Zibby Owens: Hi, everybody. I’m half a minute early, so I won’t be too official. I am so excited. Here we go, one o’clock. Hi, everybody. It’s Zibby Owens. I’m here from the podcast “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to have a great discussion on GMA Book Club’s Instagram account with Sophie Cousens, This Time Next Year: How Many Chances to Meet Your Perfect Match, a novel, which is the GMA Book Club pick for December. I am so excited to be welcoming her in. I can’t wait to talk to her about this fantastic book, especially as New Year is quickly approaching. A lot of her chapters begin with that. Hi.

Sophie Cousens: Hello. Hi, Zibby. How are you?

Zibby: Good. How are you?

Sophie: I’m good, though I’ve got a bit of a phobia of Instagram Live because the last couple I’ve done the connection’s gone halfway through. Fingers crossed the internet gods are with us tonight.

Zibby: So far so good. I was sure this would be cancelled. There’s a snowstorm here in the Northeast.

Sophie: Oh, no.

Zibby: I know. We’ll just hold our breath and see. At least you came on and spared me from just talking to myself, which I hate. It’s always my least favorite part. I’m like, here I am. It’s a delight to meet you. Thank you for doing this conversation with me.

Sophie: Not at all. Thanks for having me on. It’s been really exciting. The whole Good Morning America thing has been incredible.

Zibby: Let’s start with that. Tell me about finding out that you became the GMA Book Club pick for December and your reaction and where you were. Give me the whole thing.

Sophie: I got a text from my editor in the UK saying, “Oh, my god, have you seen your email? Have you seen your email?” I hadn’t seen my email. She didn’t say what it was. Then I quickly looked at my email and saw that I’d been selected by Good Morning America. It was just such a game changer moment. When you’re writing your first novel, you just hope if even my parents and five other people read it, then that would be great. It’s opened the book up to such a wide readership. I’ve just been blown away by the support from people. It’s been a dream come true, completely.

Zibby: Does it hold any less weight not being American yourself, or is it just as exciting? What do you think?

Sophie: I think more exciting. I lived in America when I was a teenager, actually. My parents lived in Virginia for three years. I felt like I absorbed a bit of American culture and got into all the morning TV. I miss my potato skins and bacon bits. Those were the in America in Virginia at the time.

Zibby: Next time I see them at the grocery, I’ll put aside a pack. In case you get a craving again, you can just text me or something. That’s funny. Tell me about writing this book. It’s your first book. Tell me about the whole process, how you came up with the idea for the story. What inspired you to write a novel to begin with?

Sophie: I’ve always wanted to be a writer. That’s always been ticking away in the back of my head. Since I was a child, I was always telling stories and writing silly little ideas down. I’ve been a TV producer for twelve years. In that time, I had the odd lull where I thought, I really should write something now, but those kind of jobs, they’re so all-consuming. They just don’t really leave much space for anything else. I had tried a few things. I actually wrote a YA sci-fi novel as well in my twenties, but that didn’t get picked up for some reason. Who knows why? Then I had children. Then I thought, you know what, there’s never going to be spare time. There’s always something. There’s always work. Of course, having children, there is no spare time. I thought, if I want to do this, you just have to make the time. I had a job at the time. I had two children under four.

I was like, I’m going to really commit to finishing a book and giving it a go properly. I love rom-coms and humor, so I thought this is the area I should be focusing on. Then the idea for the story, I’ve just always loved the idea of first impressions not being what they seem. I think that especially in this story, Quinn, you look at him from the outside, and he’s got everything. He’s very good looking. He’s had an amazing job. He’s very successful. I really liked the idea of exploring that that just isn’t usually the case with most people. Nothing is as perfect as the veneer the exterior might convey. That was the seed of the idea. Then the structure of basing it around New Year’s Eves, that’s a really good way of dipping into these characters’ pasts to see, what were the building blocks that made them the people that they are in the present? That’s how it all started.

Zibby: Wait, going back to what you just said about being so busy as a mom and all that stuff, literally when did you do it during the day with the two kids and all the rest? Did you wake up early? Did you do it on a computer? Where and when did you do it? I just want a visual.

