Wednesday, 26 April 2017

It was a story I’d wanted to write for years...

Interview with Margaret Leroy
by Agnes A. Rose

Margaret Leroy is a British novelist. As a child she wrote elaborate fantasy stories but she never showed them to anyone. When she was about 12, she stopped writing and she did not start again till her mid-twenties. She went to Oxford to study music. In her twenties she tried all sorts of things – music therapy, play-leading with children with disabilities, work in a toy shop, teaching. Finally she found work as a social worker. At first, she wrote non-fiction and a book for children. Her first novel – TRUST – was published in 1999. This book was adapted for a British television film with a screenplay by Matthew Hall as LOVING YOU in 2003. Later she wrote POSTCARDS FROM BERLIN (2003) that was also published as THE PERFECT MOTHER, and THE RIVER HOUSE (2005). In Poland we can read two of the Margaret Leroy’s books: THE SOLDIER’S WIFE and THE ENGLISH GIRL which were published by GOLA.

Agnes A. Rose: A very warm welcome to you, Margaret, and can I thank you, for taking time to talk to me today. Because recently I have read your book called THE SOLDIER’S WIFE, I would like to start our conversation just with it. The main character of this story is Vivienne de la Mare who gets involved in a forbidden love affair with an SS-officer. It is very controversial. Could you tell us what motivated you to create this story?

Margaret Leroy: It was a story I’d wanted to write for years, ever since I first learned about the Occupation of the Channel Islands by the Germans in WW2. It was a hidden piece of history, and I thought it would make a wonderful setting for a story. But I didn’t feel the right moment had come until I’d already written five contemporary novels: I was quite nervous about writing my first historical novel!

AAR: While writing the history of Vivienne and Gunther, weren’t you afraid that you would create negative emotions both in readers and critics?

ML: I guess I don’t really think about critics when I’m writing a novel – I just have a story which I want to tell. For me, the Occupation was fascinating to write about, because people face such difficult dilemmas in their everyday lives when they live alongside the enemy. I was interested in the moral complexity of the situations my heroine would have to confront, and I hope that people will empathise with her as they read the story.

AAR: We all know how women who fraternized with the enemy were punished not only during the Second World War but also after the war. You mention that in your novel, too. Do you think that Vivienne would also deserve such a punishment? After all, she loves that German officer in a way, and besides, she meets him in order to be able to provide food to her family when her husband is absent.

ML: In fact, women who’d slept with the enemy weren’t punished in that way on Guernsey, but some were punished on Jersey, one of the other islands. That was one of the reasons I chose Guernsey as my setting, as that wasn’t essentially part of the story I wanted to tell. As to whether she’d have deserved such punishment, I guess that’s for the reader to decide!

AAR: While reading THE SOLDIER’S WIFE, I got the impression that Vivienne’s mother-in-law is also a very important character in this story. Despite the fact that she lives in her own world, in a certain way she understands the reality that surrounds her. Did you have any difficulties creating this character?

ML: I think you’re absolutely right in what you say about her. She’s someone whose mind is starting to go, but she also sometimes sees into the heart of things. I used to work as a psychiatric social worker, and that background was helpful in creating the character – I had some understanding of the way someone suffering from dementia might talk or behave. And I like creating characters who may seem strange or different, but who have their own wisdom.

AAR: Why did you choose Guernsey as the setting of your book?

This is the Polish cover of
 "The Soldier's Wife"
Published by GOLA (2013)
Translated by Anna Wojtaszczyk
& Olga Wojtaszczyk 
ML: Before I wrote the book, I went to Guernsey on a research trip as I knew I couldn’t write the book if I didn’t love the place. And I was enchanted. Though the island is quite small, it was easy to leave the crowded bits behind and to seek out peaceful places, like the deep lanes of St Pierre du Bois, where I decided Vivienne should live. I even chose a particular house where I could picture her living. I find it a huge help in writing a story if I can see the setting very precisely in my mind’s eye. And once I’ve created that world, it’s always such a joy to return to it every time I sit down to write.

