Birmingham Lit Fest Presents….

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This week, bestselling novelist and acclaimed podcast host Elizabeth Day, talks to Sathnam Sanghera about her new novel Magpie. Join them as they talk about writing thrillers, and a novel that tells a gripping and unsettling story about power, motherhood and envy.

Show Notes

This week, bestselling novelist and acclaimed podcast host Elizabeth Day, talks to Sathnam Sanghera about her new novel Magpie. Join them as they talk about writing thrillers, and a novel that tells a gripping and unsettling story about power, motherhood and envy.

You can download our podcast episodes from all the places you would normally get your podcasts every Thursday and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @bhamlitfest. All of our festival events can be found on our website www.birminghamliteraturefestival.org

For more information on Writing West Midlands, visit https://writingwestmidlands.org/

Follow the festival on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @BhamLitFest

Credits

Curator: Shantel Edwards (Festival director)
Production: 11C/ Birmingham Podcast Studios for Writing West Midlands

TRANSCRIPT

BLF Series 2, Episode 8: Elizabeth Day 

Intro

Welcome to the second series of the Birmingham Lit Fest Presents…podcast. We are really excited to be back for a second season and to continue to connect readers and writers in the Midlands, and far beyond. 

You can download our podcast episodes from all the places you would normally get your podcasts every Thursday and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @bhamlitfest. All of our festival events can be found on our website www.birminghamliteraturefestival.org

This week, bestselling novelist and acclaimed podcast host Elizabeth Day, talks to Sathnam Sanghera about her new novel Magpie. Join them as they talk about writing thrillers, and a novel that tells a gripping and unsettling story about power, motherhood and envy. 

Sathnam Sanghera
Hello, I'm Sathnam Sanghera. I'm a journalist and author originally from the Midlands and I'm talking to my friend Elizabeth Day today, who's also an author and a journalist but she's originally from Northern Ireland, aren't you Liz?

Elizabeth Day
I am. Well, I was born in Epson, but we moved to the north of Ireland when I was four, but I do have a Midlands connection because I went to school there, I went to school in Malvern from the age of 13. 

Sathnam Sanghera
Oh yeah, I always forget that. Anyway, I should say who you are although everyone knows who you are. You are the author of four novels and the Sunday Times bestselling memoir, How to Fail. Your debut was Scissors, Paper, Stone, which famously won a Betty Trask award. And Homefires was Observer Book of the Year. Your third book, Paradise City, was named one of the best novels of 2015 in the Evening Standard, and The Party, which was your last novel, was a Richard and Judy book club pick. You're also an award-winning journalist and you present BBC Radio 4 Open Book and the Sky Arts Book Club. And you're also the creator and host of the chart-topping podcast How to Fail. So, I feel very self-conscious, because you're a pro at this, aren’t you?

Elizabeth Day
Well, I think I'm an amateur who's learned through experience, and you were one of my first ever guests. And so, I'm so grateful to you for taking a punt on How to Fail when no one really knew what it was about. But it's nice having the table's turned, it's very nice hearing you introduce me.

Sathnam Sanghera
It's quite surreal for me, yeah, I mean I think I was very relaxed in that podcast, because I thought it would fail, ironically. And then it became a massive thing.

Elizabeth Day
You have so little faith in me. 

Sathnam Sanghera
It's huge faith now, huge faith now that you're successful. And your novel Magpie, which I actually only just finished reading this morning, it's so good. You know, when people hype things, I'm so contrary, I'm inclined to believe its not true. But it's really addictive, unsettling, I didn't know what was going to happen until the last few pages, and totally original. I mean, it's a thriller, based in the world of fertility, I guess. Is that too reductive?

Elizabeth Day
No, that's absolutely what it is. And also, can I just say, thank you so much for that compliment. Because listeners might not know, the recurring trope of our friendship is that I'm the emotional gusher and you're the one who's quite cynical and sparse in your compliments. So, for you to say that carries so much meaning.

Sathnam Sanghera
Yeah, just don't ever mention it. I said it and I’m kind of stabbing my leg with a fork as I say it. 

