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Libby & The Lido
September 27, 2018 12:00 pm / Leave a comment
Every spring and summer for the past 10 years, I’ve been privileged to be part of the Women’s National Book Association’s Great Group Reads Committee. For the past few years, I’ve reached out to authors of some of my favorite reads – most often debut novelists – and interviewed them here. I am delighted to say that this month’s interviewee, Libby Page, has made our 2018 list of recommended books with her gorgeous debut novel, THE LIDO. (It’s a testament to how much I love this book that I don’t resent Libby for getting published in her mid-20s.)
Here is a smattering of the numerous glowing reviews THE LIDO has earned:
“Charming… an unusually poignant tale of married love.”—The Washington Post
“In many ways, this meditation on community and swimming follows in the footsteps of the enormously popular A Man Called Ove… Both are charming and heartwarming.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Populated with endearing, multidimensional characters covering a wide span of ages and backgrounds, Page’s debut novel makes it easy for readers to imagine themselves in the mix…Page’s underdog tale can also inspire timely discussions about how to build diverse, place-based communities. A smart suggestion for book clubs and readers who enjoy substance with style.”—Booklist
“A delicious debut about the endearing friendship between two women who join forces to save the town pool. Refreshing, funny and heartwarming, The Lido is must read.”—Laura Dave, national bestselling author of Eight Hundred Grapes and Hello, Sunshine
“A joyous and uplifting debut—a testament to kindness and friendship.”—Sarah Winman, author of When God Was a Rabbit and Tin Man
“This debut is set to be one of the biggest of the year.”—Grazia (UK)
“Brimming with charm and compassion.”—Daily Express (UK)
“A lavish depiction of an unlikely friendship, a London community and life-long love, all charmingly told in rich, yet gentle prose.”—Catherine Isaac, UK bestselling author of You, Me, Everything
“Feelgood and uplifting, this charming novel is full of heart.”—Lucy Diamond, UK bestselling author of The Beach Café
“Did I #lovethelido? So much my heart broke a little turning the last page. A stunning debut.”—Clare Mackintosh, UK bestselling author of I See You
Libby, thank you so much for taking time to do this. You’re my first international interview (Libby lives in England.)! Before we get to your book, let’s talk about you and your unusual background. How did you start in fashion and end up writing novels?
I have always wanted to be an author – I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t want to write novels. If you asked me at age six, seven, eleven, what I wanted to be when I was older, the answer was always the same. But as I got older I realized that you don’t just ‘become’ an author – it’s a little more challenging than that! I decided to study journalism at university, thinking that this might be a career where I could still write in my day job, while writing for myself on the side. I have always loved fashion and the history of fashion so decided to specialize in fashion journalism, although the course was quite broad and covered all the basics of journalism too. I did lots of internships at fashion magazines while I was studying, but ultimately found that it wasn’t actually for me. When I left university my first job was at the Guardian, writing for their students and education section. But I found that writing for my job meant that I had less time and headspace when I got home to write creatively – which had always been my main passion. So, after a year I decided to leave my job at the Guardian and move over to work in marketing instead. This turned out to work well for me – I found that doing something very different for my 9-5 meant that I had more creativity and energy left to write for myself. That’s when I started writing The Lido.
At the ripe old age of 26 (and, I assume, 25 when your book was sold?), your journey to publication couldn’t have taken very long! How did it come about?
I was 24 when I sold my book! I feel incredibly lucky for everything that has happened to me – I certainly wasn’t expecting it to happen this way! I had the idea for my book back in 2014 and spent about six months planning it before starting to write. For me planning was less about plotting out exactly what was going to happen, and more about fully forming my characters so that when I came to write they took the story in their own direction in some ways. I started writing in earnest in 2015, fitting it in around my full-time job. I would write in the mornings before work, on my lunch breaks, in the evenings and at weekends. It was quite full-on! I decided to take a bit of time out to focus entirely on the book, so saved up some money and quit my job in the brand team at a retailer, moving to Paris for six weeks to write intensely there. (It had always been a dream of mine to spend some time writing in Paris so I thought I would go for it!) I wrote about half of my book during that time in Paris – being able to focus on it and nothing else really helped. I then moved back to London for another job in marketing, this time at a charity. But by then I already had a decent chunk completed, so I felt much more motivated to keep going and finish it. The next step was sending the finished manuscript out to literary agents, and this was the longest part of getting published for me. It took me a year to find an agent and I received lots of rejections along the way. I was close to giving up when I heard about a new agency being founded and that they were looking for new writers. I contact Robert Caskie at this agency (Caskie Mushens) and he replied very quickly and enthusiastically. Things happened quite quickly after that – we did some edits together and he then sent it out to publishers at the start of 2017, which is when I signed the deals. Then it was a year of editing and working towards publication with the publishers. In many ways it has been a whirlwind, but there have also been lots of steps leading to this point.
