The Write Romantics Book Group: The Girl Who Came Home

titanic-titanic-mIt takes a real gift to tell a familiar story differently and Hazel Gaynor’s book opened my eyes to another side of the Titanic disaster.  I’d not thought about how the tragedy affected the survivors in their future lives or those who waited for news of loved ones.  Having been to Cobh (formerly Queenstown) in County Cork, I’d known that Titanic had stopped there but I’d not really considered what it must have been like for the Irish passengers who joined the ship at that point.

The Girl Who Came Home tells the story of Maggie Murphy and 13 other people from the village of Ballysheen in County Mayo who were travelling in steerage on Titanic on the way to a new life in America.  Maggie leaves behind her boyfriend, Seamus who is unable to leave because his father is ill.  Maggie herself is recently bereaved as her mother has died and she is travelling with her aunt who had emigrated to America years before. Obviously, the reader knows that Titanic will not reach New York and the series of ill omens that happen on the journey to Queenstown therefore take on great significance.

The Girl Who Came Home

I really liked Maggie.  There’s a freshness to her voice, an excitement about each new experience which is very endearing.  The poverty of her life in Ireland is highlighted by her delight in the pretty basic steerage accommodation and the three meals a day provided to passengers.  When the story moves to 1982 it’s great to see that Maggie has retained much of that enthusiasm and I really loved her relationship with her great-granddaughter, Grace.  I did see the revelation about Maggie’s husband coming from quite early on but then I have a rather geeky interest in all things Irish and I made the link quite quickly.  But, having said that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the ending and I found Maggie’s return to Ireland particularly emotional.

I have to admit that I cried a lot reading this book.  Having had a pretty traumatic time myself over the past couple of years Maggie’s courage really touched me.  She came from a generation that didn’t have access to counselling or therapy and her method of coping was to not talk about Titanic for decades.  The sections of the book set in 1982 seemed to me to be her coming to terms with what happened.

That’s what I thought of The Girl That Came Home.  I’d love to hear your opinion.  If you’ve read it, did you love it as much as me?  Is it a book that you’ll be adding to your TBR pile?

lifeboatI’m delighted to say that Hazel Gaynor will be joining The Write Romantics Book Group for a live question and answer session on Thursday 28th August between 8 and 9pm.  If you’ve got any questions for Hazel then please do pop over to Goodreads and join in the discussion here .  Or you can leave a question in the comments here and we’ll make sure it’s included in the Q&A session.

I’m handing over to Rachael Thomas now who has chosen the book for the Book Group to read in September.  It is The Kiss of the Concubine: A Story of Anne Boleyn by Judith Arnopp.  I love a good Tudor tale so I’m looking forward to this one.  You can check out the reviews of Judith’s book here and here.  We’re looking forward to having Judith as our guest on the blog on Saturday 30th August.

Happy Reading!

Alys

 

Images of lifeboat and Titanic courtesy of the US National Archives

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Saturday Spotlight: Interview with Hazel Gaynor

We are delighted to welcome Hazel Gaynor, author of The Girl Who Came Home, to the blog today.  We’ve chosen Hazel’s wonderful book as the first read for the Write Romantics Book Group (you can read more about that here) and we’re very excited to have Hazel chat to us about what inspired her to write the book and her amazing journey from self-published author to the New York Times bestseller lists. Over to Hazel to tell us more…

Hazel Gaynor author photo

  • The Titanic is often associated with the glitz and glamour of the Edwardian period.  What inspired you to tell the story of the Irish steerage passengers?

I’ve always been fascinated by Titanic (I was a teenager when the wreck was discovered) and when I decided to write a novel set around the ship and the tragic events of that April night, I knew I wanted to explore the experience of a third class passenger, rather than that of the wealthy millionaires we know so much about. Living in Ireland, I was also keen to find out more about the Irish passengers who boarded Titanic at her last port of call, in Queenstown, County Cork. History has, in some ways, neglected those of the lower social classes because they were ordinary people. We know plenty about the likes of the Astors and the Strauss’s, but little about the passengers who travelled on third class tickets, many of whom were leaving their homes in England and Ireland in the hope of finding a better life in America. I felt that it was these, ordinary people, who had the most extraordinary stories to tell. I also wanted to explore the aftermath of the disaster and how such an event can have lasting repercussions on a survivor’s life. In the survivor records of Irish passengers, the name Annie Kate Kelly kept coming up. It was that which led me to the story of the Addergoole Fourteen and the inspiration for the novel.

