I’m a history nerd and a huge fan of Hazel Gaynor’s novels, which are set in the early twentieth century. Hazel was kind enough to grant me an interview about her latest book, The Girl From The Savoy.
THE GIRL FROM THE SAVOY – William Morrow – June 2016
Dolly Lane is a dreamer; a downtrodden maid who longs to dance on the London stage, but her life has been fractured by the Great War. Memories of the soldier she loved, of secret shame and profound loss, by turns pull her back and spur her on to make a better life.
When she finds employment as a chambermaid at London’s grandest hotel, The Savoy, Dolly takes a step closer to the glittering lives of the Bright Young Things who thrive on champagne, jazz and rebellion. Right now, she must exist on the fringes of power, wealth and glamor—she must remain invisible and unimportant.
But her fortunes take an unexpected turn when she responds to a struggling songwriter’s advertisement for a ‘muse’ and finds herself thrust into London’s exhilarating theatre scene and into the lives of celebrated actress, Loretta May, and her brother, Perry. Loretta and Perry may have the life Dolly aspires to, but they too are searching for something.
Now, at the precipice of the life she has and the one she longs for, the girl from The Savoy must make difficult choices: between two men; between two classes, between everything she knows and everything she dreams of. A brighter future is tantalizingly close—but can a girl like Dolly ever truly leave her past behind?
What came to mind first, a story that takes place at The Savoy Hotel or your main character, Dolly Lane?
The idea for the book developed from a conversation with my editor about our love of the 1920s. I was intrigued by the social scene of London’s iconic hotels during the era and by the idea of an ordinary working girl who had access to the rooms of the famous guests she idolised. That working girl became Dolly Lane. I saw her very clearly in my mind and loved developing and writing her story. Dolly is plucky heroine. She’s flawed and makes mistakes, but is a hopeless dreamer. I really hope readers will root for her!
There are several storied hotels in London. Why the Savoy?
Initially, I was undecided between setting the novel at The Ritz or The Savoy. Through my initial research I made contact with the archivist at The Savoy hotel. She was incredibly helpful and gave me some great recommendations for reading about the history of the hotel. The decision was made! I’m so glad it was The Savoy. I learnt so much about the hotel and its guests and it really is the perfect setting for the book. I spent a wonderful afternoon sitting in the hotel’s stunning foyer, talking through the incredible history of the place with the archivist, which was really special.
The story is told from the point of view of four characters, supported by a large cast of characters. Were there characters who didn’t make it to the final draft?
Dolly, Loretta, Perry and Teddy were there from the start, as were most of the supporting characters. Everyone stayed in, although some characters changed along the way. Clover (Dolly’s best friend) became much more pragmatic, and Teddy’s character developed quite significantly as I wrote him. I like the idea of revisiting him at some stage.
The Girl From the Savoy is your third novel. Has your approach to writing changed since your first book?
Not really. I always start with the idea, a couple of weeks of initial research to pin the story down to a particular place or person and then write up a rough outline of the book, so I have some sense of where the story is going. I don’t plot out each chapter and don’t always know the ending. For me, the joy of writing is not knowing exactly what’s going to happen. I do think I’m harder on myself now, and more critical of my writing. What has also definitely changed since my first book is the sense of expectation, while I’m writing. Readers are waiting for the next book which is really lovely, and also terrifying! I try to write/research when the children are at school during the week, and whenever I can grab time beyond that. Some days I arrive at my desk in a bad mood and no words will come. Other days, it flows easily. Regardless, you have to keep showing up and putting the words down.
All of your novels are historical fiction, which requires extensive research. How long did it take to research The Girl From the Savoy? Have you streamlined your research methods with each successive book?
I love the process of discovery and research and I’m always surprised by what I learn. I continually researched The Girl From The Savoy over the 18-month period of writing it. Some of the early research was big picture stuff: the Great War, life in the 1920s, London theatre and actresses, The Savoy. This was then followed by researching smaller details to add colour and layers to the story: what people drank, what they wore, what music the listened to, how they travelled around. I’m not especially organised or methodical with my notes (and wish I was!), although I do keep a Pinterest board for all my books to collate imagery I discover during my research. I surround myself with books, photographs, music from the era – anything that takes me back to that time. Really, research never stops. Even up to the final proof read, I am fact-checking the smallest details. It keeps me awake at night!
I’m fascinated with the period details in historical fiction. Marcel waves, Beecham’s Powder, Kodak folding cameras, fashion designers Vionnet and Poiret, and icons Cecil Beaton and Tallulah Bankhead are mentioned in your book. Was there a particular topic you especially enjoyed researching?
As mentioned above, I love discovering these small details. It’s really important to me to get them right as they add real authenticity to the book. I found the theatre research particularly fascinating. I spent several afternoons in the Reading Room at the Victoria & Albert Museum Theatre Archives in London, reading through scrapbooks of famous actresses and theatrical producers of the 1920s. It was incredibly inspiring.
Two of your characters share cherry cake. Why cherry cake and not Victoria sponge or seed cake?
Something about cherry cake reminded me of a Great Aunt, so it is a little homage to her!
Have you read any novels that take place during the early twentieth century? If you’re currently working on a story in this era, please share your favorite research sources.
RU will send one randomly chosen commenter a copy of The Girl From The Savoy, so be sure to comment!
Bio: Hazel Gaynor is an exciting new voice in historical fiction. Her writing has been featured in the Sunday Times Magazine and Irish Times, and she was the recipient of the 2012 Cecil Day Lewis award for Emerging Writers. Originally from North Yorkshire, England, Hazel now lives in Ireland with her husband, and two young children. For more information, please visit her website or follow her on twitter.
Novels by Hazel Gaynor:
- Literary Archaeology – The Craft of Historical Research with Hazel Gaynor
- Letting Go with Hazel Gaynor
- Weekly Lecture Schedule April 14-18
- Weekly Lecture Schedule, Monday, February 9 – Friday, February 13, 2015
- Donna MacMeans: The Value of Research