Sophie Cousens, THE GOOD PART

Sophie Cousens, THE GOOD PART

Zibby speaks to author Sophie Cousens about THE GOOD PART, an enchanting and moving modern-day 13 Going on 30 that Zibby “inhaled in two days.” Sophie delves into the inspiration behind this novel, which follows Lucy, a 26-year-old who, after making a wish, wakes up 16 years into the future—successful, married, and with children. She and Zibby discuss the themes of loneliness, female friendships, and growing up. Then, Sophie provides a glimpse into her writing process and shares what it was like for her first book to be adapted for the big screen.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Sophie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Good Part, which I could not put down, I loved so much. I still have to post about it. It was so good. I inhaled it in two days. I’m so excited to talk to you about it.

Sophie Cousens: Yay, just what I like to hear. Thank you.

Zibby: It’s true. I read every word. I don’t always get a chance to do that with this podcast because I do one episode every single day. I was like, no, no, I’m not going to sleep. I’m going to clear the weekend. It was amazing. I loved it. I just loved it.

Sophie: Thank you very much.

Zibby: Tell listeners what the book is about and where you came up with this idea.

Sophie: This book is basically the story of Lucy, who is twenty-six. She is not having a great time in life. She is struggling at work. She’s living in not a great apartment with not great flatmates. She’s not really having fun on the dating scene. She’s just got to the point where she kind of wants to skip ahead to the good part of her life where she’s a little bit more sorted, she’s doing well at work, and she’s found her person. She’s tired of kissing all these frogs. One night after a particularly horrendous night out, she stumbles upon a wishing machine and makes this wish to skip to the good part. When she wakes up, she is in bed with a man she doesn’t know, wearing a wedding ring, and she realizes that she is now forty-two. It is the story of literally skipping ahead and what you would do if you suddenly missed sixteen years of your life.

Zibby: It’s so great. Where did this come from? You have all these great ideas for all your novels. They’re all, what if? What if? Where did this come from in your life?

Sophie: Thank you. I have to give some tribute to those brilliant nineties and early two-thousands films like Big and 13 Going on 30 and Freaky Friday. I am a huge fan of films like that. I was watching Big. I was thinking to myself, jumping from thirteen to thirty, it probably would be as big a jump to jump from young adulthood to old adulthood. Being a child wishing to be an adult, you don’t really know what it is you’re asking for. I kind of feel that when I look back at myself at twenty-six and the person I was and what I wanted and what I found hard in life, I did think, wow, being — are we middle-aged? I don’t know; I guess, yeah — in your forties is a world away. That just planted the seed of an idea for me of thinking, what would that story be? What would it feel like? Then as soon as I had that idea — sometimes books take a little bit of time and a bit of mining to kind of find the gold. With this one, it was one of those ideas that just hit the ground, and I was like, I have to write this book.

Zibby: It’s so funny because when you think about fast-forwarding time, you don’t think about the sad parts. Obviously, this is one of the main things that Lucy contends with in addition to the fact that she’s a stranger to everybody in her life. That’s obviously quite unnerving, to wake up not knowing the people who are the closest to you. There are things like loss and things that happen that she missed that are really sad. Tell me a little bit about the role of all these things that happen to all of us that are unavoidable. Is it worth it skipping through it? Is living through it part of what makes us who we are?

Sophie: I think especially when you’re young and you’re just desperate to get ahead and get through the boring, tedious bit, you’re very much thinking about — it’s like that phrase, I’ll be happy when… You think, I’ll be happy when I’ve got a better job where I’m just earning a little bit more money or I have a little bit more security or I’ve met my person. I think sometimes we miss the fact that there will also be lots of things that happen, like you lose a parent or lose a friend or there’s illness and grief. This is just all part of the rich tapestry of life. While you’re wishing away some of the bad stuff, you’re also going to be missing that — it’s not fun stuff, but it’s that nuance that makes us who we are. What Lucy finds when she’s married to Sam, her husband in the future, is that they have a very long shared history together, and good stuff and great stuff and falling in love, but also, some quite sad, quite tragic stuff. This is one of the big difficulties for Lucy in the book, is thinking, is that something she wants to live through again? Is this a good future? Is it a bad future? Can she ever understand what her future self has become if she didn’t actually live it as well? It’s quite a difficult one.

Zibby: Yes. You had so many funny things about getting older, both how she feels about her body and the things that maybe we were worried about when we were younger, like the wrong things, or you don’t appreciate enough until they’re gone.

Sophie: I never wore a bikini in my twenties because I didn’t think I had a flat stomach. Now I look back, and I’m like, what were you thinking? You should’ve worn the bikini everywhere you went. You looked fine.

