Lexie Elliott - crime writer and endurance athlete

Episode 6

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[Music] Hello I’m Marcus Railton and this is the Scotscare podcast. Scotscare is the only charity dedicated to helping disadvantaged Scots in London through a range of support including mental health therapy, financial grants, advocacy, sheltered housing for older Scots, job coaching, social events, befriending and support for Children and Families. The Charity’s been running for 400 years to help break the cycle of poverty experienced by some Scots.

In this series of the scotscare podcast I’ll be chatting to celebrities and supporters of the charity that have also forged a life in the capital away from home and about the ups and downs that can bring. With me today is crime novelist endurance athlete and channel swimmer Lexie Elliott. Lexi’s latest book is rather scarily called How to Kill Your Best Friend, so I think today I’ll just be sticking to nice questions.

Scotscare: supporting Scots away from home in London.

Hi Lexie hello how are you?

I’m good.

Have you been training this morning? Because I said in the introduction to the podcast that you were a pretty high-end athlete so have you been up and at it this morning?

I have um my youngest son and I went for a two-hour bike ride actually.

Wow are you are you an early riser naturally or does it does it still hurt?

It does still hurt a little but I feel so annoyed with myself if I let the day get away with me, and if you push your exercise to the evening quite often something gets in the way, so I do try and get it done in the morning.

Let’s get the book bit out of the way so that I could get to talking about you. I love the title of your new book how to kill your best friend and I think it just jumps off the shelf. Did you think that idea up, is that yours?

It was actually it’s the first um title that I’ve ever come up with that’s stuck and in fact for this novel the title was the first thing that came to me and I immediately thought oh that’s interesting you know why would you even want to kill your best friend? What must be in the history the shared past of these friends that that would even be something you’d consider. But normally I write a book under some kind of you know, working project title knowing full well that that would stick.

Yeah I was thinking about that I wonder how many people do that you come up with a a great title and then almost try to you know reverse ferret into it and create a plot all around the title.

Yeah I I don’t know how often it happens it certainly never happened for me before, it’s just a jumping off point I suppose uh that intrigues you and then all the other things that you normally do like ordinarily I would start with a setting and an atmosphere that intrigues me and in some way I want to explore a little more and then the cast of characters come to me um and all of that happened after I’d come with the title um so the normal process did kind of resume it’s just that the titles seem to jump ahead of its usual place

Yeah a friend of mine used to work for one of the red tops I can’t remember if it’s the Sun or the Mirror, and he said they used to have regular brainstorm meetings where they would think up headlines for stuff that hadn’t even happened yet.

I heard that I mean there’s that famous one about um Ally McCoist isn’t there like super illegals ballistic Celtic word atrocious or something like that that was a bit Caledonian thistle super Cali uh went ballistic Celtic were atrocious ah so they had it in mind I hear for Ali McCoist and then they realized that they could repurpose it um and when you know events transpired as they did so um it’s an interesting way to to do the news that’s for sure I know.

Does your does your husband contribute to your ideas and your plots?

No but I do occasionally ask him about legal angles because he is a lawyer um so the Missing Years particularly had

a couple of technical points well which turned out were different in Scotland anyway but I just talked to him about

well how would that work and you know um that gave me a bit of background to

to go and research it a bit further Christopher brookmire came on the podcast recently and he was talking about how he writes and I said do you

have to have a a certain setup you know because we started speaking about how I’d gone I’d take the kids to the Royal

doll house and look at how Roald Dahl wrote and you thought wow what this man achieved in a ratty old armchair with

this board across his knees and I said do you need something like that Christopher and he said no I can I can write anywhere but what I have to do is

walk I have to be able to get out and walk and then he takes a tape recorder or a phone with him and then he kind of

transcribes the idea once he gets back do you have a process that works for you well before the pandemic I never wrote

at home um because I would just find uh something anything to distract me I mean

it’s amazing how interesting doing the laundry seeds when you’re trying to avoid writing so I would go and write in

a cafe often actually at my local Leisure Club so that um I would have

coffee on top if I needed it and I could just sit down and crack on and then of course the pandemic happened and I

realized I was never going to write another word if I didn’t figure out how to write at home so I got pretty good at

it and now I would say I really can write just about anywhere um I probably spend 50 of my time writing

at home fifty percent elsewhere uh I sometimes a change of scene is needed

just to break up the day and to give you some fresh ideas but I do some something like Christopher I I do find that when

