Georgia Hill Georgia Hill writes rom-coms and historical fiction and is published by Harper Impulse, the digital-first imprint of Harper Collins.
Her first novel, Pursued by Love has now been re-released as Pride and Perdita.
Find her on Twitter @georgiawrites and at www.georgiahill.co.uk
I've often read books set in and around WWI, but it's fair to say that this book is a contemporary romance first and foremost. The modern day settings are beautifully drawn:
The blossom fuzzed around the branches like so much pinky-white candy-floss. In contrast, in the next field, there was a decrepit building housing a tractor. The unploughed field was furrowed deep in red clay mud and, above, the sky had deepened to an azure blue, warm with promise.
Rachel's new life in Herefordshire seems a little too ideal, perhaps, but it is perfect for the reader to indulge in some escapism. It contrasts, however, with the events collated in journals and letters left behind by the previous owner of the house. Reading about this, the story of a young woman living in a house once occupied by a lady who was old when she died there, I was reminded of Mary Stewart's Thorneyhold, and hoped that the plot would differ. It does.
The voices coming from the diaries and letters are period-authentic, but what we find out about war is new. Horrific, yes, as one would expect, but told from a very different perspective. As a lover of history, I enjoy being provoked into looking at things differently, and Hetty's experiences as an Edwardian woman and WWI wife allowed me to do that. As they do for Rachel, the protagonist, who mourns for the young soldiers whose lives she is reading about, and who are 'snuffed out' just as she is getting to know them.
Overall, I felt more captivated by the modern day scenes, but this is as it should be. We never lose sight that this is a book about how the past affects the present. It is not an historical novel. It is a romance, yes, but what I found really refreshing was the glimpses we were given of what happens after the 'happy ever after' - when the irritations of domestic life rub the gleam off the shimmer of lustful new love. These scenes were particularly truthfully written.
All the characters are well-written. There are no stock characters or stereo-types, with perhaps one exception. The two main characters, Rachel and Gabe, are deftly drawn, and while we see their beauty, we also see their flaws.
The two worlds, past and present, are pulled together in a credible way, and I found the ending satisfying. A great book to curl up with on a Sunday afternoon.
[One tiny warning - at times, the language is what my mother would call 'fruity'.]
After I had read the book, I asked Georgia a few questions:
The present day scenes in Herefordshire are beautifully described. Do you know the area well?
GH: Hi Annie, thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog. I’m delighted to be here. In answer to your first question, I lived, until very recently, in Herefordshire for nearly twenty years. Although not born and bred (I have very itchy feet and have lived all over the UK) I fell completely in love with my adopted county. It’s a border land and one which has a long and very rich history. It’s also stuffed full of myth and folklore. All good fodder for a writer. It’s stunningly beautiful and seems to have a wealth of eccentric characters. It’s fairly undiscovered although I have no idea why. It has great walking country, acres of loneliness, excellent food and exceptionally friendly people. I’ve moved to the coast now and miss it terribly (although I have to confess to love being by the sea). Thank you for liking the descriptive passages in While I Was Waiting. I really would recommend visiting the area (and no, I’m not taking a backhander from the Herefordshire Tourist Board!)
Are the episodes from Hetty’s life based on real events? Did you base the characters in her world on real people?
GH: Although I did a lot of research and used snippets and ideas from the many diaries and letters from the World War 1 period, Hetty and her world is completely imaginary. I’ve always been fascinated by the period 1900 to 1920 as people lived through such an era of cataclysmic change. Not just the war but with the coming of motorcars and airplanes, women’s suffrage (and voting rights for a wider group of men too). In the 21st century we sometimes wonder at the pace of change in our lives; it must have been quite extraordinary to live through the first twenty years of the 20th. My great-grandmother lived to her late 90s. She could remember Queen Victoria’s funeral, had brothers who fought in the war, drove one of the first cars in the town and was still running a business in the 1980s. If I had anyone in mind when I wrote the indomitable Hetty, it was her!
And where did the idea originally come from?
GH: My family, in common with many, suffered a loss during World War 1. My great-grandfather died in battle in 1916. He was always talked about – by his surviving children and, in turn, my father. Dad was fascinated by the war. I used to look through one of his books – a collection of uncensored photographs. It was a book to which a young child probably shouldn’t have had access. It spared the onlooker nothing about what mechanised warfare on a grand scale does to the frail human body. My father’s interest in the war was passed on to me and was intensified by soaking up Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, Flambards and Wilfred Owen as an intense adolescent! Then I happened upon the story of three brothers from a local country house (Berrington Hall, now owned by the National Trust) who died during the conflict. All these things, along with my own experiences of moving to the country, were eventually sieved through the imagination to create the book.
For those readers unfamiliar with your books, would you say that While I Was Waiting is typical?
GH: That’s a very good question and one which I’ve been asking myself! I’m a bit of a two-faced writer – in the nicest possible sense – or maybe that should be two-faceted? While I Was Waiting was a long time coming to fruition. In lots of ways it’s the book of my heart and I love it. In between writing it, I wrote rom-com novellas so it’s not typical of my writing. However, my rom-coms often have quite dark themes at their core and there’s a lot of humour in While I Was Waiting, so maybe my two genres have more in common than I think. I have more dual narrative time-slips planned, it’s simply finding the right home for them. The next one is set on the Jurassic Coast – where I’ve just moved to. We’re so lucky living in the UK. Wherever you go, you just have to scratch the surface of time to find amazing history, folk stories and ideas. I’ve just moved to an area famous for its Mary Anning and Jane Austen connections. I find our history a rich source of inspiration.