Wow! That’s amazing. (Why didn’t I think of going to Paris to do some writing? Even a grocery list or two…) Speaking of travels, what has been the most surprising part of your journey so far?
The whole process of publishing a book has been entirely new for me, so every single thing has been a learning experience! Learning all the steps that happen along the way and all the different people involved has been fascinating. For me the really surprising thing has been how friendly the publishing industry is – lots of people in publishing houses seem to know each other, having moved around in different jobs in the industry. For such a huge industry, it still feels very personal, which I love. In the lead up to the launch in the UK I visited independent bookshops to ‘hand sell’ copies to book buyers. I had no idea that this was something authors did but I loved doing it – it was amazing to meet in person the people who would be selling my book. I have been so impressed and inspired by the booksellers I have met along this journey – there is such creativity and passion in this industry.
Are you working on a second book? Have we seen the last of Kate? (I hope not!)
I am writing a second book, yes! It is a standalone novel though, so not a sequel to The Lido. Although who knows – I’d never say no to revisiting the characters if inspiration struck in the future.
My fingers are crossed! In the meantime, any advice for aspiring authors?
My main advice would be to persevere. I was very close to giving up when I found my now-agent. The journey to publication can be quite demoralizing but I’m so glad I didn’t give up. I’m also pleased I didn’t give up with the actual writing of the book. It can be quite an isolating experience and you do sometimes question why you’re doing it – I think it’s a common trait among writers to be plagued by self-doubt. But you have to push through this and remember why you’re doing it – and I’d say that for most writers it’s simply because they love writing. And loving something is a pretty good reason to persevere with it, in my opinion.
Beautifully put, and absolutely true. And now, on to The Lido itself!
What did you come up with first, the story or the characters?
The start of the idea came from wanting to write a story about the importance of community. I lived in Brixton as a student and found that there was a really strong sense of community there, but that it was under threat with lots of big chains moving into the area and new blocks of flats being built. When I stepped back I realized this was something happening across London, and in towns and cities everywhere really, with community spaces being threatened by new developments. It made me really worry about what kind of places we will be left with if we lose all these special community hubs. I am a keen swimmer, so the lido seemed a good place to explore this theme of community. The characters came next, starting with Rosemary and Kate and growing from there.
Interesting. That makes perfect sense. What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
Just sticking at it was definitely hard at times. I wrote it with no real expectation of getting published, just because it was a story I wanted to write. But it meant that there were certainly moments when I doubted what I was doing and why I was giving up so much time for it. I’m definitely glad I persevered though!
I am, too – and no doubt many other readers will be glad as well.
You capture the voice and, more importantly, the heart, of an 80something woman in Rosemary so authentically. Where did you draw your inspiration from?
Thank you! Rosemary’s character isn’t based on any specific person but was definitely inspired by older women that I have encountered when swimming. You often see women of Rosemary’s age in the changing room, and they can be very hardy and dedicated outdoor swimmers. I loved the idea of a character who is that age but is not a ‘little old lady’ – someone who is still very active in her community and who feels young at heart. Because I imagine that being that age doesn’t necessarily feel so different on the inside to being twenty-six. Your body might change, but you’re still you – why wouldn’t you be? So in some ways it wasn’t too hard to get into the mindset of an 80something, because I honestly believe we all have much more in common than we think, regardless of age. The emotions we all experience are universal. Kate and Rosemary both experience loneliness, for example, for very different reasons, but the feeling is the same. Those common emotions are what unite us, I think.
I love that. You are absolutely right, Libby!
Whom did you relate to most as you wrote, and why? Did that change at any point?
I related to both Kate and Rosemary very strongly throughout the book. There are obvious parallels between Kate and myself – she is a similar age and like her I too have experienced what it’s like to move to a big city and feel somewhat overwhelmed. But I have now lived in London for over seven years and absolutely love living here. When writing Kate’s character there were moments when I wanted to say to her, ‘It will get better! This place has so much to offer!’. Right now I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, but in The Lido, Kate still has a journey to go on in order to find her place in the city.
