Hannah Murray and I talk about my author journey, writing My Mother’s Shadow and working on Summer of Secrets on Talk Radio Europe’s The Book Show.
Excerpt from a Q & A with Abby at Anne Bonny Books Blog. Read the whole post, including her fabulous review of My Mother’s Shadow here:
For the readers can you give a summary of your novel and your background?
My life has always revolved around books. I studied English and German literature at university and then became a fiction editor, first in New York and then in London, working mainly with women’s fiction and crime authors. I absolutely loved my job – where else do you get to read and talk about books all day, plus work with fabulous authors! – but I’ve also always had a variety of book ideas rattling around in my head. So when my husband’s job took us to Germany, I decided to change my path and do something different. It takes a little while to get your life and family sorted when you move countries, but eventually everyone was settled at school and nursery. The next day I sat down at the kitchen table and started writing. And that’s where I’ve been ever since
The novel is set at Harland House, is there a real-life inspiration behind the location?
I’ve been a National Trust addict ever since we moved to the UK and we’ve always loved poking around the countryside and old country houses on the weekends. Hartland is loosely based on a beautiful stately home called Polesden Lacey, which is about an hour south of London. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the particulars of my story or the characters, but it was always at the back of my mind when I tried to put myself into the layout and gardens of Hartland.
The novel is set in 1958. What pulled you towards this era in historical fiction?
The 1950s still feel close to us, with so many immediate family stories and living memories at hand, and it was driven by forward-thinking developments and efforts at modernisation. At the same time the moral attitudes towards women’s roles, emancipation and sexual enlightenment were stuck someplace in the Victorian age. That juxtaposition – being so close to us in years and yet miles away from our own understanding of the world – is an intriguing starting point for a story, I think. And there’s something nostalgic about that time period that adds a lovely texture and atmosphere to the historical setting.
The novel focuses on the mother and daughter relationship. The depths of love and bond can go either way. With people’s individual experiences very unique. What was it that drew you to the mother/daughter theme?
There tend to be so many stereotypical and formulaic views in the public mind with regard to mother-daughter relationships when, in reality, they’re probably one of the most complex, most lovely and most infuriating things we know. I tried to capture some of that, tried to show that none of the relationships in the book are straightforward or black and white. All of them are fuelled by love, regret, guilt and even dislike, and all of them require a tremendous capacity to forgive and understand – just like real life
The novel also has a theme of past, reflection and the mistakes we make that can echo into generations. Was there a real-life incident that inspired you?
The story of the lost sister was inspired by a friend who met a ‘new’ sister for the first time in her forties. It got me thinking about how complicated that encounter would be and how I would feel in a situation like that – again, not something that is straightforward at all. Generally, I find it endlessly fascinating that one (potentially small) moment in time can have such a monumental impact. It’s a thought that haunts you, particularly when facing big decisions in your life, until you remember that not only does it work both ways – a small act of kindness can have an equally powerful effect – but that you can’t really ever control the reverberations of that one moment in time. An excellent premise for a novel, I think!
Where it all began…
Born and raised in Germany, I studied English and German at university before moving abroad to work as a crime and women’s fiction editor in New York and London for many years. I now live in Frankfurt with my husband and two boys, writing full-time.
I was a fairly average child, much to the despair of my teachers, because the only thing I could do, and the only thing I ever properly understood, were stories. Making up stories and reading books, talking about characters and agonising over their fates, cheering them on and drawing inspiration from their heroic feats. Numbers were never my thing, neither were the sciences; in fact, the only time I really understood abstract concepts like cell duplication and condensation and the speed of light, was when I put myself into the shoes of this one poor, unfortunate cell, bursting under pressure and forced to spew forth clone cells to overcome all evil. That, I got. And even today, if something mathematical comes my way, like, let’s say, Year 7 physics, I imagine an unfortunate water droplet trying to find its way out of a closed room, anxious and afraid, and, lo and behold, I’m delivering a lengthy monologue on water condensation to a child who really only wanted a quick answer for his homework.
After skidding by at school and spending too much time reading novels in the library, I flourished at university. I studied English, American and German literature and being surrounded by people who were exactly like me, who loved to read, write and talk about it all day (in the library, too!), was a new and wonderful marvel.
I graduated rather reluctantly, studying abroad and writing for a local newspaper for a little while, but as soon as I started working in book publishing first in New York, then in London, I found that I loved being an editor as much as I loved reading and writing. Working with writers on shaping their stories, developing close relationships with authors and their creative processes and generally living and breathing books was a privilege and a joy for the ten years I worked in the industry.
When my husband and I moved back to Germany, however, I decided to take a leap into writing full-time. That leap became an amazing journey — and a dizzyingly steep learning curve. Writing at your leisure and scribbling stories in notebooks at night is very different to turning yourself into a writer-on-the-job. Someone who gets up early every day, no matter where the muse has gone to hide, who sits for hours to labour over plot and characters, writes and edits and edits and writes, only to start all over again the next morning, because the story doesn’t shine. It’s a process that’s in turn thorny and invigorating, frustrating and utterly fantastic — and I haven’t looked back since.