Some authors roam their keyboards alone, but many like the comfort of a writing group. I found mine when, after weeks critiquing each others’ work on a Writers & Artists course, four of us decided to continue.
When the world was normal we met in an art deco cocktail bar in Holborn. Sometimes we’d emailed extracts in advance, sometimes it was more ad hoc. Then in lockdown we read each others’ entire books and commented, raising our glasses on Zoom. It really has been invaluable.
One of us, Sofia Due, has just published an earlier novel. Ed and Lily is a cleverly constructed story of the dangers of “couple fatigue” – when you’ve developed a particular way of doing things and nothing’s really suiting either of you but you don’t realise the damage you’re sustaining along the mundane way. Lily, working in Cardiff, has ideals, Londoner Ed has ambition. Ed is organised, Lily is chaotic and spontaneous. On Christmas Eve Ed’s booked a romantic getaway to Iceland – but Lily’s working late and misses her train. The book unravels how they got to this point through flashbacks. The reader’s kept wondering if this is make or break to the very last page. All good fun but it deepens with Ed’s family background and Lily’s job for a frontline charity. Here’s what Sofia had to say about it:
As the privileged (I think) first blogger to interview you, I’ll ask the obvious. What inspired Ed and Lily?
I had this idea about a couple who meet quite young, and everything is perfect but it’s almost too much, too soon. They’re not yet ready to settle down, not where they want to be as individuals, but to achieve what they want, they might have to leave the other behind. To make a relationship work, does one person always have to compromise and give up their dreams or can both succeed?
I started writing this in 2017 and about 20,000 words in, I saw ‘La La Land’ and thought, ‘Yes, exactly, that’s what I’m trying to say.’ There’s a wistfulness about the choices they made and what was right for them. Either way, to stay or go, would have been right – in different respects and with different outcomes.
Lots of us have had relationships like that, where to make the relationship work means changing direction, taking a chance, moving country and that will cause some difficulties. This is a story about whether you stick it out or go it alone.
It’s also about how we don’t talk about the important things in relationships, especially if things are going wrong. We’re scared and ignore the elephants in the room because once you start discussing things, you can’t be sure where it will lead.
It’s a clever structure…
The structure was always like that, with alternate chapters from each point of view, to create a dialogue between Ed & Lily. The idea was the story started at the end, when the relationship was in trouble so it would be more detective story than romance, examining what went wrong, why, and whether it could be fixed.
Once I’d committed to this structure, it seemed like every book I picked up was doing the same. What I wanted was that with each chapter, the reader’s sympathies might change.
And how would you describe the genre?
I put this book through the new writers’ scheme at the romantic novelists’ association, twice. The second reader said it was more of a love story than romance as romance is supposed to do the ‘boy meets girl, something gets in the way, they get back together’ structure and this doesn’t. When I started, I was aiming for a simple love story but somehow, in my stories someone always ends up in a refugee camp!
Lily’s a vibrant, funny, realistically flawed character, based on anyone in particular?
I’m glad you think so, and no, not really. Aspects of her life and work are based on people I know but I’m surrounded by warm, competent, well-meaning women who over commit. She’s a bit scatty, but that’s what happens when you have too much on your mind, when you aren’t concentrating because you have a mental block about something else.
I found it harder to warm to Ed, although I cared so much about Lily it didn’t matter. Can you sell Ed to me?
Ed is kind and funny (I hope) but he lost his mother very young and is scared of more loss. The self-sufficiency and minimalist personal style is a defence; if he doesn’t have much, there isn’t much to lose! He’s liberal and open in his attitudes and appreciates that his rival for Lily isn’t someone else but her aspirations – which he supports. He’s shocked when he finds he might be wrong. He really loves Lily but he’s frightened of losing her by making demands and caging her. Without meaning to, that’s what he’s done. He needs to set himself free. As Lily says, ‘You were wearing a Hawaiian shirt when we met.’ He can change, although he doesn’t have to, just show he could.
That’s interesting. Other people have wondered how he puts up with Lily!
Lily works with refugees in war zones, a serious balance to the “boy meets girl” flavour of the main story. Is this based on your own experience?
To an extent. Refugees find their way into everything I do but although I worked with some children in the Calais jungle, most of my work is office-based. I’ve never done field work in a refugee camp. The camp in the book is fictional but based on places I’ve seen. The refugee stories like the woman walking for hours on a broken ankle or offering bracelets in exchange for help are real.
Why did you make Ed an architect?
Perhaps because when I started writing, we had building work and I was comparing the rubble with the computer drawings and thinking what I needed was a nice architect in my writing life to take my mind off the mess. It’s part of Ed’s conflict. He likes clean lines and open space but his loyalty to the people he loves means he’s surrounded by fusty antiques.
You started “Ed and Lily” written some years ago. What made you revisit it?
I finished it in 2017 and got a few requests for the full manuscript, but it wasn’t taken further. I worked with a mentor during 2019 to rework the timeline. Again there was interest, but it wasn’t taken up. Usually, I try and write something every day but during the first lockdown, I found it really difficult. I decided getting this book out would be my creative project for the year, to keep me looking forward. It’s been fun, I’ve had a lot of involvement in it. I also thought stylistically, it was now or never for this book. After the times we’ve been going through, who knows if realistic characters with ordinary problems will be what we want to read about!
Who would like this book for their birthday?
Perfect for people with birthdays in the next few months. They’ll get a chance to appreciate the timeline countdown to Christmas.
The ebook will soon be available through other retailers, such as Apple, Barnes & Noble US, Kobo and OverDrive.
©Jessica Norrie & Sofia Due 2021