Rosemary is obviously a very different kind of person to me, but I related to her a huge amount too. Although I fortunately have not experienced the bereavement that she is dealing with at the start of the book, I can imagine how that might feel and I put those feelings into the writing. And although she is 86, she was a young woman once too and I very much wanted to get a sense of her younger self across in the book. I think often we can look at older people and forget that they were children, teenagers, young women once.
Is it strange to admit you love a character you created? Because I do love Rosemary! I’d love to be like her when I’m older – I admire how involved she is in her local community and that’s definitely something I’m trying to put into practice in my own life. You could say that writing about her has inspired me in that way.
I think both Rosemary, and this story, will inspire many people.
Did your story – or characters – take any surprising turns?
Both Kate and Rosemary were so clear in my mind that when writing they often did or said things that I wasn’t necessarily expecting. They grew the more that I wrote and that often took the story in new directions. That said, I did have a clear idea of the general plot when I started writing.
“Stories were Kate’s friends when she found people challenging.” Is this fiction or autobiography? 😉
I think all writers are readers first and foremost, and I am certainly no exception. I have always loved reading – it’s what inspired me to want to become an author. I love that books can be a real refuge for readers – the right book at the right time can be very powerful. But I have always loved people too, so in that way I was a much more sociable child than Kate. That love of people and their stories is probably the second thing that made me want to be an author, after the love of words themselves.
Had you always planned to include such a wonderful medley of supporting characters, like a pregnant woman, an adolescent boy, and even (spoiler alert!) a fox? And how on earth did you come up with a fox, anyway?
The thing I love about lidos is that they really can be hubs for the local community. People from all backgrounds come here to swim, and so I wanted to reflect this in the book. For me the supporting characters were there to show the role places like this can play in our communities – these special places where people come together. You might not know anything about the people you swim alongside or walk past in your local library or bookshop, but they are there and they all have their own story and reason for visiting. And you share something with them just by being in the same place.
The idea for the fox came about because I wanted to show a glimpse of the Brixton area from a different perspective to help build up a picture of the place for readers who have never been there. In London foxes are everywhere – you get very used to seeing them wandering down your street in the day as well as at night. They do cause a bit of a mess sometimes but I think most people feel quite affectionately about them – I personally think of London’s foxes as my neighbors. They share this city with us and live alongside us – I wanted to imagine what life must look like through their eyes. It’s just a couple of fleeting scenes but I hope might encourage readers to try and look at their own neighborhood from a new perspective. When we live somewhere we can sometimes stop seeing new details about the place – often it takes putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes (or in this case, paws!) to do that.
That’s a great idea!
“A small life was more than big enough for her if it had George in it.” Rosemary and her beloved George were married for 64 years – just like my parents! Are they modeled on a real-life couple you know?
Although Rosemary and George aren’t based on one specific couple, I have been lucky to have witnessed many great love stories throughout my life, from grandparents, to family friends, to my mum and stepdad. But the thing I find about these great true-life love stories is that they are not usually the dramatic affairs you often read about in books or see in films. True love, I think, can often be very ordinary. But that’s what makes it so wonderful. Rosemary and George are in some ways a very normal couple (they are not wealthy, they spend their whole life in the same neighborhood) and yet they are also remarkable – they grow together throughout their lives and are true partners for one another. That is the kind of love that I aspire to nurture in my own relationship and was the kind of story I felt most compelled to write about.
Kate says, “Hope is the most painful thing.” And yet one thing that stands out most to me about this book is its hopeful nature, its positivity. Can you speak to this paradox?
I am a natural optimist, but I have met lots of pessimists throughout my life who perhaps hold themselves back from being hopeful and thinking the best might happen in case they end up disappointed. I think it’s a particularly British trait to be prone to cynicism. If you really care about something, for example by getting involved in a local campaign or fighting for something you believe in, there is a chance that you might end up not getting what you want. If you let yourself think positively, sometimes you are proven wrong. But I still believe that being hopeful is an important thing and I tried to capture this in my book – that some things are worth fighting for, even if you aren’t sure if your efforts will be rewarded. I personally would rather live my life in hope, and the journey towards hopefulness is an important part of my book.
