Author Interview – Gilly Macmillan

gillyHello Gilly! Thank you so much for agreeing to be on Notes on Bookmarks for an interview! With a brand new release, you must be very busy right now, so I very much appreciate you taking the time for me. I always start out my interviews with the same request and then we’ll go from there: please give us the 2-minute Gilly MacMillan biography and then spill one thing that not many people know about you (a favorite something, a weird human trick, etc).

Hello!  Thanks so much for having me on Notes on Bookmarks. It’s a pleasure to answer such thoughtful questions.

I was born in Swindon, Wiltshire in the UK and grew up there until I was in my late teens when my parents moved to Menlo Park, California for a few years, before returning to the UK. I studied History of Art as an undergraduate at the University of Bristol and did a masters at the Courtauld Institute in London. I worked in the art world in London for a few years, including the Hayward Gallery. After starting my family, I spent years as a stay-at-home mum and then eased back into work teaching photography.  I did that until I decided to try and write a book!

Something not many people know: one of my sons plays Timothy Turner in the BBC TV series Call the Midwife

51yos5ttoxl-_sy344_bo1204203200_We’ll tackle your books chronologically and start with What She Knew. I have been reading about you all over the internet, so I know you based this book on your own worst fear as a mother of three: that one of your children might go missing and you wouldn’t know what had happened to them. As a mom of three myself, I can definitely identify with that fear! In fact, I blame YOUR book for a brief stint in triage at the tail end of my most recent pregnancy! At my standard 36 week prenatal appointment, I had notably high blood pressure when I had been reading What She Knew in the waiting room. I switched books for the two-hour monitoring period and my BP went right back to normal! 😉 As you’ve continued to write (just released a second novel and working on a third), have you used this same “my own worst fears” technique to come up with ideas? Or have you started drawing more on the world at large and news headlines?

I’m so sorry about the BP!!!  What She Knew was certainly based on a core personal fear and I think that some of the themes in The Perfect Girl tap into fears of mine too, but I think you naturally begin to draw more on the world at large as you develop more stories, and I’ve certainly done that.  The Perfect Girl is based on a real court case I heard about, for example.

Having said that, I try to pick themes that I have an emotional connection to, because I want to make the books resonate emotionally with readers and I believe I need to care about the characters and issues myself to make that work.

You’ve spoken about how What She Knew utilizes social media almost as a character unto itself, but that you weren’t part of social media when you started writing the book. How did you capture that social media spiral so effectively when you weren’t yet part of that world? Or was joining Facebook part of your research for the book?

You’re right, I didn’t join Facebook or Twitter until long after the book was written, and my publishers encouraged me to. I wasn’t a social media user at all while writing What She Knew, in fact I was very ignorant about it, so I put in a lot of research to try to get it right in the book. As I was writing What She Knew there were two shocking real life cases of children disappearing in the UK and I followed them closely online as events unfolded.  I looked at the online comments people were making at the end of news articles and anything that was publicly accessible, including dedicated Facebook faces. I was particularly interested in the more extreme, personal reactions, because I thought they would be the thing that could hurt you the most if you were in the position of Rachel, the mother of the abducted boy in What She Knew. Some of what I read was shocking, and very sobering. It was a real education.

In your interview with Huffington Post, you discuss the title of the book a little bit and how What She Knew is really about mother’s intuition. How has your own intuition served you during your time as a mother? Do you think mother’s intuition is given full credit or discounted out of hand?

I think you have to use your intuition every single day when you’re a mother, because there is so much that you have to help your children through, at every single stage.  I’ve found it particularly noticeable because I have three children and they’re so very different from each other.  Advice I give to one sometimes doesn’t work for the others so you have to fall back on your knowledge of their personalities and strengths and weaknesses when you’re trying to help them.

That’s what I think intuition is built on: knowing them very, very well, possibly better than anybody else.  I’m not sure how much a mother’s intuition is given credit. I think that depends who you ask, but I certainly believe it can be a powerful thing.

Finally, with regard to What She Knew, let’s talk about how child abductions are very rare and there’s a whole movement for “Free Range Kids” in this age of the Helicopter/tiger mom. Where do you fall on that free-range/helicopter spectrum (or where were you when you had smaller kids instead of teens)? Did the research for this book make you more protective or worried as a parent? It seems to me like it might be hard not to internalize the narrative a bit?