Sophie: I basically was working in the day. Then I’d come back and do bedtime, put the children to bed. Then I’d pretty much write between eight and ten at night. I had a deadline because I had a book deal when I was halfway through. I knew I had to write five thousand words a week in order to get it finished. I worked that out as five sessions a week. I had to do a thousand words in each session. Between eight and ten or eleven, I basically had to write a thousand words before I could go to sleep. Strangely, I’ve almost found that easier than what I’ve got now where I’ve quit the day job now. I’ve got the day to write, which is an enormous privilege. I feel incredibly lucky, but there was actually something quite focusing about that very small window of time after a day with work and children where it just had to get done or it wasn’t going to get finished, you know? I’m sure you know.

Zibby: I do know. I have heard that from many other authors, that when you squeeze it in — it’s like, give a busy person something to do. You just throw it on the heap, put it on the pile. Then boom, boom, boom, it’s done. When you’re like, I’ll spend all day, then you get two things done.

Sophie: Completely. Also, I think that there’s not enough time for procrastination. When you know you have to hit a certain amount of words before you can go to bed, you’re much more focused on just getting it done. Whereas now, there’s a lot of distraction of just, ooh, let me look on Amazon and see what number my book is or read this article, someone being nice about my book. Actually, it’s kind of better to be a writer maybe in a cave and just not look.

Zibby: I think maybe you should keep doing the thousand word a day, five days a week thing. Breaking it down into tiny — not tiny. A thousand words is not tiny, but into achievable goals and spread it out over time. Even to me, I’m like, I can do a thousand words five times a week. All of a sudden, you have a book.

Sophie: When people ask me, if they want to be writers, what advice I would give, I do think that a weekly word aim is a really good way to go because you just know if you hit Friday and you haven’t done enough words, you have to cancel your plans and not go out. You have to write. In the world of COVID, no one really has any plans anyway. In the old days, you would have to cancel your plans to go out to write.

Zibby: Excellent, so this is an even better time to focus on writing since you’re not really missing anything anyway.

Sophie: Exactly.

Zibby: How did you come up with the idea of getting stuck in the bathroom at a party overnight? You must have gotten locked into a bathroom at some point. Of course, this is one of the first scenes in the book.

Sophie: I think I have momentarily been stuck. You know when you try the handle and it doesn’t click? You’re like, hang on a minute. You have that sudden panic in your chest of, I’m going to be stuck in here. I think it was based on that, but it was also just this idea of Minnie has so much bad luck. It was just thinking anything that could go wrong at a party was going to go wrong, so tripping over someone, getting vomited on. Then it’s almost like fate really has a sense of humor with Minnie. As soon as she’s in bathroom thinking — she has a little pep talk with herself. She’s like, right, I’ve got this. Stop being paranoid. There’s no jinx. Then, of course, she almost looks at the heavens and thinks, okay, you’re playing with me now, because it’s just another thing in the catalog of problems.

Zibby: I feel like her jinx became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Each year would come around, and then she’d be so worried. She ends up sleeping the whole day.

Sophie: Again, this is a theme that I feel like I only scratched the surface of in this book, in a way, of this idea of luck and almost it being self-fulfilling. It kind of feeds into the superstition thing as well. All of us, whatever beliefs you have, everyone spills salt and they’re like, , over their shoulder. There’s various superstitions and beliefs that has just crept into all our culture. I always knock on wood. If you say nothing bad has happened so far, I always knock on wood. Where does that come from? For Minnie, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy because for so long her mother has said, “You were born unlucky. Nothing’s ever going to right for you on this day.” If you have that mentality, maybe it doesn’t, or maybe the jinx is real and everyone’s giving her a hard time.

Zibby: Or maybe it’s having a mother who is telling you that you deserve that bad luck. Really, the time you’re born, there are so many factors. Whether or not you win the first baby of the year award doesn’t usually have a traumatic effect because you don’t know if you’ve won or not. Maybe it’s just the proximity of losing — I don’t know. I think the family lore, the family perpetuating that myth.

Sophie: Completely. I also think that what was interesting to explore with Minnie is this idea of, she has low self-esteem. The book slightly unpacks why she has that low self-esteem. A part of that is definitely her relationship with her mother. It’s the relationship with her mother, but it’s also her name, which led her to be teased. I think that if you’re teased at a very impressionable time in your life, it can really affect your self-esteem. It’s one of those names that, on the surface, you imagine everyone meeting her and saying, oh, Minnie Cooper like the car. Then you actually think, imagine having that all the time with everyone you meet, and especially how cruel teenagers can be. It just was interesting to me to imagine all these little external factors that had made her have low self-esteem. Then actually, Leila is the friend that comes in that actually helps turn that around for her. The importance of friendship is another big theme in the story.

