Welcome to Tea with Mrs B, an author interview series. Here to share a pot of tea and to chat about her brand new book, The Lost Girls, is Jennifer Spence.
Jennifer Spence has worked as an English teacher, a scriptwriter of soap operas and a technical writer. She is the author of three children’s books and a crime novel. She lives in Sydney.
Hello Jennifer. It is my pleasure to warmly welcome you to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews. Thank you for joining me for Tea with Mrs B, an author interview series. To set the mood for our tea infused interview, what is your preferred beverage, tea, coffee or other? And side accompaniment, scone, cake or other?
Orange Pekoe tea will do me thanks, or English Breakfast at a pinch. Anything but Earl Grey! I take it black, not too strong, no sugar. And I am partial to a nice date scone.
Can you tell us what genres you write for and how many books you have had published?
I have been teaching myself how to write over the last few years. I like to read a variety of genres, and I get all sorts of ideas that cover the spectrum; but I have been working my way towards writing relatively serious fiction. So far, under variations of my name, I have published three children’s books, one thriller and, most recently, ‘The Lost Girls’, which I describe as straight-ish fiction. My next book will also fit that description. I do have a dystopian novel of sorts on the back burner, but I don’t think the publishers want to know about that.
The Lost Girls has just been released. Can you describe it in just a sentence?
It’s the story of Stella, who inexplicably slips back twenty years in time to 1997, revisits her younger family, including her younger self, and has a chance to right some wrongs; but is that necessarily advisable or even possible?
What came first in the creation of the novel – the title, plot, characters or setting when you first set out to write The Lost Girls?
The plot, I suppose: not in its entirety, but the core idea – the ‘what if’ moment. The setting followed: the fact that the central character would find herself with her own family at an earlier stage in their lives, in a familiar environment; and the characters came out of that. The title came early, one of a number of possibilities, but the more I wrote the more apt this particular title seemed.
How long did it take you to write The Lost Girls?
Probably about nine months working time, but there were some major interruptions so it was about two years from start to finish.
Did you need to undertake any research to bring The Lost Girls to life? How did you incorporate this research into your book?
Yes, quite a lot of research. For the present-day parts of the book it was just observation. For 1997 and earlier periods I used my memories of those times, but had to do a lot of fact-checking. I needed to pin down the technology of the day, because that changes so fast. I remembered dial-up modems, bulletin boards (pre-Facebook social media), floppy disks, attitudes to the Y2K bug, early mobile phones; but I had to check where exactly things were up to in 1997. At one point in the book, to prove that she comes from the future, Stella describes the death and funeral of Princess Diana before it happens. I deliberately did not look up the facts on that because Stella does not have that opportunity. I just described my own memory of those events. Some of my recollections were inaccurate, but that doesn’t matter. It would be strange if Stella remembered every detail perfectly.
Where did the inspiration for the lead character of Stella come from?
I invent characters to suit the basic plot. My central character needs to be someone who will experience the situation of the novel in an interesting way. Hence I wanted Stella to be intelligent and resourceful, but no more than the likely reader, because I tell the story from her point of view and I want the reader to identify with her and feel for her. She is not me, in case you wanted to ask that, but she shares a lot of my values and view of the world. But Stella is strongly affected by a trauma in her past life that I, thankfully, have not experienced.
What was the most challenging and rewarding aspects of writing The Lost Girls?
Telling the story from inside Stella’s mind, where she dwells on memories which change in the course of the novel, sometimes immediately after she has unconsciously done something to change them, was obviously quite tricky. But at the same time it was rewarding when I felt I had pulled that off. I wanted to challenge myself and I worked hard to get it right. The other reward is something that I can only hope for: I take the reader on a harrowing journey, and I hope they will be moved by it.
What do you hope readers will take away from reading The Lost Girls?
I hope they will come away caring about Stella and her family, regardless of the fact that they are fictitious. I hope they will take the opportunity to reflect on their own past, and think about the regrets we all express from time to time and the feeling that things might have turned out better if we had done something differently. And I hope they will be entertained by the book and satisfied with the way it finishes.
If you could slip back in time, what era would you travel to and why?