I’m stuck what works for me is to go for a run or go for a swim and and just give

your brain a chance to I don’t know get wiped clean get by the cardio and and maybe come up with a fresh angle on

things um but I don’t ever use a voice recorder or anything that’s not a processor I use

well do I find it quite heartening that you say you get distracted because I get terrible distracted I get distracted you

know when I’m doing it even when I’m prepping to talk to you on the on the podcast and I’m interested in it I am

and I I really look forward to speaking to you but suddenly I do have to empty the dishwasher and I’ll have another one I’ll have another or I’ll put the

washing out the back so I think when I was reading about you and I was thinking my goodness this is such a disciplined

woman to find that you are human as well and you want to maybe put the laundry on is is super I think it’s happening for

us average Mortals well I think um most of life is about uh

trying to work out what works best for you isn’t it about what your process is to get the most out of uh yourself and

you know sometimes that means accepting that yeah you probably will go and put the laundry on and then sometimes that’s

accepting that you know if you have something on in the evening that you’re looking forward to going to then give

yourself a word Target and um you have to hit that word Target before you can go and do this other

thing that those little micro deadlines can be quite helpful where’s your accent from Lexi where were you brought up

uh about 20 miles north of Sterling all righty oh okay oh that’s interesting

yeah because I was thinking you you sometimes start a slightly glass region but you know did you go to the same school as Andy Murray

uh for high school yes Ah that’s a pretty good alumni you and Andy Murray

yes people always say oh if I had nothing else to do if I all I had to do was write a book I could write a book but you wrote a book while bringing up

two kids and having another job is that not just too much well I always wanted to be a

writer and the thing was um being a writer is um you do actually have to write you have to have a project

to go out and Hawk if you actually wanted to be published uh so I was

writing alongside but initially I was just writing short stories and so forth

and and what actually happened was I got uh well I lost my job in the global

financial crisis I was working in Investment Banking and I was one of the many who who found themselves without a

job um in 2008-2009 uh and at that point whilst I was looking for something new

and had had very young children uh I thought maybe this is the time to kind

of throw myself into a project of a novel and I’d had some recent success a short story could uh

competition to that point and I think that gave me the confidence to think yeah let’s give this a crack

um but then I did get an another job and and I was working three days a week um in the city in Asset Management

um which I did right up until recently and in fact how to kill your best friend was was written all all through that

time when I was holding down that job also um and I I at the time said that

actually it was a really good balance I mean at times it was completely nuts and I had to take Holiday from work to meet

a writing deadline for example um but I was just about sort of juggling

it and writing is very solitary so I did enjoy the social aspect of going into

workplace but but that became very different in the pandemic you know there wasn’t the same social aspect of doing

the work three days a week from your from your own house and then writing from your own house you know I and I

started to think that actually it would be quite nice to to be full-time on the writing and and that’s where I am now

but I’m not ruling out um doing a little bit more work in the in the financial industry because

um I do enjoy that I I have a brain that kind of works that way as well so um yeah maybe maybe I’ll be mixing the

two in the future who knows are you able to compartmentalize your time I don’t something I don’t do very well that

example of this is like we’re driving along the other day and Rafe my nine-year-old he’s got a very idiosyncratic brain and he was asking me

why he keeps seeing certain adverts on the internet so basically he’s asking me to explain the Google algorithm to them

as I’m driving and and Indie my four-year-olds in the back going what’s

an algorithm what’s Google you know and so it’s just it’s just bloody chaos right as you’re trying to drive and at

the same time as all this has gone on I still have my work Thunder and through my head like a steam train a lot of the

time I find it very difficult to say now I’m with the kids now I’m just working can you can you find that

compartmentalization I Think It’s tricky at times um particularly if I’m really heavily

into the writing process it’s much easier if I’m just uh in in an editing phase but if I’m heavily in the writing

process I I need to pull myself out and actually really properly engage and and

be conscious of trying to do that um because it’s not it’s not that fair to

the kids that they come home and they have a mum who’s like you know with six other characters that don’t exist in our brain

um so yeah I do notice that too that it can be quite tricky and sometimes if I

know I’m going from writing to I don’t know spending time with the kids I give myself like a coffee break or something

just to try and clear my head before I before I re-engage with them

[Music] Scott’s care for Scots in London in need of support Financial practical or

emotional help he said right from childhood and I’ve

read this about you you’ve said that you wanted to write but your career path kind of took you in a different direction because you did physics at Uni

and then you worked in in banking which are very fact I might have this wrong you may be

able to kind of amalgamate the all in your head but they seem to be very fact-based almost scientific things and

then and then to write a book seems right the other it’s kind of the polar opposite of that a very Arty thing to do

how did you always did you just have an articide and a factual side I tend to think of people are one or the other

