Interview by Madeleine Dore
Photography by Bri Hammond
Zoe Foster Blake:
Zoë Foster Blake doesn’t know what to write on her passenger card at an airport, and understandably so.
Her career spans working as a journalist, columnist, and beauty editor, as well as being the author of four fiction titles and two non-fiction books, and founder of skin care line Go-To. Add to that being a mother to toddler Sonny and wife to Hamish Blake, you've got one heck of a bio to explain to a customs officer.
This year balancing the full-time demands of Go-To alongside parenting, the adaptation of her novel The Wrong Girl into a TV series on Channel 10, and the launch of her new book Amazinger Face, Zoë has learnt to ‘put a lid’ on most other work.
‘I feel like if it's going to take me away from Sonny, it has to be good. If you are going to pay a sitter so that you can work, it's got to be work you want to do. I think that's really important, if you want to do something well you have to have that drive.’
Drive is something Zoë seems to possess in abundance. She wrote her first handful of novels on weekends throughout her 20s, and be it a beauty range or a book, she catches her ideas and brings them to life.
For some, such drive can manifest in a relentless pursuit for success, but Zoë maintains her trademark sense of humour, affability and playfulness.
‘I am in a profession that is very indulgent and I just get to write some things and people read them. I’m not in the mines and I'm not saving lives – I realise the frivolity of my work.’
Frivolity aside, Zoë helps create a sense of wonder – for words, ideas, projects and experiences. ‘I think that is the trick – that you are doing it for the love of it. The thrill of the creative outlet is the joy for me, not the success, and that is why I keep flipping to other projects even though they keep me super busy, otherwise my brain gets bored.’
From how she fits in running a business with parenting, to the lessons we uncover in roadblocks, and how sometimes you have to let things happen and stop worrying, Zoë manages to transform her drive and frivolity into comforting wisdom for us all.
‘We never know what we are going to do next,’ she adds. Although the unknown can be frightening – be it knowing where to go, what to do next, or even how to mark your own passenger card, as Zoë exemplifies, it’s also the most exciting part.
I am an early bird by default because we wake up to a happy, little singing and chirping Sonny, but even when he doesn't wake up early, I automatically get up around 6.30-7.00am, anyway. On a very, very, very good, earnest, virtuous day I meditate, but I feel wrong even saying that because it is so sporadic.
I did transcendental meditation quite well for many years and haven't for ages. I think having a child disrupts that even more.
My brain is still freshest in the morning, so if I beat Sonny waking up, I will do half an hour of really good work (the best work of the day) because it all falls apart after that, emails start coming in and I get distracted.
I'll do things like write good, sharp copy for Go-To, or reply to an interview that demands thoughtful and interesting answers – things I can't do with a tired head, or a sloppy head, or an afternoon head, or a distracted head.
I eventually want to be one of those horrible, insufferable people who say, “Ah, I get up at five and I work so well, I don't even need coffee any more.” I look forward to being that painful, earnest person that makes everyone feel bad about themselves! I really think it's possible down the track, but having children disrupts your mornings, but that's okay because it is fun and lovely.
We tag-team reading Sonny some stories and getting him dressed. Then I make breakfast for all of us together, which is usually porridge with berries, yogurt, LSA, chia and maple syrup – I try and make it look pretty because it is a nice thing to do, but I also try and make sure the boys are full.
I’m on this ridiculous elimination diet at the moment so I can’t eat anything. I just have my sad, paleo muesli and almond milk, but normally it would be porridge. Otherwise Sonny might just have Weet-Bix and we might have toast and eggs.
We might walk down the street to the milk bar and get a coffee together before the day really starts.
My days differ depending on whether I have a nanny or not. If I don't, Sonny and I go to the park, see one of his little buddies, or go to Collingwood Farm, the museum, or to a library for playtime. When he naps between 1.00-3.00pm, I work furiously and do everything I can for the whole day. Then he is up again and we just play outside, read books, or go do grocery shopping, you know – life.
I have help on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and on those days, a normal morning might be going to an osteo apointment or a reformer pilates because my baby broke my body!
I’ll come home and have a second breakfast, which will be toast and eggs with maybe some sauerkraut and avocado. I’ll only have one coffee in the morning because I need a second one in the afternoon.
