Lauren Westwood talks about books that introduce a bit of vintage with the modern.
1. Tell us about Finding Secrets?
Finding Secrets is the story of a modern girl who loves a touch of the old and quirky. Alex Hart is firmly grounded in the reality of managing a historic home open to the public, and yet, is easily swept up in the romance of tracking down the history of an old locket, entries from a mysterious diary, and uncovering the truth of her own origins.
This book was a joy to write because it enabled me to combine all manner of odd socks – The London Blitz, an Elizabethan House, a mysterious jewelled locket – and an intelligent and plucky heroine (not to mention a few handsome candidates for romantic leading man!)
2. If you have to pick one favourite character from the book, who would it be?
I’d say my favourite ‘character’ is more of an image: that of a young girl crawling out of the wreckage of a bomb site and catching snowflakes on her tongue – still maintaining her innocence in a time of tragedy. This was one of the pivotal elements of the book, and in my head, I visualize her inside a cracked snow globe – I’m not quite sure why, but I just like the idea of it.
I also like The Clockmaker, because I think he makes a quirky addition to the normal cast of characters in a romance novel, and it was fun to try to bend the mould a little bit.
3. How did you come up with the plotline for the book?
My debut novel, Finding Home, was about an estate agent who ‘saves’ a historic house and plans to open it to the public. My idea for Finding Secrets was to pick up where that book left off (with a new cast of characters), and show that there are plenty of trials and tribulations associated with such a venture.
I got some first-hand experience in running tours at historic houses while I was at university. I worked during the summer as a volunteer guide for the Preservation Society of Newport County in Rhode Island, which looks after many important houses built by the ‘robber barons’ such as the Vanderbilts, and the Astors in that area. That experience gave me some insight into what tour guides have to contend with. I thought that it would be a good backdrop for a novel that is about uncovering secrets of the past, and in that way, preserving history. One of the themes of the book is that ‘history is written by the survivors’ – but it is also interpreted and processed by people today through the lens of our own time.
4. What are you most proud of about the book?
I’m very proud of the way the book weaves together a number of strands that wouldn’t normally be seen to ‘go together’ in a typical romance novel – things like an old house open to the public, looting during the London Blitz, the artwork of Imperial Russia, clocks, model planes, and above all a cast of characters that are a little quirky, and hopefully likeable. I had never plotted a ‘mystery’ novel before on this scale, so I found it a challenging process making all the pieces fit, and then deciding when and what to reveal to the reader. I hope I’ve achieved a good end result, but in any event, I feel proud of the book, and eager to share it with readers who are looking for something a little bit ‘different’ than the usual romance fare.
5. What does your average writing day look like?
I don’t really have a typical day. When I’m working on a new book, I start with a detailed synopsis and sometimes a mind map. I may also do character studies or free-write certain scenes that pop into my head. Once I’ve got the initial idea to hand, I try to do 1000 words per day, give or take. I usually write the first draft without going back to edit, as I feel it’s important to get the flow of a book going. Lately, a lot of my time is taken up with editing. I don’t enjoy this as much as the free writing, but it’s the most vital part of producing something that’s fit for human consumption!
6. If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
Turn off your inner critic and just write. Getting your ideas down on paper is that all-important first step. Once you have a beginning, middle, and an end, all the rest is ‘just’ editing. Don’t worry if your first draft is rubbish – for 99% of us, it will be. Writing a book is about 5% ideas, 20% practice, and 75% hard work that can’t be avoided. Just get started, and see where things take you.
7. Do you listen to music when writing? And if so, what kind of music inspires you?
I don’t listen to music when I write. Like many writers, I find that it’s all too easy to get distracted! I do listen to a lot of audiobooks in my spare time when I’m not writing, and I really like the way modern audiobooks can be a real ‘performance’ of the book.
As far as music goes, I listen mostly to classical music. I also like (most of the time, anyway!) listening to my daughters practicing piano, recorder, and flute.
8. What is one thing about you your readers would be surprised to know?
I got some feedback recently from an acquaintance who liked the fact that my first novel, Finding Home, was ‘quintessentially English’. Thus it may surprise some readers to know that I’m American. I’ve lived in England since 2000, however. Normally, my writing group is very good at pointing out ‘Americanisms’ that occasionally do creep into my work. Also, I find that being a foreigner, it makes me very aware of what is, in fact, ‘quintessentially English’.
9. Who are your favorite authors?
Recently I’ve been into police procedurals, as I find that these are good to listen to on audiobook. I’m currently enjoying the Rivers of London series by Ben Arranovich. My all-time favourites, however, are the mystery/romance writers I read while growing up. These would include Elizabeth Peters, Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, and Daphne DuMaurier. In my view, these authors knew how to write cracking good stories that include a romance, rather than romances that try to tack on a plot.
10. Can you tell us a bit about your plans for the future?
Well, I would love to become a well-known author, and still have the freedom to write what I like! But on a more realistic level, I just take things one book at a time. I am ‘currently at work on my next novel’ (I’ve always wanted to be able to say that!).
A country house, a precious jewelled locket, and a puzzle dating back to the London Blitz and Imperial Russia. Utterly captivating, a fantastic romance from beginning to end.
Alex Hart loves her dream job as manager of Mallow Court, a historic Elizabethan house, even if her friends think she needs to get out more. But a discovery in the pocket of an old coat – a jewelled mechanical locket shaped like a bird – changes everything, and Alex discovers that things are not as they seem.
From an old diary, to a handsome barrister, a mysterious clockmaker, and the darkest hours of the London Blitz, Alex must follow the trail of the jewelled bird to uncover the truth about the things she holds dearest – and someone is determined not to let sleeping dogs lie!
Only by finding the secrets of the past can Alex find the keys to her future – and her heart.
Lauren Westwood is originally from California and relocated to England in 2000. She works as a lawyer for a renewable energy company. She currently resides in Surrey with her partner and their three daughters. She enjoys travel, visiting old houses, baking with her daughters, dance, playing piano, and hates tennis.