I had and have a um a complete love of

words and um literature and reading and you know I’ve always had that side of me

and I as as you say I always always wanted to write as soon as I knew the

books didn’t magically disappear that somebody had actually written them as soon as I was old enough to understand that then that was what I wanted to do

but I also understood you know growing up I look I was in no way

um in a childhood with them uh with difficulty but um you know also

wasn’t a childhood where you thought oh I can go and do whatever I want and

there’s there wasn’t a trust button to pick me up right I needed to get a job that would pay the bills and I think

when I when it came to going to University I was dithering between English and physics and my feeling was

that you could follow an interest in literature in your own time but you couldn’t do the same with the physics

and the physics was more likely to to lead to you know a good job and

um I suppose uh I think there are lots of things about

having done a Physics degree and a PhD in physics in fact um that I I ended up

lending themselves to uh some disciplines that are very good as a

writer for example when you do a PhD there’s nobody who has the answers and nobody’s going to finish it for you it’s

very different to doing a degree if you get stuck when you’re revising for your degree you go find a tutor or a lecturer

who can help you answer this particular type of question and you learn how to do it and it doesn’t work that way for your

for your doctorate it’s kind of all on you and you know books are all on you and all from your own head and nobody’s

gonna make you finish it except yourself um so that discipline is really good and

also I think there’s a certain structure to to writing a novel that really hangs

together and again a discipline to thinking that through and holding it all in your head and I don’t I don’t think

that’s so very different to some of the things I learned um through um

coding and financial modeling and and that side of things um and I think that my career uh in the

financial industry taught me to be professional and that um translates very well across to the writing because at the end of the day

your publishing editor wants you to deliver things on time they want you to be polite they want you to take

criticism and see how you can better your product and they want to go home on

time and see their own family and not be stuck in the office because I needed to school so I couldn’t deliver

you know so I think it helps that I I learned how to be very professional

where does the Drive come from Lexi is it from your parents because you when you look at you and I I’m I’m sure like

all of us you’re just human and you have your wobbly moments but what have you always been so driven was that your

parents because when I look at you and I read about you you’ve run marathons you’ve run Ultra marathons you’ve you’ve

swam or has it swum the channel which I want to come back to yeah but that’s

that’s extraordinary these are extraordinary achievements you know me just think I can’t even go to the gym in

the evening I’d rather pour a glass of red wine and binge watch Netflix so where does your drive for that keeps you

moving forward I’m not sure whether it came from my parents they certainly give me every opportunity for anything I was

interested in but I tend to think those kind of uh drives just are in you or

they’re not you want to do this stuff or or you don’t I guess um and whether it’s an element of

proving yourself maybe I I certainly felt after swimming the Channel that I had proved myself in swimming and if I

never swarm I never another another stroke that actually you know I I had

really proved that I I was a good swimmer but I I I think it’s it’s just looking for

things that are fresh and different and you know even now my husband and I are always looking for something fun to do I

think we’re going to try some of these um swim run where you you swim a little

section then you run and then you’re back in the water and then you’re running again and you do it as a team and you know that’s something new for us

and I think we’re always looking for something that seems like it’ll be fun and a new experience

like you don’t get to your level of success without stumbling how do you shake off the black dogs or the failures

when you’re saying you know I want to swim the channel or I want to run this Marathon you don’t just get up and run it you must have you must have bad days

as as well as good and possibly as many bad days where you don’t feel it yeah you really do

um and I think that’s part of the discipline of it to to keep moving forward and not let them derail you

because yeah you certainly do have have bad days and you doubt yourself um

I with time you perhaps learn to trust the body of work that you’ve done better

and that applies to the writing too you know um The Forest book I’m not going to

say it was easier to write but I had more faith maybe that I would get to the end and that I would get over any of the

obstacles and stumbling blocks along the way um and and then the other thing about me

and the sporting stuff I would say is that actually I’m one of those people who enjoys the training

um whereas some people just enjoy racing and competing I actually do enjoy the

training and I enjoy the feeling of a

long run both during Maybe not immediately it probably takes a good 20 minutes to get into it but you know I

enjoy the experience and I enjoy how I feel after it um and all of that just becomes you know

a virtuous cycle I guess to to to tell you the next time you don’t feel like doing it you’re like come on get out the

