– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –
Today I’m on the ‘You Let Me Go’ mini blog blitz, organized by Rachel’s Random Resources.
To promote this book I have a Q&As post, but before I let you read it first some ‘basic’ information.
About the Author :
Eliza Graham’s novels have been long-listed for the UK’s Richard & Judy Summer Book Club in the UK, and short-listed for World Book Day’s ‘Hidden Gem’ competition. She has also been nominated for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.
Her books have been bestsellers both in Europe and the US.
She is fascinated by the world of the 1930s and 1940s: the Second World War and its immediate aftermath and the trickle-down effect on future generations. Consequently she’s made trips to visit bunkers in Brittany, decoy harbours in Cornwall, wartime radio studios in Bedfordshire and cemeteries in Szczecin, Poland. And those are the less obscure research trips.
It was probably inevitable that Eliza would pursue a life of writing. She spent biology lessons reading Jean Plaidy novels behind the textbooks, sitting at the back of the classroom. In English and history lessons she sat right at the front, hanging on to every word. At home she read books while getting dressed and cleaning her teeth. During school holidays she visited the public library multiple times a day.
Eliza lives in an ancient village in the Oxfordshire countryside with her family. Not far from her house there is a large perforated sarsen stone that can apparently summon King Alfred if you blow into it correctly. Eliza has never managed to summon him. Her interests still mainly revolve around reading, but she also enjoys walking in the downland country around her home and travelling around the world to research her novels.
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After her beloved grandmother Rozenn’s death, Morane is heartbroken to learn that her sister is the sole inheritor of the family home in Cornwall—while she herself has been written out of the will. With both her business and her relationship with her sister on the rocks, Morane becomes consumed by one question: what made Rozenn turn her back on her?
When she finds an old letter linking her grandmother to Brittany under German occupation, Morane escapes on the trail of her family’s past. In the coastal village where Rozenn lived in 1941, she uncovers a web of shameful secrets that haunted Rozenn to the end of her days. Was it to protect those she loved that a desperate Rozenn made a heartbreaking decision and changed the course of all their lives forever?
Morane goes in search of the truth but the truth can be painful. Can she make her peace with the past and repair her relationship with her sister?
First of all thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions, I really appreciate it. Here we go! 🙂
Can you, for those who don’t know you already, tell us something about yourself and how you became an author?
Thank you for having me on the blog! I grew up in a London suburb, later studying English at Oxford University. For reasons I still don’t really understand, I worked in what was then called a merchant bank. I spent most of the time in a daydream and not surprisingly it wasn’t a great success. So I switched to writing copy and doing PR for an exhibitions company, moving on to financial and professional services PR and marketing. By the time I was 32 I’d written hundreds of thousands of words but none of them fiction. As I’d been a great reader since childhood (see below) this struck me as strange, so when I was first pregnant and working from home I started writing novels. The first one was awful—I can’t tell you just how dire it was. The second attempt actually did get published as my second novel, RESTITUTION. Meanwhile, I’d written a third book, PLAYING WITH THE MOON, which was published as my first novel by a Macmillan imprint in 2007.
All my books have historical settings, at least in part. Often they are blended narratives: past and contemporary. I’m very interested in how history affects present generations, how secrets and traumas trickle down families. The Second World War and its aftermath have fascinated me since I was a child. We used to stay with my grandmother and sneak off to play in the old air-raid shelters, to her horror! She said they were full of rats and drunks.
Which books did/do you love to read as a child/now as a grown-up?
I read everything from C S Lewis to Ruby Ferguson, author of the Jill pony books, also taking in Malcolm Saville’s children’s books. These days I still read very widely: often rereading the Victorian canon, especially Trollop, Dickens and Wilkie Collins, then switching to psychological and spy thrillers. I like a good horror novel, too. Strangely enough, or perhaps not, when I’m working on a book, I tend to avoid historicals set in the 1930s and 1940s as they’re too close to my own work.
Is there a writer whose brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
Almost any novelist who wrote before typewriters and especially laptops: I’d like to ask how they managed to form sentences and outline paragraphs, pages and chapters in their minds before committing them to paper. On a laptop you can take chances, write something down and then delete most of it and take another stab at it. I’m imagining that if paper was a more expensive commodity and writing a process that required more manual effort, you’d take great care. You wouldn’t be slapdash. I’ve seen some manuscripts where authors have crossed out and rewritten, but you could only do that so many times.
If you could, which fictional character (from your own book(s) or someone else’s) would you like to invite for tea and why?
I love Alan Furst’s spy novels, set in the noir-ish 1930s and 1940s. He’s so good at depicting world-weary, yet usually worldly but essentially decent characters who find themselves in a world sliding into destruction. I’m not sure I’d invite them for tea; would it be OK to meet one of his most alluring male characters for a drink in a Paris café? This encounter would take place on a warm late-spring evening in a non-COVID world. The lime trees will be blossoming. I want to hear the stories of escape, the great rivers crossed at night, the night-time arrests dodged, the friends made, the affairs started and abandoned, the moral compromises and acts of courage.
Do you have some rituals or habits whilst writing?
Only really bad ones, like distracting myself with online browsing instead of knuckling down to tackle difficult plot areas! I need to substitute some good habits instead. All suggestions gratefully received.
