Q&A With Louise Fein

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Q&A With Louise Fein

My latest Q&A is with Louise Fein the author of the historical fiction novels,Daughter of the Reich, The Hidden Child and coming out on January 16th 2024 is The London Bookshop Affair.

Q: Would you like to tell the readers of the blog and I a little bit about The London Bookshop Affair?

A: Of course! Thank you so much for inviting me to your Q&A. The London Bookshop Affair is set primarily in 1962, in the months leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of that year. As the title would suggest, the novel is set in London, and tells the story of nineteen-year-old Celia Duchesne, a working class girl from Southwark in South London. Celia longs for a career, but with unsupportive parents and no qualifications or connections, she remains stuck behind the counter of a dusty old antiquarian bookshop on the Strand, her only escape from her hum-drum life being between the covers of a book or in the company of her good friend, Daphne, and Sam from next door. Then, one day, a handsome American walks into her life, and things begin to look up. Twenty years prior, Anya Moreau is dropped behind enemy lines in Nazi occupied France, her mission: to send encrypted messages back to London from resistance agents in the field. Cruelly betrayed, she is captured by the Nazis. When Celia learns about Anya, and her unexpected connection to her, she is determined to find out more about this brave young woman. But as she begins to discover the truth, Celia becomes unwittingly embroiled in uncovering state secrets, both past and present. As the nuclear missile crisis escalates, and Celia’s budding relationship takes a surprising turn, Celia is forced to make an impossible decision, in the name of justice, and love.

Q: How do you choose a topic for your historical fiction books, and what is the research process like?

A: I tend to start with a theme. In the case of The London Bookshop Affair, I wanted to write a novel exploring ideas around society’s expectations of women, how they should behave, and what happens when they don’t comply. Setting the book in the early 1960’s, therefore, seemed like the perfect time period for such an idea. It was just before second wave feminism and not that long after the Second World War, during the war women, paradoxically, experienced liberation of sorts. With men away fighting, jobs and opportunities not available to them in peace time suddenly were. Class was not a barrier either, and women took on all sorts of roles such as driving ambulances, working in factories, office work, and highly skilled or dangerous roles such as decrypting enemy messages and sabotage behind enemy lines. There was an atmosphere of camaraderie and everyone working together to defeat a common foe. After the war, however, women were expected to return to the kitchen, and many found that very difficult. The 1960’s was a period of great social change. It was the decade of youth culture, something never seen before. I wanted to explore how this could have caused conflict in the home. And of course, it was the height of the Cold War, high political tension and therefore a great time period in which to set a novel! I had an idea for the plot at the outset, but it needed more fleshing out. So I did some wide-ranging reading for the period including both non-fiction and fiction written at the time. This type of research really helps me to get a flavour for the time period and the contemporary attitudes, hopes and fears. While doing this, I worked more on the story I wanted to tell and an outline for the book. Once this was clear, I wrote my first draft. First drafts for me are messy affairs which I would never show anyone – they are just for me! They include lots of wrong turns, gaps and errors, as well as parts to fill in later, but they are the way I get to know my characters and find which areas I really need to research in more depth. I then do much more specific and detailed research for the second and third drafts of the book. This will include looking at original source materials such as magazines from the period (for which I went to The British Library), biographies of people I might be using as inspiration for my characters, diaries, de-classified materials such as papers from the Kennedy administration etc. By the time the third or possibly fourth draft is written, the book is usually ready to send to my editor. The research and writing process usually takes around twelve to eighteen months. There are then another few months of edits done with my editor’s input.

Q: I love reading historical fiction! As someone who enjoys reading historical fiction, I must know, what made you choose to write in the historical fiction genre?

A: I have always read and enjoyed historical fiction. I had had the idea for Daughter of the Reich, my debut novel, for about ten years before I dared to make an attempt to write and research it. I don’t think I realized, being a new, naïve author, that once established in historical fiction, you are likely to continue to write in that space as you will build up a readership there. That said, I am very happy to write historical fiction as I love researching history as much as writing it. Historical fiction brings the past to life, and we can learn so much about our present, and inform our future, by studying the past. I always try to find stories which resonate with today. Whilst we may live in a very different world, human nature doesn’t change and so it isn’t hard to connect with characters from a bygone age. I love stories which make me think, if I had been in their shoes, in that situation, what would I do? I strive to bring that question into my writing.

Q: Where is your favorite spot where you sit down to research, plot, write and edit your work?

A: This is a very good question, because I like to vary these depending on the task! Research, if I’m reading a book, I prefer to do in a comfy armchair with a notebook close at hand. Thinking about the story and plotting I find I do best on the move! Walking with the dog or running is the best activities for me to work out plot. Then, when I’m back home, I have to go straight to my laptop and note down my ideas. Other activities that make the ideas flow are doing housework or even in the shower. Recently I have been working on an outline for my latest book and was quite stuck for several days, when the idea of how to solve it popped into my head while I was driving the car! This was not the best place to be having good ideas, but I was so afraid I would forget it I had to pull over and make a note! Writing and editing always take place at my desk in my writing barn. I live in a very old house, the oldest part dating back to the 1500’s, and we have an Elizabethan barn which the previous owner converted into a workspace. It has very wonky floors and beams, but I love it because it is quiet and it feels like I have ‘gone to work’, even though it is only a few paces from my front door. It can be a bit chilly in the winter, but I have blankets and hot water bottles if it is very cold! I have a sofa in there too for reading, plus bookcases, so I am surrounded by books.

Q: Who were your biggest supporters of your writing goal and talent?

A: That has to be my family. My husband primarily, as he was the one who really encouraged me to give writing a go in the first place. But my children, too, are also supporters and always pick me up when I have my moments of imposter syndrome or when writing is hard! My parents, of course, for encouraging me to read in the first place and who always supported my choices. On the professional side, my wonderful agent who believes in my writing and my editor who is a joy to work with, and who understands what I am trying to achieve with each novel.

Q: What advice do you have for anyone wanting to write historical fiction?

A: I would say, firstly, try not to be in too much of a hurry. Writing is a long game and nothing in the business happens quickly. This is especially so, I think, with historical fiction where the research is so integral to the writing and adds a layer of complexity and work. I think you have to love the research part as much as the writing as this can’t really be skimmed over.

All that said, my biggest piece of advice though, is not to be tempted to put too much of that research into the book. Ninety percent of the research I do never makes it onto the page. It is much better, for the reader, if the historical information is infused through the story itself and the details are treated with a light touch. They will know by the confidence with which you write that the research has been done. The most important thing to focus on is the story itself.

Q: Does Hollywood have the rights to your work? The entertainment industry needs new content again.

A: No, film rights in my books are all available, so Hollywood, please do get in touch!

Q: If it’s not too early to talk about it, what is the topic of your next book?

A: Ah, it is a little tricky to talk about as I am in the early stages of working on my next project. I don’t want to tempt fate for it not to work out! What I can promise, however, is a mix of intrigue and mystery mixed up with some adventure and jeopardy for my main character!