Amy Lip­trot in­ter­view

Le pre­mier ro­man de l’au­teure écos­saise Amy Lip­trot.

Vocable (Anglais) - - Édito / Sommaire -

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.


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."


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."


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.

(Li­sa Swar­na Khan­na)

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