Where do you come up with your idea(s)? Do people in your life need to be worried? 😉
I never know where ideas come from. I read at least three books a week, listen to a lot of radio and watch TV most nights, so it’s hard to tell what’s percolating away in my head.
I very rarely base characters on real-life characters, though. However, I once saw this young girl dancing at a local village festival. It was midsummer, beautiful evening light, and she had long red hair and wore a leaf-green dress and the sunshine caught her and turned her all to gold. She looked so happy, so at one with her surroundings and could have been dancing at midsummer in any century. Something about her was just magical, almost mythical, and I am still trying to fit my fleeting impression of her into a book.
Are you a plotter or do you go with the flow, as a pantser?
I’m a bit of mixture. I produce a short outline of what I’m trying to achieve in a book, then plunge in and write as much as I can, almost off the top of my head, while the energy and enthusiasm is powering me forward. Then I stop, draw breath, print off what I have, assess whether it’s working and panic like mad. I then become more analytical, possibly using software like Dramatica Pro (though I’m not very skilled on the program). Sometimes I change POVs, first to third and vice versa, to see whether I’m getting a better feel for the character.
I think if I planned the whole book out in advance it would feel as though I’d already written it and I’d find it hard to inject any energy or excitement into it. On the other hand, producing 85,000 or so words that didn’t work would be a waste of valuable time. So I aim for a rather woolly pantser/plotter compromise.
Can you give novice writers some tips (do’s/don’ts)?
• Read a lot both in your chosen genre and more widely. I don’t know any authors who aren’t greedy devourers of books.
• Do get a critique partner or join an online (or in real time, if and when you’re somewhere that’s not COVID restricted) writers’ group. Nothing is as good for your writing as reading someone else’s manuscript and formulating thoughts on it and receiving your partner’s comments in return. It can be a lonely process and companionship helps. I’ve made wonderful friends this way.
• Don’t be disheartened if it takes some time to reach a professional writing level: when I first started someone told me to think of a three-year apprenticeship or university course. It seemed like a long time but it actually took me about five years in the end before I had my first novel accepted. Resilience is probably the most important personal quality for a writer as you do get knocked back many times.
What are your future plans as an author?
I’m in the early stages of writing a new novel. It’s set on a liner making the hazardous journey across the North Atlantic in 1941 as German U-boats prowl around. Any moment now it’s going to be struck by a torpedo and the passengers, including refugee children, will be placed in terrible peril. The story’s loosely based on the real-life wartime sinking of several ships carrying civilians.
Last, but not least : Can you give my readers one teaser from your book, which is featured here on my blog, please?
When I was small the days and weeks leading to the third Saturday in July would slow to a crawl. I usually packed my rucksack a week ahead of departure, refusing to remove my colouring pens, pyjamas and spongebag from it. Finally we’d shrug off school and set our alarm clocks for half-five to avoid the holiday traffic heading out of London to the south-west. Dad would worry that we wouldn’t fit the rubber dinghy and oars into the boot. My older sister would fret that she hadn’t packed enough pairs of shorts and books to read. Mum would fuss about the neighbour forgetting to water the pots on the back patio. I’d be sitting in the back of the car, silently bellowing at them all to hurry. I wanted to be in Cornwall. Now.
Anticipation would weigh down the last mile of the drive through narrow-banked lanes to Helford, crushing me so I felt close to panic. Sometimes I made Dad pull over because I thought I might actually throw up. ‘Stop being weird.’ Gwen would screw her features into a grimace. ‘We’re only going on holiday. Can’t you just be normal, Morie?’
But staying at Vue Claire was never just a holiday for me. Time spent with my grandmother in her house on a small creek off the Helford estuary on the south coast of Cornwall was the part of the year that mattered more than anything. She’d be waiting for us at the front door, her rare but dazzling smile illuminating her face. Mes petites. She’d enfold us into her cashmere- or linen-clad arms, scented faintly with the woody-citrus scent she’d worn as long as I remembered.
I’d dash through the house, leaving the others to bring in the bags, and out of the back door, over the small lawn that sloped to the water. If it was high tide, I’d lie on the jetty and dip my hands into the water. At low tide, I’d pull off my sandals and jump off the jetty to wade through the pools left behind. Gwen would complain that I wasn’t doing my fair share of bringing bags in from the car and I’d have to sever myself from the estuary and go to help.
I loved the white-walled interior of Vue Claire as much as the outside. Rozenn – for reasons nobody could recall we had always called her this rather than Granny, Grandma or a French version – stored curious wooden carved animals and puzzles in an old wooden chest. There were games, books, sketching pads and grown-ups paints we were encouraged to use. Sometimes I’d catch our grandmother watching us approvingly as Gwen and I sat close together, my auburn and Gwen’s blonde heads almost touching as we played a card game. Rozenn would take us to the nearby riding stables for pony trekking and take photographs of us on sturdy ponies: me beaming, Gwen more wary.
‘Stay close to one another,’ she urged us as we grew up into such different people. ‘Sisters should be part of one another’s lives.’
But then she herself had done the thing most likely to rip us apart.
Isn’t that a great reason to pick up this book and to find out more?!
Thanks once again for this lovely interview, Eliza Graham.
Win 3 x Paperback copies of You Let Me Go by Eliza Graham (Open to UK / USA only)
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P.S. Are you an author (or publisher) who also wants a FREE interview like this? You can always contact me via e-mail!