actually. I was on a couple of them. I wouldn’t say I’m as a prolific listener of podcasts as I am of reading. I do love Audible books. I think that’s a really good way if you’re busy or you’re doing stuff, walking the dog. I like listening to a book. I think that’s cool.

Zibby: Getting the most out of all of our time here, basically.

Alexandra: Exactly.

Zibby: Alexandra, thank you so much. I am the biggest fan of yours. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to find you. I clung on every word. I love your sense of humor. I’m just so into what you write. I can’t wait for the next one.

Alexandra: Thank you. Did you see the show that they did?

Zibby: No. I’m sorry, I meant to mention that. It’s called You’re Not Dead Yet or something.

Alexandra: I just wondered if you’d seen it.

Zibby: No. Now I have to, obviously, go watch it. Congratulations on the show. I should’ve said that. I have it in your bio at the beginning, which I’ll record.

Alexandra: Thank you so much. It’s been picked up for season two, so fingers crossed the writers’ strike.

Zibby: So exciting. So, so exciting.

Alexandra: Thanks, Zibby.

Zibby: I’ll go watch that. Maybe that’ll be my nighttime treat after it all.

Alexandra: You’ve got to fit it in with all the other stuff.

Zibby: We all fit everything in. Congratulations.

Alexandra: Thank you so much. It was lovely speaking to you.

Zibby: You too. Thanks for coming to the store. Buh-bye.

Alexandra: Bye.


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