Article published on April 10, 2018.
Jade Craddock: Your debut novel, The Lido, is, as the title suggests, set in a lido, what was it about lidos in particular that drew you to them as the centrepiece for the novel?
Libby Page: The starting point for the novel was wanting to write about community in the city – the fact that it exists, that it is important, but that it is often under threat as cities grow and become more commercialised. I wanted to write about a central place where people come together and that’s when I thought of the lido. Over recent years I have become a keen swimmer, and particularly love outdoor swimming. There is something special about swimming outside, particularly in a city where we often lack a connection to nature and can find ourselves needing somewhere to find calm amongst the bustle of the urban environment. I love the history of lidos, the nostalgia to them and the simplicity and the beauty of the buildings. It seemed a very rich environment to write a story crossing several decades, that at its heart is about the places within our community that are worth fighting for.
JC: At the heart of the novel are two determined women, twenty-six-year-old Kate and eighty-six-year-old Rosemary. Both women feel very real and relatable, how did they come into being?
LP: Thank you! I am fascinated by people and am always observing the world around me in order to bring aspects into my writing and to hopefully make my characters feel like people you recognise. For Kate’s character, I drew a lot from the experience of myself and my friends going through our twenties and how the reality does not always match up to expectations. There is a lot of pressure put on young people to be constantly having ‘the best time’, reinforced by the way we edit the portrayal of our lives on social media. This is something that has become even more apparent over recent years and was something I wanted to write about. But I also see around me that we are starting to have more honest conversations with ourselves and our friends, about our mental wellbeing. I hope that people my age will see something in Kate’s character that they can relate to, and that it perhaps might spark people to share the reality of their experiences a bit more, rather than just a Facebook-friendly version of events.
When it came to Rosemary, I drew from observing the many older women I encounter when swimming. If you are an outdoor swimmer, you quickly notice that some of the hardiest regular swimmers are older women. These are women who are not often shown in the media but who I find incredibly inspiring – they will leap into freezing waters all year round in nothing but a floral swimming costume. That zest for life is something I have found uplifting to witness, and wanted to share with readers.
JC: The friendship between them despite, or because of, their sixty-year age difference is an absolute joy, how important was it for you to create this generational bond?
LP: Lidos are great places for bringing together people of all ages and backgrounds. Often in our lives we can stick to our own lanes, as it were, when it comes to the people we interact with. But at a lido you find yourself swimming alongside, and often chatting to, all sorts of people. That’s what inspired the idea of a cross-generational friendship. I liked the idea of the two characters at very different stages in their life learning from each other. I am twenty-five and strongly believe there is so much people my age can learn and gain from older generations. I also think that regardless of age or background, as humans we usually share more than we might think: Kate and Rosemary are at very different stages in their lives but they also have a lot in common. That is true of most people we encounter, I believe.
JC: Naturally, with one woman just starting out on her journey and the other reflecting back on hers, what do you think Kate and Rosemary gain from each other’s friendship?
LP: First and foremost, both Kate and Rosemary gain the warmth, laughter and companionship of friendship. Female friendships can be incredibly strong, and I think are extremely important. The two characters have fun together – it is a typical friendship in that way, despite the perhaps unusual age difference. But they also help to support each other through difficult times – Rosemary in coping with grief following her husband’s death, and Kate in finding her feet in the city, and in life. They embolden each other to take on the campaign to try and save the lido, something they perhaps might not have done on their own. They make each other stronger, which is what I think all good friends do.
JC: There are other lovely friendships in the novel too, and I couldn’t help but feel that the novel offers a very uplifting and positive spirit in a time perhaps when the world isn’t perhaps the most positive place, was there a sense in which the novel emerged out of this wider social context?
LP: I’m glad you found it uplifting, as that was definitely my intention! We are surrounded by so much sadness and anxiety in the news, and while it is true that we are living through difficult times, I also believe firmly that there is goodness out there if you look for it. I wanted to tell a story about that everyday kind of hope and kindness that is perhaps not so often talked about, but that is there within our communities. At a local level there really are people all over the country trying to save their lidos, their libraries, their bookshops – and that is something that should be celebrated. As are the values of friendship and love that I cover in the book. These are things that I think we need to hold particularly dear during turbulent times.
JC: The novel explores the threat that the lido faces from development, a situation that many communities face these days as traditional spaces look to be modernised and revamped, how worried do you feel about the future of these integral community hubs? And do you think enough import is placed on their value?
LP: The idea for my book really began at this point – from a feeling of concern about our community spaces being under such threat, and how much we lose when these places close down. I have lived in London for seven years now, and even in that relatively short space of time I have seen how much it has changed. Local pubs, libraries and bookshops have closed down, rent prices have risen, and it seems that wherever I look I see building sites that are advertising million-pound flats soon to open. I worry about what we will be left with if towns and cities continue down this path: one day we might look around us and realise that the truly special places where people came together and that gave local areas their charm, have all closed down. I hope that we realise the true value of these places before it is too late.
JC: I’m sure the novel will encourage many readers to start or return to swimming, and as an avid swimmer yourself who has explored some of the swimming spots around the world, which is your favourite swimming destination in the UK and abroad? And where in the world would you like to swim in the future?
