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
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

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 Penguin.co.uk, here are our favourite quotes of 2020.

Bernardine Evaristo

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

As said to Penguin.co.uk, 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 Penguin.co.uk in February. 

Meredith Wadman

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

As said to Penguin.co.uk 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 Penguin.co.uk 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 Penguin.co.uk 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 Penguin.co.uk 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 Penguin.co.uk 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 Penguin.co.uk 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 Penguin.co.uk 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 Penguin.co.uk 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 Penguin.co.uk 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 Penguin.co.uk 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 Penguin.co.uk 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 Penguin.co.uk in March.

Image: Alicia Fernandes/Penguin

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