And, speaking of hope, what do you hope readers will take away from this novel?
I hope that readers enjoy the book and it leaves them feeling uplifted. But I would also love if it made people look a little differently at the places in our communities that are often easy to overlook: the libraries, the swimming pools, the independent bookshops. We can sometimes take these places for granted, but I truly believe that we would lose so much if these places were to disappear from our streets. Oh, and if people felt inclined to go for a dip in their own local pool that would be wonderful too!
Libby – thank you SO much for taking time to answer these questions. I adore your book and its characters and your writing. It was difficult limiting myself to quoting only a few lines, as there are so many I love.
Thank you so much! It was a pleasure to answer these questions and thank you for your support of me and my book!
Now that you’ve read her interview – and, I hope, WILL read her beautiful book, if you want to follow Libby on social media, here are two ways to do it: Twitter: @LibbyPageWrites and Instagram: @TheSwimmingSisters
You & I & EVERYONE Else… should read this book!
October 9, 2017 3:31 pm / Leave a comment
Have you ever read a novel that just begs to be made into a movie? This was definitely the case with me as I laughed (and teared up) through Anna Schachner’s fantastic debut novel, YOU AND I AND SOMEONE ELSE.
What was your inspiration for this novel?
I wanted it to be my love song to the South, so you can say that the South of my childhood— filling stations along two-lane highways, Coke in icy green bottles, rows of corn so straight it made you dizzy, small towns with cafes and hardware stores, lots of land and trees between those towns, connectivity of the people kind, a certain prim kind of disapproval of strangers and outsiders (the South of my youth was not perfect, of course— was my inspiration, too
How did the title come about? Is the “someone else” open to interpretation?
The novel had a couple of other not-so-good titles as I was writing it, but then right before I finished the first draft, You and I and Someone Else came to me. Triangular relationships are at the heart of the novel’s tension, and there are lots of them: Frannie, Jude, and Evan; and Duncan, Madelane, and Melissa, for example. Maybe the most important one is Frannie, Jude, and the baby—the baby remains a concept for 99.9% of the book, so the question the reader is left with when the book ends is how that triangle will play out. I also like the idea that the “someone else” is the future “I” of the title, that a person will change because of that relationship between the “you” and the “I” and perhaps become a person who is different, for better or worse.
Why did you write the prologue with Rita already pregnant with Frannie’s child, rather than go sequentially? (This probably won’t be the first question, by the way.)
I wanted the reader to have a quick introduction to the main narrative thread (there are a few, I know) before the first chapter, which is all backstory. And most of all, I wanted to send a message to the reader that, more so than plot, the intricacies of the relationships, particularly with Jude, Frannie, Evan, and Rita, were the things to focus on.
What was your biggest challenge writing this book?
I think it would have to be converting it from a story collection into a novel. I basically had the narrative, forward action of the novel contained in the stories, but I had to come up with backstory and context and nuance. In doing so, I started to employ the First Person omniscient kind of point of view where the narrator, Frannie, tells stories she wouldn’t have been part of her herself. This technique operates like a Greek chorus, more or less, providing the reader necessary information but also allowing Frannie to spin it a little bit. At first, I struggled with these sections, but once I figured out all the narrative threads, they became much easier. And to be honest: they are my favorite sections of the book because they really explore the characters and are better able to use lyrical language.
Could you tell about your journey to publication?
Well, it was long and meandering and not particularly glorious—at least until the end! As I mentioned above, the novel started as a story cycle, which did not find a home. When I turned it into a novel, I queried agents, and had eight offer to represent me. I chose the most established of them, and we signed a contract. She “shopped the book” to about ten houses in New York, but then lost interest. We parted ways. After that, the book sat, alone and sad, for a long time while I wrote two other books—because, since it had been partially shopped, no agent would be interested in it. Then about three years ago, I decided to send it to some independent presses. The first two declined, but said very nice things about it. And then Mercer accepted it in November 2015. It was published in April 2017.
Did you have the basic plot, and characters, worked out before you began?
No. With the story collection, I had all but two characters—Hugh and Melissa—and most of the plot. But once I came up with the backstory of Frannie’s father, including Hugh and Melissa, the plot really worked itself out. Those two characters changed a lot! But even with the characters, Frannie included, that I did have already formed, they were really only formed to the extent that I knew what each of them wanted. That’s what I always start with: a character that really, really wants something and doesn’t quite know how to get it. For Frannie, it was that she wanted a family. She wanted to be a mother.
