Sitting down with Zoë Foster-Blake – articulate, well-dressed, modern and with the sharpest of antennae for the zeitgeist that she puts on the page – I can’t help but be reminded of Carrie Bradshaw, the fictional chronicler of modern manners in Sex and the City.
I’m almost tempted to sit cross-legged on my bed and write into my laptop: “She has given out beauty and relationship advice to others for years and created many characters in her novels and is married to radio comedian Hamish Blake, but sitting with her now has got me thinking …” Close-up on screen of laptop: “… Just who is Zoë Foster Blake?”.
Well, Zoë is everywhere right now as author, Instagram star, beauty entrepreneur, and as the brains behind Channel 10’s hit series The Wrong Girl, based on her fourth novel of the same name.
Starring Jessica Marais as Lily, a 29-year-old producer of a morning TV show, and set in Melbourne’s inner-west, the show was applauded by critics and audiences and is slated for a second season next year.
It was all a huge thrill for Zoë. “I constantly had little moments, thinking ‘Holy shit, this was in my head and now it’s a real tangible thing’,” she says.
“It’s weird to me that I’m so giddy about it but I don’t think it’s something that happens every day. As an author, you say goodbye to it and never think you’ll revisit it.”
As well as being a popular writer, Zoë is a savvy businesswoman. In 2012 she launched Go-To, a highly successful range of natural beauty products, the sales of which are not hindered by Zoë’s social media profile – she has more than 450,000 followers on Instagram.
That profile means she is also sought out as a “social media influencer”, courted by brands such as Bonds, with whom she has a commercial arrangement (her ad with husband, Gold Logie-winning comedian Hamish, has been everywhere this year). She also Instagrams about products she likes, everything from makeup to home-delivered meals – although she stresses these are not “sponsored” posts, but rather products she chooses to recommend.
When filming on The Wrong Girl started, I joked with (writer) Judi McCrossin that I wanted to be an extra, as a fun little easter egg for readers of the book, but I totally meant it and then aggressively followed it up with death threats etc until they conceded. Gave me some lines, too! So, don’t blink and you'll see me on tomorrow night’s episode. (Ch 10, 8:30) And look, I don’t want to brag or anything but I was definitely a better actor than that notebook. #thewronggirl
Zoë, 36, grew up in Bundanoon, a tiny town in the southern highlands of New South Wales, the youngest of a big blended family of eight children. “I used to say The Brady Bunch but now I say the Kardashian-Jenners,” she says.
Her father is the Miles Franklin Award-winning novelist David Foster and her mother is a criminologist and counsellor at NSW’s maximum security Goulburn Prison. “It was a pretty mad house,” she says. “Mum and dad are quite alternative, there was no TV. It was a very creative house. Mum had a thing about TV, which was really good in hindsight, that they’re for zombies.”
The TV ban “spawned incredible creativity and imagination”, Zoë says. “I was bored a lot, and then I started to sneak to my friend’s house to watch TV.”
Her mother would bring in a TV set for school holidays, “a shitty old rental”. “On the first day back at school, we’d race home to watch Inspector Gadget and it would be gone and I’d be so sad.”
Zoë was introduced to satire early by her father, through Italo Calvino’s Italian Folktales, a re-telling of classic fairytales. “A lot of the time the princesses won … and I loved those feisty females.”
After school she took off for the bright lights of Sydney. “I was broke, I was lonely, I was living in Sydney by myself. What a waste of a year.”
She worked in various jobs, including telemarketing, as a night-packer at Coles, and as a promo girl for a cigarette company, going round to nightclubs dressed in gold. “It was so ’80s,” she says. She also started a long-term relationship with rugby star Craig Wing, joining the ranks of Sydney’s high-profile WAGs.
After completing a degree in media and communications, she applied for any writing job going, including fishing and golf magazines. She got a job as deputy editor of a magazine for eight-year-old boys before moving to Smash Hits, where she interviewed LL Cool J and a bunch of boy bands.
“I applied for a job at Dolly, didn’t get it but [editor] Mia Freedman remembered me and when a job came up at Cosmo she hired me.” Zoë was 23.
She was at Cosmopolitan for three years as beauty editor. She also started writing a dating and relationship column, which ran in the magazine for seven years (winding up only last year).
“I had been in a long-term relationship from 18-23 and had just come out of it when I started at Cosmo,” she says. “It was this whole new world of being single in the city with a cool job and I was loving it. They were looking at me going, ‘What did you do on the weekend, why don’t you write about it?’.
“It started as like ‘What’s the deal?’, talking about what we do when we’re dating and, when I got married, it was more an advice column. I did Q&A because I had a lot of girls emailing me wanting advice, so I’d respond.”
