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Q&A with author Lizzie Enfield

living with it

I’m delighted to welcome author Lizzie Enfield on to my blog on the publication day of her third novel ‘Living With It.’

Living With It is a thought provoking novel that takes the MMR controversy as its springboard, and explores the devastating repercussions of one decision taken many years before. A group of longstanding friends go away on holiday to France together; Ben and Maggie and their nine month old baby Iris, Isobel, her husband Ben and their three children, one of whom has been exposed to the measles virus. Baby Iris becomes ill and as a result, is left profoundly deaf. Isobel has not had any of her children vaccinated and when she discovers what has happened to Iris, she is wrought with guilt. The situation is further complicated by Isobel and Ben having a shared romantic history. The story deals with the complicated emotional fall out; divided marital loyalties, the apportioning of blame and guilt and the damage wrought on all their interlocking friendships.

What research did you do for Living With It? Do you tend to research before beginning your first draft or as and when needed? Was there one thing that jumped out at you and made the story come alive?

I did a little research into deafness and its causes and effects but not too much as I did not want the story to be dictated by what I knew but rather by the emotions and actions of the characters. For me what made the story come alive is the central dilemma the characters face i.e. what if a decision you had made years ago, in good faith, comes back to haunt you in ways you had never envisaged.

Your dialogue is very realistic in that in that I think most couples will recognise those underlying tensions and simmering resentments (!). You have an excellent ear for the things that are left unsaid versus the things that are said. Do you find dialogue easy? Do you have anything specific you do to get the voice of a character down on the page and differentiate it from another?

Thank you! I talk a lot so I suppose dialogue comes easily and I used to work in radio so tend to listen out for people and the way that they talk. I think you have to get quite far inside the heads of characters to differentiate their speech, so that it comes from the heart rather than the mouth and will therefore me unique to them rather than generic.

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I think you have captured perfectly the tensions of going away with a group of friends – even friends you have known and loved for years. All the little differences in bedtime routines, discipline which are heightened by being in close proximity. I know my husband and I have whispered conspiratorially to each other once in the privacy of our room ‘I can’t believe they do that!’ and I’m sure they have said the same about us. But is there anything that would be a deal breaker for you which would mean the end of the friendship?

I hate falling out with people. Some friendships you simply grow out of but it would take something quite extreme for me to fall out with a close friend and would almost definitely involve deliberate harm to one of my children.

One of my children was born at the height of the MMR controversy and all my ante natal class could talk about was the (now discredited) Dr Andrew Wakefield report and we were very anxious. What gave you the initial idea? Did you experience something similar?

My middle child was born in the middle of it and I found the decision very difficult but I also grew up knowing someone who had become deaf as a result of measles and my mother had a friend whose baby had died from it. So I was aware of the risks but also the responsibilities parents of healthy children have to the wider community to provide herd immunity by getting their children vaccinated.

Some children are not healthy enough to be immunised and are at greater risk of the diseases than others. The rest of us are, I think, obliged to think very seriously about the potential consequences of not doing so, although I do fully understand the fears that crowd in on you when something might affect your own child. It’s very hard to always act “in the greater public good” when you feel your own family might be compromised in some way. We are all human and we all want to protect are nearest and dearest.

If you found yourself in the same situation as Ben and Maggie, would you have taken legal action against Isobel?

I tend towards the least stressful path and I think by deciding to pursue that route, Ben puts his own family under increased strain at what already is a difficult time. So, no. I don’t think I would but you never know how you will behave in a certain situation until you are in it. I think I’d be very angry and anger is a powerful emotion. I found, as I wrote the book that the things I thought I saw clearly became less clear and the way I imagined I might act in similar situations less obvious too.

Do you have a writing routine? A specific type of notebook or pen? A set time of day? A target word count? Do you think these things matter or are they just distractions?

I think if you are to get anything done it is important to find time each day or week to write and write. I used to get up early but have become less disciplined and find it hard to write when I have a lot of work on. But when I am in the swing of things, I try to write for at least an hour four times a week. I write on a computer but I always carry a notebook and when I am writing it’s also important to find time to think. It’s not good just sitting down without having some idea of what I want to do. The best place is usually the bath and then bed and by the time I wake up, if I’ve put my mind to the next chapter or whatever I am writing, there are usually enough seeds to get started.

Living With It is published today by Myriad Editions

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