It gives me great pleasure to welcome author of ‘Last Letter Home’, Rachel Hore, to TWG today as I put her in the hot seat by asking her a few questions! Before we begin, here is a little bit about Rachel’s new book, as well as the all important ‘buy now’ link should you want it!
From the bestselling author of A Week in Paris, and the Richard & Judy Bookclub pick A Place of Secrets, comes a gripping and moving story spanning 70 years, set in Italy and in Norfolk.
On holiday with friends, young historian Briony Andrews becomes fascinated with a wartime story of a ruined villa in the hills behind Naples. There is a family connection: her grandfather had been a British soldier during the Italian campaign of 1943 in that very area. Handed a bundle of letters that were found after the war, Briony sets off to trace the fate of their sender, Sarah Bailey.
In 1939, Sarah returns with her mother and sister from India, in mourning, to take up residence in the Norfolk village of Westbury. There she forms a firm friendship with Paul Hartmann, a young German who has found sanctuary in the local manor house, Westbury Hall. With the outbreak of war, conflicts of loyalty in Westbury deepen.
When, 70 years later, Briony begins to uncover Sarah and Paul’s story, she encounters resentments and secrets still tightly guarded. What happened long ago in the villa in the shadow of Vesuvius, she suspects, still has the power to give terrible pain …
‘Last Letter Home’ will be published by Simon & Schuster on the 22nd March. You can pre-order your copy in all formats, right now, from Amazon UK.
TWG – Hi Rachel, thank you so much for joining me today! Could you tell us a bit about you and your background before you began writing?
If you’d asked me when I was very young whether I wanted to become a published writer I’d have been bemused. It would never have occurred to me. I didn’t know any authors or anyone who aspired to be one. I’ve always read endlessly, though. I studied History at university, and got into publishing after taking a secretarial course. Later, as an editor, working with novelists such as Barbara Erskine and Jenny Colgan, I learned a great deal about the techniques of writing fiction. Actually doing it was much more challenging. After nine books I still feel I’m learning.
TWG – What made you decide to write your new novel?
I love walking round old walled gardens where flowers, fruit and vegetables used to be grown for the Big House. They feel safe and secret, and the perfect place to set a love story. During World War II many were destroyed or abandoned. In LAST LETTER HOME, my pair of lovers, the gardener and the land girl, are separated by the war, but the garden re-mains a symbol of their relationship.
TWG – How hard was it to find the inspiration for your book?
Ideas for stories are everywhere if you start looking – in a newspaper, a nonfiction book, a pub-sign, a real-life situation that you hear about. The atmosphere of an interesting place often gets me started. I begin to brood about the people who might have lived there. The problem I have is one of focus. It can be hard to decide who will be the central characters and what their backgrounds should be. Deceptively small details such as a parent’s occupation can affect aspects of the plot later on. When I actually start writing scenes these things tend to iron themselves out because the characters come to life – it’s the planning stage I’m bad at.
TWG – If you could pick a favourite character from your novel, who would it be and why?
I am very fond of Sarah Bailey, the focus of my past story. She’s a sensible type, but has to manage her icy and manipulative widowed mother and a vulnerable young sister. All the time I was writing I was wondering what had originally happened to this family to make them this way, and why it was that Sarah was able to be the strong one.
TWG – Did you ever regret writing a character into your story after it was published?
What an interesting question! Not a character as such, but the name of a character in THE HOUSE ON BELLEVUE GARDENS. After it was published a woman I met at my Pilates class came up to me and told me I’d called a central character by her name and it had upset her. She thought I’d done it deliberately, yet I hadn’t met her until the book was written and still didn’t know her surname. We avoided each other for a while after that!
(TWG – omg! what are the chances of that!!)
TWG – Did you find yourself under any personal pressure for your debut novel to succeed and be liked by many?
Yes, definitely. For my publisher (I wanted them to commission more books) but also for myself, to feel that I’d succeeded. When I was actually writing it my ambitions were much more modest. I’d be pleased if I could finish the book, I’d be pleased if I could find an agent, then a publisher. The trouble is that the more you get the more you want. It’s im-portant to stand back occasionally and be pleased simply to be yourself.
TWG – Time for a tough one, if you could choose any book that has already been published to be the author of, which one would you choose and why?
Ah, that negates what I’ve just said about being yourself! That said, I’d love to write as delicately and powerfully as Tracy Chevalier. My favourite book of hers is The Lady and the Unicorn, which conveys such a convincing sense of being an ordinary mediaeval woman.
TWG – What does your ‘writing space’ look like?
Very messy, I’m afraid! I have an Edwardian attic that has never been done up and is only heated by a portable electric fire. Books that I’m consulting lie in piles everywhere and I also have a lot of postcards and pictures from magazines pinned up on a board to inspire my charac-ters and settings. Were there any authors you wanted to be like, when you were a child? No authors, but I desperately wanted to go to boarding school like Enid Blyton’s Twins at St Clare’s. What I wanted, of course, was the fun bits and once I’d read Tom Brown’s Schooldays I changed my mind.
TWG – If you had to sum up your book to a stranger in five words, what would they be and why?
Love, war, family and relationships. All my books are about love, family and relationships and the conflict that separates us from one another.
TWG – What’s coming up next for you?
I’m in the middle of writing the next novel, which is set in the interwar period and doesn’t yet have a title.
TWG – One final question. What advice would you give to a writer that wants to be published? Any words of wisdom?
Make the work as polished as you can before you show it to a professional (such as an agent or publisher). Research literary agencies and publishers to make sure that you approach one who publishes work in your chosen genre. Check their websites to make sure that you are sending your work in the way that they ask. Some agents want a synopsis, for instance, others only want the first three chapters.
Big thank you to Rachel Hore for answering my questions like a pro! I am actually cringing for her about regretting a character! My goodness!!!
Don’t forget that Rachel’s novel, ‘Last Letter Home’ will be published on the 22nd March and is available to pre-order right now from Amazon.