Libby Page tells Faith Eckersall how she dedicated herself to writing a debut novel which led to a six-figure publishing deal for what is set to be the book sensation of the year

You may not have heard of Libby Page of Gillingham. But you soon will. Just as you’ll be seeing her debut novel, The Lido, in every bookshop, newspaper and magazine. And probably on screen eventually, too, because it’s set to be one of the publishing sensations of 2018. ‘This debut is set to be one of the biggest of the year,’ said Grazia magazine.

And it’s not just because it was discovered on the slush pile. Or because it sold within 24 hours for one of those magical, six-figure sums, to more than 14 territories.

It’s not even because its writer is just 25. It’ll strike a nerve because it’s an uplifting story of a young journalist who teams up with a redoubtable older lady to save a London swimming pool. And, one suspects, because its author is an ‘ordinary girl’ from Dorset who didn’t trade on her connections to get it published.

Because she doesn’t really have any. “I went to my local state school in Gillingham where I grew up,” she says. “I’d always loved writing and wanted to be a writer, but did it in my own time.”

Libby studied fashion journalism in London before eventually moving into marketing because: “I found that writing full-time made it hard to write creatively. It was easier to have that headspace rather than be writing all day.”

Her happy Dorset upbringing played its part, too. “I’d lived all over London when I was a student, first of all in Hackney, and I just took it for granted that I’d say hello to people as I went down the street, as you would in Gillingham,” she says.

Eventually she ended up in Brixton and: “The thing that struck me was that it had a community that I could recognise, having grown up in a small community myself.”

The lido of her novel is in Brockwell, near Brixton and, like the local library, it became a place of reflection for her.

“Brixton was a community which was under change – big chains moving in, expensive blocks of flats being built and I felt that we needed to protect these places and so the story started,” she says.

She collected ‘snippets of ideas’ and thought about her characters as well as weighing up whether her story was one she really wanted to write, squeezing in the hours before and after work. She made some progress, but realised that if she was to make headway she’d have to ‘take some time off and just write’.

So she saved up, quit her job, and moved to Paris for six weeks. Just like Hemingway, Camus and Joyce. “Yes, I felt like a bit of a cliché, but it was just perfect,” she laughs.

She’d write all morning and then go off exploring different swimming pools and libraries in the afternoons. When it was time to come back she landed another job in London and started sending her book to agents. It was a year before she noticed an advert for a new agency which was asking for submissions, so she mailed off three chapters to agent Robert Caskie.

“I was away with my mum for a few days when I got the call,” she recalls. “Robert asked for the whole thing and a week later he asked to represent me.”

After a few editorial adjustments the book was put up for sale. “I was at my boyfriend’s parents’ house when my agent called and when he told me the news, I just started crying,” she says.

The ‘life-changing’ sum she has received has enabled her to give up her job and concentrate on promoting The Lido. “We have some festivals booked and I’m keen to visit towns with lidos to talk about it,” she says.

She’s now started tackling her next book and will remain in London but won’t forget her Dorset roots. Her mum, Sally, runsthe Plooms firm selling beautiful fountain pens from their family home.

“People I knew at school are reaching out to me on Facebook to say congratulations because they knew I’d always wanted to be a writer and they were pleased for me,” says Libby.

Despite her success she still has to remind herself it’s all true. “When I was a student I did a lot of campaigning about unpaid internships. I found it utterly unfair that people who can’t afford to work for free and live in London for free where those jobs and places are, aren’t progressing,” she says.

“Now I just want to shout it from the rooftops, that it is possible. If it can happen to me it can happen to anybody if you just put in the time and dedication.

The Lido is published by Orion. Available now.