I fall in the camp of what I would describe as common sense parenting. Children evolve so fast from the very first moment and I believe a huge part of a parent’s job is to prepare them for the real world.  That includes introducing them to freedoms as and when they need them. I wouldn’t advocate shoving them out into the world for the sake of it but I would say that the more skills you teach your kids, the better off they’re going to be. That includes independence so, yes, exercise common sense and caution where appropriate but don’t raise them in cotton wool or you’ll create some very dependent adults and that’s not healthy for their emotional development or future success.

I don’t think the research made me more cautious, because I’ve always been a careful parent, and the statistics I read do show how rare stranger abduction is.  However, I’ve been told off by many friends who live in Bristol, because they tell me they’re just that little bit more jumpy when they walk in the woods now!

01-perfect-girlNow, let’s move forward to The Perfect Girl, your new release about a young piano prodigy with a troubled past. We find out early on in the novel that a new horror has entered her life and live through a brutal 24 hours with her. You spoke in an interview with Harper Audio about how Classical music (which you listened to often while you were writing) is almost like a thriller in itself with its peaks and troughs and suspense and periods of rest. Is that a connection you made while you were writing the novel? Or had you thought that beforehand? Do you have any musical background yourself?

When I wrote my first novel, What She Knew, I listened to a lot of choral music to help me to get the tone of Rachel’s narrative, and a sustained sense of her trauma, so it’s certainly something I’ve done before.  When I was writing The Perfect Girl I would begin my writing day with Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie to get me started (Haruki Murakami describes that piece quite rightly as the best music for boiling pasta to – it’s so full of energy), and after that I would listen to four Chopin Ballades on a loop.  They were just perfect for writing that book.  I would also occasionally listen to Pachelbel’s Canon, which is the soundtrack to the opening scene of Ordinary People, a movie that was a big inspiration for The Perfect Girl.  It has such a note of sadness through it.

I’m not a musician myself, but my home was filled with Opera while I was growing up – my parents loved it – and one of my sons is a very good pianist. He introduced me to Chopin and lots of other wonderful music.

The protagonist in The Perfect Girl, Zoe, is a flawed genius. Her IQ is off the charts but her emotional life is pretty screwed up. Do you think that her emotional trauma comes mostly from her life experience? Or is it likely, in your view, that most super geniuses have a bit of a less well-rounded personality (this isn’t just you, of course, we see this often as a character in various novels)? Can we be brilliant feelers or can we only REALLY excel at one or the other?

That’s a very interesting question. I think it must come down to how we’re raised, and what we experience, in some ways.  As you say, there are certainly some people out there who have very high IQs and are not so good at relating to others, but I think there must be people out there who can do both.

In the book, Zoe’s emotional life is definitely screwed up, but I do think she’s also capable of feeling very astutely – she reads her mother’s emotions well, for example – so I think you’re right to say that her emotional trauma comes mostly (though perhaps not entirely) from her life experiences.  Her experiences have been so unusual – the musical brilliance and the contrasting darker worlds of guilt and imprisonment – that she can’t help but struggle to find other people to relate to.  When we meet her at the beginning of the book, she’s very lonely as a result of this and that can create a cycle of finding it difficult to relate easily to others.  There’s a lot of complicated cause and effect in Zoe’s case and I suspect that’s true of many people.

Since What She Knew was based on your (and my) worst fears as a parent, I can say that The Perfect Girl draws upon another of MY parenting fears (that some sort of injury would befall me, leaving me unable to care for my kids). You say in that same HuffPo interview above that “As safe as we are in our domestic environments, it just takes one moment to tip us over into a very difficult place.” Is that what every thriller preys on, do you think? The fact that one moment can change everything in your life forever? Have you had any personal life-changing moments that led you to be able to write them so well?

I think that particular fear must be one of the things that accounts for the popularity of what people are calling the ‘domestic noir’ genre nowadays. The sense that everything we’ve built for our families is somehow precarious has got to be a visceral fear for many of us.