  • The film ‘Titanic’ is a fabulous love story. Was it nerve-wracking telling a completely different story in your book after the film has been so enduring?

I was obviously very conscious of the movie when I started writing the novel, and of course, comparisons will always be made to some degree (although lots of readers have said how much they would love THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME to be made into a movie – which is lovely to hear!). Writing about such a well-known event was certainly a daunting prospect as a debut novelist! That said, I was very clear about the Titanic story I wanted to tell and with my story being based around steerage passengers, and also focusing on the aftermath, and on the impact on family and friends awaiting news of the disaster, I didn’t feel in any way inhibited by the movie’s plot or premise – or its huge success. I didn’t watch the movie while I was writing the novel though – just to make sure I wasn’t mimicking Mr Cameron’s view of the event!

  •  What difference has it made having a publisher rather than continuing with self publishing?

Although I had a very positive experience of self-publishing, I always, always wanted a traditional deal and to work with a publisher. Working with the team at William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins in the U.S.) has been such an amazing experience – and everything I had hoped it would be. The job of a writer is a very lonely one, and with self-publishing there really is a lot of ‘self’ involved. To have the backing, support, enthusiasm, professionalism and belief of a team of experts behind you really is incredible, and has made a huge difference to my confidence as a writer. I have learnt so much from my editor and from the marketing and publicity team, and obviously as one of the big publishers, they have been able to get my book into the hands of so many more readers than I could ever have hoped for. I’m very excited to meet the team, and my agent, on my trip to New York this November.

  •   What’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to you since (a) the indie version came out and (b) the published version came out?

I was very fortunate in that THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME was very positively received from the very early days as a self-published Kindle ebook. The morning when I received a Facebook message from an agent in New York saying that she’d read the book on her Kindle and would love to talk to me about representation has to be the highlight of my ‘indie’ publishing life, because it was so out of the blue and came at a time when I’d had a second novel rejected and had just lost my agent. And of course, that initial contact led to my deal with William Morrow. Since the published version of the book came out, the most exciting moment has to be when I received an email from my editor telling me that the book had made the New York Times best seller listings. That was a moment to savour, and even better that it came on the second day of our family holiday!!

The Girl Who Came Home

  • What advice would you give to anyone considering going down the indie publishing route? 

Don’t approach it lightly. It can offer a great opportunity to get your work out there, but you have to be prepared to put in a lot of hard work. Make sure the work is your absolute best and that it is edited professionally and has a professional cover designed. I cannot emphasise those points enough. Talk to other indie published authors so you know what to expect and be very clear with yourself about your goals and expectations. I honestly did not expect to get a publishing deal from self-publishing. For me, self-publishing THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME was a way of letting go of that book so I could get on with the next one.

  • There must be a huge amount of historical records and documents about the Titanic. How did you go about researching the historical details about the Titanic, the experience of the survivors and the village in Ireland. 

Titanic is an event that fascinates people and because of that, there are a lot of official and unofficial experts out there! For months, I read everything I could about Titanic and her passengers. I read survivor accounts and newspaper reports from the time. I read other Titanic books, such as Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember and I got lost in Titanic websites like http://www.encyclopaedia-titanica.org. While some historical fiction writers struggle to find material about their subject, my problem was that there was so much and I knew I had to get the balance right between fact and fiction.

When I was writing the novel, I was very conscious of the reality of my story. How would the descendants of those who had inspired my book react to my retelling? How could I tell their story in a way that was respectful, yet also engaging to the reader? I wanted to do justice to the memory of the Addergoole Fourteen, and all of Titanic’s passengers, but I also wanted to tell my story in my own words. Of course, when you’ve spent so long researching a subject you are fascinated by, it is very tempting to throw in every tiny fact and detail. My challenge was to know what to leave out, as well as to know what to put in. I could geek out for hours about Titanic but my job in writing this novel was to tell an engaging story and let the characters – not the history – take priority. The painstakingly researched historical facts should, ideally, just become a part of that story; noticeable and enjoyable, but not distracting.

  • Do you intend to continue to write historical fiction? 

 Yes! I absolutely love writing in this genre and can’t see myself leaving it for quite some time. My second novel, A MEMORY OF VIOLETS, is about two sets of sisters and is set around a charity for orphaned flower sellers in Victorian London. The story spans several decades across the late 1800s and early 1900s. I love the Victorian and Edwardian eras and the streets of Victorian London were a wonderfully haunting place to explore in my imagination. Again, the novel was inspired by true events and I am very excited about the book’s publication in early 2015. I’m also excited to be in the early stages of ‘book three’ which is also historical fiction.