door you’ll be fine you know do you ever meditate Duncan Poe and I the Star Wars

actor were talking on the podcast and he said meditation has kind of changed his life it allowed them to gonna come his

head a bit or is that what the running does for you when you’re just pounding the miles yeah I think that’s what any kind of you

know long cardio does for me and meditation yeah um you know oh good luck to all of

those for whom it works for and you know that’s great that they find something and it just doesn’t seem to be for me

yeah I read a quote which I really liked that you said you said people in your life are what make it worth living

that’s if you don’t mind me asking did this philosophy come sharply and to focus after your mum passed away in 2020

um I think it probably was more kind of breath of

my kids where it that becomes very much the thing and you realize you know these

these little creatures are just amazing and uh and they really are what what

makes and what makes your life um my mum passing away it was such a

long process I mean Alzheimer’s is is such a cruel disease and it certainly doesn’t strike swiftly or suddenly uh so

I feel like uh that was a series of small goodbyes if you if if you want to

put it that way for a very long period of time so there weren’t any Stark

realizations along the way with that and did that coincide Lexi did that coincide

with covert did that make it even more difficult yeah so she did um she did pass away

during covet um I guess it was August 2020

um it made it a small funeral because there was uh limits on how many people

could be there I think in Scotland it was 20 at the time um having said that that made it a

really close really really just a very close family and very close friends uh

type of funeral which was wonderful too but having said that my mum had been such a vivacious sociable woman she’d

taught for years there would have been lots of people at a funeral had been able to be you know a big event and I I

was sad about that but also I was pleased that I was able to have a proper chat with everybody who who was able to

attend um and it was a quite a nice goodbye

um I I look I think funerals can be desperately sad if it’s a real surprise

and and my mum’s death shouldn’t have been a shock when it happened but

somehow these things always are a little um but yeah you as I say I’d had many years

to expect it to happen and um it was really nice to have a a coming together

of the people that meant the most to her yeah my mum passed away in 2012 and then my dad passed away in April 2020 during

the covered thing and that was difficult because we couldn’t at that point even have a funeral and we had an unattended

service and you know I didn’t see him before and but you know and so

a days I still feel very overwhelmed by it if but if I look in I try and take a positive from it is that that did

connect me more to my kids it could have made me think about my mortality more and and I tend to get caught up in work

and so it did allow me to go back to that word I said earlier compartmentalize a bit and that’s why your quote kind of struck me a little

bit people in your life are what make it worth living and what I’ve been trying to do is kind of I didn’t spend much time with my extended family do you have

extended family the closest family is obviously the the four of us my husband and the two kids um and we see my sister

who’s a little older than me but has three three-year-old Twins and we try and see her as often as we can we try

and see my dad um Matt’s parents live not terribly far away from us in Southwest London and his

brother and his wife and their two kids are not terribly far away and and those are the people that we we mainly see

um there is uh my nana lives in Birmingham and it’s actually been more

difficult to go and see her through obviously the pandemic when you’re trying not to drag covet into you know a

woman in her I’m sure she wouldn’t like me saying her age but you know she’s not too far from the Queen’s age

um and uh you know and I wanted to go and see her just recently but one of the boys had a cold and you’re just I I

can’t I can’t do it I can’t take you know anyone who’s sick to go and see my nana so that becomes more difficult

um but yeah we do we do uh try and see family as as much as possible there’s

there’s always so much going on and you do have to really work hard to find uh

time to to put it in the Diaries to make sure it happens I think otherwise you know time just races away from you but

I’m sorry you didn’t manage to have a funeral that must have been very sad did you manage to do anything a little bit

later or we went back to Scotland and we planned we planted a tree in the garden

here just outside London and we we planted a tree in in the uh the crematorium and so I and you know know

what the strange thing is I now probably go back to Glasgow more since my dad

passed away than I did when I used to speak to him everyday on the phone but it’s like oh that was felt like a

reconnection with Scotland and trying to to get back more and and try I tried to take my kids back more and say look

because my kids live just outside London they’ve got loads of cousins that live just outside Glasgow and saying no these

people are your family you know let’s but as you say the time and then

mobilizing the families like mobilizing an army and then you have to remortgage the house to do it and it’s so we we

yeah we can yeah yeah I think that’s right everybody does what they can I’m very conscious of my sister’s twins like

my boys are the only cousins are ever gonna have and it’s really really

important that there’s a connection there and I I’m just like with you I feel like that makes us really put it in

the diary we must we must go but I love taking the boys up to Scotland and my

youngest particularly is so taken with it I mean he’s trying to work out if he could go to university in Scotland and

if you could live there he just really adores the countryside and the people

and and feels very at home there so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he ends up living in Scotland my nine-year-old

