Elizabeth Chats With…Sophy Layzell
This month’s guest is relatively local to me, living as she does in Somerset. However, in true twenty-first century style, we met online, via the wonderful network of Devon Book Club. Born in Laos, she was adopted by a family who fostered and encouraged creativity, and that shows in her life experiences: working as a commercial artist; running a drama school; selling upcycled and vintage goods. The tragedy of losing a 13-year-old daughter led to her setting up a charitable foundation to help children with brain injuries and raise awareness of organ transplants. And as if all that wasn’t enough, she has also published three novels and written a number of scripts for radio and theatre performances. I am delighted to be chatting today with Sophy Layzell.
Hi Sophy. Thanks for dropping by. Let’s start at the beginning. What is your earliest memory — and how old were you at the time?
I have several memories from when I was about three. We still lived in Chalcot Square, London, just around the corner from Primrose Hill and I can remember taking our dog (the first in a long line of Irish Setters) for a walk through very long grass, and my mother and I sat down so she could show me all the different varieties. It’s a memory I gave to one of my protagonist’s in my latest novel, Invisible Thread. Another is of pressing my face against the window so I could watch my father come home from work. Even though I couldn’t see his face I could recognise his walk and the way he carried his briefcase. It was one of the highlights of my day to shout, ‘I can see him!’
If you had to escape from a fire, what three things would you take with you?
I have been caught by a false alarm in a hotel many years ago, and from that experience it would seem that I would take absolutely nothing, not even clothes or shoes. My husband had to fling them on me as I tried to escape in a desperate panic. There was no fire, of course, so it was just as well that he did, for we all stood in the street for ages while they tried to work out what was going on.
In theory, I would like to think that I’d take something old and sentimental but in reality I would probably grab my laptop and phone. All my photos are on my phone and all my written work is on my laptop. Having already accidentally deleted weeks of work from my laptop, the thought of losing anything more would be agonising.
Talking about yourself, how would you finish the sentence “not a lot of people know…”?
Oh, that’s a tough question. Well, I suppose not a lot of people know that the country I come from, Laos, is the most bombed country on earth. 270 million cluster bombs were deployed by the US along the Mekong river between 1964 and 1973. 80 million didn’t detonate and are still being discovered today, usually by farmers and their children. It basically works out that they dropped a cargo load, every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years. I was orphaned and adopted in 1974 as a three month old baby by the Denny family. I often think how different my life could have been.
Where is your favourite place on earth — and why?
Again, I feel I should say something soppy, like ‘wherever my husband and daughter are’ but in truth my favourite place is my bed. I love getting into bed every evening. It calls to me. I look forward to it, the warmth, the comfort and time for reading.
Watch a film, go to the theatre, read a book or talk to friends — which would you prefer?
I couldn’t do just one, all the time. I like variety, but all those things are vastly pleasurable. I’ve been enjoying going back to live events with my friends after over a year of not being able to either put on a show (I run a youth theatre) or watch a show. I turn the TV on at about 8.30pm every evening, so usually choose a film and have a set routine of reading both in the bath and before turning out my bedside light.
Upload a picture or a photo that best represents you and tell us why.
This is the cover of my latest novel, Invisible Thread. It’s put together by designer Laura Clayton using my lino print. We have two cockerpoos, so the spaniel on the front reflects the joy our puppy displays at Lyme Regis chasing seagulls and the beach is where my husband and I have always gone on both our daughter’s birthday and deathday anniversaries. The book is a story drawn very much from my own experience of grief and has been described as a ‘stunningly written book’ with favourable comparison to The Lovely Bones. Suzie Grogan (writer and radio presenter), suggested it is the book I was meant to write and yes, it feels very much that way.
What would you have printed on the front of your T-shirt?
I would adopt the Jemima Layzell Trust’s motto which was my daughter’s favourite at the time of her death, ‘Live, Love, Laugh’. I know it’s become a cliché and rather lost its meaning but it’s actually a good reminder to re-set your priorities, so you know what’s worth valuing or fretting over in life, and what’s not.
Would you describe yourself as left-brain (analytical), right-brain (intuitive) or a mix of both?
I can be either left brained or right brained, but rarely at the same time. I have to consciously turn my right brain on for various analytical tasks but the left comes easily and intuitively.
Finally, what question would you ask if you were conducting this interview?
My question to myself is, how long can you continue with these rather expensive pre-occupations? My youth theatre was one that I ran for 10 years; and in its peak it had 140 children and 5 part time tutors. It has rather given way to writing which I had hoped would generate more income than it has. Both I approach seriously and dedicate time and energy to, but ultimately, they cost me more financially than I anticipate. When I started writing I didn’t realise the costs involved, the editing fees, the sub-editing and proofreading fees, the cover design, publishing and marketing costs. It’s partly me I think. I know there are cheaper ways to produce novels, but I know I need professional help.
So I’ve decided to dedicate 2022 to trying to find an agent and going down the traditional route. I’m not sure where to begin, plus I have two novels to finish first and a third I’m desperate to start. But I need to at least try and commit to trying properly. Wish me luck but if you don’t hear from me for a few years that’s because I’ve been unsuccessful and am crushed by the rejection and weighing up what to do.
Thank you, Sophy, for finding time to chat to me today. Readers, you can find out more about Sophy and her books on her website. Plus she can usually be found on Instagram; on Facebook; or on Twitter.