Elizabeth Day
Well, thank you. But yeah, you're right. It is a book that uses the architecture of thriller writing, without it being a kind of police procedural about a grizzled detective with a complicated personal life. And I love reading those, but I find them very complicated to write. So, I use the architecture of a book that I hope is compulsive to read. And I hope is slightly sinister, slightly claustrophobic, and you don't really know what's happening as a reader. And then there's a big twist in the middle. So that's why I'm talking in such vague terms. But the themes that I explore are fertility, motherhood, the pain and battle that can go into becoming a parent, what that does to you as a human being and mental illness and the human condition. So just those tiny, superficial topics I thought I'd put into what is hopefully an accessible and readable format, and that's Magpie.

Sathnam Sanghera
Yeah, I mean, that's a really rare skill to be able to deal with those really heavy subjects in such an accessible way. I guess your last book, The Party, your last novel, that was a literary thriller, but this feels like more of a deliberate genre thriller. Am I right or wrong?

Elizabeth Day
You're right, in the sense that I knew that I wanted to write a book with a twist because I find that enormously satisfying as a reader. And I pride myself on being able to spot most twists either in books or on screen. And so, I knew that I wanted it to be a really, really good one. And it was from there that the rest of the book came about. And so, it was a deliberate choice to have that kind of reading experience. And the other thing that I think draws together a lot of my novels is that I really enjoy, as a writer and also as a reader, the experience of a kind of unreliable narration, and never quite understanding whether what you're being told is the full truth. So, Magpie opens from the perspective of Marisa, who is a woman in her late 20s, who's had, as many of us have, the dispiriting online dating experience. And she finally meets this man called Jake, who's a bit older than her, who seems to tick every single box, who seems decent and straightforward and kind, and it moves quite quickly. And they move in together quite quickly into this house where most of the action takes place. And they decide to start trying for a family together. And at this point, Jake's business isn't going that well. So, they take in a lodger, Kate. And she seems to act in quite a kind of intimate and possessive way around the house in a way that really prompts Marisa to be quite suspicious of her and of what she's doing in their lives. And it's about what happens after that.

Sathnam Sanghera
But yeah, God, it feels so real. I mean, it stressed me out, I had to stop reading it several days in a row, I could only read it in small doses, compelling at the same time as being claustrophobic.

Elizabeth Day
That'll be my new blurb, thank you.

Sathnam Sanghera
So, what's the reaction been? I guess because this is a book that could appeal to so many people, people who are really interested in the issues of fertility, people who just want to a really amazing thriller, who do you think's reading it? I mean it's a bestseller, obviously everyone's reading it, but you do get a sense of who's really enjoying it?

Elizabeth Day
That's a great question. The reception has been amazing from my perspective, I feel incredibly grateful for it. Before the book was published, I was lucky enough to get some advance blurbs from authors that I hugely respect and admire, and Lisa Taddeo was one of the first to read it and gave me an amazing quote. And having that in my back pocket made me feel much less anxious than I normally do in the run up to publication, because I thought, you know, even if I get a one-star review on Amazon, comparing me unfavourably to a packet of cat food, at least Lisa Taddeo, and Kate Moss and Marian Keyes think that I've done a good job. And so that was really, really good to have. But I think, I mean every author says this, it can appeal to everyone. I definitely wrote it with other women who had gone through fertility issues in mind. Because as one of those women myself, I had never seen our experience accurately reflected in fiction in the way that I would have liked to read when I was going through unsuccessful IVF, for instance. And I really wanted to speak to that demographic, because I think we're so often ignored. And so, one of the great gifts seeing this book out there in the world is that I've been getting messages from precisely those kinds of people who say how refreshing it is, and how they feel really seen in the pages. But beyond that, I've been really pleasantly surprised how many men seem to have enjoyed it, again because there's this massive cliche that it's only really women who read books by other women. And it's been very nice to hear from some men folk as well. So, I think it hopefully has broad appeal.

