Friday Night Book Club: Read an excerpt from Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up by Alexandra Potter
More about the book!
The Friday Night Book Club: Exclusive excerpts from Pan Macmillan every weekend.
How the hell did I get here?
Get comfortable this evening with a bar of chocolate and an excerpt from Alexandra Potter’s Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up – a book for anyone who’s ever worried life isn’t going to plan!
Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up will make you laugh and even make you cry.
But most importantly, it will remind you that you’re not alone, because we’re all in this together.
About the book
Nell Stevens’ life is a mess.
When her business goes bust and her fiancé with it, Nell’s happy ever after in California falls apart and she moves back to London to start over. But a lot has changed since she’s been gone. All her single friends are now married with children, sky-high rents force her to rent a room in a stranger’s house and in a world of perfect Instagram lives, she feels like a f*ck up. Even worse, a 40-something f*ck-up.
But when she lands a job writing obituaries, Nell meets the fabulous Cricket, an 80-something widow with challenges of her own, and they strike up an unlikely friendship. Together they begin to help each other heal their aching hearts, cope with the loss of the lives they had planned, and push each other into new adventures and unexpected joys.
Because Nell is determined. Next year things are going to be very different. It’s time to turn her life around.
A book for anyone who’s ever worried life isn’t going to plan, Confessions of a Forty-Something F##k Up by Alexandra Potter will make you laugh and it might even make you cry. But most importantly, it will remind you that you’re not alone, because we’re all in this together.
Time to fall in love with your life.
Read the excerpt:
New Year’s Day
How the hell did I get here?
Not here here, as in January, never-ending month of grey and gloom that seems to go on forever, filled with depressing Blue Mondays, failed attempts at resolutions, and an Instagram feed overflowing with celebs boasting about ‘New Year! New Exciting Projects!’ – which does not make me feel #inspired and want to reach for their exercise video or Book of Brag (sorry, I mean Blessed), but has the opposite effect of making me collapse back down on the sofa, feeling #overwhelmed with a family-size packet of cheese puffs.
No, I mean here as in it’s my birthday soon, I’m about to turn forty-something, and it’s just not how I’d imagined. I mean, how did this happen? It’s like I missed a turning somewhere. Like there was a destination marked ‘Forty-Something’ and my friends and I were all heading that way, youth in one hand, dreams in the other, excited and full of possibilities. A bit like when you step off the plane on holiday and you go down those moving walkways that swoosh you along with everyone else, following the signs to baggage reclaim, eager to see what’s on the other side of those sliding doors.
Except it’s not the Bahamas and tropical palm trees; it’s Destination Forty-Something and comprises a loving husband, adorable children and a beautiful home. Swoosh. It’s a successful career and bifold kitchen doors and clothes from Net-a-Porter. Swoosh. It’s feeling happy and content, because life is a success and all sorted out and you’re exactly where you always imagined you’d be, complete with an Instagram account filled with #Imsoblessed and #livingmybestlife.
It is not, I repeat not, #wheredidIgowrong and #whatthefuckamIdoingwithmylife?
Sitting cross-legged on my bed, I glance around the room, noting the cardboard boxes in the corner and two large unopened suitcases. I still haven’t finished unpacking. I stare at them, trying to summon up the enthusiasm, then sink back against the pillows. It can wait.
Instead my eyes fall upon the new notebook on my bedside table. I just bought it today. According to this article I’m reading, the secret to happiness is writing a daily gratitude list.
By writing down all the things you’re grateful for, you will feel more positive, stop negative thought patterns and transform your life.
Reaching for the notebook, I pick up a pen and turn to the first page. I stare at the empty sheet of paper, my mind blank.
If you need some inspiration, here are a few things to get you going:
I am breathing.
Are you kidding me? Breathing? There’s grateful and there’s pretty much dead if that’s not on my list.
I do not feel inspired.
Don’t worry if you don’t know what to write. Just start with one thing and work up to your five-a-day.
Right, OK. I’m just going to write the first thing that pops into my head.
1. My air miles
OK, so perhaps not exactly the kind of blessed and spiritual thing the author of the article had in mind, but trust me, I was feeling very bloody blessed to have all those air miles when I flew back to London last week.
I’ve been living in America for the past ten years, five of them in California with my American fiancé. I loved California. The never-ending sunshine. Wearing flip-flops in January. Our little cafe-cum-bookshop which we sank all our savings into, with its delicious brunches and walls lined with books. I was happy and in love and engaged to be married. The future stretched ahead like candy-coloured bunting. Everything was going to work out just like I’d always hoped.
