In the latest of our books series, historical fiction author HAZEL GAYNOR talks life as a New York Times bestselling author, her FAVOURITE FEMALE FICTION of all time and what it would have been like to live in 1920s London, with SOPHIE GRENHAM …
Hazel Gaynor is one of historical fiction’s most exciting talents to emerge in recent years. She is the author of New York Times and USA Today bestsellers The Girl Who Came Home (2014) and A Memory of Violets (2015). She picked up the Romantic Novel Association’s Historical Novel of the Year award for The Girl Who Came Home and was chosen as one of the US Library Journal’s Ten Big Breakout Authors in 2015.
She has contributed to WW1 anthology Fall of Poppies – Stories of Love and The Great War (March 2016). She writes popular guest blog Carry on Writing for Writing.ie, as well as publishing interviews with such authors as Philippa Gregory, Kate Mosse and Sebastian Faulks, among others.
This month sees the highly anticipated release of The Girl From The Savoy, a sumptuous trip back to London in the roaring 1920s. Of the book, Kathleen Tessaro has said, ‘Hazel Gaynor captures both the heartache and hope of England between the wars in this richly imagined novel peopled with unforgettable characters, impossible ambitions and unexpected twists of fate. Once begun, I dare you to put it down.’
Originally from Yorkshire, she moved to Ireland fifteen years ago. She lives in Co Kildare with her husband and two children. She is currently working on her fourth novel, as well as a collaboration with American author Heather Webb.
I live in Kilcullen, Co Kildare. It’s a lovely town with a great sense of community. It reminds me a lot of where I grew up in Yorkshire. The Curragh is really close to us, which is great for family walks – and my attempts to take up running. We moved here from Dublin in 2005, just before my first child, Max, was born. We had friends who lived here and always really liked it when we visited. Bardons is a great pub and Nolan’s craft butchers is literally the best in Ireland and Great Britain (it won an award). We have a fabulous coffee shop, An Tearmann, which is a real social hub. I often retreat there to write when I need a change of scenery.
I write in the attic at home. Typically, you would see a tremendous mess in the room because it is also the kids’ playroom. I have visions of a clean, uncluttered writing space but family life doesn’t quite fit with that dream at the moment. It’s a bright sunny space to work in and I’m very lucky to have it. It certainly beats the kitchen table which is where I first started writing. My desk is covered with research books, notebooks, inspirational quotes and photographs for my current project. I especially love the sign my friend gave me as a gift after hitting the NYT bestseller list which says ‘Keep Calm And Remember That You Are A New York Times Bestselling Author.’ I’ve also written in departure lounges, on trains, on the rugby sidelines and in the hairdressers. Wherever and whenever really.
I love visiting The Gutter Bookshop in Dublin and always come away with far more books than I went in for. The shop is so bright and calm and the books are mostly front-facing, which I love. The Queen of Tarts is also across the road, which is another bonus. I also love Ulysses rare and second hand books on Duke Street. I meet friends in Carluccio’s for dinner every December and always pop in to browse their amazing collections. The shop has inspired part of my next novel. In the UK, I love Forum Books in Corbridge.
There are two I really admire and would love to have written. Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I read both when I was around fifteen and they had a real impact on me. I guess they were the first novels I really fell in love with, and I’ve re-read them many times since. They are both such great examples of brilliant writing, memorable characters and setting. Manderley and Thornfield Hall are characters themselves. Both novels have such a strong sense of place and dramatic landscape, and I love the gothic darkness of Mrs Danvers and Bertha Mason (the iconic ‘madwoman in the attic’). Also, both books have two of my favourite lines from literature. ‘Reader, I married him’ (Jane Eyre) and, ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again’, the opening line from Rebecca.
In Ireland, the Wicklow mountains. In England, the Lake District. I love to be near the water and find something very calming about climbing high and standing on a mountain top with amazing views below. I always feel invigorated after a good hike. It’s great to clear the mind and often a plot problem or something niggling me about my book will unravel itself as I walk and mull things over.
I grew up in a small rural village near the east Yorkshire coast. Sunday mornings were often spent at the beach (freezing cold!) and school summer holidays were spent cycling around the village with friends or playing in the local stream. We had amazing freedom then. My closest city is York – Betty’s tearooms is a must visit – and my home was only a day trip away from the Yorkshire moors and Haworth Parsonage (the home of the Brontës) and stunning Whitby Abbey. Robin Hood’s Bay would also be a favourite local spot. Of course, I didn’t fully appreciate it when I lived there as a child, but after leaving home at 18 to go to university in Manchester, I’ve grown to really appreciate it when I go home to visit my Dad and 96 year old Grandma.
On the idea of living in 1920s London …
Oh, if only! I would definitely have afternoon tea at The Savoy and go dancing at the Café de Paris or some such fashionable jazz club. I would go to see a show in the West End and I would have to visit Selfridges to get kitted out in all the latest fashions. When I research my novels, I can’t help feeling that we’ve lost so much from our past: a certain elegance and charm, a love of ballroom dancing, manners and etiquette. Life seemed so much simpler then. I would happily time travel to experience it all.
The Girl Who Came Home (€13.15, HarperCollins), A Memory of Violets (€11.70, William Morrow), Fall of Poppies (€13.15, William Morrow) and The Girl From The Savoy (€16.99, HarperCollins) are all available from bookshops nationwide.
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