Amy Liptrot interview
Le premier roman de l’auteure écossaise Amy Liptrot.
La journaliste écossaise Amy Liptrop a cherché à fuir sa petite île natale des Orcades dès son adolescence. Pourtant, c’est en rentrant à Orkney qu’elle a réussi vaincre son alcoolisme, puisant l’énergie nécessaire à son rétablissement dans les paysages sauvages de cet archipel. Elle raconte son épopée et le rapport salvateur à la nature dans L’Ecart, très beau roman autobiographique publié en août prochain aux éditions Globe. Rencontre.
As Amy Liptrot prepared to take the decision to leave her life in London, in order to return to her parents' sheep farm on Orkney (the island on which she was born and that she had longed, for years, to escape), she found herself faced with a journey that had the potential to mark the beginning, or the end, of everything. Behind her lay a metropolitan life of chaos, alcoholism and despair. Before her, the possibility of recovery and renewal; but also of a final plunge into the world of addiction that had already come close to destroying her.
A QUEST FOR FREEDOM
2. As she says in the early pages of The Outrun, her remarkable account of her journey from the misery of dipsomania to the promise and freedom that might be found in sobriety: "Going back to Orkney would be a test. If I got to a year sober, still hadn't found decent work and still felt frustrated, I would get an anonymous job somewhere, maybe as a cleaner, move into another rented room, cut myself off and just drink. It would feel so good to give in."
3. When I meet Liptrot in a vegetarian café in Bethnal Green, an area of London in which many of the darker elements of her story were to unfold (and the place where she had her final drink), I ask her about this moment. "I was sort of plotting against myself," she says. "It was an option for me to return to drinking, and I'd think about how I could do it. But in a way, knowing that I had that choice put me in control of the situation."
4. Listening to Liptrot talk about her childhood, it seems as if that search has been under way since infancy. "As a child, I didn't know much outside the farm. But as a teenager, I got into music and got much
more interested in what was going on in the cities. And that led to a sense of frustration." Then there was the question of alcohol. "I had my first drink at the age of 15 or 16, similar to other people at school. But I always loved it."
5. By the time Liptrot left Orkney to study English at Edinburgh University, that draw had increased in strength. "I went to escape Orkney as much as I did to study," she tells me. "I read and worked, and I was highly involved in the student newspaper. But I also partied very hard: bars, pubs and clubs, and the free-party rave scene that was going at the time, which introduced me to drugs. Looking back, there were certainly quite a number of worrying incidents."
6. But when she moved to London at the age of 23 to become a writer and journalist, her grip on her life began to weaken. "I'd had some freelance work for publications such as The Face and the NME, and I'd done a blog that had got a bit of attention. But because of my partying I rather screwed up some opportunities that I had, so I got dayjobs working in corporate communications and industry magazines." It was while trying to hold down these jobs that her drinking slid out of control: before long, "All of the things that they tell you will happen to alcoholics began to happen to me."
THE LAST CHANCE
7. So, after several failed attempts to treat her addiction, she asked for a final time to be referred to rehab. She knew this would be her last chance. But her feelings about Alcoholics Anonymous were complicated. "As someone who's not religious, their spiritual basis was a concern. But I went to a large number of meetings [...] and there are a lot of tools that I've gained from it. But it's all the things that I write about in the book – the sea-swimming and the birdwatching in Orkney – that have been most important to me."
8. Yet Liptrot, who is now 34 and back, for the time being, in London, hadn't turned to the natural world of Orkney with a sense that it would offer her such forms of sustenance and comfort. Her considerations, initially, were practical. "By necessity, my lifestyle changed dramatically when I stopped drinking. I avoided the places I used to go and became more of a daytime rather than nighttime person. Going for walks around the coast of Orkney and visiting other islands at first quite simply gave me something to do with myself."
RECONNECTING WITH NATURE
9. And then, around a year after she first got sober, she began to feel that the islands of her birth were holding on to her. She spent time with her divorced parents; with her mother in Kirkwall, her father on the farm, and later at a small cottage on Papa Westray. But "a big turning point" was finding a job on a bird-conservation project monitoring corncrake populations for the RSPB. In time, Liptrot grew steadily more aware that there was a world of stimulus, connection and escape beyond the one that alcohol had always promised, but never fully delivered. "Gaining knowledge about, and affection for, the place began to fill the absence that had been created when I stopped drinking," she tells me. "Repeated observation of the same place meant I was able to understand the cycles of the tides, the weather and the seasons."
10. Liptrot's account of the role these phenomena played in the ongoing story of her recovery – a tale of hunting for merry dancers (aurora borealis) in the midnight sky; of a burgeoning sensitivity to the movements of the seas and shifts in the wind; of a deepening love of the customs and the continuities of island life – results in a work that is at once a hymn to the importance of history, and a deeply affecting account of her determination to find and embrace the freedom of sobriety.