Sathnam Sanghera
Yeah, I was thinking about that actually because not only is there that issue that so many, you know, women writers aren't read by men, or men tend to avoid them, I don't know why, but also, fertility is a subject that is always, quite often anyway, pitched as a female subject. And the really interesting thing about book is that the men in the book talk about fertility. As I was reading it, I realized that I've never really heard men talk about fertility and how it affects them.

Elizabeth Day
I’m so glad you said that, because the book is very, it's pretty feminist in outlook and in terms of narrative voice, it's weighted in favour of the female characters. And there's a reason for that. In the male characters, one of them has to be left deliberately, quite ambiguous. But it's almost like I wanted to rewrite my own history. And without going too much into personal detail, when I first started going through fertility treatment, I didn't feel supported in my relationship. And so, it was important for me to have men who did talk about it, who did engage. And also, because I'm so aware now that men go through it too. If you are in a heteronormative relationship, and you are going through fertility issues, and you are trying to become parents, men experience a different kind of grief, which I think is sometimes very difficult to process or express because the physical stuff isn't happening to you frequently. I sort of wanted to look at that as well. And I'm glad to hear from you that you think I've done a good job.

Sathnam Sanghera
Another really well drawn character in the book is the mother-in-law, a famous trope in Bollywood movies too, the difficult mother-in-law. Have you got experience with them? Did you enjoy writing it, I got the sense that you did.

Elizabeth Day
I loved writing the character of Annabel. I have an absolutely gorgeous mother-in-law, and she is a complete delight and almost the polar opposite to Annabel. Annabel is towering and fierce and cold and the epitome of a certain kind of upper middle-class woman who would never acknowledge that she was snobby. But she's the kind of woman who would categorize people as like PLU, ‘people like us’, and then the rest of the world. And I'm super fascinated by that particular segment of the British class system, partly because I've been able to observe them. So, when I mentioned earlier that I went to school in Malvern, I got a scholarship to a private school. And I, my family were living in Northern Ireland, so I became a border, a full-time border. But because I've always spoken with quite an English accent, I was immediately accepted. But actually, I didn't really know any of the rules of that cadre of society. So, I was always an observer of it, but I was always also invited into country houses, and posh parties because I sounded like I fitted in. And Annabel is someone who is ferociously protective of her son and sets herself up almost deliberately in competition with any woman who comes into his life. And I wanted to look at that kind of aspect of motherhood, where you are very possessive, but also the kind of person who, although they might be really well off and live in a nice country house in Gloucestershire is quite cheap in certain ways. So would keep chocolates that an unliked guest had brought way past their sell by date, and then serve them to someone else. And the chocolate will always be slightly coated with white because they'd aged too much. So, I did have a lot of fun with that. And I realize, having now written five novels, that one of my obsessions is the British class system, because it's one of those codes of conduct that no one speaks about. And no one knows if they're on the right side of it unless they've been brought up knowing the rules of it. And as a novelist, that's a fascinating interplay.

Sathnam Sanghera
Annabel's husband is a doctor, and your father is a surgeon. And I know it's so basic to read people's biographies into their novels - I can't believe I'm asking you this - but was it based on your father?

Elizabeth Day
No, it's not based on my father at all, although Chris is a lovely man, and he's very kind and very gentle. But I did ask my father for specific medical references and names of drugs. And I did ask him how a retired GP in this particular situation might act. And he's an incredibly useful fount of information. So, he was very helpful from a research perspective, and he really enjoys doing it. So, I give him a kind of a give him a situation, I'm like, this is what I need this character to do and this is how I need them to behave, what would be their medical diagnosis, and he's really helpful on that front. So, it's not based on him, but he was hugely informative in the shaping of that character. 

Sathnam Sanghera
Yeah, I couldn't believe how basic I was being while reading it, because I did slightly read it as a commentary on your life. And yet, I know, that's the single most annoying thing people can do to me as a writer.

Elizabeth Day
I don’t mind it that much to be honest. I know, I completely understand and respect why other novelists don't really like it, particularly female novelists. I think it's often assumed that we don't have any imagination so we must just be gazing at our own navels. But because Magpie is really founded, in my personal experience of some of the issues that I explore, I don't mind talking about it from that perspective. I'm very clear that my characters bear no relation to who I am or who my family is, or who my husband is. But the themes are absolutely ones that I have dealt with. And so, I'm okay with that.

