A couple of weeks ago, in “The Fog of War,” I wrote about the long-term, often under-appreciated effects of the First World War. In that post, I promised to feature written Q&A interviews with several of the authors now writing novels set in the 1910s and 1920s, beginning with Hazel Gaynor, whose The Girl from The Savoy was sent to me for an interview at a time when I had no room in my schedule. I loved the novel, and I was delighted when Hazel agreed to answer my questions. The book went on sale June 7, so don’t miss it or her website, where you can find out more about her and her previous novels.
My questions are in bold.
What drew you to the story that became The Girl from The Savoy?
The idea came about through a discussion with my editor. We both love the 1920s and I was fascinated by the idea of an ordinary working girl who longed for a better life and who had access to the famous actresses she so admired. The dazzling social scene of London’s iconic hotels during the era felt like the perfect setting for that scenario. When I started researching the history of The Savoy Hotel I found so many wonderful stories of famous people who had dined and stayed there. I imagined the young chambermaids gossiping about the hotel’s guests in their room late at night, and the story developed from there.
Tell us about Dolly, your central character—and Loretta, who is in a way her counterpart but has in other ways led a very different life.
The Girl from The Savoy tells the story of two women from very different social backgrounds: Dolly Lane, a chambermaid at London’s iconic Savoy Hotel, and Loretta May, a famous actress in the West End. Both are struggling in the aftermath of the Great War, which has left them with secrets and regrets. Dolly is a gutsy, plucky heroine who dreams of a better life for herself. I had such fun writing her. She feels like a real person to me now, and I hope readers will be rooting for her! Loretta’s privileged life is so different to Dolly’s, but when they meet we realize that they are perhaps not so very different after all. I loved writing the exchanges between them.
You have two previous novels, A Memory of Violets and The Girl Who Came Home. Where does The Girl from The Savoy fit in that trajectory—or does it?
There is no link between the three novels, other than that they are all historical. I’m fascinated by the way people lived in the past, and by the incredible life-changing events that took place in the last 100 years. Often it’s an image from the era, or a person or event I read about that first ignites the creative spark, then I let my imagination take over. My first novel was inspired by the Irish connections to the Titanic; my second by the flower sellers of Covent Garden in Victorian London. The Girl from The Savoy took me into the years of the Great War and the early 1920s, which were both new periods/events for me to write about. I suppose it makes sense that my writing has moved forward a little in time period with this latest novel.
World War I, known then as the Great War, is a looming presence in this novel. Everyone is struggling, in some way, to cope with their experiences during the war or the effects (sometimes indirect) of the war. What made you decide to approach your story in this way?
During the early 1920s, women’s roles were changing dramatically. War had opened their eyes to new experiences and for many it was nearly impossible to return to a life in domestic service after the relative freedoms of factory or office work. For the social elite, the war had also challenged the accepted social norms for young ladies. Many had worked as nurses and experienced life outside the stuffy confines of their privileged existence for the first time. With the suffragettes fighting for the vote and many women having to manage without their husbands and sons who had never returned, this was a real period of social change and that always allows for great story. The Great War was such a life-changing event that it was impossible to write a novel set in the years directly after it without acknowledging the impact it had on everyone’s lives.
What would you like readers to take away from The Girl from The Savoy?
Every reader will take something different from every book, so in a way, it’s really not for me to say! When I read, I love discovering something I didn’t know much —or anything—about, so I hope my readers will experience that through my characters and the historical settings I place them in. Ultimately, I want my books to create an emotional response in the reader as they forget about real life for a while and step into my fictional world. All any writer can do is write from their heart and hope that readers will connect in some way with what they have done.
What are you working on now?
I have two exciting projects underway at the moment!
My fourth novel (as yet untitled) is inspired by the true events surrounding two young cousins who claimed to photograph fairies in the village of Cottingley in Yorkshire in the 1900s and convinced men such as Arthur Conan Doyle of their authenticity. Growing up in Yorkshire, this is a story I have always been aware of and one I cannot wait to share. The novel will be published in spring/summer 2017.
My other project is a historical novel Last Christmas in Paris, which I am co-writing with the author of Becoming Josephine and Rodin’s Lover, Heather Webb. The novel is a love story—written in letters—about a young English woman and a soldier who promise to spend Christmas together in Paris until the Great War sends them on different paths. It’s such a great experience writing this with Heather. It will be published in fall 2017.