Then it is work, work, work. I go to my computer and just rip into three hours of Go-To stuff – that is usually pressing because things need to go to print, or into production or need feedback. A lot of it is waiting on me to make decisions on things like colour, marketing, collaborations, or any social media campaigns or promotions we are doing.
I also do all the written copy for the packaging, fortune cookies, and the website. I am still very much protective of the brand, it's so young it still needs me to steer it… I think the word is control freak!
It doesn't feel like work and I get real joy when I hit the right copy and I think it's going to be funny. I like to put in the effort to make sure that anyone who has any contact with our brand has a giggle and almost forgets that they are buying skincare, because skincare is not normally that funny.
I'm really bad. I subscribe to emails like FastCompany – I don’t open them, but I subscribe to them – because I want to learn to better time manage and compartmentalise my day.
I used to have this system with my standing desk that I sat for proper writing with no distractions, no emails, and I stood for communication and that worked well. I haven't done that for a while because now that I’ve got a kid I’m just sort of at the kitchen bench or at the table when I get a chance.
I need to get back to not letting inboxes control my day – because they really do from the minute I get up. At any point I’ve got two chemists emailing me, my managing director, my social media gun, the gang in the office, the warehouse manager, the designer – there is a lot going on. I don't have alerts or anything, but I keep checking it, and also Instagram and now Snapchat and every little digital mouth I feed.
But I also don't think it is an entirely bad thing. I'm getting better at just allowing it because I think the way my brain works is on a treat basis. So if I do even 20 minutes of work, I can have a little sneaky peek at Instagram or I can go online for a minute and read an article and then come back to work.
I think instead of trying to fight it I just need to be honest about it, but also shape it a little bit so I don't waste too much time. Also, now that I am on the clock with hiring a nanny, I don't have that sort of free time anymore.
"I need to get back to not letting inboxes control my day – because they really do from the minute I get up. At any point I’ve got two chemists emailing me, my managing director, my social media gun, the gang in the office, the warehouse manager, the designer – there is a lot going on. I don't have alerts or anything, but I keep checking it, and also Instagram and now Snapchat and every little digital mouth I feed."
Hunger is what interrupts me and I get super hangry before I realise I need to do something about it. I will usually have lunch at home – quinoa or rice with tinned salmon and some vegetables. It’s sad and healthy, but it is enough to keep me going.
If I feel like I need to get out of the house, I’ll go out and have lunch somewhere and do two hours of work. I do some of my best work in cafés because there is no Wi-Fi, or I tell myself there isn't even if there is a big sign saying "Free Wi-Fi".
I’ve got a new book coming out in June, Amazinger Face, and The Wrong Girl TV show is currently in production, so all that’s going on, but it is all good stuff. I am definitely super busy at the moment, but I’m not complaining because I chose all of this.
I have weeks where things are a bit slow, like this week has been a big publicity week and I've had to do things that I said yes to, but when the day comes, I think oh shit, I really don't have time for that now. Then other weeks I don’t have anything on and they are the weeks I think great, I can finally get started on my new project or do some solid writing.
By four in the afternoon I’m going a bit crazy and my eyes are sick of the screen and I need to do something else, so I will probably do errands like go to the post office and pick up deliveries, or buy some groceries for dinner.
I would like to say I exercise here, but it’s not always the case. I walk a lot, and we have a machine down stairs, a Skierg, that only takes 10-15 minutes to smash you, so if I’m smart I’ll put on my exercise clothes and do that before my nanny finishes up.
I do dinner around six for Sonny, and Hamish will come home around 6.45pm. Hamish will take over bath and story time with Sonny and I will make dinner for us. Because I’m on this diet, it’s usually fish tacos, or bolognaise on zucchini noodles, or fish with sweet potato. We are simple eaters.
Then we watch our shows! We have dinner and a glass of wine and then we are straight to the TV. Until we had a baby, I didn't watch TV at night because I grew up without one and I never really got it. But I know we are in the renaissance of TV and I am really, really into it now.
"We try not look at our phones through that time. We had a bucket for a while when we did a 'digital sundown'
– but we were just shit."
