As part of the blog tour for her latest novel, You Let Me Go, I am joined today by Eliza Graham. Thanks so much to Eliza for agreeing to answer my questions today, and to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to be a part of the blog tour. Let’s jump straight in to the questions, and then I will tell you everything you need to know about You Let Me Go.
In your author bio, you mention Polish cemeteries and Cornish decoy harbours as some of your less obscure research trips. What are some of the more obscure places your research has taken you? Do you have a favourite place that you have visited in the name of research?
Hi and thanks for having me on the blog! The strangest places I have been to are both in former Yugoslavia. The first we happened upon quite by chance. We (I was on holiday with my husband) were kayaking around some small islands off the Croatian coast. We landed at a small harbour. On a fishing boat a woman perhaps suffering from dementia or some kind of psychosis was shouting at her husband in a very deep, almost demonic tone. He was gutting fish with a very large knife and casting murderous glances at her. We walked away briskly. In front of us was a plaque marking the murder of a large number of prisoners of war during the Second World War. Continuing on, we came across some ghostly looking run-down buildings, which we later found out had been a Communist-era children’s holiday camp. The small island ought to have been breath-taking: the coastline is stunning and the sun was shining. But we were happy to return to the kayak and paddle away. The location stayed in my mind, however, and took root in my book THE LINES WE LEAVE BEHIND.
One of the most delightful places I have been to while researching was the Helford Estuary and its intersection with the top of the Lizard Peninsula on the south coast of Cornwall. We visited in the early summer of 2019 and I was dazzled by the wildflowers and clear light. The book I had planned on writing turned out not to be the book I ended up writing because as I walked from Helford village along the estuary I fell in love with some of the houses and cottages. I decided to create my own imaginary house on an imaginary creek off the Helford, which is Rozenn’s longhouse in my new book YOU LET ME GO.
Although the majority of your books are historical fiction, you have written one YA book, also with a historical setting. Do you have any plans to write more books within this genre?
Not at the moment, although I think I missed a trick and should have written a book about the Blitz for slightly younger children, perhaps 10-11-year-olds. A primary school teachers told me that the period featured on the curriculum. The power of hindsight!
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to write historical fiction?
Research is clearly important and one of the most rewarding parts of choosing a period from the past. It’s easy to pursue small research issues that feel important and insert them into the narrative just to show that you really do know that rationing laws changed at various points during the war, or that a certain bus route used to travel between point A and point B even though it was later suspended. You can end up with a manuscript over stuffed with historical facts that don’t move the narrative on. I think I suffer from neurosis on this point because I had a father who adored spotting inaccuracies in historical novels and television programmes. When my last novel THE TRUTH IN OUR LIES came out he was nearing the end of his life and very weak, but we had a very lively debate about whether or not a particular character would have worn a peaked cap in 1942. (I won that argument because I had a photo on my mobile that proved my point. But Dad usually won.)
When you aren’t writing or heading out on research trips, how do you like to spend your time?
I love evenings spent with friends having a good meal and sitting by the fire for hours to talk. I live near the North Wessex Downs and have access to miles of walks. On a fine, frosty winter morning I love to take my dog out and admire the views. On early summer Sunday evenings we sometimes walk beside the Thames near Lechlade and sit in a pub garden for a reviving glass of something. I’m writing this in January and most of these things aren’t currently allowed so I am hoping that by the time YOU LET ME GO comes out in March, they will be legal again.
What does a writing day look like for you? Do you have a set regime that you like to follow?
I’m not over-prescriptive about exactly how and when I write any more. I don’t always set myself daily word counts, for instance, although sometimes they are very helpful. I found that if I was rigid about reaching a target I was sometimes writing rubbish and it didn’t seem worth it. The only thing that matters is that every day should bring a book a little bit closer to completion. That might just mean a flash of insight into a character’s motivation or improving knowledge of how lifeboats operated in the 1940s. At the moment I’m marking up some early chapters of my work in progress in fountain pen, something I haven’t used for years. I’ve written quite a lot of new material and am fascinated by the way the change of medium is revealing things about the characters.
Increasingly I know I need peace and quiet to work in: when I first started I could write almost anywhere, with children in the room, the radio on, etc. But now I like a quiet room of my own. It doesn’t always have to be my study: it can be a warm sofa with the dog snoozing next to me if that helps the words flow.
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?
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.
Win 3 x Paperback copies of You Let Me Go by Eliza Graham (Open to UK / USA only)
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Make sure you visit the other blogs joining the tour to learn more about You Let Me Go.