  • We see that you’ve interviewed several well-known writers in the course of your career and we wondered if there was a particular writer who inspires your work?

I’d have to say Philippa Gregory. It was amazing to meet her in person in 2012 because I’ve loved her novels. She’s such a fascinating woman and I think she really blazed a trail in making historical fiction popular through her Tudor Court novels. She brings history to life so vividly on the page and although I’m not writing as far back in history as she does, nor and I writing about royalty, I take a lot of inspiration from her approach to writing history in the novel form. She also tells a great story!

  • Do you have any advice for anyone considering writing historical fiction for the first time?

Ultimately, you need to be very excited about and intrigued by the era, event and/or person you are writing about, because you will inhabit that world for a very long time during the process of research, writing, editing and promoting your novel. I wrote THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME in 2011 and am as excited to talk about it today as I was back then. Research is obviously a critical element of writing historical fiction and a non-writing period to immerse yourself in the era is really important. Other than that, you need to sit down and start writing! Also, remember that you are ultimately writing a novel that will be commercially appealing to publishers and full of engaging characters to captivate the reader. Don’t lose sight of the story among all the fascinating history.

For more information about my books, visit my website http://www.hazelgaynor.com/ or Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/hazelgaynorbooks I am also on Twitter @HazelGaynor on Goodreads and have a Pinterest page at http://www.pinterest.com/hazelgaynor/

A huge thank you to Hazel for joining us today.  If Hazel’s interview has made you want to read ‘The Girl Who Came Home’ then we’d love it if you’d tell us what you think either on this page or over on the Goodreads group which you can find here.

P.S. We’ve realised since we changed the format of the blog that it’s not entirely easy to see where to leave a comment.  We figured this out when we couldn’t find the right place!  At the end of the list of tags at the bottom of the page there’s the words ‘leave a comment’ and if you click on that it’ll take you through.  Just because it’s a little hard to find please don’t think that means we don’t want to hear from you because we do!

 

Introducing the Write Romantics Book Group

All of the Write Romantics love to read about as much as we love to write.  We’ve all got enormous TBR piles and bulging Kindles because each time we interview an author on the blog their novel gets added to the pile. We wanted to find a way to share our love of reading and that’s why we’ve set up The Write Romantics Book Group.

The plan is that each month one of the Write Romantics selects a book and, just like in any other book group, we’ll then be reading that book.  And what I’m hoping is that some of you will want to join in and read with us.  We’ve set up a group on Goodreads which, rather unsurprisingly, is called The Write Romantics Book Group and you can find that here. We’ll be posting comments on each month’s book over there and we hope that you’ll join in the conversation.

Goodreads is brilliant for meeting likeminded book people so please do ‘friend’ us (or whatever the correct terminology is) and let us know what you think.  At the end of the month we’ll post a review on the blog and on Goodreads.

But what should the book group read? Obviously that was a really tough one.  I gave it a lot of thought and I’m really hoping that you’ll like my choice.

Having met Hazel Gaynor at the Romantic Novelists Conference last month and heard her talk about her novel, The Girl Who Came Home, I thought it’d be a great book group choice.   And we’re delighted to say that Hazel will be joining us on Saturday 9th August to answer our questions about her book.

The Girl Who Came HomeHere’s the blurb for the book:

Inspired by true events, the New York Times bestselling novel The Girl Who Came Home is the poignant story of a group of Irish emigrants aboard RMS Titanic—a seamless blend of fact and fiction that explores the tragedy’s impact and its lasting repercussions on survivors and their descendants.

Ireland, 1912. Fourteen members of a small village set sail on RMS Titanic, hoping to find a better life in America. For seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy, the journey is bittersweet. Though her future lies in an unknown new place, her heart remains in Ireland with Séamus, the sweetheart she left behind. When disaster strikes, Maggie is one of the lucky few passengers in steerage who survives. Waking up alone in a New York hospital, she vows never to speak of the terror and panic of that terrible night ever again.

Chicago, 1982. Adrift after the death of her father, Grace Butler struggles to decide what comes next. When her Great Nana Maggie shares the painful secret she harboured for almost a lifetime about the Titanic, the revelation gives Grace new direction—and leads her and Maggie to unexpected reunions with those they thought lost long ago.

I’ve already read it and I loved it. It’s a real page-turner and also a really emotional read.  You don’t have to just take my word for it though.  It’s been reviewed by Karen at My Reading Corner (check out her review here) and Kirsty at Love of a Good Book (you can find her review here)

I really hope that you’ll join our Book Group and, if you do, that you’ll enjoy reading The Girl Who Came Home as much as I did.  And please do let us know what you think either on this page or over on the Goodreads group.

Happy Reading!

Alys

The Write Romantics and the sweet smell of… togetherness

Okay, so maybe the cowsheds at the Harper Adams agricultural campus didn’t exactly smell sweet at this year’s RNA conference, near Telford, but one thing that was sweet  conf 2014 10was the chance to meet all of the Write Romantics. Some of us were lucky enough to catch up with the whole group for the first time ever, at various points, although other commitments meant that all nine were never quite in the same place at the same time. Whether we’ll get the chance to put that right, anytime soon, depends largely on our Australian contingent. Although we’re sure Helen R won’t mind the other eight of us turning up for a holiday in Oz at some point… In the meantime, we thought we’d share our other conference highlights with you, including some dubious poetry porn and a photo of Alys getting far too excited at the thought of owning her own tractor! conf 2014 14Helen R Just being a part of a “workplace” was the high for me. Writing can be a lonely profession and it improved for me when I joined The Write Romantics, and actually being around so many writers at the weekend left me buzzing. conf 2014 15I met so many approachable, friendly writers, in particular Lizzie Lamb who chatted to us outside the coffee shop; Hazel Gaynor whose novel “The Girl Who Came Home” I can’t put down right now; Talli Roland who kept me amused at the gala dinner; and Amy Gaffney who couldn’t believe I had never heard of Michael Fassbender! But most of all I came away from the conference feeling even more motivated. Now I just need to get back to Sydney, move house and get back to my desk 🙂 conf dee 2Deirdre As a conference first-timer I was made to feel welcome from the moment I picked up my special pink-jewelled name-badge and lovely goodie bag.  I was lucky enough to have friends at the conference, including the Write Romantics, of course, but the whole atmosphere was one of inclusivity with plenty of opportunity to chat and make new friends, too.  I attended on the Saturday only as a day visitor but didn’t feel I’d missed out as the schedule was impressively full, and I take my hat off to the organisers for that. conf deeIndie-publishing and marketing were definitely the hot topics and featured in one guise or another several times over the day.  I’ve self-published in the past and may do so again so it was good to see this important shift in the industry being addressed at the conference and so much practical information coming our way. My favourite session was Sally Quilford’s which was all about writing romantic intrigue.  Sally’s inspiring and amusing talk was the perfect ending to the day and I came away already planning to go to next year’s conference. Julie conf 2014 132013 had been my first conference experience and I’ll admit I found the whole thing pretty daunting. I think most unpublished writers will find the idea of going to an event where they don’t really know anyone and are surrounded by people who’ve already achieved the dream to be a pretty scary thing. This year, I felt much more relaxed because I knew I’d be amongst friends. The Write Romantics have been blogging together since April 2013 but I’d only physically met four of the group. This year we were all going to be there. Not quite all at the same time but, nonetheless, I had the privilege to meet the remaining four across the course of the weekend. It’s been amazing meeting everyone in the flesh. I just wish I hadn’t been so wiped out after a pretty challenging six months at work so I didn’t quite have the energy to stay up and chat till the early hours. conf 2014 8Conference-wise, the stand-out sessions for me were a couple that were relevant to those going indie, in particular hearing about how much happier and satisfied those who’ve gone down that route appear to be. It was also encouraging to hear the story of Hazel Gaynor who was picked up by an agent then a publisher after going indie with her debut novel ‘The Girl Who Came Home’. Indie definitely does seem to be the new slush pile. Jackie conf 2014 12It was fabulous to meet the writeromantics at the conference and I enjoyed some but not all of the talks. Sometimes there was a good message to impart but the delivery wasn’t quite right and others had me hanging off every word.  