Zibby: I have to tell you, I almost named my second daughter Minnie. In fact, that was the name that I had picked. She was born. I told my closest friends and family, “Welcome, Minnie.” My family staged an intervention. They were like, “You cannot name her Minnie.” I was devasted. I haven’t even gotten to the room yet. I’m still on the gurney or whatever you want to call it with my newborn girl who I was all fawning over. They’re like, “She’s going to get teased. What if she’s really big?”

Sophie: I love the name Minnie.

Zibby: I love it too.

Sophie: My agent’s daughter is called Minnie. Then when I was having this joke about Minnie, I was like, “No, no, no, it’s a really lovely name.” It’s just the combination of being Minnie Cooper or, as you say, if you’re called Minnie and you end up being really tall. Someone’s just asking on the chat if it’s available on audio or Audible. It is available on Audible, but it’s not me reading it, luckily. I would be like, blah, blah, blah. It’s Hannah Arterton, who’s brilliant. It is available on Audible.

Zibby: I feel like Minnie was always getting herself into these situations almost in a Bridget Jones type of way. She reminded me a lot of her at various points, particularly the moment — I don’t want to spoil because it’s so genius — when she’s traveling in the airport in India and the gift from her friend gets discovered, Leila’s gift. She has to confront the security guards and explain this very personal, unexpected item. I was cringing reading it. Then answering the phone and thinking it was Greg, but really, it was Quinn, about the dental stuff.

Sophie: That’s my favorite bit. You know what’s funny? Maybe I’m wrong here, but I think it’s quite a British sense of humor thing to kind of enjoy the cringe of a situation. That’s definitely what I loved about Bridget Jones. When I read those books for the first time as a teenager, I was just like, this is so my sense of humor. This is so funny. Because maybe the British have a bit of a reputation of being a bit more uptight and a bit more, everything’s fine, so that then when stuff is really embarrassing or cringey it’s even more just so embarrassing. I really enjoyed trying to put her in situations that you just want the world to swallow you up because it’s so embarrassing.

Zibby: What do you think about fate intervening? I know fate is sort of different from luck. This is maybe too broad a question, but just how people’s lives can intersect in all these different ways and how this probably happens all the time.

Sophie: I think I read an article that said — I can’t quote it because I can’t remember the statistics. It was something about the likelihood of you having met the man or woman that you end up with a number of times in your past. You probably wouldn’t have known it. I’ve actually got friends here in Jersey, they were looking through old photo albums and they found a beach holiday. In the background was his wife.

Zibby: No!

Sophie: As a child, yeah. It was just they happened to be on the same holiday at the same time. I think statistically, it is quite likely. What I quite liked about this story was exploring some of those near misses. Is it just a coincidence, or is it fate that’s drawing people together? One thing people have asked me about the book is they said, I would’ve loved for them to realize at the end and to piece together all of the jigsaw puzzles. I very consciously didn’t do that because I think life is not — there’s so many things none of us will ever know about when you might not have crossed paths with your partner. I think with Minnie and Quinn, they would work it out because they’d get talking about and they’d say, I was there that year. There’s enough little clues. They both like Star Wars. That’s going to come out. I didn’t want to do it completely overtly because I like that touch of the universe will know, but we won’t kind of thing.

Zibby: I know. I always wish I could rewind, I could just rewind and get a wide-angle view of all these situations. What would you see? What wouldn’t you? But no, not meant to be.

Sophie: I know. I love the movie Sliding Doors. You know Sliding Doors?

Zibby: It’s one of my all-time favorite movies.

Sophie: I just love that that expression has become like, oh, it’s a sliding doors moment. How amazing to come up with a story that then it becomes an expression. It’s brilliant. I do love stories that explore the alternate universe of how something might have played out differently. Then actually what’s interesting about this time next year is that they missed each other all those times, if that was their one chance to meet their soulmate and they missed it. Maybe the universe works in its way that it’ll just find another opportunity and another opportunity. That’s actually quite a nice thought that it’s not all totally down to being on the right beach at the right time looking in the right direction.

Zibby: You have to sometimes be clobbered over the head by fate. It takes time and time and time again. Then finally, you see the person. Tell me also about the role of baking and the pie business, which was hilarious, and putting recipes in the book and even in your book club guide and everything. Tell me about that and your own personal relationship to cooking and baking.

Sophie: I love baking. I’m more of a cake baker. I’m not very good at cooking, actually, but I do love baking cakes. I always make very elaborate designs for my kids’ birthday and stuff. Every birthday, I’ll say, “You can choose whatever you want to have.” Then I’ll try and make it. My daughter said she wanted an armadillo cake this year, which was challenging, but I tried. I do love baking. In this story, it came up because I wanted Minnie to have a job that she was very much helping others. That’s the thing about Minnie. When you first meet her, she’s a bit bristly and a bit prickly. She’s definitely got a chip on her shoulder. You might not completely love her when you first meet her. I wanted to have this contrast that she was a bit spikey, but you could see she was really kind, and the way that she interacts with her friends. Also, she set up a business to basically bring food to people who can’t cook for themselves or who can’t leave the house. That really came out of a genuine affection for the community. For me, baking for others was a really good way to illustrate her kindheartedness and her love of community. It’s also a really communal job. I love that idea of when she’s with the friends and her colleagues in the kitchen, it’s a very sociable job, sitting around the kitchen kneading dough. It just gave a lot of opportunities for interaction that maybe other jobs would’ve been harder to find, I suppose.

Zibby: And the disappointment with the burnt pies and all of that and have to restart and all the meaning, the themes of starting over.

Sophie: Exactly. Also, it’s the kind of job we can all sympathize. You all kind of sympathize with, okay, it seems quite simple. Bake a pie. Take it to someone. Get paid. Actually, it was quite fun to explore all the problems they have on the way and things that can go wrong. When they’re in India as well and her and Leila are talking about this ideal company they’d love to run where they employ people who need a second chance, who maybe have had some issues in their life, then you flash to them working in the pie shop and actually realizing some of these people are making life harder for them. At what point does your public spiritedness have to compromise for commercial interest?

Zibby: I loved their relationship. It was such a great example of female friendship, female work partnership, sort of like a work wife trope, if you will, and how they even get annoyed at each other sometimes. I feel like there aren’t so many best friend examples in fiction all the time. This is a particularly vivid one. I know you’ve talked in the past about your own close girlfriends. Tell me about how your own friendships made this one so rich and lifelike.

Sophie: I love rom-coms, but equally, there’s so many good ones that have been written that you can find yourself falling into the trope of the kooky best friend and then the inaccessible man. For me, I wanted to write something warm and engaging but that also had a little bit of edge of something a bit different and also slightly playing with undercutting those kind of expectations. Even though Leila is kind of the kooky best friend, I wanted her to have so much more heart and importance in this story than just being a sounding board to Minnie for her romantic life. That’s what was important for me as well. The slightly more old-fashioned fairy tales of Cinderella being rescued by her prince charming feel very outdated now to modern readers and modern viewers. I think that love and relationship should be something that is the cherry on the cake of your life, but you’ve got to have — look at me, I’m doing cake analogies. This is how embedded in baking — the sponge needs to be your own self-belief and self-worth, which is, again, about community and friendship and family. Then romantic relationships, in my view, should be the icing on the cake that make your life that extra bit special, but they can’t be the thing that you’re wanting to fix you or make you happy. That’s got to come from something a little bit deeper down. For me, her friendship with Leila, she’s known her since she was fifteen. It’s really important to her. It’s also really affected her life and her journey and her career and her self-image. I wanted Leila to be more than the kooky best friend who just talked her dating, basically.

Zibby: How have your friendships been impacted by both the success of your book and also having kids? I feel like no matter how committed I am to my friends, there’s just not enough time to see them, essentially.

Sophie: What’s been interesting, actually — I used to live in London around about where this book is set and then six years ago moved to Jersey, which is a channel island between England and France. That was quite a challenge because most of best friends were my school friends and they all lived in London or the UK. I moved away and then had children and so felt very removed from them physically because it’s not that easy to just jump on a plane or jump on a boat and go and visit your friends when you’ve got a six-month-old in tow. I just got quite good at having people that I call regularly and would do Skype and WhatsApp to. Almost pre-this year where everyone’s had to have their friendships like that, some of my best friends, I very much had that going on already. Also, I think your oldest friends, you can not see each other for years, and nothing — I’ve actually got a really good friend called Jen who lives in Canada. I went to university in Canada for a year. She was my best friend when we were at Ottawa together. I haven’t spoken to her probably in six years. She texted me and said, “Oh, my god, I heard your book was a New York Times best seller. I have to talk to you.” I had a Skype call with her last night. We chatted for about three hours, and it was as if it was yesterday, and just caught up. Isn’t that what’s amazing about life and friendship? You can just pick it up. If you really love someone and know them and know that you like them, then the time and distance can be overcome, hopefully.