For our family, that moment was a diagnosis of cancer for one of our children.  It changed everything in an instant. At the time, one of our neighbors said to me, ‘It was as if a bolt of lightning came out of nowhere and hit your house.’  It certainly felt like that at the time, though thankfully my son made a full recovery.  I’ve never taken anything for granted since then.

Last question: you’ve revealed that DI Jim Clemo will be returning in your third novel, as a kind of sequel to What She Knew. I think he’s a great character and I’m so excited to see him return! This seems like a new tactic for you and a departure from your previous novels: to have a character figured out instead of the suspense plot (you mention having written WSK in entirely Rachel’s point of view for the first draft and then added Clemo’s view later in edits). Is it easier or more difficult to churn out the words/plot in this situation? Or did you decide to bring Clemo back and then develop the plot to insert him into it? Or did you already have the story sorted and decide to bring him back as DI? I’m so curious as to how the writing process works!

I’m so pleased you like him!  It’s been really interesting to bring Jim Clemo back, and I’ve enjoyed it hugely, partly because using a character from a previous novel is like meeting an old friend, and partly because it was a real professional challenge to develop him as a character across a new novel. I knew I wanted to bring him back from the outset, and I developed the book so that the story would allow his character to face new tests, both personal and professional.  The case Clemo works on in my third book is very different from the one in What She Knew – it involves two teenage boys who are involved in an incident that leaves one of them in a coma and the other unable to speak about what’s happened – but the stakes are similarly high for him.  I’ve tried to produce another compelling story, this time about two families whose lives are turned upside down, alongside a new and gripping character arc for Clemo. That’s the idea, anyway! I hope people will enjoy it.

Oh, my goodness, Gilly! I am so thrilled by this interview. It is compelling and interesting and deep in so many ways. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for taking the time to answer questions for me, in the middle of book deadlines. I appreciate it so very much. Can’t wait for Novel #3!

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Author Interview – Martha Hall Kelly

martha_about_imageHi Martha! Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog. I love getting to virtually meet authors of books I love, and yours is no exception!

Let’s get started with the 2-minute Martha Hall Kelly intro as well as a tidbit that not many people know about you (your favorite song to jam out to, your least favorite family vacation, your weirdest food craving, etc).

Martha Hall Kelly is the author of Lilac Girls, the New York Times bestselling novel based on the true story of how socialite and philanthropist Caroline Ferriday brought a group of young Polish women  experimented on at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp to the U.S. for treatment. She and her husband Michael, a media executive, have raised three lovely children and one fabulous mini goldendoodle. Martha is working on her next book, a prequel to Lilac Girls, coming soon from Ballantine Books. You can follow all the news at marthahallkelly.com.

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The bear dumplings Martha had in Russia!

What people may not know:  My favorite song to jam out to?  Either Stevie Wonder’s For Once In My Life or The Weather Girls’ It’s Raining Men.  Weirdest food craving? Had bear dumplings in Russia recently when I was researching in St. Petersburg and they were surprisingly delicious.

 

Alright, now let’s dive in to Lilac Girls! Your first novel, released on April 5, 2016, it shot onto the NYT bestseller list right away! You became interested in Caroline Ferriday, one of your three main characters, after a trip to the Bellamy-Ferriday house near your own home on a day that you were in a funk. You saw a photo of Caroline with the rabbits and decided you had to know her story (although you say you weren’t thinking of writing a book at the time). Had you considered yourself a writer prior to that time? Do you have other unpublished stories? It’s so hard for me to think that you didn’t even think you were going to write about her story, since you wrote it so beautifully!

I worked as an advertising copywriter for ten years straight out of college, writing mostly TV commercials and print ads, but never wrote anything close to a novel. I became a stay at home Mom once I had my third child, so I stopped thinking of myself as a writer after that. But I recently filled out a visa application and inked in ”author” to the profession box, so it’s nice to finally own that now.

