Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Q and A with Rachel Hore

After reading The Silent Tide, I was lucky enough to be offered a Q and A with author Rachel Hore. I really enjoyed Rachel's writing style throughout the novel and will be looking forward to reading more of her work. The Silent Tide tells the story of two women working in publishing. Isabel moves to post-war London to make a new life for herself, while the present day story of Emily is linked as she becomes involved in Isabel's past as she starts to discover why Isabel seems to have been erased from history. Both women become involved in relationships with authors which don't turn out quite as they had hoped and I enjoyed the parallels between their lives and relationships.

I was particularly interested in the story of Isabel and Hugh. Isabel was using the post Second World War ideas to her advantage, moving away from home at a young age and finding her own job and home. Hugh seems to admire this in her at first, but when she becomes a mother, he expects her to become the traditional 'stay-at-home' wife figure, which she cannot adjust too. I also wondered why Isabel and Emily both became attracted to the romantic, creative authors who they admire and ultimately become disappointed in as they realise that they are not the men they had hoped them to be. I was really excited to ask Rachel about these two themes in particular...
A quote at the start of the book is taken from Only Halfway to Paradise: Women in Postwar Britain by Elizabeth Wilson – ‘Women were wanting to escape the net just as men were climbing back into it.’ How did you want to explore this in the relationship of Isabel and Hugh? Do you think their relationship was very typical of the era?
Following the Second World War there was a tendency, enacted in government policy and expressed by the popular media, to assume that women would withdraw from paid employment and get back to the kitchen once their menfolk were demobbed and wanting 'their' jobs back. At the same time,  more women were actually becoming better educated and wishing for greater independence.   Whilst it was considered socially and economically acceptable for girls to take on certain kinds of 'female' employment -  teaching, secretarial, nursing - marriage and children were still presented as the ideal, and once married, or certainly after having children, they were definitely expected to retreat to the home.  However, in some more liberal-minded areas of the workplace, publishing being a notable one, educated women were able more strongly to make their mark, and Isabel in The Silent Tide is an example.
I've portrayed Hugh, her husband-to-be, in some respects as forward looking.  He admires Isabel's talents as an editor and intellectually he's very much aware of the dilemmas that young women face.  At the same time, he's a product of his environment, and deeply conservative underneath it all.  Although they love each other deeply, he and Isabel have false expectations of each other in their marriage, and it's these that they need to overcome. Diary evidence suggests that many couples must have had versions of Hugh and Isabel's experience at the time, even if they broadly accepted the social norm. 

Isabel and Emily both work in publishing and both have relationships with authors they are representing. Did you base either of their stories on your own experiences in publishing or did you think about the opposite of what could have happened in your own life?
I met my husband (the writer D.J. Taylor) after I published the paperback of his first novel when I worked at HarperCollins.  As we know, very many people meet their partners in the workplace.  However, I was never his editor in the sense of being involved in the creative process - that was the prerogative of his hardback publisher.  In The Silent Tide I became fascinated by the idea that the professional, the personal and the gender-political could become mixed up to the extent that Isabel, Hugh's editor then wife, unwittingly becomes his muse for a book that's basically about their marriage!  One does hear about writers who fictionalize their own marriages (Hanif Kureschi being one, Philip Roth another), but I assure you that I haven't done such a thing and nor has my husband (yet)!   

Did you decide Isabel’s fate when you first began writing the book, or did it proceed or change as her life went on?
Before starting the novel, I knew that Isabel had been swept away in the great floods of 1953 and it was towards this plot point that my past narrative was working.  The issue of interest for me as a writer, however, was not her demise, but why her story had been suppressed by Hugh's second wife.  Some might see variants of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca in this, though this wasn't in my mind as I wrote.  

We occasionally get to read parts of Isabel’s memoir in her own words. Why did you decide not to tell her whole story in that way?
Isabel is a girl carried along by the tides of her time.  She's not a person who's naturally very self-aware, nor does she consciously stand with or against the social norm. She's a person of feeling who acts intuitively.  I wanted the past story to be a little more knowing than the way she would have told it herself - hence the third person narrative.
If you could write the biography of any author, who would you choose? What questions would you want answered?

Oh dear, everyone's been written about.  I'd be interested to ask Harper Lee why she wrote no more books after To Kill a Mockingbird.  Surely she had some more things to say. 
The covers of your books are always so beautiful and intriguing; I am always drawn to them in book shops. How much input do you have in these?

Thank you.  It was the cover of A Place of Secrets that instigated the concept of looking through a gate or doorway to a lovely secret world beyond.  After the novel became a bestseller, my publishers suggested that the backlist should be rejacketed in a similar way and that the design of future books should build on the idea, too, and this seemed sensible. I fully understand that my books have to have the branded look that we're told retailers and many readers need. However, my publisher has always asked my opinion of different versions of covers within the general style, and my response has been largely heeded.
What is your usual process for writing a novel? What kind of research do you find most valuable?
 I tend to develop a general feeling for the setting and atmosphere of a novel and develop everything from there.  I read a great many books about all aspects of my subject, and after a while characters and situations start to grow in my mind.  After that I write a two page synopsis, whilst continuing to read and think and work out details in a notebook.  I always know where the book is going to go before I start to write it, but not always how it's going to get there. Sometimes, as with The Silent Tide, the unexpected happens!
Which authors do you enjoy reading? If you could recommend a list of ‘must-read’ books to a book group, what would they be?
I belong to a book club myself and some of our most successful discussions have been around books that have polarized the group.  We Need to Talk about Kevin is the classic example.  Thinking about it, an issue that often crops up is whether or not the group 'likes' the central character or finds them 'sympathetic', and Eve in that novel is exactly the kind of narrator who flies in the face of that requirement. There's something satisfying about concluding that one might not particularly like a book but might still recognize that it's fascinating, gripping and intellectually challenging, and that it has maybe changed the way one looks at the world.  Other recent books that come into this category include The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Dinner by Herman Koch. My personal perfect list of recent titles? And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled, Hosseini, The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Kill by Richard House, The Summer House by Santa Montefiore, The Great Silence by Juliet Nicolson (non-fiction about the aftermath of WWI), and Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson (memoir).

A huge thank you to Rachel Hore for taking the time to answer these questions and for Dawn Burnett at Simon & Schuster for arranging this.

You can follow Rachel on Twitter @rachelhore and find out more about her books at www.rachelhore.co.uk


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