A series of authors are making a splash at Greenwich Book Festival, riding the crest of the ‘water-biography’ wave. At an event at Charlton Lido, debut novelist Libby Page is talking about her book the Lido. Tipped as the feel-good debut of the year, it tells the fictional story of 26 year-old local journalist Kate who pairs up with 86 year-old widow Rosemary to save the Brockwell Lido from closure, writes Laura Burgoine…  

Libby talks to the Weekender about diving into the literary world.

“I thought of writing the Lido as a historical book but decided it’s a modern story about community spaces being threatened with closure,” she said. “Lidos are somewhere where you see people of all ages. There aren’t that many places that an 86 year old and a 26 year old would both be.”

The inspiration for the setting came from real life –Libby is an avid outdoor swimmer at her local London Fields and Parliament Hill Lidos. “I wasn’t much of a swimmer at all but a colleague of mine used to swim every morning and swore by it so I started at an indoor pool with her and gradually built up my confidence,” Libby said. “My older sister is a really good swimmer and she gave me lessons and encouraged me to go outdoors and that’s where I came to discover the amazing Lidos in London.”

“You feel more connected to nature. It’s amazing to see the transformation of the seasons- from people who go there in summer, and then some very dedicated people who are there all year round.”

While studying at university, Libby lived in Brixton and was struck by the sense of community. “I grew up in a small village in Dorset and was used to saying hello to people on the street so London was quite a shock to the system when I moved here,” she said. “But in Brixton the community is there. You just have to look for it more. That’s why I chose to set the story there.”

The novel also explores the link between swimming and mental health. “I think it’s good that people are talking more honestly about people in their 20s and about how it can be a lonely, overwhelming time,” Libby said. “I’m just encouraging people to have more honest conversations with their friends. There’s recent statistics the government has released about loneliness being a huge issue for young people.”

Beginning her career as a journalist, Libby switched to a job in marketing and wrote the Lido in 2015 alongside her fulltime job. “There was a lot of getting up early to write, taking my laptop into work to write on my lunchbreak,” she said. “The hardest process was a year of sending the manuscript out to different people. I was very close to giving up,” she continued. “Then I heard about Caskie Mushens: a new agency who were looking to fill their roster with new authors and I heard back from Robert Caskie –who’s my agent now- in half an hour saying he loved the sound of my book. Things happened really quickly then, which is the importance of finding the right agent because he sold it so well. This was January/February and he wanted to sell it at the London Book Fair in March. I booked a week holiday to do the edits, and heard back within a couple of hours.”

The book was sold, and two days later Libby quit her job and became a full-time author. She’s currently working on the first draft for her second book as part of her two-book deal.

At the panel in Greenwich, Libby is joining writers Alexandra Heminsley, Jenny Landreth, and Joe Minihane to talk “all things swimming.”

“As a keen swimmer myself, I’ve read all the other authors’ books. They’re all non-fiction, water biographies,” she said. “I’ll get there early on the day and go for a swim beforehand.”

Libby is at the Greenwich Book Festival at Charlton Lido, Hornfair Park, Shooters Hill Road, SE18 4LX, on Thursday 14 June at 7pm-8:15pm. The session will be followed by a book signing. Admission: £8-£9. greenwichbookfest.com