How was publishing your second novel different than publishing your first?
I wrote A MEMORY OF VIOLETS in 2012, after self-publishing my first novel THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME. Although that novel was doing very well, I wasn’t very well known, so I quietly got on with writing the second book. Everything changed when both books were picked up by HarperCollins in 2013. THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME was republished in 2014 and went on to become a NY Times bestseller, for which I am so grateful and still pinching myself about! Of course, as a result of this, in publishing A MEMORY OF VIOLETS I have experienced the added pressure of expectation! What has been especially lovely this time around has been hearing from readers who loved my first novel to tell me they are looking forward to reading my new one. That’s a really lovely moment as a writer – to have readers waiting for your latest book.
Your novel takes place in the 1870s and 1912. What is the most challenging aspect of writing two stories for one novel?
Having written over two time periods in THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME (set around the sinking of RMS Titanic), I naturally approached A MEMORY OF VIOLETS in a similar way. I’ve always enjoyed reading novels with a dual narrative. Quite often, these have a historical setting contrasting with a more contemporary setting (I love Jojo Moyes’ novel The Girl You Left Behind, in which she moves across a historical and contemporary timeline so well). In A MEMORY OF VIOLETS, both my time periods are historical, so this was a new challenge from a research point of view – and from a character point of view as I move between the very poor to the very privileged. With any dual narrative, the real challenge is in keeping the reader engaged with both threads of the story. In a way, you are creating two books in one, with equally intriguing and appealing settings and characters. It was certainly a challenging novel to write, but a thoroughly enjoyable challenge all the same!
How did you research the environments (extreme poverty, factories, historical London) in this book?
The idea for a novel based around the lives of London’s flower sellers first came from my love of the plays Pygmalion and My Fair Lady. I wanted to find the real Eliza Doolittles – the women who sold flowers and watercress on the streets of London. During my research, I discovered the work of a Victorian philanthropist, John Groom, who gave the flower sellers a home and taught them how to make artificial flowers in order to take them off the streets. I also read Henry Mayhew’s work, London Labour & The London Poor, in which he recorded incredibly detailed interviews with London’s street sellers. Discovering these lost voices from the past was a novelist’s dream, and provides wonderfully detailed accounts of life at that time.
After the initial spark of an idea, I read lots and lots of books (both non-fiction and novels) written in that era, or about the subject matter. I also use the internet to find more detailed information – newspaper reports, old video footage, photographs, places of interest and relevance for me to visit – and when I have this broad basis of information I start to write and create my characters. With A MEMORY OF VIOLETS, I was fortunate to be able to visit the London Metropolitan Archives, where I gathered a vast amount of information about John Groom’s Flower Homes in London and his ‘Flower Village’ orphanage in Clacton on the South coast. From detailed newspaper reports, photographs, business ledgers, personal letters and other fascinating items from the period, I developed a real sense of the era and of the flower sellers he had – the young girls and women he had helped – and what it meant to them to have been given this opportunity to improve their circumstances in life. I also walked around the streets where the Flower Homes were established, and Covent Garden, where the flower markets used to be based. Much of the layout of the streets is just as it was back in the Victorian era.
What is your favorite scene in A Memory of Violets?
I love the scene where Tilly Harper first finds the wooden box in the back of the wardrobe in her room, and discovers Florrie’s diary and the little trinkets she has kept with it. This is when we first start to connect the two stories of the orphaned sisters, Florrie and Rosie, with Tilly. I had the idea of pressed flowers being discovered in a book a long, long time ago. As a child I liked to press flowers in a wooden flower press and was always fascinated to discover them long after I’d forgotten they were there! It was lovely to be able to work that idea into this novel. I also enjoyed writing the scene where we catch up with Rosie and discover what happened to her immediately after she was separated from Florrie. It was heart-breaking to image a little child so terrified and bewildered on her own, and I hope that comes through on the pages.
What are you working on next?
I’m currently working on my third novel, THE MUSE, set in post-war London of the 1920s. The novel is about the rise of a young woman from chambermaid at the glamorous Savoy hotel to renowned stage star. I’m really enjoying researching and writing in this era where social boundaries just after the Great War – particularly for women – where in a state of flux. I’m excited to see the book and my characters coming together.
I’m also thrilled to be contributing to WWI anthology A FALL OF POPPIES, featuring novellas by nine authors centred around Armistice Day in 1918. The anthology will be published by William Morrow in 2016.
Thank you for inviting me to The Book Beacon. x
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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 harbored 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.
Hazel Gaynor’s 2014 debut novel THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME – A Novel of the Titanic was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. A MEMORY OF VIOLETS is her second novel.
Hazel writes a popular guest blog ‘Carry on Writing’ for national Irish writing website writing.ie and contributes regular feature articles for the site, interviewing authors such as Philippa Gregory, Sebastian Faulks, Cheryl Strayed, Rachel Joyce and Jo Baker, among others.
Hazel was the recipient of the 2012 Cecil Day Lewis award for Emerging Writers and was selected by Library Journal as one of Ten Big Breakout Authors for 2015. She appeared as a guest speaker at the Romantic Novelists’ Association and Historical Novel Society annual conferences in 2014.
Originally from Yorkshire, England, Hazel now lives in Ireland with her husband and two children.