Independent Bookshop Week:
19-26 June 2021
The Island Home
Libby Page is the author of The Lido & The 24-Hour Cafe. For Independent Book Week Libby will be touring independent bookshops (virtually) to promote her new novel The Island Home.
Hi Libby thanks for talking to The New Current, how have you been keeping during these strange Covid times?
Hello! Well, it’s certainly been a strange time hasn’t it? Like so many people I have really struggled with missing friends and family and as a writer being stuck at home provided challenges in terms of creativity. But on the other hand, I felt so lucky to have my writing to escape to – to be able to travel in my imagination without leaving home. And despite the low points there have also been bright bursts of sunshine for me personally – I got married last year in a tiny ceremony nothing like what we’d originally planned but that was nonetheless wonderful, and I recently moved from London to Somerset. And I’m expecting my first baby any day! So, it’s been a year of contrasts – lots of quiet moments but lots going on too!
Has this time offered you any new creative inspirations?
I spent lockdown editing my third book, The Island Home, and writing my fourth book. I found it so helpful to have these creative outlets and to be able to journey beyond the walls of my home, even if just in my mind. The Island Home is set on a remote Scottish island so it was great to be able to visit the windswept shores whenever I sat down at my desk. Like lots of people I also baked my fair share of banana bread too…!
When you’re releasing a new book do nerves ever set it?
Oh, every time! I thought it would get easier with each book but it really doesn’t. I put so much of myself in my books; even if the stories are all fictional I try to draw on real emotions in order to make them feel true to readers. And you come to care deeply about your characters and their lives even if they’re made up. You want readers to love them as much as you do. Writing is a very isolated activity in many ways – most of my time is spent alone at my desk – so releasing a new book is the moment the story that’s existed only inside my own mind gets shared with others. It’s very exciting and feels such a privilege but can also be quite daunting!
What does it mean for you to be part of the Independent Bookshop 2021 events?
I am a huge fan of independent bookshops. To me they’re not just about books (although they are of course brilliant for that, indie bookshop staff being wonderful at giving personal recommendations and helping you to discover new authors) but about community, something which is very important to me. I love visiting independent bookshops as a reader but they have also been so supportive of my books that I am always delighted to get involved in supporting them too, be that through doing events, signing books or just sharing the love for fantastic bookshops.
Can you tell me a little bit about The Island Home, what was the inspiration behind your latest book?
The Island Home is set on a fictional Scottish island called Kip, inspired by my research trips to the Isle of Eigg in the Inner Hebrides. I have always been fascinated by islands – the sea, the scenery and the idea of communities living away from the mainland. On my research visits something that struck me was that despite the small population and isolated location there was a really strong sense of community. I liked the idea of contrasting this against a big city where you can feel lonely and cut off despite being surrounded by millions of people. This was the starting point for the two main characters Alice and Lorna – Alice being embedded in the community on Kip while Lorna is returning to the island for the first time in years, having cut herself off from her family and her past. It’s a book about community, friendship, family secrets and how much we can gain when we reach out to those around us.
When you get an idea for a new book when do you start putting pen to paper?
I tend to do a fair bit of research and thinking before starting to write ‘Chapter 1’. The process usually starts with lots of notes scribbled by hand into a notebook, before eventually moving on to typing on my laptop when I feel ready to start writing. The research / thinking process usually takes a few months. I like to get the characters fully-formed in my mind before I start writing.
Is it important to be flexible with the direction your story/characters may go in and have you ever found it hard to get out of a plot trap?
I know some authors like to plan everything that will happen in a book before starting but for me I like to allow an element of flexibility as I find it more fun to write; sometimes your characters take you in new directions. That said, as someone who isn’t a natural planner I do find I have to force myself to plan more than I might otherwise as I know it’s when I haven’t thought enough about what’s going to happen next that I experience writer’s block. One of the best things I find for getting out of a plot trap is just stepping away from my laptop and going for a walk or swim. There’s something about moving and being outside that helps my brain unwind those knots and I usually come home full of new ideas.
