They started a podcast talking about ‘dumb stuff’ like influencers, reality TV and celebrity drama – and along the way, became influencers themselves. Some 15 million downloads later, and it’s safe to say hosts Michelle Andrews and Zara McDonald of the Shameless podcast are killing it for their mid-twenties (or mid-anything). Now, they can tick ‘published authors’ off their respective lists.

Their new book, The Space Between, is a collection of essays about navigating your 20s: relationships, heartbreak, toxic friendships (and workplaces), mental health, physical health, family breakdowns, careers, ambitions, and anything else your average Gen Z person is dealing with right now.

“You know that dream you have, where you’re in high school and you’ve walked into the assembly completely naked? It feels like that is my actual life right now,” Michelle told PEDESTRIAN.TV.

“For so long it was something that we kept to ourselves – some stories we haven’t even told people close to us, they’re things we’ve really kept very, very dear to us – so to know that these stories kind of now belong to the public, it’s just the most bizarre feeling.”

Open the book, and you’ll find: a heartbreaking essay about being blindsided by her parents’ divorce (Michelle’s); a number of incredibly vulnerable reflection on vaginismus, endometriosis, sex and fertility (Zara’s); and a letter breaking up with a toxic friend (not sure – it’s an anonymous piece). Stuffed between the essays on the ‘big stuff’ are listicles about being a “boring” adult, finishing university, and all the basic bitch guys you’ll bone in your 20s.

“We came to the name [of The Space Between] because I think it’s the central theme of the podcast,” Michelle said.

“The entire way through it’s been looking at the nuance or looking at the grey area, and fleshing things out and thrashing them out and not treating every issue as if it’s black and white. When we landed on that concept of limbo, both between adolescence and adulthood, but also limbo between finding your way in the world and figuring out what the fuck you want to do and who you want to be, those early years of your 20s really are the space between who you were and what comes next.”

Let’s back it up. The women initially pitched the Shameless podcast to women’s website Mamamia, where they both worked and had some experience in podcasts. The idea was a podcast for “smart women who love dumb stuff”, covering everything from pop culture and reality TV to celebrity influence and scandal. Although Mamamia liked the idea, according to Michelle and Zara, they didn’t like them as hosts. That was it.

“It hurt,” Zara said. “We struggled with the way it was put to us – in the way that we interpreted – that maybe we weren’t going to be right for the show.”

They could have taken that rejection as proof they weren’t cut out for the overcrowded podcasting world. Instead, they decided ‘fuck it’, and launched in March 2018, when they were just 23 years old. A few months later, they left their full time gigs to go full time on the podcast. And they haven’t looked back.

“I feel like Mamamia taught me such a valuable lesson at such a young age, which is trust your gut,” Michelle said.

“It has been the best experience doing this podcast with Zara, and not taking their no as a final answer. I feel like women’s confidence – speaking generally – can be pretty battered and bruised when it comes to the workplace. We already have enough hurdles in our way, so to be told no and then give it a crack anyway, and have my best friend along the way with me, figuring it out and just making it work – it has been the best.”

It paid off: not only do they own the podcast outright, but they have a full media company under their belt. Shameless Media is also behind two other hit podcasts: Love, etc, and She’s On The Money.

“If Mamamia had said yes to us, they would own the podcast, it would be attached to their network, and the hosts would be replaceable,” Michelle said.

“Whereas now it’s ours and we can do whatever we want with it, and it’s our child and we can call the shots. So them saying no was like the biggest fucking blessing in the entire world.”

Their advice to anyone else with an idea: back yourself, trust your gut and just fkn go for it.

Just a year after launch, Shameless was named by Apple as the Most Popular Podcast of 2019. Michelle and Zara can name everyone from Jameela Jamil, to Julia Gillard, Zoë Foster Blake, Abbie Chatfield and Turia Pitt as guests. (One day, fingers crossed, they’ll add Margot Robbie‘s name to that list.)

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But for two people who spend so much time talking about influencer culture, they’ve now become influencers themselves. Between their combined Instagram accounts and the Shameless one, they have more than 160,000 followers. When they release an episode, they know 100,000 people will listen to it within a few days.

“It is something that we do need to publicly admit from time to time, to kind of come to terms with it,” Zara said.

“It would be remiss of us to reject that fact, of course. It’s certainly strange, but I don’t think it makes us worse at our jobs. It will never actually stop us from covering the story, because we know the bottom line is without trust, we don’t have a business and we don’t have a podcast and we don’t have this job. So we need to make sure that the trust is there.”

There are downsides, though, to not holding back – especially when Aussie influencers are both fans of the show and frequent guests.

“I’ve been blocked by plenty of influencers, because of what we’ve said on the podcast,” Michelle said.

“Not that we ever play it personally, but if you’re spreading medical misinformation to thousands of people, we will talk about that, and you better be ready to answer some tough questions about it.”

Listeners of Shameless will know Michelle and Zara like to ask their guests what they’re reading, watching or listening to atm. So, to wrap this interview up, I thought I’d turn the question back on them.

“I’m reading our book club book – The Yield, by Tara June Winch,” Zara said. “It’s so beautifully done and is such an incredible story, so I really would highly recommend that book.”

“You’re gonna hate us, but we spend so much time together we’re basically mirror images of each other,” Michelle said. “So I’m the same, I’m on the last 20 pages of The Yield now, and it’s one of the most gorgeous books I’ve ever read. It’s incredibly hard to read, one of those books where you need to put it down and sit with your thoughts about it and go back in.”

The Space Between is out now. You can learn more about the Shameless podcast here.

Image: Supplied