09-lilac-girlsI opted for the audio version, as a friend recommended it that way, and I think the three narrators REALLY brought the story to life. I read in this essay (interviewer note: be sure to click through to this link as there are beautiful maps of both Caroline’s New York and Kasia’s Lublin, Poland, that really embody the geographical references) that Caroline was the easiest for you to write, since her life was closest to yours (especially geographically), but that you were more able to get into Kasia and Herta’s characters after your research trip to Poland. I am wondering if, during your research, you came across stories about Herta’s younger life prior to her time at Ravensbruck. She is SO likable at the beginning, and you write her struggle so well to conform to the Nazi plans at the camp, but she is also clearly the villain in the book. I’m curious as to how you decided to have her make that shift, or if her early life suggests that pattern?

In Lilac Girls I wanted to show what it was like to go from a fairly normal German childhood, which Herta Oberheuser had, to participating, as a physician, in heinous experiments on healthy women. In my research, I found that, like many young women indoctrinated into National Socialism, Herta Oberheuser grew up steeped in Nazi propaganda. Her parents struggled financially and she wanted to be a doctor from a young age. From that, I showed her early life and used the transcripts of the Doctor’s Trial as a roadmap for her later life. In the transcripts, for example, she claims she felt like an outsider at the camp, since she was the only female doctor at the all-female camp.

When you were interviewed by Patricia Raskin, she asked about your takeaway from the story that you feel brings us hope. You talked about how Americans didn’t want to talk about the war or deal with the refugees yet they still rallied around the “rabbits” in an amazing way and really provided for them with “an outpouring of love and generosity”. It seems to me that we currently hear a lot of messages of hate and selfishness. Do you think the American people can and will rally like this again, especially after the election is over? Or have we drawn a line in the sand that precludes the love and generosity that our forebears poured out over these women?

This is such an important question. I hope Americans are looking to history to learn how to go forward in an informed way. There are so many frightening parallels. I do think there is a sad lack of compassion today for people who may not look or worship or vote exactly as we do. In Caroline’s time the upper classes felt morally bound to work for those less fortunate, not necessarily of their own race or religion, and the “every person for him or herself” attitude we see today was much less prevalent. I do think Americans can rally again if we actively look for ways to help others, regardless of religion and race.

 

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Caroline Ferriday’s “rabbits” – the Polish women she brought to America for medical treatment, post WWII

In another interview on POLcast, the English-language podcast about Poland, you discuss coming home to re-write the end of the book, since the two rabbits that you got to meet in person were so forgiving toward the people who had performed these atrocities. Your Polish character, Kasia, has PTSD from what she suffered (before that was a labeled condition), and really has a hard time coming back home. Without giving too much away about the ending, can you give us a clue as to how the two endings are different?

 

I originally wrote the ending with Kasia being much more combative and angry and unhinged, the way I might have acted in her place. But as a novelist I have to constantly remind myself it’s not my attitudes and opinions that matter, it’s the character’s. So when I found out that the real rabbits were more forgiving and had decided to let go of that same kind of vitriolic anger I softened Kasia’s reaction.

In this post on your own blog, you talk about how the most common question you get asked by book clubs is “what happened to Herta after she was released from prison?” (click through for the answer if you’ve already read the book!). Are there any other gems of information that you learned after the book was edited/printed or that you couldn’t include for another reason (perhaps it didn’t advance the story) that you’re dying to share?

I wish I could have included the story of the babies and children of Ravensbruck, a terribly sad part of the already horrible camp, but it was not germane to my story.

When you talk about your forthcoming books, as you did on the POLcast episode, you tell us you’re writing a prequel to Lilac Girls about Caroline’s mother during WWI, and a pre-prequel about Caroline’s grandmother during the civil war. Does Caroline come from a long line of women who help? Or are you writing more “novels” in the future with fewer historical touchpoints? I’m so intrigued by the idea of generation after generation of women from the same family that are each influential… but I also find it hard to believe based on the way Caroline’s mother reacts in Lilac Girls to her “do-gooding”. Enlighten us!

Caroline came from a long line of philanthropic women, the Woolsey women. Her mother Eliza Mitchell Ferriday work tirelessly for the White Russians, the Russian aristocracy displaced by the Bolsheviks after the revolution. And Caroline’s great grandmother nursed soldiers on the Gettysburg battlefield and was a staunch abolitionist. Incredible women!

Wow, Martha! Thank you so much for your wonderful answers to my questions. I am SO looking forward to the next book (and the one after that)! You are an absolute treat to interview (and super speedy at responding!). All my thanks.