Zibby: Totally. Oh, my gosh, so funny. There were also a lot of references to technologies that don’t exist or things that maybe you were wishing did exist in the future. Tell me about some of those things that you invented.

Sophie: When I was contemplating, what would it be like to skip forward sixteen years? — often, books about the future, it’s not a really positive view of what the world might look like. It’s postapocalyptic or terrible. I was thinking, but what about those little things that will change, like having a self-driving car or a car that gives you motivational talks as you to go work in the morning or the fact that we don’t have bank cards anymore? We just scan our hands. I wanted it to be a world that felt familiar because ultimately, it’s a book about human experience and love and choices and decisions. I didn’t want it to feel like she’d skipped to a completely bizarre future universe, but I did enjoy throwing in a few details that made you think, hopefully, I wonder if we will have that in the future, or I wonder if we will be having drones deliver our shopping to us, and things like that.

Zibby: It’s so fun to think about. Everything that helps with driving is a huge plus for me. I’m not the best driver. I have no sense of direction. Even Google Maps has been life-changing. The cars you invented, yes, thank you, I will take one.

Sophie: Her future car has the voice of Stanley Tucci as well, which I always like, a little detail that I thought, that would make life better, right, if you had Stanley Tucci guiding you through your day and giving you positive affirmations? That could never be a bad thing.

Zibby: One of the many things you do very, very well is the depiction of female friendships and the closeness you have, especially with the women that you’ve been friends with for so long, which most of have, those very, very close relationships, time and place, what you went through together that will stay through the test of time. Another thing that you do is develop characters who are not part of the central narrative and then make them into teaching a lesson or full-blown things. The man upstairs — I’m always forgetting his name — there becomes much more to do with him. Mr. Shipley?

Sophie: Mr. Finkley.

Zibby: Mr. Finkley, sorry, and the role of loneliness in the world because that is also something you explore. Lucy herself feels quite lonely even though she’s surrounded by people because she doesn’t know them. Then you have this alter thing going with him and his loneliness and what you assume about different people and then when you get to know them, what you find out. Tell me a little bit about them and the role of his character and the development of that in relation to everything.

Sophie: Again, this might be a personal thing. I think often in your twenties, you are quite self-absorbed in your own narrative and what you want and your goals and aspirations and where you want to be. I think actually, something about getting a little older is looking around and seeing other people’s experience and also realizing that nothing is ever black and white. In your twenties, you’re around friends a lot. You do have a lot more time, even though you don’t have much money. She, perhaps, takes for granted the fact that even though you might be all living like students and not have a penny to rub together, living with your friends and waking up every day with your friends is also an amazing experience. When you suddenly find yourself in a family and you’ve all got commitments and you’ve all got children, there just is less time for that. That’s something I reflect on as well, the advantages of your twenties that you sometimes take for granted. Also, yes, she has this neighbor, Mr. Finkley, who she just sees as an annoying neighbor who’s always flooding her apartment. She doesn’t really give him the time of day. When she jumps forward to the future, she actually finds him. Even though he’s quite eccentric, quite fascinating and interesting, sort of takes that time to get to know his stories and not just dismiss him as a weird old character. I think that’s something we can all be a little bit guilty of as well, is just not slowing down and taking a minute and hearing what someone’s story is. In my books, there’s usually a central romance or love story and friendships, but I do also like to pepper in these other thoughts and characters and takeaways, which I’m glad you picked up on.

Zibby: When we first met, I interviewed you for an Instagram Live when you were the GMA Book Club pick for your first book. That was only a couple years ago. This is now your fourth book. You’ve been cranking them out. I was like, I think I missed some of these books. Tell me about the pace at which you’re writing. How are you doing this? How many do you have in the pipeline coming up? Just the pacing to get all of this done.

Sophie: I think when you first want to be a writer, you just want to get your stories heard. You just want to get published. When This Time Next Year came out, it was an incredible experience for me because it was a Good Morning America Book Club. It was a New York Times bestseller. It was the perfect launch for a book that any author could want. Then you sort of think, oh, I’ve done it. Great. Brilliant. Then what you don’t realize is that then the publisher expects you to publish a book a year and keep the momentum, keep the supply. Especially for commercial fiction, it’s not necessarily that — with a literary novel, you might spend four years contemplating what you’re going to write about and perfecting the poetry of the prose. With commercial fiction, people want books by you every year. Sometimes that’s easy. Sometimes that’s really hard, especially when you have other things going on. I’m really excited that I’ve written the screenplay for This Time Next Year, which is coming out later in the year as a film. I’m working on other adaptations. There’s various other scripting opportunities. It is quite difficult to juggle. I’m now drafting my fifth book. I feel very grateful to be published and to continue to be published, but it does become a little harder balancing promotion and all the social media and all those things you can do to promote the book while also actually thinking of the ideas and getting your head down and putting the words on the paper, which is often the loneliest, hardest, most boring bit.

Zibby: I have to send you — I have a novel coming out in March. It’s all about this. It’s a bestselling author trying to write another book and all the things that get in the way of doing that.

Sophie: There’s something so delightful about — when I wrote This Time Next Year and I just didn’t really think anyone was going to read it — I was just on my own. I had a job. I had little children. It was just me and my computer alone at night. My expectations were really low. Maybe I’m looking at it with really rose-tinted glasses, but there was something quite delightful about that. Whereas now, once you’re in the system of publishing, it’s much harder. There’s an expectation. You want it to be as good as your last book. You don’t want readers to be disappointed. You want to get in the same shops that your last book came in. There’s all these other fanfare and politics and complications that take away from the pure joy of telling a little story.

Zibby: That’s one of the things I think I was most surprised about when I started talking to authors. I just assumed people who had written multiple books and had many books coming out, they wouldn’t have to worry about a thing. They were set. It turns out you worry about every book. Maybe not to the extent at the beginning, but every book, you have to go down this whole rabbit hole of emotions, just like what you were saying. Will it be in the same stores? What if it’s worse? What if it doesn’t do well? Then will I get another book? It’s a whole thing.

Sophie: This really hit home for me when I went for a coffee with this writer who is a way bigger writer than me. He’s often in the Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller list. He was saying the disappointment for him, when his book came in at number two rather than number one. I was thinking, are you kidding me? That level of sales compared to what — then you realize everyone — it’s a massive spectrum. Some people, it’s, you must just be happy to be published, to hold your book. At the beginning, of course you are, but as the benchmark moves, you can’t help but just want readers. That’s what every writer wants. They want readers.

Zibby: When you’re furiously, quickly writing different novels, how do you do it? Do you outline each book? Do you just start and jump in? All your characters are so well developed, so you must have some sort of framework before you start. I’m guessing, but maybe I’m wrong.

Sophie: No, funnily — have you heard the expression of being a pantser or a planner? I’m very much a pantser. I wish I was a planner. I usually have a concept. With The Good Part, it’s a very clear top-line concept of a girl who skips forward sixteen years of her life. I had a very clear image of the ending and what the ending would look like, but the journey there, I had no idea. For me, that’s the fun of writing, is just to know the character and put them in a setting and see where it takes me. Lots of the humor, as well, I find in the book is just scenes that jump into my head and happen there and then. It means I overwrite. It means a lot of stuff gets wasted because you write stuff that then doesn’t go in. You have to rewrite. Actually, my editor was talking about, this time, doing a plan and trying to be a planner. I tried. I can’t do it. I find it too constricting. I’ve thrown it out. I’m just doing it how I always do it, which is making it up as I go along and then fixing it at the end.

Zibby: Wait, what else can you say about the adaptation for the first book?

Sophie: I’ve seen it. It’s finished. It’s got Lucien Laviscount from Emily in Paris and Sophie Cookson, who’s a wonderful actress, in it as the lead. I was on location watching some of it filmed. It’s really cute and romantic. I’m not a hundred percent sure who the distributor is going to be. Hopefully, this time next year it will be available to view somewhere.

Zibby: Wow. How neat to be able to pursue all the different ways of getting stories out into the world, especially as a mom. The scenes — I should’ve led with this. The scenes of Lucy and the kids, who are strangers to her, essentially — it’s like being a nanny or something. You come in, and they depend on you. You’re responsible. Oh, my gosh. How she develops, especially, her relationship with Felix was so wonderful. His voice was so specific. I feel like I know that kid. Tell me a little bit about writing that relationship and falling in love with your kids and the fact that not everybody does fall in love with them immediately.

Sophie: Again, this is, for me, thinking about what the difference between in your early twenties and being in your forties is. I think in your twenties or thirties, if you haven’t had children yet, you have that romanticized idea of what motherhood would be like, of just having a little child call you Mommy and walking in the park and dressing them in cute outfits. Maybe, again, this was just me being completely deluded. The reality, it’s the biggest emotional roller coaster you’ll ever go on. It has the highest, highest moments of complete unadulterated love, but it also has these moments where you really have to deal with your own darkness of the soul. It’s just so hard. It’s so tiring. There’s no rulebook. You’re just making up as you go along. That is definitely something I think all parents discover. I thought, wouldn’t it be fun just to drop Laura — Lucy, sorry; I’m getting my protagonists mixed up — drop Lucy in the middle of this? There’s a line where she says, oh, my god, how have we got to this stage in history and no one’s solved childcare yet? It’s dropping an external person into trying to juggle a job and childcare and a sick kid, which does seem mad. How has no one solved this yet? It doesn’t make sense. Also, when you’re a mother, your relationships with your children are, obviously, some of the most important relationships in the world. It’s a love like you’ve never experienced. I wanted to put that in as something that she discovered along the way. It’s not something you just wake up and you’re a mom and that you’re in love with them. It is something that she learns in the book. I don’t see that depicted very often in literature. I was excited to cover that and dig around. That was a real waffly answer. Sorry.

Zibby: How have you found the writing community? Are you good friends with other writers near where you live or around the world? What are some of those relationships like? Do you have a BFF writer friend who’s also — tell me about that and friendships in the writing world.

Sophie: Thank god for the internet because I live on an island called Jersey where there’s maybe three other writers. I do really value actually being able to jump on and chat to people who are doing the same thing and having the same struggles and challenges. I do have a few. There’s one particular, Cesca Major, whose book just came out as Reese Witherspoon’s pick. She is a wonderful person and a really good sounding board for all of these things. She’s an invaluable writer friend of mine. I also struggle because I think naturally, I’m an extrovert. I used to work in TV. I loved being in an office full of sparky, creative, funny people. Most of writing is being alone with your plot and having to work it out yourself. While I really value those friends who I can ring up and say, “What do I do about this? I’m stuck. Help me,” at the end of the day, it is a really lonely job. That’s probably one of the hardest things that I find about it, is not having enough sounding boards and not having enough of the social. I love doing things like this because I like talking to people about books.

Zibby: I do too. I know, this is the crazy part. We’re alone, and yet I feel like it’s like going to coffee with a friend or something.

Sophie: Yes, exactly.

Zibby: That’s amazing. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Sophie: I would say just keep writing volume. When I was trying to be a writer and I wasn’t getting published, I kept trying to wait for the perfect idea or being rejected and then sort of giving up on writing for a few years. Actually, what’s been amazing about being a published writer is that the way you get better is just to write. Writing a book a year, I’m so much a better writer now just because I’m a writing a huge amount. You learn from doing. My advice would be, anyone who wants to be a writer, just keep writing. Keep writing. Enter competitions. That’s how I got started. I entered a writing competition to get a chapter published. It can seem overwhelming to try and write a whole novel and to try and send it out to submissions. Start small. Do short stories. Do little competitions. Just keep the words flowing.

Zibby: If you could jump forward or backward to a different age right now, where would you go? What age?

Sophie: Good question. I would go back to childhood, I think. I’d be scared to go forward. I sometimes think, again, I took school for granted. I found it quite boring at the time. I hated the rules and being told what to do. Now the idea of sitting in a lesson for half an hour and learning about history and then doing half an hour about chemistry, how delightful, and just chat to your friends all day and be fed meals and a packed lunch and not have to make it. I feel like if you could live your life in the wrong order, all jumbled up — you could have a day of being seven and then a day of being forty. That would be the way to be genuinely present in your life because you would really appreciate all of that stuff that you take for granted at the time.

Zibby: It’s so true. You can’t possibly know at seven that this is a treat. Even the fact that you don’t have to make any decisions all day is a treat.

Sophie: I know. You’d never have to unload a dishwasher when you’re seven. I know my kids don’t.

Zibby: My kids certainly don’t. No. I probably should make them. Then what book is next? Do you have the title picked out? Do you have the date? What can you tell us?

Sophie: It’s called Is She Really Going Out with Him? It makes you think, “Is she really going out with him?” It’s very much quite a straight romance. It’s enemies to lovers. It’s all the tropes. It’s me really having fun with a very classic rom-com. More to come on that soon. I’m excited about it. I’ve just seen the cover, which is really cool.

Zibby: I can’t wait to see. It’s so cool. Congratulations. Thank you so much for coming on. Again, thank you for the hours of entertainment. I literally sat there like this with a silly smile on my face finishing the book. I love that feeling.

Sophie: Thank you. It is one of those books. I’ve got several little messages of people. I think it’s one of those right time, right place. If people are feeling a little bit stuck and a little bit down on life, they’ve messaged to say it really has resonated with them at this time. That’s lovely to hear as an author as well. That’s why we do it.

Zibby: Exactly. Thank you.

Sophie: Thank you.

Sophie Cousens, THE GOOD PART

THE GOOD PART by Sophie Cousens

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