Hazel Gaynor explains why she revisits the 1920s in The Girl from the Savoy.
1. Can you tell us about The Girl from the Savoy?
The Girl from The Savoy is set in London in the early 1920s. It tells the story of two women from very different backgrounds: Dolly, a chambermaid at the iconic Savoy Hotel, and Loretta, a famous actress in the West End. Both are struggling in the aftermath of the Great War which has left them with secrets and regrets. When Dolly replies to an advertisement for a composer’s muse, she is thrust into the exhilarating lives of Loretta and her brother, Perry. A brighter future beckons, but at what cost?
2. How did you come up with the idea for this novel?
The idea came about through a discussion with my editor. We both love the era and I was fascinated by the idea of an ordinary working girl who longed for a better life and who had access to the famous actresses she so admired. The dazzling social scene of London’s iconic hotels during the 1920s felt like the perfect setting for that scenario. When I started researching the history of The Savoy I found so many wonderful stories of famous people who had dined and stayed there. I imagined the young chambermaids gossiping about the hotel’s guests in their room late at night, and the story developed from there.
3. Why did you pick this particular time period, London in the 1920s, to set a story in?
During this era, women’s roles were changing dramatically. War had opened their eyes to new experiences and for many it was nearly impossible to return to a life in domestic service after the relative freedoms of factory or office work. For the social elite, the war had also challenged the accepted social norms for young ladies. Many had worked as nurses and experienced life outside the stuffy confines of their privileged existence for the first time. With the suffragettes fighting for the vote and many women having to manage without their husbands and sons who had never returned, this was a real period of social change and that always allows for great story. And, of course, there’s also the cocktails and dancing and fabulous clothes! Who could resist?
4. Which part of the book did you write last?
5. Is there a period in time you would like to go back to yourself?
I’d love to go back to the 1920s. I’d have afternoon tea at The Savoy and go dancing at the Café de Paris. I’d see a show in the West End and visit Selfridges to see all the latest fashions. Life seemed so much simpler and more elegant then.
6. Who are some of your own favourite authors at the moment?
I love Rose Tremain and have just bought her latest, The Gustav Sonata. I also loved Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist and can’t wait to read her new release, The Muse. I recently read, and loved, Kathleen Tessaro’s Rare Objects. I’m currently reading Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible (a modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice), which is great fun.
7. What is the biggest myth about being a writer?
That it’s easy and that we spend all our time at parties! Writing is so difficult. 90% of a writer’s time is spent alone with their manuscript and their self-doubt. Every writer I’ve met struggles to turn their idea into a complete novel.
8. What advice can you give to people who want to have a career in writing?
Write the book you want to write (and read). Don’t follow fads or trends. Stick with your gut, sit down and write and write – every day – until it is finished and is the best book you can write. Also, be prepared to alter the route you take towards a writing career. It is never straightforward. Most roads to publication come with several bumps and many detours.
9. What’s next for Hazel Gaynor?
I have two exciting projects underway at the moment! My fourth novel (as yet untitled) is inspired by the true events surrounding two young cousins who claimed to photograph fairies in the village of Cottingley in Yorkshire in the 1900s and convinced men such as Arthur Conan Doyle of their authenticity. Growing up in Yorkshire, this is a story I have always been aware of and one I cannot wait to share. The novel will be published in spring/summer 2017.
My other project is an historical novel, Last Christmas in Paris, which I am co-writing with author of Becoming Josephine and Rodin’s Lover, Heather Webb. The novel is a love story – written in letters – about a young English woman and a soldier who promise to spend Christmas together in Paris until the Great War sends them on different paths. It’s such a great experience writing this with Heather. It will be published in fall 2017.
London, 1923: Welcome to The Savoy hotel, a glittering jewel in London’s social scene, where the lives of the rich, the famous, and the infamous intertwine. Here, amid the cocktails and the jazz, two women with very different pasts try to forget the devastation of the Great War and forge a new life in a city where those who dare to dream can have it all.
Dolly Lane is The Savoy’s newest chambermaid, her prospects limited by a life in service. But her proximity to the dazzling hotel guests fuels her dreams – to take the London stage by storm, to wear couture gowns, to be applauded by the gallery girls and admired by the critics…to be a star, just like her idol, Loretta May. Born an earl’s daughter, Loretta has rebelliously turned her back on the carefully ordered life expected of a woman at the top of society’s elite. She will love who she wants, and live as she likes. Outwardly, her star burns bright, but Loretta holds a dark secret. She alone knows that her star cannot burn forever.
When an unusual turn of events leads Dolly and Loretta’s lives to collide, they must both learn to let go of their past in order to hold on to what they most desire.
Hazel Gaynor is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of A Memory of Violets and The Girl Who Came Home, for which she received the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award. Hazel is a contributing author to World War I anthology Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War. As features writer for national Irish writing website writing.ie, Hazel has interviewed Philippa Gregory, Sebastian Faulks, Kate Mosse, Jojo Moyes and Cheryl Strayed, among others.