Posted On July 25, 2016 by Print This Post

An Interview with Author Hazel Gaynor

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 

‘Sometimes life gives you cotton stockings. Sometimes it gives you a Chanel gown …’
GirlfromtheSavoy PB

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 Hazel_Gaynor_photo copyand 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! 

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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:

Fall of Poppies

TheGirlWhoCamHome_PB_C

MemoryVioletPB_NYT

GirlfromtheSavoy PB

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4 Responses to “An Interview with Author Hazel Gaynor”

  1. Hazel’s books are AWESOME and I have Jenn to thank for introducing me to them. I haven’t read GIRL FROM THE SAVOY yet but I’m hoping to read it when my granddaughters go on vacation.

    Hazel, how far ahead of writing your books do you start your research? Are you currently deep in research for your next book, or do you gather ideas for several future books and research them at the same time?

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | July 25, 2016, 10:09 am
  2. I’ve already added The Girl From the Savoy to my wish list on my Barnes and Nobles account. It sounds like a book I’ll want on my bookshelf. I’m a wannabe author, and when researching facts for my “ideas” I’ve only researched on the internet with the exception of purchasing three books, one about Florence Nightingale, and two about two other important historical figures. I’ve also looked at Pinterest maps of London, but of course, things change over the years, except maybe in a city that old. How am I to know? I’m an American who has never traveled outside the U.S. although I desperately want to. I feel I just won’t have some resources available to me, not of the quality that Ms. Gaynor had. Not an excuse to stop me in my tracks, just saying research is a daunting task. Although it speaks of setting, not so much facts, I’m sure I’ll be referring again to a post that appeared here on July 22, How To Vividly Describe a Setting That You’ve Never Visited. Thanks for your site! It’s a treasure trove of information and guidance!

    Posted by Wendy | July 25, 2016, 11:14 am
  3. From a readers point of view, I get the expectation bit, but I’ve enjoyed all of your books. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the amount of research you’ve done for each book. Thanks for taking the time for an interview. It was nice to have you with us again.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | July 26, 2016, 12:20 am

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