Rafe thinks he can do a Scottish accent and I think he said he sounds like an American leprechaun

really really bad Scott’s care

helping to break the cycle of deprivation for Scots in London

swim in the channel which phenomenal achievement can I just ask I know you’ve you did it let’s go away

from the the athletic prowess it took to do it were you scared I was scared before I did it of the just

size of the challenge at the moment that I had to climb basically um I wasn’t scared

during it um I think once you’re in a thing you’re you just kind of crack on there was a

slightly disconcerting period when um so I swam through some water and it just

didn’t feel right and it felt like it was tugging me down and I’d looked ahead before and I’d seen it was like a little

bit glassy uh but I just felt like I was getting tugged down and I stuck my head up and asked the uh people on the boat

you know what’s going on and they said it’s okay just swim through it swim through it

um and they told me later obviously you know once I would I was done with the swim that what happened was a tanker had

done essentially like a skidding sharp turn there and it sets up uh a sort of

mini Vortex a mini Whirlpool um and it’s not it was never going to be strong enough to drag me down or

anything but that was what I was feeling that little tug there um so that was kind of interesting I do

remember thinking this just doesn’t feel right but I don’t know that I was scared because the boat was right there to fish

me out if I really was and some life-threatening danger but I do remember being thoroughly daunted and

really worried beforehand that that I just wasn’t going to make it across but

not only is it it’s like 20 nearly 22 miles that you swam and it’s one of the

busiest shipping lanes in the world why do you set off at 2 A.M is that just to add an extra Fear Factor

so it’s very much dependent on on the tides um and so they the boat pilot will

look at you know your speed and and you don’t actually swim a straight kind of 22 miles you you swim really far east

and then the tide turns and brings you back really far west and you hope it delivers you bang on cat Green Day and

that’s the expertise of the boat palette because they’re setting the course and you’re just kind of swimming alongside the boat

um so yeah that that was that was it it was very much dependent on you know the

the tides um on the particular day that I was swimming that meant that 2 A.M was the right start which was fine um it was

quite choppy to begin with um and obviously dog but kind of cool

you know I had a light stick in my goggles and a light stick um pinned to

um the bottom of my swimsuit so that they had two reference points they could see if I started you know swimming off

to a completely the wrong direction somewhere towards Norway or something um and uh can you imagine that no that

would have been an achievement first woman to swim to Norway especially if you were planning to get to France yes

so uh yeah and and it was quite surreal I mean that it experience of swimming

and you seeing lights on tankers or the Old Ferry or something like that thinking there’s probably no one else in

the water I think there might have been a relabel in the water at some point during the night um but I’m thinking how

many people in the world are ever going to have this experience this is really cool would you do it again

or would you plan some would you swim another large body of water

you know for doing the channel again people often ask me that and my answer

is that normally when you do an athletic Endeavor again it’s because you want to do it

better which usually means faster and with the channel you know you could be in much better shape and still do it

slower because it’s still conditions dependent I suppose if one of my kids wanted to do

it and wanted me to do it too I might say yes but you know they’re at the stage where they swim faster than me

anyway so you know I don’t think there would be much Point um would I swim something else big yeah

maybe um but also there’s other challenges that I might decide to do instead so

uh yeah I I don’t know haven’t got an answer on that one okay we can come back to that one day now you’re writing your

fourth novel bright and deadly things I like that that’s another great title yeah that was me too

is this the first one you have written without having to look after the kids and go to work is this the first one

where you’re sitting down as a full-time novelist yeah I think maybe the first few chapters happened before that but then

the bulk of it has been you know full-time novelist um and it was a it was a tough uh novel

to write to me it took me a while to sort of find my way into it but it’s

it’s finished um I’m doing kind of the tail end of the copy editing and there’ll be proofing

but it’s it’s pretty much done and dusted actually if all goes to plan when will that be on the bookshelfs

uh early next year I’m afraid I don’t have a particular date but I think um

probably towards the end of the first quarter of next year oh great well would you come back and speak to us when it’s

out more than happy to speak to you anytime oh good I’m glad you didn’t say no

would it be a little awkward wouldn’t it no these awkward questions no no thanks yeah but no Lexi Elliot thank you very

much for being part of the Scotts gear podcast oh it’s been a pleasure thank you so much

Scott’s care the charity helping to break the cycle of poverty some Scots

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