Do you ever find inspiration from real people you have met?
People and their stories definitely inspire me. My second book The 24-Hour Café came about through my love of people watching in cafés and in The Island Home I definitely drew some inspiration from people I met during my research. But I always like to mix things up so that no one character is ever fully someone real – they might contain elements of inspiration but also be a product of my imagination too.
What are the biggest challenges an author might face when they begin writing a new novel?
I think writing a novel is less about inspiration and more about dedication. In some ways I find coming up with the ideas the easy bit – the hard bit is forcing yourself to sit down and keep writing, even when it feels like you’re getting nowhere or when you doubt what you’re doing and your abilities. It can feel quite a slog and it’s hard not to let self-doubt overtake the process and stop you from doing anything at all. Writing my novels has really helped to develop perseverance I never knew I had and that’s something I’d say to anyone thinking of starting writing a novel: it can feel demoralizing and endless at times but the sense of satisfaction you’ll feel once you have finished an entire story of your own imagination will be immense.
"I hope that readers of all my books will get a familiar sense of me and my style, while also being given new topics and very different characters."
Have you always had a passion for writing?
I’ve wanted to be an author for as long as I can remember. I was an avid reader as a child and as soon as it clicked for me that someone had actually written the stories I so loved and that it could be your actual job, there was nothing else I wanted to do with my life! Of course, I eventually found that it’s much harder than that to become an author so went through several different jobs before finally being able to call myself an author, but I was always writing my spare time. I wrote The Lido while working full-time in marketing. It sounds a cliché but it really is a dream come true to now be allowed to spend every day writing.
Has your style of writing has changed since your debut novel?
I’d like to think that my style has evolved, even if there are common elements that I think you’ll find in all my books because they are so important to me, such as themes of community, friendship and a sense of hopefulness that comes from being an optimist. With each book I try to push myself in a new way – for example in The 24-Hour Café I challenged myself with an unusual structure (setting the novel over one 24-hour period). In The Island Home I have left behind London, where my first two books were set, and explored a very different setting and themes of family and the secrets that can remain unaddressed between family members for years. I hope that readers of all my books will get a familiar sense of me and my style, while also being given new topics and very different characters.
How much of a role has your background in marketing and journalism help you move into the world of literature?
My experience as a journalist definitely helped in writing my first novel The Lido as one of the main characters was a young journalist. I think part of journalism is also being interested in people and their stories, something that fuels my writing to this day. I ended up in marketing less because it was my passion and more because I found it an easier job to fit around writing creatively than journalism – it gave me more time and headspace. That said, I actually think my experience in marketing has really helped me in my career as an author because being an author doesn’t just mean writing books. There’s also a big element of self-promotion, publicity and just generally marketing yourself and your book. I think my background has really helped me understand the importance of the publicity and marketing teams at my publishers, and to realise that things like doing interviews and events aren’t a distraction from writing but are in fact just as an important a part of the process.
Is there any advice or tips you would offer an aspiring writer?
It’s an obvious one, but something I was always told and that I took on board was to read as much as possible. I know some writers choose to study creative writing but I never did and don’t think it’s essential if you are an avid reader – through reading you pick up an innate sense of what makes a story work and how characters are brought to life. I’d also say just to stick at it. I wanted to be an author for a very long time before it actually happened and it took me a long time to find an agent and get published. But now I am lucky enough to do the thing I love every day. And honestly, even if I wasn’t published I would still be writing. Because if you’re a writer it’s just what you do because it’s who you are and it’s what you love. Try not to lose sight of that.
And finally, what do you hope readers will take away from The Island Home?
This past year or so I think we’ve all come to understand more than ever the importance of connection and community. I hope that reading The Island Home might make people think that it’s never too late to build a feeling of connection, to achieve a sense of belonging and to find somewhere that truly feels like home.