Elizabeth Day is an English journalist, broadcaster and the author of several fiction novels. However, she is best known for her most recent, non-fiction book How to Fail and, of course, her podcast of the same name in which she talks to celebrities about their own failures.
As part of the 2019 Birmingham Literature Festival, Elizabeth Day appeared in conversation with Sathnam Sanghera who was 2018’s Literature Festival Guest Curator and one of the first guests in the first series of Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail Podcast.
Clearly close friends, Elizabeth Day and Sathnam Sanghera chatted away on stage with a flow and intimacy that can only come from people who already have a relationship. The pair chatted about everything related to failure, writing, and life.
Elizabeth Day admitted that it was an ironic paradox that How to Fail, a book in which she openly and honestly writes about all her own failures in life, should become the most successful thing she’s ever done in her career.
“Failure doesn’t define you it is simple a fact that happens to all of us,” Explained Elizabeth Day. Adding, “Every single failure is a chance to look yourself in the eye and think about what went wrong.”
One of the biggest and perhaps most taboo failures Elizabeth writes about and discusses in her podcast is her failure to have a baby. While she has now accepted that she may never bear her own children it was, understandably, one of the darkest periods in her life when she first discovered that this may be her reality.
During the event, Elizabeth Day told Sathnam Sanghera and the audience that she felt she needed to tell the story of her failure to conceive because women’s stories are so often undersold. She explained that women are still often judged for not having or not wanting to have children. She also added that the simple question of “do you have children” that is so often asked innocently in social situations can have a massive impact on some people especially if they have had issues with fertility.
Another reason Elizabeth Day wanted to write about her own failure to have a baby was because she had seen first-hand a gap in the literature surrounding the topic. She explained that while there are plenty of books on pregnancy and ‘mother and baby’, there is very little on failure to conceive.
Elizabeth Day also acknowledged the privilege in her life that comes from this scenario however, stating that being a white, middle class, child-free woman allows her to stand up for women’s right not to have or want children.
Another failure Elizabeth discussed during the event was one that occurred during her childhood. Growing up in Northern Ireland during The Troubles with a ‘posh’ English accent meant that she didn’t fit in and was often the recipient of hostility. Because of this, Elizabeth learnt to listen and observe rather than talk a lot, a skill she later profited from when she became a writer.
Elizabeth Day and Sathnam Sanghera also discussed failure in a modern world in which it is difficult not to compare yourself to “Instagram curated perfection.” Elizabeth explained that the purpose of her podcast was to show listeners that the celebrities we admire still have the same failures and periods of darkness in their lives as everyone else. “It’s okay to feel lost” announced Elizabeth Day.
During the evening, the pair on stage talked about the podcast’s origin and Sathnam’s early appearance on it and the podcast’s evolution and now immense success. In the final section of the event, a Q&A with the audience, one member asked “who have you failed to get on the podcast.” In answer, Elizabeth Day admitted that she had tried and failed to get Stormzy on an early episode and was currently trying to get Arianna Grande on. She stated that no matter what, she will continue to try and get on more diverse guests to continue to tell the world that everyone fails.
How to Fail by Elizabeth Day is available from all good bookshops and online shops and the podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.