Was this story percolating for a long time, or did it come to you all at once?
It percolated. It percolated. It percolated. For me, the only way to make any progress on a book is to write and see where that takes me. So, even though the book bumped around in my imagination during that time when I was trying to figure out how to convert it into a novel from a story collection, I could only figure out how to do it once I started writing. I know authors who plan their books, down to what happens in each scene, but I have no idea how that works. Even if it’s a slower process, I have to figure it out as I go. And it’s very visceral—I have to type the words for the words to connect. I do a lot of spin classes and walking, and I always “write” when I’m on the bike or huffing it home that last mile. And sometimes I will actually compose a full sentence in my head that makes it onto the page. That’s it, though. If I try to put the sentences together without typing or seeing the words, it doesn’t work. So I use my cardio time to think about plot or motivation or what a character would wear to church, I gotta have the words forming, though, to get at the characters, to really expose them. For me, the magic of the process is the discovery, when the characters are calling the shots. That’s when you know that the characters are really working—because you trust them.
I fell in love with these characters! Will there be a sequel? (Please say yes.)
That is very nice of you to ask. The thing is, I love these characters, too. I still do. When I finished the book ten years ago, I had no interest in writing a sequel. It never occurred to me. But so many people have asked me about a sequel that I’ve started thinking about it. So maybe. I know this much: the character who interests me the most is Melissa. I don’t have all of her story worked out, and I think it would be fun to do that. So maybe not so much a sequel as a tangential, if that’s a word that can apply to books.
The parallels of lost children, plus Frannie’s inability to have them, are poignant and powerful. What made you come up with that part of the story?
A lot of people close to me have lost children. I have always thought that was the worst thing life could do to you. It changes someone. It breaks up marriages. It haunts siblings. It causes resentment toward those who have not lost children. Of course, it is natural to think that mothers suffer the worst, and certainly, Frannie’s mother, Rita, and to some extent, Frannie herself, suffer and grieve for their lost children. But I wondered about fathers, their stories. We know women’s stories more than men’s (the husbands or partners). So, Jude was the convergence of those two things—the man who has lost a child and who, if he stays with Frannie, will not be able to be a father again in the traditional way. In many ways, the book is about parenting. Some of that parenting is bad. Some of it is competent. Some of it is almost too good, too selfless. And a lot of it is speculative, on Frannie’s part at least. That’s the thing about being a child—you know just how to parent better than your mother or father did when you grow up. Or you think you know.
Did any characters, or plot development, surprise you?
You know, it all did. Plot always surprises me. It’s the most challenging part of writing for me, so, for the most part, it comes slowly and with a lot of thinking and revision. Sometimes it comes more quickly. Either way, I am always pleasantly surprised. And once I start letting the characters take over the story, I am always surprised. Everything about Jude and Hugh surprised me. I’ve always been intrigued by this—that the two guys Frannie had to choose between were the ones that were barely named, much less developed, when I started the book. That might have something to do with the 47 dates I went on in three months—thank you, Match.com—when I was writing the novel. Some of those dates were novels themselves. Pick a literary genre, and I had a date that matched it.
As a debut author, what advice do you have for aspiring writers?
This is the easiest question to answer because I know I am right: have grit. Talent helps. but passion and perseverance—grit—is what will take you there. Write about what you feel passionately; and know from the very beginning that writing and publishing are two very different things. You can control the writing, but you can’t control the publishing. If you want to publish, though, you just keep at it and you never ever ever write something because you think it will publish. Write something because you are just arrogant or optimistic enough to think that because you feel it, readers will, too. Write because you think that your very best sentence—the one you are still striving to write—will change the world.
Could you tell us about your next project?
Well, last week, I just finished another novel. I think it counts as my next project because it is about to start its journey to publication. It’s about an 18-year-old girl, Parker, who learns to trade her anger for passion. It’s also about the mystery of the wild and family secrets and foster homes. And Birkenstocks—they take a hit in the book. Oh, and there’s a ghost. When I started the book, I thought it was going to be a modern rewrite of Jane Eyre, but—surprise, surprise!—it ended up being something else altogether.
Anna, thanks so much for taking the time to give such thoughtful, honest and in-depth responses. I know everyone who reads your book will love it as much as I did!