It would be tempting to go back to Sydney Harbour a few years before 1788. I could make myself known to the locals and warn them of the devastating changes that are about to occur. I could teach some of them English so that they can negotiate effectively with the new arrivals and explain their culture and their custodianship of the land.
But of course, that could result in enormous changes to history, and that’s just what time-travellers shouldn’t do.
Maybe I would just visit my own childhood, in a bucolic country town in the uneventful fifties, an age of innocence. I would love to observe myself and my sisters at play and on the cusp of discovering the world, and to add more layers to my memories of that time. It wasn’t a life of luxury, but I don’t think I would be tempted to change anything.
How do you plan to celebrate the official release day of The Lost Girls?
I think I’ll do one of my rare postings on Facebook, with a picture of the cover. I might suggest to my husband that we have dinner in the cheap and cheerful Vietnamese opposite our local bookshop, where I hope ‘The Lost Girls’ will be displayed in the window. Then, when there is no-one around, I’ll quickly take a selfie in front of the display.
Can you tell us about your journey to publication?
I’ve been very lucky, this time and with my previous books. For ‘The Lost Girls’ I approached a new agent, asked her to take me on and settled down for a long wait. A week later she accepted the book with gusto and shopped it around to a few publishers. Simon & Schuster snapped it up, and I couldn’t be happier about that. They have been very supportive and have done a great job with the editing, design and production of the book.
Can you tell us about your creative working space, where do you write and is there anything vital you need to get started?
I just need space – not so much physical space, but a good stretch of time in which there are no other demands on me. At the moment I don’t have a writing room, just an open living area at the front of the house, but it’s okay because there are only two of us here. All I need is a comfortable chair, a table and a computer. I have bought myself a new desktop computer (Dell, Windows 10 – I am firmly in that camp), which is so much more comfortable to use than a laptop, and I am loving the enormous screen where I can have the book I am writing and a lot of supporting material displayed side by side.
Aside from writing, do you have any interesting hobbies?
I don’t really have time for hobbies. I do like employing all sorts of handicrafts to make things, and I am aware that I have lots of skills that are disappearing from our world. I like knitting, sewing and figuring out how to make things. My mission is to pass these skills on to my four grandchildren when they are old enough.
What is next on the horizon for Jennifer Spence? Do you have any writing projects you would like to share with us?
I am more than halfway through another novel, which Simon & Schuster have commissioned. I don’t really want to say anything about it, because I always feel my ideas sound a bit silly when I try to describe them. All I will say is that the people who like ‘The Lost Girls’ have a good chance of liking the new book.
What 2019 book releases are you most excited to read?
I am really hoping that Hilary Mantel will finish the third volume in the Thomas Cromwell/Wolf Hall trilogy this year. I loved the first two and I am lost in admiration of her writing. I’ll also have to read Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Testaments’, the sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, when it comes out. I notice there is a new book by James Lee Burke called ‘New Iberia Blues’, and I’d like to read that for old times’ sake. I do feel Burke jumped the shark a few books ago, but he may well have jumped back.
Finally, wrapping up our tea themed interview, who would you most like to share a pot of tea with?
My first thought is to name Annabel Crabb. She’d be sure to arrive with a delicious cake, and I love hearing her insights into present-day politics. Given complete freedom, though, I might choose Jane Austen. I think she also could be coaxed into a wicked commentary on her world, and she would be very entertained by my descriptions of the twenty-first century.
Thank you for taking the time to visit Mrs B’s Book Reviews for Tea with Mrs B Jennifer. Congratulations on the publication of The Lost Girls!
A haunting tale of love and loss that will make you think twice
What would you do if you had the chance to change a pivotal moment from your past?
How far would you go to save someone you loved?
These are just two of the fateful choices a woman is forced to grapple with in this highly original and hauntingly evocative detective story of love and loss.
At the core of the enigmatic Stella’s story, past and present, is a mystery she is compelled to solve, a beautiful young woman who went missing fifty years ago – and a tragedy much closer to home she must try to prevent.
As Stella unravels the dark secrets of her family’s past and her own, it becomes clear that everyone remembers the past differently and the small choices we make every day can change our future irrevocably.
The Lost Girls by Jennifer Spence was published on 1st February 2019 by Simon & Schuster. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
Connect with Jennifer here: