Friday, 10 February 2012

Lizzie Enfield on being surrounded by psychopaths while loving the mundane

LIZZIE Enfield: wise, kind, thoughtful, funny, quick, bright, shy, reckless too sometimes (in a careful and considered kinda way). She always knows more than she lets on. And worries more than she should. When I met Liz I think I was still slightly thinking of myself as a kind of Bono figure who had, by some terrible cosmic accident been suckered into working as a suburban schoolteacher, while Bono - who let's face it - is an earnest Geography teacher type if ever we saw one - somehow stole my existence pontificating about Big Causes on a Big Stage fronting a band making Big Music. Lizzie saw the real me. 

Lizzie christened me Baldrick.

But I didn't take offence. It would have been hard to because she's wise, kind, thoughtful, funny etc etc. And so are her books. What You Don't Know (Headline) came out last year and now is the turn of Uncoupled (Headline) and I guess Lizzie is doing what publishers call 'building a brand' and what her fellow writers might call a mapping out  a distinctive territory, and what readers might call writing a series of decent novels which entertain while asking hard questions in a soft voice.

And we're teaching together for the Arvon Foundation in July which should be a laugh. She can be good cop (wise, kind, thoughtful, funny etc etc etc) and I can get to play bad cop which  I rarely do (mean, shouty, cruel). I'm looking forward to it.

Oh - and she's Harry's sister but she won't let anyone mention that...

So, Liz. Your autobiography in exactly 50 words (not 49, not 51)

Born in Sussex. Still there! Billingshurst to Brighton via, Norwich and London. Wanted to be a spy but not very good at keeping secrets. Became journalist instead. Divulged stuff for BBC radio, then as a freelance for papers and mags. Still do that, alongside writing. Two novels so far…
 What are you doing right now?
Answering your questions, Steve…           
And what are you doing next? 
Going to meet a friend for coffee – so far so productive -  isn’t that what all writers do all day?                 Why should we read Uncoupled?
 You don’t have to! I know you don’t like the swirly/girly cover (which is changing for the paperback because the content is not so swirly/wirly).  It’s about a woman who survives a serious train crash and the indefinable relationship that develops after between her and another commuter, with repercussions. A friend just finished reading and said she could not stop laughing – yet, it’s a study of the psychological impact of being involved in major trauma, so I don’t know what she was laughing at.         
 How different is it to What You Don't Know?
I did a reading the other day and the person who introduced me described Uncoupled as modern Brief Encounter, which is exactly how I described WYDK – so either exactly the same or he had not done his research very well! It’s a similar set up.  Everyday family thrown into crisis by outside event/outsider but it’s a bit darker and I hope a bit better. 
 What's the next book going to be about?
 A modern Brief Encounter? The one I’m working on is v different. It’s about a group of once right-on p.c. friends who are now in their forties and have all made compromises. One of them makes a decision she thinks is the right one for her family but it devastates another family in the process… I’m not giving away the main thing, in case a faster writer writes it faster… 
  Where do you see yourself in five years time?
 Writing modern Brief Encounters? Living it up in my second home? Really? Plugging away at another novel, writing freelance stuff, fretting about being fifty, wondering why we will never be able to retire and the children have not left home…  The future is mundane but I’m happy with mundane… 
 You live in Brighton. How true is it that every middle class person in Brighton writes books (or wants to) ?
I think you have your figures slightly wrong, Steve. It’s two in five.  Writer, writer, psychotherapist, psychologist, psychopath is the correct current make up of Brighton professions…
  Who - in life or writing - do you most admire and why? 
Too many writers to mention (and have trouble separating admiration from envy) so will go for life and my admiration goes to handful of close friends who are incredibly giving and good humoured even when their lives are bloody difficult… 
 Tell me something I don't know...
 I was a very, very, shy, quiet, unconfident child/young adult. Now I try to pretend that I am not any of those things.  I think I get away with it but underneath all the front, it’s still there. The real me would not be talking to you…

What You Don't Know and Uncoupled are both out now (Headline)
Mine and Lizzie's Arvon course is at the John Osborne Arvon Centre at The Hurst, Shropshire July 9 - July 14 2012

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