She realised she had a lot to say about relationships. “I was sort of that person for my girlfriends. I think I have a tough love mentality because I was so shitty at guys early in my life and when I got good at it and met a good guy I was, ‘All right, I know what to do now’.”
She wrote about “good guys” and “bad guys”. “It ultimately boils down to your own self-worth and what you’re willing to put up with.”
She recalls an incident when she was 18 in Sydney. She and her boyfriend had broken up and she caught a train out to his house to see him. The boy’s flatmate told her he was out for the day, but Zoë insisted on waiting in the lounge room.
“I sat for six or seven hours waiting for this guy to come home so I could say we need to get back together. Night came and I said, ‘I can wait’, and the flatmate said, ‘You have to go’.
“I don’t think that guy was a shitty guy. It was that I was doing stupid things and had no self-worth. I was just bad at relationships. If I had that core of self-worth back then – and you’re 18, no one does – I would know better.” As humiliating as it was in retrospect, it was also good material, she says.
Best advice for a teenage girl? “You’ve got to place such a high value on your time. And you’ve got to remember it takes 23 seconds to send a text message, if he can’t find 23 seconds to text you, he’s not thinking about you. If a guy wants to text you, he’ll text you.”
Years later she and her husband-to-be, Hamish, would co-write a book Textbook Romance, adding a male voice to her thoughts on relationships. Zoë says she still gets emails from girls, “long, in-depth, heart-broken novels about their situation”. She hasn’t got time to write to them all, which is why she wrote the book.
But Zoë has more to talk about than relationships. After years of columns and books and blogs about beauty, she says she has now said everything she needs to say about the topic in her latest book Amazinger Face, an update on 2011’s Amazing Face.
She says beauty is a great connector for women. “It’s amazing currency between women. No matter if she’s the most anti-makeup person in the world, she’s still going to wear sunscreen and wash her hair, so we have something to talk about,” Zoë says.
“I think the more boring and earnest the topic – and beauty can be both – the more fun I can have with it. And when you’re teaching women boring things about sunscreen and blackheads and ingrown hairs, you’ve got to have fun otherwise they’re not going to listen.”
Zoë met Hamish Blake when she was 23 and he was 21. “In my job at Cosmo he and Andy [Lee] were hosting a beauty event, of all things,” she says. “We were chatting at the event and instantly hit it off as mates. For some time both of us were in long-term relationships. We knew each other for seven years as friends before we got together.”
In 2012, after two years of dating, Zoë and Hamish married in front of 22 people in the Blue Mountains. “My sister went into labour that morning, so I lost my sister, her husband and my flower girl.”
Hamish, she says, is an inspiration. “He’s amazing. He’s my muse. He’s deeply inspiring. He’s a really terrific talent, he’s got a brilliant brain, he’s endlessly positive and optimistic, he keeps it together. He’s a beautiful man, he’s a decent, good person.”
The couple celebrates everything and anything, making sure they acknowledge happy events. “We feel very lucky in our life; what we get to do for our jobs is entertainment and frivolity and we get to make people laugh, so when things like The Wrong Girl happened or he gets a new TV deal, we make sure we acknowledge it, have a bottle of champagne and get takeaway pizza. We don’t just go (shrug). It’s not nothing.”
She says it’s important to mark events in a relationship. “Holidays are a big one for us. There’s a lot of science about how the brain works and the things that makes the brain remember things are changes.
“When you change your scenery and your lifestyle, you remember things so much more vividly. So even a trip to Daylesford for the weekend, we’ll look back and say, ‘I remember that, Sonny was one-and-a-half’. Because our life is so fast and one day seeps into the next we try to bookmark it with trips, everywhere we can.”
Their son Sonny is two, now. “He’s a beautiful boy, we got really lucky. He’s a sweet, gentle softie.” They have a nanny three days a week, while Zoë works. “Weekends are pretty sacred,” she says.
The family moved from Fitzroy to a spectacular home in Richmond for more space, and Zoë works at home, although “I’m best on planes and in cafes – no wi-fi”.
The work/life juggle is, of course, a challenge. “You can’t do everything. You can’t do everything well, anyway, at once. It’s really hard. Anything that takes me away from my son in terms of work has to be meaningful, otherwise I won’t do it.
“It’s made everything more meaningful. I’m more productive. I’ll only work on things that I want to do and I’m passionate about. Sonny is the biggest joy in our life.
“Hame and I were sitting at home at 11 o’clock one night last week with both heads spinning, we are so busy. But we feel we say no to everything. We are really only choosing projects that we really love. We’re on this path at the moment, going, ‘Just cut down the noise, stop acting like busy is normal, because it’s not’.”