Ella Foote swims with Libby Page, author of The Lido
You don’t swim somewhere for years and then you do two swimterviews in the same spot in the space of a month. I am back at Brockwell Lido, which is no bad thing, meeting another famous swimming sibling. This time I swim with swimming sister Libby Page, whose book, The Lido is out now after much anticipation and hype.
I first learnt about the book around this time last year, when @theswimmingsisters announced on Instagram the book was to be published. I commented then it would be good to do a swimterview and after much media frenzy, including selling the film rights to the title, it was great to finally swim with Libby and hear her side of the story.
There was only ever going to be one place for us to meet – Brockwell Lido, where the majority of the book is set. The story tells the tale of two women who form a friendship while trying to save their local community pool. While there is a little artistic licence in the book, much of the community spirit of Brixton and the local lido is captured in this light and easy-to-read fiction. Libby and I meet on a very wet day, the lifeguards are hunched under umbrellas and yet despite the heavy rain the lido is still busy with local swimmers. Much like the picture Libby paints in her book, the lido that morning is a mix of all kinds of people. We all smile and chat to each other like old friends, despite not knowing each other at all.
“Lidos are places where people of all kinds of backgrounds come together and connect,” says Libby. “When we are all in our swimsuits, our guard is down and people are more willing to talk
to each other and form connections. As I started writing, I really got into swimming and I wanted to write about those special sensations of getting into the water, the people you meet and chat to in changing rooms. I am so interested in people’s stories, the lido is a perfect place for people watching.”
The media have been quick to report on Libby’s success. Once the book was picked up, Libby signed a two-book deal in the UK, it was sold internationally and is set to make it onto the big screen after selling the film rights. Despite the perceived overnight success, it has taken time and work for Libby to get to this stage. She didn’t always intend on writing a swimming book, but she did always want to be a writer. “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be an author,” says Libby. “As I got older I realised that it isn’t just something you go out and become, it is a bit more difficult than that. I studied Journalism at university, so that I could still write, but it would be more of a career. My first job out of university was writing at The Guardian in their student/education section. However, I found that writing all day at work meant I didn’t have the headspace to write creatively, so I switched to a role in marketing and was able to write creatively again.”
Libby started writing the book back in 2015. She had lived in Brixton as a student and had been surprised by the sense of community there. “I had moved from a small town in Dorset where people said hello to each other walking down the street,” says Libby. “When I first came to London it felt like there wasn’t that community feeling, but in Brixton there was a community spirit, however it was very much under threat. Around that time, shops that had been run for generations were closing down, blocks of fancy flats were being built and big chains were moving in. It made me want to write about how important community spaces are, what they mean to our towns and cities and what we lose when they are gone. It was the starting point for the book, but I had also come to really love outdoor swimming.”
The book is dedicated to her swimming sister Alex, who taught her to swim. “It was down to Alex that I got into outdoor swimming, she gave me lessons,” says Libby. “I had been a nervous swimmer, I learnt to swim when I was young, but never proper front crawl. I found swimming lessons quite stressful and after school didn’t really swim much apart from splashing around on holidays. I was very uncomfortable being out of my depth and it wasn’t until a colleague of mine, who used to swim every day before work, talked about it relaxing and invigorating her before her day I considered joining her. I loved that time together in the morning at the pool, it was completely for myself and I wanted to get better at it, that is when I asked Alex for some lessons.”
Alex was a confident swimmer and so after some lessons and lots of practice, she convinced Libby to join her in the Lake District for outdoor swimming. “It was so special,” says Libby. “When we were growing up we didn’t have much in common. Alex was sporty and outdoorsy, I was often inside writing stories and reading books. But now we spend time together walking and swimming as much as we can, it has definitely brought us closer.”
Living the dream
The book took around a year to write, Libby wrote it around her full-time job and took six weeks out to live and write in Paris, something she had always wanted to do. She spent mornings writing and afternoons swimming. The search for an agent began in 2016 and took another year before the deal came. “By the end of that year, sending the book and getting rejections, I thought maybe I will just write another book and see if that does any better,” says Libby. “But I then read about a new agency seeking to fill their list of authors, I thought it would be my last go at it. Within about half-an-hour I had a reply, they loved the idea and a few weeks’ later I had a publishing deal.”
Two days later Libby quit her job to become a full-time writer. “Friends and family have shared in celebrating the success of the book,” says Libby. “They know it is something I have always wanted to do. I didn’t get it through who I knew in the industry, or through celebrity culture, I did it through hard work and perseverance. I think it is good to hear a story of someone doing what they love and are passionate about and not giving up. I never believed it would happen like this, certainly not on this scale, but now I keep going around telling everyone to follow their dreams!”
Libby is now working on her second book as well as touring with The Lido. As for swimming ambitions: “There are loads of places I want to swim,” says Libby. “Especially in the UK, but also Finland and Greece. I would love to become a daily swimmer, I see how happy it makes people. I would also love to explore more of the Lake District, it is my favourite place to swim. Where Alex and I first outdoor swam together and where Alex now lives, there is always somewhere new to swim.”
The Lido is published by Orion and is available now online and in all good bookshops.