QuickLit – October 2016

Linking up to Modern Mrs. Darcy for her monthly QuickLit post, where we share “short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately”. I’ll share everything I’ve read over the previous month here right around the end of each month, in the order I finished reading them. I read 11 books this month, some GREAT audiobooks allowed me to knock out more than I would have otherwise.


01-perfect-girlThe Perfect Girl by Gilly MacMillan

Gilly McMillan’s second novel is just as captivating as her first. I couldn’t wait to snag this one from the library and read it in a quick 3 days. Zoe, Lucas, Chris and Maria are a perfect second chance family. But a whole mess of icky lurks under the surface. Zoe and Lucas are piano prodigy children playing a duet concert when a man shows up accusing Zoe of murdering his daughter. Later that night, mom Maria meets an untimely end. We spend this whole novel trying to figure out how Maria dies (revealed in the first chapter or two, no spoilers).


02-grandmother-asked-meMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

I’m so impressed with Backman that he can write from the point of view of an 80-year-old man and then turn around and write his next book from the pov of a 7-year-old girl! Elsa and her grandmother forge their bond through storytelling and fairy tales, so this story also reads like a fairy tale. I don’t know whether to classify it add straight fiction or middle grade or young adult or all three or something completely different. I do know that, in Backman’s style, it is endearing and funny and sweet and a bit sad. and I couldn’t put it down. I used an Audible credit for this (because I loved listening to A Man Called Ove that way) and recommend it in that format.


03-before-we-visit-the-goddessBefore We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

A three-generation family tale about Sabriti, Bela, and Tara, spanning two continents and 70 years.  Beautifully written, this one will be hard to forget. This family comes together and then tears itself apart over and over again. I definitely enjoyed it.

 

 


04-the-alchemistThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The classic tale about a Spanish shepherd boy that goes to seek his fortune in Africa. I listened to this one as an Audible daily deal and it was read by Jeremy Irons (I think that’s the way to go! his voice is timeless and lovely). Filled with a story you feel you’ve heard before, but also new. Readers seem to fall on one side or the other of this one. Love it or hate it: it’s a classic for a reason.

 


05b-the-bone-sparrowThe Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

I received this one as a Galley from NetGalley. This is a book written for younger audiences (the main character is 10, but pretty tough themes so I’d say probably 12 and up), but I kind of feel like everyone should read it. Subhi is a 10-year-old boy who was born in a refugee camp and had never known the Outside. We walk through his life and learn about the lives of those around him. This timely story is BASED on refugee campus in Australia but geared toward readers the world over who are facing up to the troubling times we live in. Highly recommended to get anyone started on the road to understanding refugee life and the refugee crisis.


05-no-one-knowsNo One Knows by J.T. Ellison

Psychological thriller. I’d liken this one to Gone Girl, which I’ve been hesitant to do, even with the ones that EVERYONE says are like Gone Girl!! Aubrey’s husband Josh has been missing for 5 years and is finally declared dead by the state. Then everything goes wonky. I listened on audio and liked it on that format, but was definitely distracted for parts and so I think I missed some of the nuance and finer details. But I’m sure I’ll find myself recommending it!

 

 

 


06-after-youAfter You by Jojo Moyes

I didn’t like this one for at least the first 30% or so. But I know I usually like Jojo Moyes, so I pressed on, and I’m glad I did. She drew it together well and we see some real character development and plot. Not my favorite of hers and I kind of think she should have left Louisa alone, but overall it was decent. If you liked Me Before You, it’s a toss-up as to whether you’ll appreciate this revisiting of the characters.

 


07-i-am-malalaI Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

I’m glad I picked this up again, even though I had previously abandoned it. I understand why the history of Pakistan is included at the beginning, but it just didn’t draw me in like the rear of the book. it felt like something I needed to power through. Malala has definitely led an interesting and powerful life for such a young girl.

 

 

 


08-dont-just-signDon’t Just Sign… Communicate! A Student’s Guide to the Deaf Experience by Michelle Jay

I started taking an ASL class this summer because I met a Deaf couple and I will be interacting with them and their kiddos regularly. So glad to have this book available and be able to better understand Deaf culture and the Deaf community through it! I feel like I have so much more to learn but this provides a great window into their world.