AAR: Your second book we can read in Polish is called THE ENGLISH GIRL. This is the story of a seventeen-year-old girl who is offered the chance to study at the Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. Pre-war Vienna is very beautiful and makes Stella Whittaker an amazing impression. What made you decide to write this kind of book? Its plot also focuses on the Second World War.

ML: I’d visited Vienna in my twenties, and found it an amazing place. In terms of culture, it’s so rich: Freud lived there, and so many celebrated musicians – Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart. And the coffee-shops are wonderful! I chose the 1930’s because I find those years just before war broke out very fascinating – the way people maybe sensed what was going to happen and yet it couldn’t be stopped.

AAR: And now let’s talk about your debut, please. I read on your website that your first book called TRUST deals with an allegation of sex abuse. This is a very serious problem. Could you tell us something more about this novel?

ML: At the time I wrote it, I was working as a social worker, and the seed of the story was something that happened to some people I knew. The story is told from the viewpoint of a woman, Chloe: her lover is a child psychologist who has an allegation of child abuse made against him. The incredibly difficult dilemma she faces is whether to believe him when he says the allegation is false. Should she trust him?

AAR: What made TRUST be adapted for a British television film? Do you remember what you felt when you found out about it?

ML: I was completely thrilled! It was so exciting for me to see my story on the screen, and they made a beautiful job of it. It was so strange to think that one day the idea had come to me, to write this story, and now it had grown into a television drama that was seen by an audience of eight million people.

AAR: What motivates you to write about difficult life problems?

This is the Polish cover of
"The English Girl"
Published by GOLA (2014)
Translated by Anna Wojtaszczyk
& Olga Wojtaszczyk
ML: My first thought was to say that this is because of my experience as a social worker. But I think the answer is more complicated than that – maybe I was drawn to social work for the same reason that I’m drawn to write stories about difficult life problems! I think I’ve always been intrigued by the darker side of human nature, and I always want to understand why people behave as they do. And of course many stories do deal with difficult things: you need to put your characters into extreme situations and see how they react.

AAR: Before you published TRUST, you had written non-fiction and a book for children. Could you tell us something more about this part of your writing career?

ML: I wrote books about miscarriage and female sexuality. I enjoyed researching and writing those books, but if I’m entirely honest they were also a way in to what I really wanted to do – writing novels. Through my non-fiction, I met publishers and literary agents, and began to understand how publishing works, and all that knowledge was helpful when I wanted to offer my first novel for publication.

AAR: Your latest book is entitled A BRIEF AFFAIR. Its plot also focuses on the Second World War. Why do you write about the war so often?

ML: My first five novels were set in the present day, but I’ve since written three WW2 books, and very much enjoyed writing them. There are still so many great stories to be told about WW2, and readers continue to be fascinated by it. But I think A BRIEF AFFAIR will be my last WW2 book, and I’m writing something quite different now.

AAR: How do you find the perfect balance between dialogue and narrative?


ML: I find this quite a difficult question to answer, as it’s not really something I think about consciously when I’m writing. My approach is first to write a plot outline, and then to write a quick first draft of the book, which will have most of the dialogue in, but not very much description. Then in later drafts I’ll fill out the story, and there will be much more narrative and description, but the dialogue will probably stay much as it is.

AAR: Could you tell us how your typical working day looks like?

ML: I only write in the mornings – I can’t write for longer than four or five hours at a time. In the afternoons, I deal with all the other things – research, email and so on. I also try to fit in a bit of exercise – writing is the most sedentary of occupations. I’m a fanatical swimmer, and I’m constantly dragging my poor husband off on long walks!

AAR: You mentioned above that now you are working on a new novel. Would you like to tell us something about it?

ML: My new novel is set in the New Forest, which is a beautiful part of England where I grew up, and where my grandfather was a forester, so I know the setting very well. The story has two strands – one is contemporary, and one takes place a thousand years ago. So this is something quite different for me, and utterly fascinating to write.

AAR: Margaret, thank you very much for this nice conversation. Is there anything you would like to add or tell your Polish readers?

ML: I’m so glad that you enjoy my novels. Happy reading!

If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for all your comments. Feel free to contact us. We promise that we'll try to answer all of them.