Jean Fullerton and Janet Gover are excellent at giving talks and Hazel Gaynor’s talk about the Titanic was very interesting. It was great to catch up with old acquaintances and I have made some new Twitter friends (if only I knew what to do with them!) The general feeling about the publishing conf 2014 16industry was much more upbeat than the last conference I went to, mostly I suspect, thanks to Amazon and the ease of self-publishing. It is very heartening to know that someone apart from your sister and best friend will be able to read your novel and we don’t have to wait to get a publishing deal. Probably the most promising bit of the conference for me, was meeting Tessa Shapcott who is a freelance editor of many years standing. She is going to knock my latest offering into shape and after that I can finally put it out there – somewhere, who knows where, yet! Helen P Conf HelenI had a fantastic weekend catching up with The Write Romantics at Harper Adams University, which is a beautiful campus, and skiving off sessions to hold our very own out in the sunshine! It was great to spend time with my editors from the fabulous Carina UK off campus, in a pub. Amazing, too, to see the lovely ODwyer (Author), although not for as long as I would have liked, as well as all the other fabulous writers I know. Alys Conf 2014 6Obviously the best thing about the conference was spending time with all of the other Write Romantics. I’d not met Helen R, Jackie and Deirdre before and it was like meeting people I’d known for years rather than someone new.  I also enjoyed catching up with friends I’d met last year like Alison May and meeting some lovely new people like Alison Morton, Ian Skillicorn and Lizzie Lamb. For me the stand out session was Nikki Logan’s talk on the Chemistry of Reading.  It made an awful lot of sense to me and made me realise that there are good biological reasons why I get so attached to certain books or characters.  I can now blame the Oxytocin in my brain for making me believe that Borchester is a real county somewhere between Gloucestershire and Herefordshire and that if you know where to look in London you will find Diagon Alley. Nikki’s talk made me see how as a writer I can use those reactions to really engage readers. I’m going to check out some of the novels that she recommended and get a copy of her book so I can learn more about the techniques you can use to do this. IMG_0369Getting all of the Write Romantics together was always going to result in a lot of laughing and the attempts to write sex scenes with Jo’s magnetic nature poetry probably created the most hilarity.  There’s clearly a good reason why none of us write erotica!  Most of our attempts are too X rated for a Saturday Spotlight (we may need a new post-watershed slot for them) but this one isn’t too inappropriate. Rachael conf 2014 11Naturally the best moment from the conference was being able to catch up in person with fellow Write Romantics. I didn’t make the Friday lunch, which most of the group enjoyed, due to being lost in transit. Myself and my friend managed to get completely lost, as whilst driving we were happily talking about writing and suddenly realised we were not where we wanted to be. All the talks at the conference were interesting, but I my favourites were Nikki Logan, Janet Gover and Clare Mackintosh and catching up with friends as well as making new ones was another highlight. I also enjoyed the fact that Harper Adams is an agriculture campus and slipped away from writing – only briefly, to get my farm fix each day. It was the cows and calves I was interested in, not the pig unit. This emitted the kind of smell even I wasn’t used to! Lynne Conf 2014 3‘I, or I should say we, had a really unusual ‘mini’ conference when my little puppy Rosie and I travelled to Newport to meet some of the group for lunch on the first day. At that point I had only met Deidre and her husband when they stayed near Oxford, and Alex when she visited me on her travels to Glastonbury, the rest of the group were new to me. But first I met Jo, then Jackie and Deidre and later Julie and Alex again. I can honestly say it was one of the nicest lunchtime meetings I’ve ever had, I couldn’t have asked to meet a nicer group of people and its so nice to be able to ‘talk shop’ with others that understand. So it might have taken me two hours driving each way for a two-hour lunch, but it was well worth it. And Rosie had a wonderful time too! As for me? photo (1)My highlight has already been spoken about. It was really all about seeing the WRs. Meeting Lizzie Lamb for an impromptu chat outside the coffee shop, whilst some of the WRs were playing hooky from a session, was also a bit of a light-bulb moment conference-wise, though. Lizzie was incredibly generous in sharing her hints and tips for going indie, and marketing more generally, and she said something like ‘this business isn’t for shrinking violets’. Apologies if I haven’t got that quite right, Lizzie, but you get the gist!  Networking isn’t my favourite thing in the world, so does that mean this game isn’t for me? I guess only time will tell, but I do think it means that the conference probably isn’t. Across the two years I have attended there have conf 2014 4been some good sessions, but the stand out one for me was one led by Julie Cohen last year and I felt like a different writer with new insight after just an hour. So I think next year’s conference fee has already been ear-marked to attend one of Julie’s training courses instead. It will still give me the opportunity to meet other writers and promote myself from shrinking violet to something else – perhaps a tree hugger… I’ve already made a start. If not, then I guess I can always take up crochet! We’d love to hear about the experience of others who attended the conference. What were the highs and inspirational moments for your? And, perhaps even more importantly, have you got that smell out of your nostrils yet? Jay xx