 


09-the-roadThe Road by Cormac McCarthy

This one was also an Audible Daily Deal and so I picked it up because it’s a classic and I’d heard about it MANY times on What Should I Read Next. I figured it might make an engaging listening experience and I was right! A post-apocalyptic classic about a father and his son on the Road, trying to survive in a world that is burned, without animals, without many people, without much food. The writing is fantastic, and the audiobook narrator is perfection. His gritty voice completely brings the man and the boy to life.


10-big-magicBig Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

This book was a total kick in the pants for creativity of any type. I loved Gilbert’s writing and her devotion to the craft and her encouragement for the rest of us. There is big magic out there, enough for all of us. In case you’re curious, my Big Magic happens right here.

Author Interview – Chris Cleave

ccleave-copy-1024x684Hi Chris, welcome to the blog. I am giddy with excitement to have you here answering questions for us!

I always start out in the same place and then we’ll go from there: give us the two-minute Chris Cleave intro, please! And then regale us with one little-known fact about you (your favorite type of music, your least favorite season of the year, your weirdest memory from childhood, etc).

Two minutes is about ninety seconds more than a description of me requires. I’m a Londoner and a writer who mostly stays out of the limelight, preferring to work quietly and write novels based on deep research. It typically takes me three or four years to complete a book. I like and admire my readers, since they always seem prepared to embark with me on my forays into different literary territory each time. Something little-known about me is that I grow a beard every year in October and shave it off on the first nice day in spring.

coverPhew! Now that we have that out of the way, let’s dive in! I’m going to center this interview mostly around Everyone Brave Is Forgiven, since that’s your most recent (BLOCKBUSTER) book, but I will say that Little Bee is patiently waiting on my TBR shelf and Incendiary and Gold came up on my library holds list while I was preparing your questions, so they are en route to me as well! I cannot wait to read your other books, especially after reading so much about them all while I researched you. They each sound so fascinating.

You’ve spoken on many occasions (this is just one) about how you based the characters in Everyone Brave Is Forgiven on your grandparents, and especially how Alistair reflects your grandfather, David. It might seem like a silly place to start, but I’m interested as to why you kept Mary’s name the same as your grandmother, Mary, while your grandfather received a new name in this book? Also, I realize that you based most of the story on your grandparents’ letters written during the war. Were any of them alive for you to speak to while you wrote the novel, or read it before/after its publication?

I named my heroine Mary in honor of my maternal grandmother, since the details of her life differed so markedly from her namesake’s that I felt sure there could be no confusion within my family between the facts and the fiction. In the case of my maternal grandfather David, there is some very limited factual overlap with the character of Alistair in the novel, and in this case, I changed the name to make it clear that I was not equating the real person with the character’s story. My grandfather was my only surviving grandparent while I was writing the book, but it is a source of huge regret to me that he died before it was finished. I would have liked for him to be able to read the novel. He was a terrific writer himself, and I loved everything he wrote.

Along with sweeping, beautiful writing, this novel is also full of snarky, funny, and endearing dialogue between various characters (the girlfriend talk of Hilda and Mary, the rapport between Tom and Alistair, and the letter-writing of Mary and Alistair each had me smiling during my reading). I think when we consider war and the history of it, it’s hard for us to remember that those were REAL people. You said in this interview that there is “a slight current of hysteria underneath their humour. I felt the gap between what they are living through and what they are talking about would be where the emotional effect of the story lived.” How did you find that balance between the hard realities of war and the witty personalities of your characters? Do you think that most people living through a war (at home waiting or abroad serving) are able to retain their sense of humor and wit? Is that something you saw in your grandparents’ letters as well?

I think we laugh hardest about the things that scare us most – or at least, we do when our humanity is operating at full power. I really like the phenomenon of humor that emerges when good people find themselves in extremis. I did find it quite often in my grandparents’ letters, which is what made me curious to find out more about them. I think that dark humour is the measure of who we are, at our best. Do I think that most people are like that, when pushed to their limit? Absolutely not. Many people are cowards, many are selfish, many are self-pitying or narcissistic. We don’t find out who someone is until we take them way out of their comfort zone.