We watch House of Cards, Veep, Silicon Valley, Last Man Standing, Survivor, The Bachelor – any Bachelor, from any country, at any time.
We try not look at our phones through that time. We had a bucket for a while when we did a 'digital sundown' – but we were just shit. I would keep peeking at it and Hamish would keep peeking at it. But I run a business now, so I can't absolutely switch off.
Most of the time I will get back on my phone or computer about nine and just tie up a few loose ends and then I like to read before bed.
I'm gunning to be asleep by ten but it is closer to eleven because I start doing some washing then have a shower and mess around with beauty products or wash my hair, do self tanner and so on. I use Go-To cleanser in the shower (I use tubular mascara so I don't have to use eye makeup remover because it comes off by pulling it off the lashes under water), and I use Go-To Swipeys a couple of times a week, then apply pigmentation serum, then Face Hero, and Very Useful Face Cream.
Weekends are pretty sacred. Saturdays are catch ups with friends or errands, or Hamish will go for a big bike ride and I will have Sonny, so we sort of tag-team. In the afternoon I will go shopping, have a massage, or see a movie with a girlfriend.
I don't even have to fight to urge to work, but if I’m writing a book I'll use my free time on a Saturday to work on that. I’m good on Saturdays because there are no emails.
Saturday mornings are pretty precious, if I can get them back anytime soon that would be great. Then I'll have another baby and it will all go out the window!
Sunday it is just family day so pancakes, a bike ride, I don't know, that is it really.
"Saturday mornings are pretty precious, if I can get them back anytime soon that would be great. Then I'll have another baby and it will all go out the window!"
BEHIND THE SCENES
On the path to becoming being a funny, loveable writer and doing what comes easy…
I don’t think you ever think you're a funny writer, but you know when you did good work, and I guess humour has a certain structure that you can follow. I started at Cosmo magazine when I was 23 writing beauty, and I had an editor who just let me write how I spoke – but I can write much better than I speak!
It is all about timing. It wasn't that I was the best at that tone, it's just that I was able to start writing in that way in an area like beauty, which was pretty serious. It was also a thin veil for me not knowing anything about beauty and just having fun with it. Then I went to Harper’s and it was a much more respectable, grown up tone. It was good to learn how to do that, but I just felt like I wasn't using my superpower, which is just being a rat and a rascal.
It was a great lesson – to know the thing you are probably meant to do is the thing that comes easy. Not everyone knows that, or they don't realise it could be something that they are not even considering.
There might be someone who is trying to be a really amazing lawyer or accountant or something quite conservative, who happens to be a dynamo at cupcakes on the weekend – do that! But it's risky and it's bold and it takes confidence, I think. It took me a while to leave full-time work and just do what I wanted to.
On working hard in your 20s…
I had a lot of drive in my 20s and I had a lot of time because I had a boyfriend who was away a lot. I didn't have any money to go shopping, and I went out to parties in my job as a beauty editor during the week, so I started writing books on the weekends.
I am that kind of person where if I save $100, then I want to save another $100, so once I had done one book I thought maybe I can do another one, and another one, and I sort of got into a flow and I liked being busy. Books were my friend, I always say.
I would also complain a lot! I lived right on Bondi Beach and I could honestly see my friends out on the grass having fun and I would just pull the blinds down and go back to my laptop and just sort of hate the world.
But I’m a bit of a nerd maybe underneath it all, so I worked really hard back then. I’m glad I did because by the time I got to my 30s, things kind of fell into place. I fell in love with a man and we wanted to travel and just hang out on the weekends, so I think it was really fortuitous.
I really believe most careers, and certainly mine, come down to luck, timing, contacts, and doing the hard yards early on in your piece. Because I did that work then, I have a little bit more of a pick-and-choose luxury now and I can do projects that I want to work on, rather than feeling like I have to. There is something to be said for laying your foundation early. But you can do whatever you like – I know that you are only young and beautiful and reckless once and it is not in your 30s and 40s!
"I worked really hard back then. I’m glad I did because by the time I got to my 30s, things kind of fell into place. I fell in love with a man and we wanted to travel and just hang out on the weekends, so I think it was really fortuitous."
