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It was the first of Spring and a lovely day for meeting one of Streatham’s up and coming superstars. Streatham has both a historical and contemporary forte for attracting quality musical and literary personalities across the spectrum from Dr Johnson to Dave the Rapper and I’m pleased to report the current zeitgeist does not disappoint. In a quiet, lush and surprisingly large garden in south Streatham, I had the privilege of interviewing Elizabeth S Moore (or “Lizzie” as she introduced herself) for this piece and meeting her husband and her son. Her first book, “The Man on the Middle Floor” has just been released and is very much the talk of the literary town. I’ve read it and will desperately try to avoid spoilers here, but, nevermind me, she’s just been named WH Smith’s “Fresh Talent” for 2018, and love him or hate him, Piers Morgan loved the book so much it’s the only book he’s ever tweeted about. And he’s right. Buy it; read it. Seriously, it’s good. But more about that it in a bit.
Lizzie comes from Surrey and Burgundy but has lived in south west London since she was nineteen, and in Streatham Common for twenty years. Her father and godfather worked in the wine industry, with her father selling it and her godfather tending the grapes and making the wine so some of her school years might have been spent learning subtle differences between vintages, learning about crop blights and, of course, the local terroir, and none of this did her career any harm whatsoever. She has loved writing from her mid-teens. Although she married young and had three children before the age of 23, she kept paper to hand and never stopped writing. This love initially coalesced in the form of journalism as she wrote variously for Good Housekeeping, then later for Decanter Magazine on the wine trade to the Spectator to Riddle Magazine, a current favourite of hers. Almost 10 years ago, when the financial crisis first hit, she and her family moved to South Africa where her husband comes from. There she found a plethora of new ideas, sensations and opportunities to write about (for pay, even). A topic of conversation that chimed with me was the range of situations, characters, scenes and so forth, she has available to use, collected from a life lived to the fullest, in many countries and even on multiple continents.
Much of this comes out on the pages of her book. The experiences, the conversations, the people she’s known she says contribute to her characters and stories. And what great stories! So far I’ve only read the one book, and a few articles, by her, but they sing as if she’s been holding them in so long they want to burst out upon the page. Not to over-egg it but Piers Morgan and I may finally agree on something.
Without giving too much away, the book is about three people living in flats in the same house, and the interactions between them in spite of the intense social disconnection each of the characters experiences personally on an ongoing basis. But the amazing thing is chapters alternate between characters, and are written from their point-of-view, in their mindset, and very different characters they are – a washed up cop, a young man with profound Asperger’s Syndrome and a repressed, workaholic academic. Yet Lizzie gets into each of their heads and writes as them, allowing you to look out at the world through their eyes. The empathy acrobatics on a chapter change is hard enough so writing this must have been strenuation measured on a Sisyphean scale.
And those are just the basic ingredients. The herbs, spices aromatic oils and flavourful roasting fats of the story are the writing itself. Something that really grabbed me right away was being reminded of two favourite authors. There are lashings of Dickens in the scene setting and the personability of the characters as inhabitants of their situations, but that’s not all. Go into WH Smith’s or Waterstones and pick up her book; turn to page 11 (paperback edition) and read the first paragraph of Chapter 1 as Tam exits the Tube and tell me you don’t see wonderfully lyrical echoes of Victor Hugo in modern print. If that doesn’t do it for you, go to page 277 and read the hilarious, and then poignant, description of Notting Hill. You can’t live in Streatham and not smile then nod at that. And if you do, buy it. You’ll love it.
Read and learn more at www.elizabethsmoore.com
“The Man on the Middle Floor” is out now, available at all quality bookstores and on Amazon Kindle.
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