You deliberately made the writing of this book more difficult! You said here, “I had particular points in mind where the characters died. Then I went back and just arbitrarily killed them 25 pages earlier. It was brutal. I gave myself huge problems because they had died at very inconvenient moments. But that’s war—horrible, brutal, arbitrary. Death comes unexpectedly. I just cut them off midsentence. It was a real nightmare to fix the book.” And then you purposefully gave yourself additional misery by living on London war-time rations during the writing of the novel! As part of a generation that has largely grown up without seeing the up-close effects of war, do you think one or both of these techniques was especially helpful in making it (war) come to life for you, or placing yourself within that historical period?

It’s a good question. I think the reality for this (and the previous) generation of writers is that we have grown up not with war but with war novels and war movies. Typically these use a lot of foreshadowing – for example, when a character starts acting nobly, you just know that he or she is going to die in ten pages’ time. If you want to write honestly about war then it’s important to get part the idea that death has a gravity that precedes its arrival. You have to somehow convey the arbitrariness, the unfairness, the inconvenience of death to life and also to plot. People are cut off in mid-sentence. It’s extremely unsatisfying, from a storytelling point of view. But that’s the price of authenticity. For example, it would be frustrating if I got halfway through answering the part of your question that referred to wartime rations when suddenly and without warning I ­was –

You tackle the racial injustices of 1940’s London in the treatment of children throughout the book. While most white children were rehomed in the country in order to keep them safe, the disabled children and especially the Black children were sent back to danger in London, where they often roamed the streets. You’ve been called out for your characters’ language, which you defend as realistic in this interview with NPR. One of my highlighted quotes from the book says “It had taken the war to reveal London’s heart, centrifugal for white children and gravitational for Negroes”. As I’m an American, we are reeling here around the effects that brought on the #blacklivesmatter movement and the recognition of police brutality and racial injustice within the police system. Do you feel like your novel speaks to current events as well, despite its historical setting? Has racism become more systematized and subversive, or is it still blatantly obvious but just less-PC to speak about it? If London’s heart was revealed during the war, do you feel the beat of that heart has changed in the following decades? (interviewer note: should I pick up my family and move to London to get out of the craziness happening here????)

I am certain that every historical novel is really a commentary on the times that the author is living through. I wanted to talk about racism and class divisions in my country now, by exploring their deep historical roots. I do think racism is still a huge problem in my country, the UK. Over the years I’ve used a lot of different ways to write about it. Racism is actually getting worse here. Since the EU referendum result in June, racist attacks have soared and xenophobic rhetoric is everywhere. In answer to your question, it is absolutely blatant – and indeed the most shocking examples I’ve heard recently were from our ruling Conservative Party’s annual conference. So it’s a top-down as well as a bottom-up phenomenon. It sickens and also frightens me, which I suppose is why I keep writing about it.

Finally, as I pulled together article after article for this interview, I couldn’t help but notice that your previous books each find a clear center in a parent/child relationship. And, indeed, your debut novel Incendiary was written because of and for your first-born son. Everyone Brave Is Forgiven seems to be a clear departure from that, but I’m guessing you’ve placed your children in there somewhere, especially since you said here that “Different people have different things that lend their lives structure and meaning, but for me it’s our children and I think I’ve been a better writer since they showed up.” As a mom of three myself, I’m wondering where you see that relationship reflected most clearly in this new novel?

In my previous novels, as you say, there has always been a parent-child relationship, but here I wanted to explore a subtler relationship in loco parentis, between Mary and Zachary, the child she becomes partially responsible for. I wanted to show that he saves her as much as she saves him.

Okay, you asked that I limit myself to 5 questions, and so I promise I’ll let you go now! Thank you so very much for taking the time for me, Chris. I am so appreciative of each and every writer who agrees to my sending questions!

It’s an honor and a pleasure ­– thank you for reading Everyone Brave is Forgiven, and for your kind words about it. And thank you for taking the time to do interviews like this. On behalf of the writing community, I can say that it’s thanks to projects like yours that we can find a readership, which gives us the ability to pursue our vocation. Thank you! All good wishes to you and your readers – CC