Thursday, April 22, 2021

Karen White Interview - The Last Night in London

Photo Credit: Marchet Butler

Karen White is the New York Times bestselling author of 28 books, including the Tradd Street series, Dreams of Falling, The Night the Lights Went Out, Flight Patterns, The Sound of Glass, A Long Time Gone, and The Time Between. She is the coauthor of All the Ways We Said Goodbye, The Glass Ocean and The Forgotten Room with New York Times bestselling authors Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig. She grew up in London but now lives with her husband near Atlanta, Georgia.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
There are several, and all stemming from the fact that I stumbled into this writing career and never dreamed of being a bestselling author. From being recognized in an Anthropologie dressing room, to receiving heart-warming emails from readers who tell me how much my words have meant to them, and seeing a room full of readers to hear me speak—it’s all so rewarding and humbling. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better career.

Tell us your latest news.
I think we’re all cheering that 2020 is over and I know I’m not the only one looking at 2021 with an air of optimism! I already received my 1st vaccine and anticipate being able to get out on the road again starting this summer—for the first time in a year and a half!

The big news is that I will have two new books out this year AND next year: The Last Night in London this April 20th, and the 7th book in the Tradd Street series, The Attic on Queen Street coming November 2nd. Next year will see the 4th collaboration with co-writers Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig (no title yet) and the first book in the Tradd Street spin-off series set in New Orleans, The Shop on Royal Street. I’ve been very busy!

Can you tell us when you started THE LAST NIGHT IN LONDON, how that came about?
It really is a book that has been decades in the making. The first germ came to me long before I was even a writer, when I moved with my family to London for my father’s job with Exxon. We moved into an Edwardian building on Regent’s Park that had been built in 1904. On move-in day, the porter told us that the reason why some of the windows were plain plate glass instead of the gorgeous leaded glass found in other areas of the flat was because during the Blitz (1941-1942) bombs falling nearby had shattered them.

This was my first experience of holding history in my hand, of having it exist in close proximity to my life. Over the 7 years I lived there, I spent a lot of time imagining the lives of the people who’d once slept in my bedroom, and experienced history as it happened. THE LAST NIGHT IN LONDON is finally my chance to tell their stories as I imagine them.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I’d like for them to think back to a time when great sacrifices were required for the good of all, and how even in the darkest periods of our lives, that light, love, and beauty remain.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I’d love for Maddie Warner to meet Nola Trenholm (from the Tradd Street series). They are about the same age, and they’ve both survived childhood traumas. Even though they are very different, they both love their families and their home towns, and have a shared interest in old houses and the histories of the people who once lived in them.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Life has a way of getting in the way of doing other things. The book was due in the spring of 2019 for publication in summer of 2020, but in the winter of 2018 I became the caretaker for both of my elderly parents—one with Alzheimer’s and one with Dementia. I moved them into a long-term care facility, and had to take over all of their financial and medical matters—having absolutely no idea what I was doing. It became my other full-time job. The book was eight months late, and the publication was moved to 2021. I’m one of the few people who will tell you that 2019 was much worse than 2020!

What part of your characters did you enjoy writing the most?
Maddie and Precious. I loved how two very different women from different eras with little in common could forge a friendship and a bond over surviving the unsurvivable.

  • 1) The flat in the apartment building in London, Harley House, where both the historical portion and present-day part of the story are set, was the same flat I lived in for 7 years.
  • 2) There are several references to the famous people who have lived in Harley House since it was built in 1904, including Mick Jagger. There is a photograph I discovered on the Internet of Mick Jagger on the roof of Harley House---in the exact same spot where I spent an entire day in 7th grade skipping school to read Gone With the Wind.
  • 3) The Savoy Hotel, a frequent setting for many scenes in the book, was a hotbed of political intrigue during WW2. It was also the setting of my junior prom.
  • 4) The leading character of Graham St. John was inspired by a random photo of an RAF pilot that I found on Pinterest.
  • 5) Even though The Last Night in London is a stand-alone novel and not a sequel, the character of Precious Dubose was first introduced in my collaboration All the Ways We Said Goodbye with Lauren Willig and Beatriz Williams. In The Last Night in London we meet Precious again fifty-five years later as she’s preparing to celebrate her one hundredth birthday—and reveal long-hidden secrets that are only hinted at in the previous book.
  • 6) The other major female protagonist, Maddie Warner, is also taken from two of my earlier novels, Falling Home and After the Rain. She’s fourteen and eighteen, respectively, in those two novels and ever since the last one was published over a decade ago, I’ve been receiving emails from fans asking me to write a book to let them know where Maddie is now. This is that book—showing Maddie as a young woman of twenty-eight, who is working as a freelance journalist and is hired to interview model Precious Dubose. What begins as a straightforward assignment soon becomes a peeling back of layers and the cathartic revelations of shared grief and the possibilities of reinvention.
  • 7) The London Blitz (September 7, 1940-May 11, 1941) was almost nine months of air raids carried out by the German Luftwaffe and killed 43,000 civilians, leaving one out of six of every civilian homeless as bombs destroyed 1.1 million homes or flats. The resiliency of the British citizenry to “keep calm and carry on” is why Hitler gave up trying to force Churchill into a surrender and made the fateful mistake of turning his air power to fighting Russia instead.
  • 8) The character of Precious Dubose was inspired by a real model from Memphis. She was the aunt of one of my neighbors which is how I heard about her exciting story and saw her amazing photos. Besides the facts that the real Precious was born in Memphis and was a famous model, the only other fact I borrowed was the origin of her first name (which is mentioned in the book). Other than that, my Precious Dubose is a complete figment of my imagination and was born decades earlier than the woman who inspired her.
  • 9) My working title for the book was taken from a line in a poem by William Wadsworth: Unremembered Acts of Kindness and of Love. I fought valiantly for it, but my publisher claimed it was too long so we settled on The Last Night in London.
  • 10) It took us almost the same amount of time to come up with the cover as it took me to write the book! Usually, the covers submitted to me by my publisher just need simple tweaking to align with what I think the cover should look like and represents the book. This one took lots of passes, phone calls, and at least one Zoom call before we found one we could agree upon, and this one hit the mark perfectly. It might actually be my favorite cover so far!
Your Favorite Quotes/Scenes from THE LAST NIGHT IN LONDON
1)When Maddie first meets Precious Dubose, this is what Precious tells her—and Maddie becomes aware that what she thought would be a straightforward interview assignment has become much more personal.