Zibby: Yes, I totally agree. I have friends like that too. I’m like, thank god that we can just — the ones where you don’t have that ease of relationship, it’s easy to separate the wheat from the chaff, or whatever that expression is, when you have kids or you have a book or something big is coming on and you don’t have time. Then to be able to reconnect easily is a hallmark of a really strong friendship.

Sophie: Completely. To be honest, it also sifts out — when you live away from where most of your friends live, the ones who don’t regularly call or WhatsApp you or message you, they are much harder to keep up, these friendships. Again, when you’ve got little children, sadly, life just gets whittled down, doesn’t it? I’ve made loads of new friends in Jersey as well, mom friends. Life evolves. Someone’s just saying on the questions, is this a fictional story or based on true events? It’s very much a fictional story. I’ll just remind them that is the…

Zibby: Sorry, here’s the cover.

Sophie: It’s definitely a fictional book.

Zibby: Does female friendship play a role in your next book that you’re working on? What’s that about? Are you allowed to say?

Sophie: The next book is called The Way We Met. It’s all set in Jersey where I live. It’s basically about a girl, Laura, who travels to Jersey for work. She picks up the wrong suitcase at the airport. Inside, she sees the contents, and she’s convinced that this is the man of her dreams. Lots of the stuff in the case points to the fact that this is her soulmate. She sets off to try and find him. It’s very much about someone who, again, believes slightly in fate and destiny and has very strong ideas about romance and . She really wants to have this amazing . There’s definitely friendship and family that I explore in the book, but slightly different themes and slightly different ideas. It’s been really fun to write, actually. I hope people are going to enjoy it when it comes out.

Zibby: Can you share how you met your spouse? I don’t know if you’re even married.

Sophie: I am married. This is so funny. Someone came over the other day who’d read the book. She met my husband. She said, “My god, you must be so romantic.” She basically thought he must be kind of Quinn. I was like, no, he’s not. We met through, my best friend is married to his best friend. It was kind of a setup in our early thirties. We had lots of friends the same. It’s not a particularly exciting story. It’s lovely to start dating someone when you know so many of the same people. We’ve been on lots of double dates with our best friends together. It’s been really nice.

Zibby: That’s nice. Awesome. Do you have any advice? I know you already gave some, but more advice for aspiring authors?

Sophie: I would say that sticking to a word count would be good. Then the other thing that really helped me is just applying for lots of competitions. The idea of finishing a whole manuscript can be so daunting, especially if you’ve just got no idea whether what you’re writing is any good. There’s lots of competitions for short stories or first chapters or extracts of writing. If you can apply for that kind of thing, it really bolsters your morale and your confidence. I first got published when I entered a competition called Love at First Write, which was for the first three chapters of a romance. Winning something like that can just really boost your self-esteem and make you think, actually, maybe there is something in this. It can also help you get seen by agents and stuff. That would be definitely a tip. Also, get friends to read your work who you trust to be brutally honest. I’ve got some friends who will read my draft and be like, “It’s great. Excellent,” which is not really that helpful. Two of my friends, and Tracey who read my drafts, they’re like, “Okay, this is where it’s boring. This is where it’s slow. I don’t like this character.” You might not take it all on board, but it just really helps to have someone who will be incredibly frank with you because that’s what you need. Someone’s saying, when will the new book be out? I think in the US it’ll probably be out in the autumn next year. That’s the plan. Hopefully, people will still remember who I am by then.

Zibby: Of course, they’ll remember who you are. You’re just getting started. Are you kidding? Sophie, thank you. Thanks for doing this GMA Book Club live. Also, this will be a podcast on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books,” little double-header situation. Thank you so much. It was so great to talk to you.

Sophie: Thank you so much. It was really fun. This is the first Instagram Live I’ve done that hasn’t been plagued by technical errors, so yay! Thank you so much for talking to me. That was wicked. Thank you.

Zibby: Good. Thank you. Have a great day.

Sophie: Thank you. Bye.

Zibby: Bye.