An orange and white image with text reading: If you're not prepared to make a mistake, you'll never come up with a new idea

Penguin’s quotes of 2020

Insightful, witty and inspiring words of wisdom from Penguin Random House authors this year, whether in interviews, podcasts or live events.

While 2020 didn’t quite go to plan, at Penguin we nevertheless spoke to dozens of people – over Zoom, at home, and over the phone – who gave us their insight into an extraordinary year, and other matters besides.

Here, we’ve rounded up some of the most thought-provoking, funny and inspirational quotes gleaned in conversation with a range of Penguin Random House authors. From our live events, our podcast and in features on, here are our favourite quotes of 2020.

Bernardine Evaristo

"We should be free to write from any vantage point"

As said to, in March.

William Gibson

"I comfort myself sometimes because I am someone who’s been given, all my life, to catastrophic thinking, rarely do the bad things I convinced myself were going to happen, happen. In fact, almost none of them ever happened."

As said to in February. 

Meredith Wadman

"Vaccine making isn’t rocket science, its actually a lot harder than rocket science". 

As said to in April.

Richard Osman

"Confidence is a trick, it doesn’t really exist. Hard work is the only thing. That’s why most people give up on books – it’s very hard to ignore that voice, and you have to. Over-confidence, under-confidence – they’re not real. What’s real is sitting down and typing words into a page, and sometimes they’re bad and sometimes they’re good."

As told to Nihal Arthanayake on the Penguin Podcast in October.

R.J. Palacio

"Anti-Semitism is not something that only Jewish people should have to fight. Just like racism isn’t something that only people of colour should be aware of and have to fight. It really falls on all of us whether we’re directly involved or not."

As told to Nihal Arthanayake on the Penguin Podcast in January.

John Cleese

“If you’re not prepared to make a mistake you’ll never come up with a new idea”

As told to Matthew Syed, during an event at Southbank Centre in November.

Anne Enright

"The past tense is too f**king dead to me."

As told to in January.

Malcolm Gladwell

"I think I’ve been changed dramatically by every one of my books in some way. They’ve always led me in unexpected directions. I have never ended up with the book that I set out to write."

As told to Sue Perkins on the Penguin Podcast in June

Afua Hirsch

"This is not a system that is broken, this is a system that was built deliberately to preserve power, wealth and opportunity and distribute it unequally based on your race."

As told to in July.

Caitlin Moran

"The idea of what you are as a gender has bullshit on both sides. The only thing that will cure that is feminism."

As told to in November.

Robin DiAngelo

"If you are so afraid to make a mistake that you never break with silence, you never in any way take a risk in service of challenging racism, you’re supporting racism."

As told to in June.

James Rebanks

"A lot of people’s dreams end quite soon but a writer’s dreams? You can still be telling yourself that you haven’t quite dropped your masterpiece until your dying day. Something about that is quite cool."

As told to in August.

Howard Jacobson

"I saw Philip Roth in very plain grey flannel trousers and I thought: that’s not what you want."

As told to in September.

Roddy Doyle

"My closest friend, we meet in the pub, and now we can’t, so last time we met is was in the park nearby and we had a cup of coffee. So, you know, it’s a sad substitute. We did the ‘Zoom pint’ thing for a while but it’s excruciating."

As told to in October.

Yotam Ottolenghi

"There was never any love for vegetables [in UK cuisine]. They were boiled to death; the broccoli would be a shade of grey, it would look like a corpse of the actual vegetable."

As told to in October.

Ali Smith

"With Summer, I started writing at the end of January, first week of February, as news which had all been about the phrase done-and-dusted Brexit turned to news about people suffering from a strange respiratory disease and that disease crossing the seas as a doctor – who was being called a ‘whistleblower’ – himself died."

As told to in September.

Avni Doshi

"I don’t believe any woman that says, that once she’s a mother, she doesn’t have any ambivalent feelings about the position she finds herself in."

As told to in October.

Caroline Criado Perez

"I felt that if I didn’t [write this book], a whole generation would go by and we wouldn’t be able to fix this."

As told to in March.

Image: Alicia Fernandes/Penguin

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