LP: It’s worth mentioning that until a few years ago I could barely swim. So if anyone does find themselves inspired to take the plunge after reading the book, I would say go for it, and it is never too late to learn. Through lessons and a lot of practice I improved my stroke and got to the stage where I feel confident swimming in open water – something I would never have done previously. I am lucky that in London there are plenty of places to swim outdoors: Brockwell, of course, but also Tooting Lido, the Serpentine, and Kenwood Ladies Pond are some of my favourites. My sister lives in the Lake District and I love to swim there with her – there is something magical about hiking to a secluded tarn and going for a swim. Last year we travelled to Slovenia together, which was a wonderful place for swimming. We swam in Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj, but also jumped into a mountain pool that was the coldest water I have ever swum in, but one of the most invigorating experiences of my life. There are so many places on my ‘to swim’ list. The UK has some amazing spots, but I’d also love to swim in the lakes in Finland, but also perhaps somewhere warmer too – like between islands in Greece. I now plan my holidays around whether there will be water I can swim in!
JC: I think it’s easy to envisage swimming as quite a solitary pursuit, yet it’s a hobby you share with your sister and document on Twitter and Instagram, and in the novel it’s very much community-based, what do you think it is about swimming that can bring people together?
LP: I like that swimming can be both solitary and community-based. In the book, the characters often use the lido as a place to seek calm, to destress and work through ideas while swimming quiet lengths. There is something meditative about swimming – you get into a rhythm where your mind can find freedom. But you also often get chatting to people, either at the end of the lanes or in the changing rooms. I obviously can’t speak for the male changing rooms, but the female changing rooms at pools are such chatty places. I always get talking to people when I go to the pool, and that was something that provided inspiration for the book. You immediately have your guard down when you are stripped to just your swimming costume (or often to nothing at all if you are getting changed or showering). You also know immediately that you have a shared connection with people – a love of the water. Swimming pools are very egalitarian places – you are stripped of all your outside markers of lifestyle, job or background and come together to the water in similar scraps of fabric. It can’t help but make you feel connected.
JC: For some people, the idea of plunging into freezing cold water in winter seems like torture, does that initial moment get any better and what is it that keeps you going back for more?
LP: Getting in when it’s really cold can be hard, and I must admit I am not as hardy as the characters I write or many of the swimmers I encounter in my real life: I always opt for a wetsuit in the winter. I think it is really all about acclimatisation though – if you build up to it gradually and only go in for a short amount of time when it’s really cold, you can end up braving temperatures you might not have thought possible. There is also nothing quite like the rush of being in cold water. Your whole body seems to come alive, and you step out with an amazing feeling of euphoria. Cold water swimming has been said to have great mental health benefits – something that I talk about a lot in the book.
JC: Despite this being your debut novel, it’s already been received with a lot of acclaim, how does it feel to be shot into the spotlight as it were, and what are you most excited/nervous about going forward?
LP: I feel so fortunate, grateful, excited, happy! Lots of good feelings! I can’t remember a time in my life before I wanted to be an author – it’s an ambition I have had since I was very young, so this really is a dream come true. I am now feeling excited and nervous about the approaching publication: it is an amazing thing to be able to share a story that has lived for so long within my head, with real readers, and I hope that people enjoy it and connect with the characters. When I wrote The Lido I was working full-time in a marketing role in a big office, but I am now lucky enough to be writing full time. It has taken some adjusting to this new working life though, and to what is at times a very solitary job. Now that I feel I have learnt the routine that works for me, I am just looking forward to writing more – because ultimately the writing is the thing that I love the most. Coming up with new characters and new stories, and bringing these to life, is what it’s all about.
JC: I believe there is already a film option for the book, can you tell us any more about this and what hopes would you have for a screen version of the story?
LP: Yes, the film rights for the book have been sold to Catalyst Global Media, which is very exciting. Currently a script is in development, and I can’t wait to see how the screenwriters have approached it. The thought of other creative people taking something you have made and using their skills and vision to translate it into another medium, is to me fascinating. There are also certain scenes in the book that I visualised in quite a cinematic way when I was writing – so it would be amazing to see these actually played out in front of me, not just inside my own head!
JC: What do you think makes a successful film adaptation of a book and are there any film adaptations in particular that you admire?
LP: I think a film that captures a book’s essence and character is one that I always enjoy the most. I am not so precious about every plot point being covered (although big changes can be confusing!), as long as the heart of the story is there. I loved Brooklyn – that felt to me a great adaptation of the book, and while TV not film, I loved the BBC’s recent adaptation of The Miniaturist. It was almost exactly how I’d pictured things when reading – which isn’t always the case with an adaption!
JC: With your first book going out into the world, have your thoughts turned yet to a second book?
LP: Yes, I have been busy working away on my second book. I have tried to make the most of the time between signing the deal and the publication of The Lido to get as much of the second book written as possible. I’m afraid I’m not quite at the stage of sharing details of it yet, but I am certainly enjoying writing again. I feel as though there is something missing in my life if I am not writing.
JC: And finally, what did you take away from the writing of the story and what do you hope readers gain from it?
LP: The characters in The Lido may be made up, but through the process of writing the book they became very real to me. Now when I’m swimming or walking down the street I might see someone who reminds me of Kate or Rosemary, and I almost want to talk to them before I remember. I am very fond of them and also the cast of supporting characters who come together at the lido. When I think of people reading the book, it feels almost like I am introducing them to old friends. I hope that readers connect with the characters in the way that I did when writing. I also hope that it might make them smile, think about the importance of their local community, and perhaps it might even make them think of going for a swim.
The Lido by Libby Page
Orion 9781409175209 hbk Apr 2018
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