“Grief is like a ghost, isn’t it? Haunting our own reflections.”

2) Precious’s best friend during the war, fellow model and flatmate, Eva Harlow, befriends a Czech √©migr√©, Mr. Danek. He becomes a friend and mentor to her, and attempts to curtail her sometimes impulsive behavior, and to offer words of comfort and wisdom as the war descends on their city and their lives.

“Love and beauty—those are the things worth holding on to. They are what shine light in a dark world.”

3) Colin Eliot, Precious’s surrogate grandson, and Maddie bond over the mystery of Precious’s past. Whey they discover that Precious’s friend, Eva, disappeared during the war, they ask Precious if she would like them to find out what happened to her, and if Eva might still be alive. This is what Precious says:

“Just because a person is lost doesn’t mean they want to be found.”

4) As Maddie continues to dig into Precious’s past, she discovers a tale of love, betrayal and sacrifice, and unsung stories of heroism (and hints at the reason for my original title choice). Precious tells her:

“Unremembered acts of kindness and love. You see, Maddie, some grand gestures and heroic moments never make it into the history books. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.”

5) Because I love “fish out of water” stories, I of course had to bring very proper Englishman Colin to Maddie’s hometown of Walton, Georgia where he hears certain inexplicable Southern expressions (“is a frog’s butt watertight?”) and is given a magazine to read out loud so people can listen to his accent. He takes it all in stride because his real mission is to bring a message of hope and strength from Precious as Maddie is faced with her own crisis:
He glanced down, studied the plaid pattern in the blanket. “Reinvention.” He lifted his head, met my gaze. “How life is all about reinvention. If you don’t like how your story’s being written, rewrite the ending.”

I nodded, hearing her voice in my head.

“And . . .” He stopped, laughed.

“And what?”

“And to remember that you’re a formidable woman.”
What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Take a chance. There are no guaranties in life, so you might as well take the road less traveled when you are given the choice.

Best date you've ever had?
My best friend set me up with her older brother because he needed a date for a black-tie event at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. She’s now my sister-in-law because I married that brother!

If you could go back in time to one point in your life, where would you go?
I’d return to my teenaged years when I lived in London, England. I didn’t really appreciate it at the time, the absolute good fortune to spend seven years of my youth in that amazing city. I took a lot of it for granted, and felt as if I were missing out because we didn’t own a car and I didn’t learn to drive until I was in college back in the States. I would love to go back to that girl and shake her by the shoulders.

What are 4 things you never leave home without?
A sweater (I’m notoriously always cold), lipstick, my phone, and something to read in case I get stuck somewhere.

What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?
A red London phone box. It was in the house of a high school friend, and I have no idea how that came about, but I’m very jealous and want one of my own!

First Heartbreak?
Scott Ward. He lived on the first floor of Harley House (I was on the third.) He was from Southern California and had that cool west coast vibe. We both took piano lessons from the same teacher and she always had us play duets for our recitals. He was a sophomore in high school when he moved into my building and I was a junior, but we’d travel to school together each day on the tube and were best friends first. His father died his junior year in high school and he moved back to California with his mother, brother and sister and I never saw him again.

Where is the best place in the world you’ve been?
Egypt. It’s a place I’d seen in countless movies, had read about, and imagined for years. I had the opportunity to go when I was a sophomore in high school in England. Standing in the shadow of the Sphinx in the Giza Plateau and watching a laser display at night above the great pyramids in the Valley of the Kings is something I will never forget.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before
True love. Love wins every time.

New York Times bestselling author Karen White weaves a story of friendship past and present, love, and betrayal that moves between war-torn London during the Blitz and the present day.

A captivating story of friendship, love and betrayal – and finding hope in the darkness of war.

London, 1939. Beautiful and ambitious Eva Harlow and her American best friend, Precious Dubose, are trying to make their way as fashion models. When Eva falls in love with Graham St. John, an aristocrat and Royal Air Force pilot, she can’t believe her luck – she’s getting everything she ever wanted. Then the Blitz devastates her world, and Eva finds herself slipping into a web of intrigue, spies and secrets. As Eva struggles to protect everything she holds dear, all it takes is one unwary moment to change their lives forever.

London, 2019. American journalist Maddie Warner travels to London to interview Precious about her life in pre-WWII London. Maddie, healing from past trauma and careful to close herself off to others, finds herself drawn to both Precious and to Colin, Precious’ enigmatic surrogate nephew. As Maddie gets closer to her, she begins to unravel Precious’ haunting past – and the secrets she swore she’d never reveal …

You can purchase The Last Night in London at the following Retailers:

1 Winner will receive a $10 Amazon Gift Card.