One of the reasons I love this age is that we have so much experience, skill and wisdom plus hopefully confidence – a perfect mix for our current or possibly even a new career. Each month a 40s Woman will be telling us about their day job, new or old, and how they feel their approach has changed from earlier years. This month writer Zoe Folbigg tells us how she moved from journalism to best selling author.
Can you tell us about your career in your 20s and how you got there?
I did my degree in Spanish & Latin American Studies, but really wanted to work in magazines after uni (I read/loved/consumed a lot of them – from Q magazine and Empire to Cosmo and ELLE) – but I fell into PR when a friend of mine who worked for a big London agency said a junior role had come up and they needed a grad. I did a year there, but hated PR, I’m not a natural salesperson, so I was always on the lookout for journalism jobs.
Was journalism something you always wanted to do or did you fall into it?
I left PR and started working as a news reporter on a trade magazine, then one evening I was at a press dinner at then-Mezzo on Wardour Street, sitting next to a journalist from Cosmo. I asked her about how she got her job, said it would be my dream, and she gave me her card and said to contact her. I did – and when an opening came up on the subs desk at Cosmo, she told me about it and I went for it, and got it. I think it was my enthusiasm for the brand and the history of it that got my foot in the door. I was 25 and it felt like a dream come true.
What happened with your career in your 30s?
I worked my way up the subs desk, jumping from magazine to magazine with each promotion (Cosmo to SHE to Conde Nast Brides and CosmoGIRL, the teen sister to Cosmo) until I became chief sub editor, which is basically where you’re responsible for the words, tone, house style and production schedule of a magazine. It really suited how I work: creative but deadlines based. When I was 31, CosmoGIRL folded and I was made redundant. I was gutted, but it seemed like a brilliant opportunity to use my redundancy money to go travelling with my then-boyfriend, before we hoped to get married and start a family.
Now you’re a best selling author. What led you to start writing a book?
It was on that trip – a year around the world in 2008 – that I started writing my first book, The Note. I had a little laptop with me for freelance travel features I was writing while I was away (I had a weekly column in Fabulous magazine, and I was writing the odd travel piece for different magazines as we went…), and given we had all the time in the world, I thought I’d give my second dream career a shot, and I started writing a book it would then take me 9 years to get published!
How does your working pattern compare to when you were a journalist/worked in an office?
Well I know it doesn’t have to, but marriage and kids changed everything for me. We got back from travelling, got married and I was lucky to fall pregnant, so I never went back to a “proper 9-5” desk job since. I wrote freelance features from home for health and fitness, lifestyle, and parenting magazines, and kept trying to finish my debut novel, get an agent, and get a publishing deal. There were a lot of hurdles to jump with two boys under two, and I was shattered. I loved the freedom of being able to work around my babies, but it meant lines were always blurred. It was sort of easier when I had to go into an office.
What’s your typical day?
Now my kids are at junior school it’s easier. I drop them off, do some fitness, come home, shower and write through to school pickup. I’ve become more disciplined – it’s not like it was when I was writing on the beach with no deadline and no book deal – I often have to pick up where I left off at 9pm when my boys are asleep and can be working until midnight, but I’m now writing my fifth book and am grateful for my career and how lucky I am every day.
How does being an author compare to being a journalist?
It’s much freer! I make up stories all day rather being told to write 1,000 words about X, Y or Z. That’s one of the things I love most, being able to go off on these little adventures in my head and create all these characters and go around the world with them, all from my kitchen table while my kids are at school.
Do you think it’s something you could have done in your 20s or does being slightly older/more life experience help? (thinking here re knockbacks and resilience etc)
I am definitely more suited to it in my 40s. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to start writing something so big nor the resilience to keep on going in my 20s for sure. I faced so many rejections along the way, I had to pick myself up and keep believing: I was rejected by about 15 agents until my lovely agent Becky took me on; and my first manuscript of The Note was rejected by about 20 publishers before my publisher gave me a book deal. But it felt amazing that I got my agent just before my 40th birthday, I got my book deal just before my 41st birthday, and by my 42nd birthday The Note was at number one on the Amazon bestsellers list – so it really does feel that life begins at 40 for me.
My fourth book The Night We Met is coming out in paperback this month, The Note has been optioned for TV, and I’m just getting my head back down to finish a first draft of book 5. The pandemic hasn’t helped this one – homeschool very much messed with my creative output, but I’m tapping into my reserves and remembering that I’ve jumped lots of hurdles before, so I have to keep on going!
Find Zoe on Instagram @zoefolbigg, and check out her new book “The Night we Met” available now on ebook and in paperback from 13 May