But then our business went bust and our relationship along with it and – poof – it all turned back into a pumpkin. I was not going to marry the prince and live happily ever after with our cute kids and adorable rescue dog. Instead I was going to pack up what was left of my life, cash in all my air miles for an upgrade, and sob my way across the Atlantic. Hell, if I was going to be broke and heartbroken, it was going to be on a flat bed with a cheese plate and a free bar, thank you very much.
In my gin-sozzled, cheese-and-crackered brain, I was planning to come back to London, rent my own flat, fill it with scented candles, and get my life back together again. My immigration visa was about to run out and I needed a fresh start, one that didn’t constantly remind me of what I no longer had. Plus, Dad had generously offered me a loan to help me get myself back on my feet. My American dream was over: it was time to come home.
But things had changed since I’d left and I quickly discovered rents had doubled, nay, quadrupled. And gone was my tribe of single friends with their spare rooms and cheap bottles of wine, which we would drink until the early hours telling each other very loudly that he was a total bastard, you’re better off without him, and Do Not Panic! There’s still plenty of time! All while reeling off a long list of celebrities who were much older than you and had managed to meet the man, push out a baby, and be in OK! magazine talking about their miracle birth Before It’s Too Late.*
Now all my girlfriends are married, and their spare rooms are filled with babies and bunk beds and nursery-rhyme stickers, and it’s cups of herbal tea and bed by 9.30 p.m. Which meant I had two choices: couch-surf with a cup of camomile, or move back in with The Parents.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my parents. But this was never part of The Plan. Nowhere in my twenties and thirties did my vision for the future involve being single, over forty and sleeping in my old bedroom. Even if Mum had swapped the single bed for a double and redecorated with matching Laura Ashley lamps.
My old bedroom was for visits home with The American Fiancé, soon to be The Handsome Husband. For reliving childhood Christmases in the countryside with our growing rosy-cheeked brood. For weekends when The Parents looked after their beloved grandchildren while we hotfooted it to one of those fancy, overpriced boutique hotels with filament light bulbs draped over a bar, an organic menu filled with grass-fed this, that and the other, and massages that are never quite hard enough.
It was actually my best friend Fiona who told me about it, her nanny having told her about it.
‘You should do it, Nell! It sounds like a lot of fun!’ she said brightly across the Carrara marble worktops of her newly renovated open-plan kitchen, where I was slumped, depressed and jetlagged with a weak cup of some foul-tasting herbal tea, after she’d very kindly offered to put me up for a few days on flying back to London.
Fiona always thinks my life sounds fun. And it probably appears that way when viewed from the security of her happy family life. A bit like how bungee jumping or living in a two hundred square foot tiny house or dyeing your hair purple always looks like fun, when you’re not the one doing it.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. Bits of it have been a lot of fun. Just not the current bits.
‘That’s one way of putting it,’ I quipped, shooting Izzy, my five-year-old goddaughter, a smile as she tucked into her organic porridge. Personally, I had several other words in mind, but Auntie Nell must not say the naughty F word.
‘Your goddaughter thinks it sounds like fun, don’t you, darling?’ enthused Fiona, grabbing herself a bowl and sprinkling in a few fresh blueberries, some chia seeds and a dollop of manuka honey.
I love Fiona – we’ve been friends since university – but she’s living in a completely different universe to me. Happily married to David, a successful lawyer, she’s now settled into a comfortable middle-class life in south-west London with their two lovely, privately educated children, a tasteful designer home, and the kind of swingy blonde hair that comes from a professional blow-dry and a great colourist.
Before having children, her job as a museum curator took her around the world, but she gave all that up when Lucas, her eldest, was born, and now her days are filled with myriad school events, remodelling the house, booking lovely family holidays in five-star resorts and doing Pilates.
Meanwhile, over on Planet What The Fuck Am I Going To Do With My Life:
‘You might meet some really interesting people.’
She was being so sweet and positive I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the thought of meeting interesting people in my pyjamas brought me out in hives. I didn’t want to share a fridge with strangers. Or, God forbid, a bathroom. It was fun when we were young, but not now. Now it was depressing and soul-destroying and just a little bit terrifying. I mean, I could be murdered in my bed by some weirdo flatmate, and end up chopped into little bits and sprinkled on the geraniums.
* Otherwise known as BITL. It used to be thirty-nine. Then it crept up to forty-two. Now it’s whatever age you can get away with in good lighting.