On letting things happen…
When I published my first book at 25 I thought, well, this has to be a TV show, it’s just made for it, and I remember saying to my publisher, “Any offers?” And even for the second and third book I probably said similar stuff.
But as it so happens with the universe, when The Wrong Girl launched, I did a tour, I was seven months pregnant, I had to launch Go-To the next month and then had Sonny the month after. I just sort of put it out there and I didn't even know if it was going to float, and of course that is the one that does.
That was a big lesson – let it go. When you say, I want, I want, I want, you are just focusing on the lack of something.
"That was a big lesson – let it go. When you say, I want, I want, I want, you are just focusing on the lack of something."
I think it is good to have goals and so on, and I guess there are those that say if you want something you have to go out and get it, but I really believe that most of the things that have happened in my life have been luck, timing, or a total “get on with life” moment. Do your best work, put it out there, and then move on.
"It was a great lesson – to know the thing you are probably meant to do is the thing that comes easy. Not everyone knows that, or they don't realise it could be something that they are not even considering."
On how being a mother affects productivity…
I am very productive now that I am a mum. I look back at how lazy I was – “No, I can only work in the mornings, I couldn't possibly work at night” and now I sometimes work till 10pm just fine.
You just have this super-human power because you know you have five minutes to do the washing, and so you just get better at shit.
On how roadblocks teach you a lesson...
I think you only really encounter roadblocks when you have over-committed. You get to a point where you don’t need to say yes to as many things because really it’s about focus. For me it’s on my business – I’m not trying to be out there and be seen. But feeling anxious or blocked can be a good lesson because you need that moment of clarity.
Blocks only exist because something is not working, so figure it out. Don't just chin up and keep going because you’re missing something if you do that.
On why you shouldn’t worry…
What you think about you bring about. It's so funny the stuff that I really focused on and was upset, nervous and anxious about was the shit that wasn't working, it didn't work, and it continued to not work until I sort of let it go.
I never worried about my career, never-ever-ever. I didn't even know what I wanted to do, I just went to uni because I liked writing and thought maybe I’ll just go in that direction. There has always been the sense that it will work out, and that is the thing that has gone really well.
But other areas of my life that I focused too much on, I was trying to intellectualise it and make it work and you drive yourself nuts in your early 20s with that shit.
But you do get to choose, you do get to frame your day, you can frame your hour, you can even frame your interaction with a turd of a customer service person even though it's hard.
I’m not always good at putting that into practice, of shaping the experience. I’m not the kind of person who can say I have a goal and I know what I’m going to be doing in five years – I can’t even tell you what I’m doing next year. I don’t even know where the inspiration comes from – I just feel very grateful always for my career, grateful that people enjoy reading it and using it and are having fun.
"But you do get to choose, you do get to frame your day, you can frame your hour, you can even frame your interaction with a turd of a customer service person even though it's hard."
“If I wake up and it is a sparkling, sunny day then I am ready, it is a good day. But it is the little things – thoughtfulness and kindness can make days extraordinary even in the tiniest way, like our neighbour bringing in the bins. Sonny absolutely makes days extraordinary because he is different today than he was yesterday. He makes my work more pleasurable because it is meaningful and there is more condensed pockets of it, and he makes being with him
super pleasurable and meaningful.”
– Zoë Foster Blake
I just today received a huge box of books I bought online from Booktopia (guided by clever friends/the Tim Ferriss podcast!) and am so pumped. I am a fast and ravenous reader and needed new material desperately, but never know where to look. Best book in memory is the newest What I've Learned, a compilation of my favourite interview page in Esquire/the world. Everyone should read it.
I alternate between lovely fancy stuff from Grace, Scanlan Theodore and Skin and Threads, and frivolous/useful things from ASOS, Topshop, Bonds, Bassike and Country Road.
In real life, a lot of banana and buckwheat pancakes. In dream life, the same thing, but with wheat, fried bacon and eggs, butter, and a litre of maple syrup. And a hot chips chaser.
I was just saying to someone how Spotify has changed the way I listen to music. Never albums now, just songs and themed playlists. And I love it. Artists I thrash currently are M83, Lil Silva, Post Malone, Leisure, Boy Boy, Bibio and um, the Teeny Tiny Stevies. (For Sonny.) (But also me.)