Sunday Times Bestselling author Elizabeth Noble writes intricate novels depicting the lives, loves and struggles with identity, faced by mothers, daughters, sisters and friends. Having adored novels like Love, Iris and Things I Want My Daughters to Know and having the pleasure of hosting an event where Elizabeth was a panelist, I was eager to sit down with her for a chat about her latest novel, The Family Holiday, discussing how she writes, her thoughts on current discourse in the literature world and her family.
Her ninth book, The Family Holiday is about a multigenerational family who go on holiday to The Cotswolds with the intention of becoming closer after the passing of their mother. Their 80 year old father initiates a family trip, longing for the closeness lost after his wife’s passing, his relationship with his children and his children’s relationships with each other are placed under the kind of microscope only a trip away together can provide.
Elizabeth shared the reasoning behind this:
“The mother is often the head of the family, the matriarch and the person that keeps it all going. Not always, of course, but in many families that is the case and this particular 80 year old (the father), his wife died 10 years ago. He has felt this gap acutely since she passed and he feels his family could benefit from some time together. So, channelling his dead wife he decides to take them away on holiday.”
Elizabeth brings a reflective understanding to much of her writing, particularly when it comes to relationships, and for many people, their mother is the constant driving force of the household, and this kind of sentimental understanding is very much at the forefront of this novel.
“I don’t know about you, but when I ring home and my dad answers the phone, he will still say ‘Hello darling, how are you? Let me just go and get your mum!’, and I don’t think that is that uncommon, and in this novel, Charlie is that dad.”
Charlie feels this distance between he, his kids and his late wife, and so wants to “recapture some of the closeness he feels they have lost.” Family seems so important to the writing of Elizabeth Noble, and she finds the different seams of contemporary families and the unconditional love that comes with that, and the fact that a family is always held together by these ties but also made more complicated by these ties, very interesting.
So much of Elizabeth’s writing surrounds the themes of family, and with two daughters settled in the Surrey Hills, it is hard not to draw parallels between her own family and those she creates in her novels.
“I think there are always those echoes. I find everybody interesting and I am very nosey so I have never written a straight portrayal of a particular individual but I probably absorb all kinds of things about the people in my life and then it all comes back out.”
Her daughters, Ottilie and Tallulah are a huge part of Elizabeth’s life, and she writes eloquently about motherhood and its importance. It is hard not to see the experiences she has had as a mother complimenting her narratives. However, some areas of motherhood, Noble has not experienced, for example, a mother’s experience of grief which places curiously into question how she is able to write about this.
“There is a big debate going on at the moment, that lies on the fringes of the free speech debate, about whether we can write about something we haven’t directly experienced. Because if you extrapolate that out, it is suggesting that you have to have killed someone to write a thriller. If I have ever been writing about something I haven’t experienced, I feel as long as you do it mindfully and with some degree of authenticity and understanding, I can write about what is a very individual emotional experience.”
I was really interested to hear about a hellish or hilarious family holiday experience Elizabeth has had, coming from a big family with two siblings, a very vocal matriarch and numerous nieces and nephews who are close, and spend many trips away together. Family holidays always have the potential to create a new running joke, or anecdote to tell five years down the line- perhaps making them such an especially brilliant thing to write about- and Elizabeth’s own experiences were no different.
“There do tend to be quite long trips to the shop, when someone has reached the end of their tether and takes themselves off for a seven hour supermarket trip just to get a bit of time on their own… We tend to laugh a lot, and I did save my nephews life on a holiday and my daughter did decide to run away from a house in France naked.”
Yes, that’s right, in amongst hilarious chatter and conversation about her family, Elizabeth just sprinkles titbits of comical family stories. I had to hear more about her saving of her nephews life, but decided to save her lovely daughter, who joined us for coffee and a chat at their stunning home; the embarrassment of going into the nudity story on record (she would like it known she was very very young though).
“My nephew fell in the swimming pool and everyone was getting ready to go out for dinner, and I had had a shower and had dried my hair and put makeup on and I was the only person at the pool. I remember looking at his little face in the water and thinking: ‘I’m going to have to come in aren’t I?’. I mean the fact that I even thought about it is quite shocking. But you know, having to redo your hair versus telling your sister you let her toddler drown… Okay then…”
Elizabeth’s family are close, even in adulthood, with nieces, nephews and cousins growing up together, despite the distance that comes with adulthood, in Elizabeth’s case, when she and her family live in New York for several years. But she says wisely, “in a family everyone has their roles, and they never often outgrow them, or are allowed to change it… Most jokes we make are unfortunately at my father’s expense, but that is just family!”
The novel features siblings who fill these roles, who have had children at different times and have followed different paths in life, much like Elizabeth and her siblings. But she says:
“Families are muscle memories”
Everyone is able to fit back together and find their role in the family structure, and this novel explores how that can come to be.
The pandemic we have found ourselves in has brought many families together, physically or emotionally and in that somewhat fraught time, reading has become an escape from the news, tensions and reality. Elizabeth is currently reading Now and Then by William Corlett, an exploration of male homosexual relationships in boarding schools and beyond. Elizabeth did stress however that she finds reading fiction while writing fiction tricky, because it can feel as though the two often overlap. Elizabeth also brought up the novel she recommended at our event in March, Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez which we at The Hysteria Collective feel is a must read. This book, while being revolutionary, uses knowledge instead of anger to challenge the patriarchy, which Elizabeth reflects on:
“Knowledge is the best tool we have to unpick this anger. Maybe the fact that (during this pandemic) we had nothing else to do but read and think, if we were fortunate enough to have that time, maybe that will be helpful… When change happens, the pendulums often swing, and that swing is a big arc, and there is a settling. I think we will have to at some point reach a place that is more settled and temperate in our endeavours for change, because it is a bit of a frightening time.”
Despite this novel only having come out during this strange Lockdown/Pandemic Period, Elizabeth’s next novel is expected to be released next year. The upcoming novel revolves around affairs, and is titled Other People’s Husbands. This saucier, more sultry novel will be a different route for Elizabeth, and we cannot wait to read it.
Elizabeth describes her latest title, The Family Holiday as “uplifting, relatable escapism”, and we cannot think of a better novel to settle down with for some light relief from the chaos of current affairs, sinking into the refreshing waters of someone else’s family; although perhaps not like her nephew.
You can get your copy of The Family Holiday here!