For the love of lit­er­a­ture

Edi­tor, pub­lisher, and Flip­side cre­ator Liz Calder CBE

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Cather­ine Larner Š PHOTO: Chris­tine Fisher

There are many things that must go through your mind when your name is in­cluded in the Queen’s Birth­day Hon­ours, not least keep­ing the date free (and what to wear!). One of the UK’s most re­spected lit­er­ary fig­ures, pub­lisher, edi­tor and Suf­folk res­i­dent Liz Calder, vis­its Buck­ing­ham Palace later this year to re­ceive her CBE for services to lit­er­a­ture. As a young woman, Liz was a suc­cess­ful model in Brazil, and is likely to be less daunted than most by the dilemma of ap­pro­pri­ate at­tire. But she has had to wait three months to learn the date of the cer­e­mony (De­cem­ber 13).

“I felt a bit queasy about [be­ing awarded] this CBE,” she says. “I’ve al­ways thought that an hon­our of that sort isn’t given for just do­ing a good job, it’s for an iden­ti­fi­able achievement, some­thing that has changed things, that has made an im­pact.” For the au­thors, pub­lish­ers and read­ers who have ben­e­fited from Liz’s in­stinct for good writ­ing, there is no doubt she has done just that. In­deed, this year, Liz has also been elected an Hon­orary Fel­low of the Royal So­ci­ety of Lit­er­a­ture and awarded the Ben­son Medal for ex­cep­tional ser­vice to lit­er­a­ture.

First work­ing as a ‘public­ity girl’ at Vic­tor Gol­lancz in 1972, Liz quickly rose to the po­si­tion of ed­i­to­rial di­rec­tor and then joined a ri­val com­pany, Jonathan Cape, be­fore co-found­ing Blooms­bury, the home for Harry Pot­ter.

Liz launched the ca­reers of Sal­man Rushdie, Ju­lian Barnes and Anita Brookner, and was the first UK pub­lisher to work with John Irv­ing. She helped nur­ture writ­ers such as An­gela Carter, Anne Michaels and Jeanette Win­ter­son. Ear­lier this year, she saw an­other of her writ­ers – and good friend – Michael On­daatje re­ceive the Golden Booker Prize when his fa­mous novel, The English Pa­tient, was named the read­ers’ favourite over the past 50 years.

“I would have liked to have gone to the cer­e­mony,” she says. “But I had a long-stand­ing ar­range­ment to have a tea party here for all the peo­ple from the al­lot­ments.” So, in­stead of join­ing the literati in Lon­don, Liz was serv­ing tea and cake to the gar­den­ers of Halesworth.

Liz has lived in Suf­folk for 13 years. She moved to be nearer to her daugh­ter and had been told about the county by a col­league, writer Kevin Cross­leyHol­land. Per­versely, she says, he was so en­thu­si­as­tic about ev­ery­thing Suf­folk had to of­fer, she thought she would stay away. How­ever, she re­alised that a home on the coast would mean reg­u­lar vis­its from her grand­chil­dren. “We grad­u­ally dis­cov­ered Suf­folk to be the won­der­ful place it is. We to­tally love it now. We wouldn’t be any­where else, so, of course, Kevin was right.”

Liz was brought up in New Zealand and spent her early mar­ried life in Canada, the USA and Brazil, be­fore re­turn­ing to Lon­don and a life in pub­lish­ing. Brazil, where she learned Por­tuguese, re­mains a pas­sion and she re­turns reg­u­larly. For the past 15 years she has been the pres­i­dent of FLIP, an in­ter­na­tional lit­er­ary fes­ti­val in Paraty, a small fish­ing vil­lage be­tween Rio and São Paulo.

It’s about as far from Suf­folk as you can imag­ine but, over the past six years, Liz has suc­cess­fully brought the spirit of South Amer­ica to Snape Malt­ings through the Flip­side Fes­ti­val. Now the First Light project will take art, mu­sic and lit­er­a­ture to young peo­ple in Low­est­oft and Great Yar­mouth, while pop-up au­thor events are planned through­out the county. The first of th­ese took place in the sum­mer when Liz in­vited Michael On­daatje to launch his new novel, Warlight, which is partly set in Suf­folk, at The Cut in Halesworth.

Since 2009, Liz has cel­e­brated works of art, fic­tion and po­etry cre­ated in or about this re­gion through the small pub­lish­ing com­pany she formed with friends, Full Cir­cle Edi­tions. Life is still very full.

“I am very grate­ful to have reached the age of 80 and still be up­right,” she says. “I have ob­vi­ously in­her­ited good health from my par­ents and my up­bring­ing in New Zealand, with plenty of open air and healthy things to do.” She eats well, prac­tices yoga, and en­joys be­ing at home, she says. “I ab­so­lutely love any­thing to do with the house and gar­den, in terms of dec­o­rat­ing and shift­ing fur­ni­ture. I share an al­lot­ment. Ev­ery­one else’s is neat and tidy and ours is a bit of a mess, but there are things grow­ing and it’s a lovely at­mos­phere.”

Hav­ing led such a fas­ci­nat­ing life and ca­reer, when will Liz write a book of her own that tells her story?

“I am writ­ing a sort of mem­oir for my grand­chil­dren, but I haven’t got very far. It’s go­ing to be a per­sonal fam­ily story be­cause I think that’s im­por­tant.

“But I am not go­ing to write a book. I know my lim­i­ta­tions as a writer. You have to be driven to write, to be pas­sion­ately driven, and that isn’t hap­pen­ing, or not yet. There’s al­ways time.”

‘I felt a bit queasy about this CBE’

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