Sathnam Sanghera
I noticed hummus makes a couple of appearances. And I know you like hummus. But have people in your life ever complain, or have they complained about stuff you've written

Elizabeth Day
About hummus?! Definitely not! That's a really good question. Have they ever complained? No. With my first novel, I remember handing an early manuscript before it was published to my mother, and she read it and when I saw her next her face was drained of colour and she said, gosh, you've got very dark thoughts, haven't you? Are you okay? Yes, I'm totally fine, I just get it all out in fiction. And both she and my sister pointed out that I had unwittingly lifted a character from our real lives and plonked her in the centre of the plot. And she was only a very minor character, she only made one appearance in one chapter. But it was a friend of my grandmother's I sort of, I hadn't really realized I'd done it. So, I changed that. But that's the only time that I can think of.

Sathnam Sanghera
Well, it's useful to have a family like mine who don't really read your work. What's the secret of writing the same story from different perspectives? I guess you've done that a couple of times, I think you did it in Homefires, didn't you, those two women if memory serves?

Elizabeth Day
Yes, oh, you're one of the only people who's read that book. 

Sathnam Sanghera
It’s a great book. How do you do it? Because I can't do it. I know, that's a very basic question. How do you do it? Is it, I mean, do you write a chart of the things they’ve got to refer to and then make them slightly different? How does it work?

Elizabeth Day
I don't, because I don't love planning. I mean, I do in life, I'm not spontaneous, I love planning. But I don't like planning when it comes to writing fiction. Because I find it restrictive, and I feel hemmed in by it. It's like doing revision, I don't like it. I'd much rather write myself into a character and then let the character inform the plot. So other than like noting down things like eye colour, or what t shirt someone was wearing, I think I've got quite a visual memory. And I have so much fun doing it. Because when you write the same incident from different perspectives you can show, purely from how differently people perceive it, so much about their character and about what's actually happening. And so, I'm very interested as a writer in the unsaid and the different slant that various narrators will put on the same event. I just I found it really enjoyable. So, I don't know what that says about me.

Sathnam Sanghera
I was going to ask you about that because you're very interesting. You say you find it enjoyable, but when I read it, like I said, I found it claustrophobic, also compelling, and I wondered how it affected your mood. Because I find if I'm writing difficult stuff, I almost need to stop writing at two o'clock otherwise it infects my day. What was it like writing it? Was it a pleasurable thing? Stressful? Therapeutic?

Elizabeth Day
It was all of the above, really. So, I'd written 15,000 words of Magpie before the pandemic happened. And when I reread those words, at the beginning of lockdown, when everyone I think was feeling a bit unhinged, I thought that they were the worst words ever written. I was like, well, there's just no, I mean, it's just awful. And then I went through a period of not writing because I normally like to write in cafes, and obviously that pleasure was denied me during lockdown. And when I returned to the manuscript, I had had a personal loss. So, I found out I was pregnant at the beginning of lockdown and we had a miscarriage at eight weeks, it's my third miscarriage and it was devastating. But in the aftermath of that I really wanted to write again. And I really wanted to return to Magpie, because it does deal with some of these themes. And I therefore found the routine of writing Magpie, and the liberation it afforded me to explore things that I was feeling, I found it incredibly cathartic and meaningful. It felt like I was erecting something meaningful in the space left by this loss. I look back on it now and it was such a curious time, that first national lockdown, and so devastating for so many people. And I feel really blessed that I had an empty diary and had those two hours every evening from sort of five to seven, where I could really get into the flow of the plot. And I've never really had that before. So, I found it, I think, sort of rhythmically pleasurable to write if that doesn't sound too Pornhub-y. But I think there's something about the kind of flow of the routine that was really helpful, even though I was writing about difficult things. And when I wrote about difficult things, yes, there's always a moment where there might be some emotional processing, but it always feels really good because I feel that I'm making something out of nothing. So that's quite a kind of patchwork to answer to your question.

