December 14 2019 is publication day for Mrs Ps Book of Secrets (UK) and The Book Ghost (US). I reviewed this original literary fiction novel on Wednesday, as the first stop on the #30DaysofBookBlogs Tour. Read my review here
Today I have an author interview with Lorna Gray to share…
Author interview with Lorna Gray
Mrs P’s Book of Secrets (UK) / The Book Ghost (US)
What are the inspirations behind your latest story?
Mrs P’s Book of Secrets explores several themes, such as loss, returning home, belonging and family. But as you probably don’t want an essay from me, I’ll just describe the first idea I had for this book – where it all began.
The opening lines in the book speak about Lucy’s mother and grandmother performing a rather unusual war service. They were spiritualists and throughout WWII they regularly held séances in an attempt to guide the wandering souls of poor lost soldiers out of the filthy quagmire of war into the peace of the hereafter.
Those few lines in the book are autobiographical. Only in my case, it was my grandmother and great-grandmother. They acted on the principle that some of the war dead might be so shocked by their sudden end that their souls wouldn’t quite know how to move on. My great-grandmother believed she was playing a vital role in reaching out a kindly hand to them through the medium of a séance. She certainly gave comfort to their families at home who had received awful news.
Mrs P’s Book of Secrets grew from that little piece of history. It is in part a ghost story, although this definitely isn’t a novel about wartime spiritualism. What those women did was done in the spirit of giving. I didn’t want to turn the dead into a speaking part for Lucy, my heroine, where she might simply move a marker around a table to instantly demand answers to her questions.
Instead, her story is more about being sensitive to the echoes that are left behind when someone has passed. Have you ever gone into the library of an old house or a quiet garden and felt a sense of the people who have gone before? Do you ever go somewhere and find that your mind can strip away the modern layer from the scene to leave you with an idea of its history?
This is what Lucy experiences as she is pushed by the secrets of her uncle’s publishing business into exploring the boundaries between her memories and an old mystery that ought to have nothing to do with her at all.
I wanted her to walk that very fine line between reaching out and letting go.
And while she experiences all of that, I particularly wanted her to find a new friendship with Robert, her uncle’s second editor at the Kershaw and Kathay Book Press. He is the key to the other elements of the story, which involve books, and being valued, and about putting down roots in a new place and discovering whether or not they will hold firm.
Mrs P’s Book of Secrets / The Book Ghost is set in the immediate post-war era, 1946. What made you choose this particular time?
I knew I wanted to bring Lucy home to a small old fashioned publishing business. I nearly set it in the present day. But then I uncovered a small piece of research about paper rationing in the war and post-war period.
Paper rationing had a massive impact on books and publishing in the 40s and early 50s. Did you know that during the war, one of the big London publishers – Penguin, I think – managed to get a large order to supply paperbacks to the Canadian army? They didn’t take payment in the form of money. They arranged for the Canadian government to send them a shipload of paper across the Atlantic because they were so desperate for supplies.
After discovering all that, I couldn’t wait to delve into the world of a small publishing business and its secrets in the era of paper rationing.
What is it about the post-war period that interests you?
Mrs P’s Book of Secrets is my fourth historical novel. You may not be aware that before writing this mystery, each of my previous novels has been inspired by oral history. I have always been passionate about understanding the past. The post-war period is long enough ago that for me it satisfies my urge to write about history, and yet it is modern enough that when I want to know more, I can simply ask someone to share their memories.
It makes writing and researching the period endlessly fascinating.
Do you enjoy writing stories that cross the genre boundaries? Why is this?
The way my writing seems to cross genre boundaries must come from my own reading. I don’t think I’m ever constrained by genre. I read anything from classics to modern romance and literary masterpieces and memoir.
How do you research your stories?
Everything is researched, even down to the details of the weather. Luckily, the internet is an extraordinary resource. And then I ask people to share their memories too.
When you aren’t writing, what other interests do you have?
I keep far too many animals! Some years ago, I had the idea that I might breed goats, but when it came to finding good homes for the kids (young goats), it turned out to be very hard indeed. People weren’t terribly honest about what they intended to do with them. So now my husband and I have a large and ageing herd of pets, and they give me endless hours of happiness.
When reading to relax, what kind of books do you choose? Why do they appeal to you?
I treasure any book that has many layers. Unfortunately, I am one of those people who finds it impossible to judge a book by its cover. So I always read based on recommendations by a few trusted people. I also love to return to favourite books, discovering new details each time.
An obvious example is that I’ve read Pride and Prejudice many times. I first read it when I was a teenager and I vividly remember that initially, I could only see the characters through Elizabeth’s eyes. But then I read the book again some years later, and it turned out that the evidence had been there all along that characters such as Mr Darcy really weren’t as Elizabeth believed them to be. I love that depth of detail.
Can you give us a brief insight into Mrs P’s Book of Secrets /The Book Ghost?
Look out for the accidental misspellings of Ashbrook. There are a few deliberate typos for the purpose of the plot, but the more I explored the concept of ‘an influence’, on Lucy’s search for the secret of a little girl’s abandonment, the more these errors crept in. For all my wise words about there being no tangible apparition in this book, the ghost certainly wanted to have his or her say. I asked the proofreader to leave them untouched.
There are no white shrouded spectres here, no wailing ghouls. Just the echoes of those who have passed, whispering that history is set to repeat itself.
The Cotswolds, Christmastime 1946: A young widow leaves behind the tragedy of her wartime life, and returns home to her ageing aunt and uncle. For Lucy – known as Mrs P – and the people who raised her, the books that line the walls of the family publishing business bring comfort and the promise of new beginnings.
But the kind and reserved new editor at the Kershaw and Kathay Book Press is a former prisoner of war, and he has his own shadows to bear. And when the old secrets of a little girl’s abandonment are uncovered within the pages of Robert Underhills’s latest project, Lucy must work quickly if she is to understand the truth behind his frequent trips away.
For a ghost dwells in the record of an orphan girl’s last days. And even as Lucy dares to risk her heart, the grief of her own past seems to be whispering a warning of fresh loss…