Sathnam Sanghera
That's a very good answer. There's another plotline which - I'm nervous about not giving anything away - but involves severe mental illness. Were you nervous about writing about that? I think you've done it very sensitively, you know, as someone who's got severe mental illness in my family, I always notice when people do it badly, and you haven't. Did you do a load of research? Were you nervous about it?

Elizabeth Day
First of all, thank you so much for saying that because it means so much for me to hear that knowing you as I do. And because I know a little about your situation that, thank you, that's the best thing you could say. Yes, I was really fearful of getting it wrong, or of doing a disservice to the experience of people who live with all sorts of conditions. And I also didn't want to make it into a shorthand for monstrous behaviour because I think that's part of the issue, the kind of othering of people who live with mental health conditions. Because for me, writing about mental health and the flipside, mental illness, is writing about the human condition, I just don't see a distinction, I see characters, who might act in ways that superficially might appear difficult to understand. And it's my job as a novelist, to explain what damage they're carrying, or what might motivate them from their personal history, it's my job to make you understand that, and to remove that sort of othering that is so endemic in society. So, I didn't really realize when I started writing that I was going to be writing about mental illness. And then it became apparent that that was a factor of one of the characters. And yes, then I did research, I plundered my dad for information. And also, I just think, talking to people like you, listening, reading, I think that just really helps as well. And as a journalist, you know, my day job is as a journalist, and I get to meet extraordinary people. And as a podcaster, I get to talk to people who have been through really difficult things. And so, I think I learned a lot from that, as well. 

Sathnam Sanghera 
How do you balance the journalism and the books? I mean, this is something I think about a lot, because I guess I do a version of what you do, although I don't write as much fiction, and I always think that journalism is in the business of answering questions and literature is in the business of asking them and not necessarily answering them. I mean, how do you feel about that? Do you feel they compliment each other? How do they sit alongside each other in your life?

Elizabeth Day 
I like that distinction very much. That sounds like a quote that will go into a dictionary of quotations, index Sanghera, Sathnam.

Sathnam Sanghera
You can have it put it into your dictionary man.

Elizabeth Day
I have felt that they are complimentary. I mean, I should preface this by saying I didn't have a choice, you know, I needed to pay the rent. And so, I needed to get a job that would bring in a regular salary. And I wanted ideally, to do a job that involved the thing that I most love in the world, other than my husband, my friends, and my cat. And that's writing. So that's how I got into journalism. And I had to fit in writing books around that, because writing books did not make me money for a very, very, very long time. And that's just a fact of life for so many of us. And I think that they can be incredibly complimentary. So, Homefires, my second novel, which you were kind enough to mention, was very much based on interviews I had done with families and parents who had lost loved ones and children during the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars, through lack of equipment, serving soldiers through lack of equipment. And I, that was something that was directly informed by my journalism. But I think on a kind of broader scale, asking questions, listening to answers, communicating something clearly to a reader who's got a minimal amount of time on a Sunday morning, whose attention needs to be engaged, all of that is so helpful when it comes to writing any book, whether it be fiction or nonfiction, because you realize that writing is as much a craft as it is an art. And it's a bit like building a dry-stone wall that you need to have the stones in, and you need to kind of keep building it and you need to not be fearful of the blank page. And having journalistic deadlines on such a regular basis is extraordinarily good training for that. And in terms of how I balance my time, I haven't quite nailed it yet. Because I think lockdown taught me that I would love to get into that flow again when I'm writing a novel or a book, I would love to have enough space in my diary to do that. And I probably need to make some changes to ensure that that happens. But at the moment, I'm in the happy position where I have a weekly column and basically, I give a day of every week over to that. And then it's a question of just seeing where other things fit in. I mean, often my diary is shaped by the availability of podcast guests, because it's when they can do the recording. And then I'll fit my other stuff around that.

Sathnam Sanghera
Yeah, I like what you said about deadlines. I always think that journalists who become writers, book writers, book authors, they don't really get writer's block because it's been instilled to them that they cannot miss a deadline. The clues in the name deadline, you're gonna die if you're going to miss it, you know, I mean, that's the way I see deadlines. But yeah, I mean, you've referred to all the things you do, podcasts, journalism, nonfiction, novels, radio and TV presenting, is there one thing you particularly enjoy? Or do you just enjoy them equally? Do you hate one thing sometimes, I mean, how does that change?

Elizabeth Day
Writing novels is my big love. Like, I cannot imagine a time in my life when I won’t. That's the thing that I've always wanted to do and that's the thing that brings me, I wouldn't say, I mean, yes, it brings me joy, but it's that lucky thing where I feel I'm doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing. When I'm writing a novel. I feel the most untangled I can ever feel on a personal level.

Sathnam Sanghera
I can't even really, I can't relate to that, on any level. I'm at my most uncomfortable when writing fiction, it’s so hard.

Elizabeth Day
That's so interesting. But you're an amazing writer, both fiction and nonfiction. How do you feel when you're writing nonfiction? Tortured? A bit better?

Sathnam Sanghera
A bit better. Journalism the easiest. But I mean, in your ideal world, would you give up everything else and just write novels?

Elizabeth Day
No, that's a really, really good question. Because in the past, I think I would have said that, but actually, I've discovered that I love broadcasting. I love the podcast, and I'm really enjoying doing Radio 4 Open Book. And I think I'm someone who needs, as a novelist, I feel like I need to engage with the world around me. I need the outside stimulation; I need other things. Because I'm sort of the anti Jonathan Franzen - Jonathan Franzen famously disables his internet when he goes in to write his 600 page tomes - and I think distraction can sometimes be absolutely necessary. Firstly, to avoid you going mad, and secondly, to ensure that you're still a player in the world around you. And sometimes I reward myself with little internet breaks when something's going wrong, you know, I like to have a little lurk on Tik Tok, and it just kind of refreshes my creative palette, 

Sathnam Sanghera
Oh my God, you're on Tik Tok now, as well?

Elizabeth Day
Well, I don't create any content on Tik Tok, I just look at other people's content, because I find it hilarious and innovative, but I just don't know how you would have enough time to do Tik Toks, it's a proper editing process.

Sathnam Sanghera 
Do you think this, you know, all the things you do is a reflection of your personality? Are you an introvert who likes being an extrovert occasionally? Or are you an extrovert who likes to be introverted, I mean, how does it work?

Elizabeth Day
I think I'm a high functioning introvert. So, I think I'm an introvert who's learnt how to be in a world of extraversion. And occasionally, that brings me great joy. But I do find, I have to be aware that I find I need to replenish my energy levels with time in solitude. And you know, this Sathnam, that's been one of the big juggles of my adult life is really balancing my need for hermitude, with my love for my friends. And I think in answer to your question more deeply, I think I have a lot of drive and that comes from a fundamental lack of self-worth.

Sathnam Sanghera
I was gonna get into that your lack of self-worth. Basically, you're a massive workaholic. I don't know any writer who works as hard as you. And I haven't quite worked out what drives you? Is it your, you know, your very demanding, but nice father? Is it something else? What is it?

Elizabeth Day 
I was sort of joking about the lack of self-worth, but absolutely not. Like it is that I feel like I've got something to prove. And I think that that comes from never having quite felt that I fitted in as a child, because we moved to Northern Ireland when I was four, I never fitted in there, I was always a bit of an outsider. I didn't have a great experience at secondary school before I went to Malvern this is and so it was that thing of almost wanting to prove people who doubted me or who underestimated me or who were mean, to me, it was like wanting to prove them wrong. And I actually think that that drives a lot of journalists and a lot of stand-up comedians. So, I'm grateful for it, because it's given me ambition and energy to do things. But I also think, and this kind of goes back to what I was writing about in Magpie, because I don't have children yet. And because I have always wanted to be a mother. I feel that I need to leave something else permanent behind. Not to get too morbid, but there's a sense that I want to contribute in a lasting way to the world, so I want to have a book because a book lasts forever. And so, a lot of it is displacement, I think from the sadness that I feel, not being a mother, but at the same time, I'm so grateful that not being a mother yet has given me all of this time and all of this drive to do the other stuff.

Sathnam Sanghera 
What do you think your 14-year-old self would make of everything you've done? Be honest.

Elizabeth Day
Now, I've been thinking about this a lot recently, because I just realized that I was stressed and sort of nervous in the run up to Magpie’s publication. And I really had to stop, take a breath, and give myself a good talking to, because I know 14-year-old me would be so thrilled, like she would be so excited to be living the life that I am. I need to remind myself, like, fourteen-year-old me would have been just delighted. I mean, my ambitions, at the age of seven, were to live in London to be a journalist, eventually to write books, to have a cat. And like, all of those things I'm doing, and I'm doing other things as well. So, I actually feel proud of myself in that respect. There, you've got, you've got me to say that thing.

Sathnam Sanghera
I mean, I feel like you've slightly overperformed, done a bit too much.

Elizabeth Day
I mean, I could probably do a bit less, I could definitely fewer things.

Sathnam Sanghera
Definitely do a bit less please make the rest of us feel a bit better about ourselves. To take a few years on, what would the writer who wrote Scissors, Paper, Stone think of your career now? I guess I'm trying to ask you, what have you learned about writing since?

Elizabeth Day
I remember being asked, I think when I published my second novel by a friend, would you rather win the Booker Prize or be an Amazon bestseller. And he is quite a bit older than me and I said I'd rather win the Booker Prize. And he was like, what? That's incorrect. You'd rather be a bestseller because a lot of people read your work, and you can make a living from it. And I think that's changed in my eyes, I think most young novelists setting out if they're really honest with themselves, have this ambition to be taken seriously, and to be deemed worthy of Booker Prize-dom. And actually, the older I've got, the more I realized that the most important thing for me is connecting with as many people as I can. And so, it's about readers reading my book, like that's what I care about. And I now care far less about accolades, because I've sort of seen inside how the sausage is made, I've now been a judge for the Women's Prize and I loved that experience, but I understand how subjective judging can be. And it's all random. Scissors, Paper, Stone era me, I'd be quite surprised, pleasantly surprised by the fact that Magpie’s been a Sunday Times bestseller, but it wasn't necessarily the way that I planned it, does that make sense? Is that a good enough answer?

Sathnam Sanghera 
Yeah, it's pretty good answer. Do you think the journey is everything?

Elizabeth Day
Definitely. Yes, I do. I do think that, and I think the launching How to Fail and writing a lot about failure and asking questions about failure has really shaped my worldview in that respect. Because I now understand that some of the best things in my life have happened as a result of things not going to the plan that I had set myself or the plan that I hoped for. So, the fact that I don't have children, or the fact that various relationships ended has led me to the point that I'm at now where I'm married to an amazing man who I met through Hinge.

Sathnam Sanghera
Do they sponsor you or something, do you feel like you have to mention them?!

Elizabeth Day
They've never sponsored me full disclosure, they've never sponsored me, but I'm just so grateful to them. And I've come into contact with so many incredible people from being able to live in LA for three months, or from chatting to other women about infertility. Like, I've met amazing people who are kind of pioneers in their own field. And I'm so grateful for all of that. So, I do think the journey is everything. I actually think connection is everything so connecting with people and with ideas and with life along the way. That's what brings meaning to my existence.

Sathnam Sanghera
I agree with you, you gave the right answer, the journey is everything. But if you had to pick some things you have achieved that matter to you, which ones matter to you the most?

Elizabeth Day
Okay, I’m going to say something actually quite embarrassing, but it's the first thing that I think of, which is my degree!

Sathnam Sanghera
That's so, so pathetic.

Elizabeth Day
I know. But can I tell you why. So, I did not expect great things of myself at all academically, or when I went to university and to find that I passionately loved my degree subject and then was actually like, okay at it was nothing short of miraculous to me. I still pinch myself and I still can't believe that I got that opportunity and that I did well. 

Sathnam Sanghera 
I know you're too humble to say what you got, but you've got a double first from Cambridge University, it’s pretty impressive.

Elizabeth Day
Didn't you get a double first? 

Sathnam Sanghera 
No, I’ve got a single first. I'm a loser. 

Elizabeth Day
We have to stop this conversation because it's so egregious. But I still, you know, when people have recurring nightmares, my bad dreams are all about sitting my finals and doing really badly. And so, it meant something huge to my psyche. It was the first time that I think I believed in myself, and that I kind of confounded other people's expectations of me. So that was really important to me. And then every single book I published, I'm really proud of the fact that they're published, and the podcast, How to Fail. Those are my key professional achievements. And then personally, I'm really proud that I battled on through the wilderness of online dating and found someone who I can't quite believe exists, but he does.

Sathnam Sanghera
He does. I've seen him, he does exist. 

Elizabeth Day
Yeah, you can bear independent witness to that.

Sathnam Sanghera 
He's got a face. So, what's next, what else is happening in your incredibly overactive professional life? 

Elizabeth Day
Well, I've almost finished the UK series of Married at First Sight. So, I've been watching a lot of reality television. What's next is I'm attempting to write a nonfiction book on friendship of which you Sathnam are an integral part. So, I'm interviewing five of my closest friends, who each have something, I think, very meaningful to say about friendship, and that will provide the kind of scaffolding of the book. And then I'm doing sort of thematic chapters about what friendship means and how we approach it, because I think during the pandemic, we've all undergone a kind of reassessment of the importance of friendship in our lives. And so, I kind of want to examine that because I don't feel like it gets enough airplay. And I'll continue with the podcast. And I am in the process of again, attempting to adapt How to Fail my sort of memoir, sort of manifesto into a fictionalized TV series. So I’ve been commissioned to write a pilot and I'm sort of trying to write a script, which is really, really hard.

Sathnam Sanghera
I thought you were going to say you're adapting Magpie, because I can really see it as a TV show.

Elizabeth Day
Oh, well, I've got an exciting meeting about that tomorrow. I didn't want to adapt it though. Like, I never want to adapt any of my novels. I'm really excited to see what other people might do with it. It's just such a different skill set, isn't it? I mean, you know, this from The Boy in the Topknot.

Sathnam Sanghera
It’s so hard for anything in TV to get made, you don't want to be the reason why it doesn't get made. Yes, I think it'd be an amazing TV show. And it's a great book. Thank you for talking to me today.

Elizabeth Day
Thank you for being such a delight as ever to talk to and you have been atypically complimentary, and I appreciate that. That means for the next decade of our friendship that you can just gently troll me face to face when we next meet. 

Sathnam Sanghera
Yeah, that's it, no more compliments. But no, I really enjoyed talking to you and hopefully we can meet in real life in London and then one day at the actual Birmingham Literature Festival.

Elizabeth Day
I loved doing that festival with you whenever it was, two years ago. Let's get back there as soon as possible.

Sathnam Sanghera 
Yeah, that was amazing. I realize you must do that every night but that sticks out for me as a really fun thing.

Elizabeth Day
It was a really special one. Yeah, we'll do it again.

Sathnam Sanghera
She says sounding like The Rolling Stones - yes, that was really special, that gig in Denver. But anyway, thanks for your time. 

Elizabeth Day
Thank you Sathnam.

Outro

Thank you for listening to this week’s episode of the Birmingham Lit Fest presents…podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, we’d love for you to tell us about it – leave us a review or a rating and find us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @bhamlitfest. 

You can download our latest podcast episodes, every Thursday, from all the places you would normally get your podcasts and find transcripts of our episodes in the shownotes and on our website at www.birminghamliteraturefestival.org
 
The Birmingham Lit Fest Presents... podcast is produced by 11C and Birmingham Podcast Studios for Writing West Midlands.

What is Birmingham Lit Fest Presents….?

The Birmingham Literature Festival Podcast - Welcome to the very first Birmingham Literature Festival podcast, bringing writers and readers together to discuss some of 2020’s best books. Each Thursday we’ll be releasing new episodes of the podcast, including wonderful discussions about writing, poetry, big ideas and social issues. Join us each week for exciting and inspiring conversations with new, and familiar, writers from the Midlands and beyond.