Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Hazel Gaynor Interview - The Last Lifeboat

Photo Content from Hazel Gaynor

Hazel Gaynor is an award-winning, New York Times, USA Today, Irish Times and international bestselling author. Her new novel, THE LAST LIFEBOAT, will be published in June 2023.

Her most recent historical novel, set in China during WW2, published as The Bird In The Bamboo Cage, in the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, and as When We Were Young & Brave in the USA and Canada, was an Irish Times bestseller, a National Bestseller in the USA and was shortlisted for the 2020 Irish Book Awards.

Hazel’s 2014 debut novel The Girl Who Came Home—A Novel of the Titanic won the 2015 Romantic Novelists’ Association Historical Novel of the Year, A Memory of Violets, was a 2015 WHSmith Fresh Talent pick. Both books will be republished in paperback and ebook in June 2023. The Girl from The Savoy was shortlisted for the 2016 Irish Book Awards, and The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter was shortlisted for the 2019 Historical Writers’ Association Gold Crown Award and the 2021 Grand Prix du Roman Historique.

Last Christmas in Paris (co-written with Heather Webb) won the 2018 Women’s Fiction Writers Association STAR Award, and their second collaboration, Meet Me In Monaco, was shortlisted for the 2020 Romantic Novelists’ Association Historical Novel of the Year. Their latest co-written novel, Three Words For Goodbye, was chosen by Prima Magazine as a Book of the Year 2021. Their next co-written novel, Christmas With The Queen, will be published in 2024.

Hazel’s work has been translated into eighteen languages and is published in twenty-five territories to date. She lives in Ireland with her husband and two children. She is represented by Michelle Brower of Trellis Literary Management.


Tell us about THE LAST LIFEBOAT! What inspired you to write this story?
I was already familiar with Operation Pied Piper, a mass evacuation campaign at the start of WW2 where children were sent to the countryside from Britain’s towns and cities, but I didn’t know about the ‘seavacuees’. Children being sent overseas to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Jamaica was a very different evacuee story and I was keen to explore how parents made the impossible decision to send their children so far away, and to discover what happened to those evacuated children. Reading an account of one evacuee ship which was torpedoed in the Atlantic, and a lifeboat of survivors, lost at sea for eight days, sparked the idea for The Last Lifeboat. I tell the story from the point of view of two women who don’t know each other but become connected by the tragedy: one in a lifeboat with survivors, the other in London, desperately awaiting news of her children. This is a little-known episode from the war, and one I felt should be better understood.

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
I’ve always loved creative writing, but I had no idea how to write a novel, or how to go about getting one published. I wrote scraps of novels for years before writing my first full novel in 2001 just before turning 40. While that book was never published, it taught me the discipline needed to sit down and write. It is much harder than people think! That experience also taught me how much I loved writing. I then wrote and self-published The Girl Who Came Home in 2012, which eventually led to my publishing deal with HarperCollins in 2014. Ten books on, I’m still so excited to be writing and creating.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
It’s so hard to single out one thing as there are so many steps to becoming (and staying!) a published author, and so many moments – big and small – to be grateful for. Of course, getting ‘the call’ from my agent to tell me I had a publishing deal for my first novel, The Girl Who Came Home, was an unforgettable moment after many years of frustration and disappointment. My dream of becoming a writer became a reality in that moment and I’ve never looked back since. I would encourage anyone who wants to write to never give up and keep going. You never know when that ‘yes’ might come!

Has reading a book ever changed your life? Which one and why, if yes?
While I don’t have one particular book that changed my life, I do believe that every book I’ve ever read has inspired me to become a writer. My mum took me and my sister to the library every week when we were young and I always came home with an armful of books. I’ll be forever grateful to her for instilling a love of reading in me. It was that which led me to writing.

Writing Behind the Scenes
I’m very much a pantser rather than a plotter so each book feels very different to write! I work in an office room at home, at a disastrously untidy desk, surrounded by piles of research books, notebooks, cups of tea/coffee and scented candles. I research while the initial idea percolates and to help me get a grasp of the event and the timeframe I’m planning to write in, and to understand the shape my story might take. I then prepare a 2-3 page outline to share with my agent and editors to make sure everyone is excited about the concept, and once we have all agreed on the direction, I start writing. I continue to research during every stage of the writing process, right down to final edits when I am still double-checking facts and minor details. I don’t plan my books in detail, so my stories often take unexpected turns as my characters lead me in interesting directions! I sometimes use family names, but often it is the character name that first comes to me that I stick with. For example, Alice King, Lily Nicholls, Arthur, Georgie, Billy and Ada Fortune, Elsie, Kitty… these were all the character names that popped up as I wrote early drafts of The Last Lifeboat, and those names never changed.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Reading allows us to walk in someone else’s shoes and to consider the world from other people’s points of view. Whether fiction or non-fiction, contemporary or historical, I truly believe that reading is an essential part of enriching our understanding of the world. It is also a wonderful way to step off the merry-go-round of our busy modern lives and escape to another place and time for a while. Reading has been proven to have very positive benefits on mental health. I found it interesting that many people turned to books through the lockdown months of the Covid pandemic. Books can provide comfort and solace as well as distraction and entertainment.

A Most Anticipated Book by Real Simple ∙ SheReads ∙ BookBub ∙ and more!

Inspired by a remarkable true story, a young teacher evacuates children to safety across perilous waters, in a moving and triumphant new novel from New York Times bestselling author Hazel Gaynor.

1940, Kent : Alice King is not brave or daring—she’s happiest finding adventure through the safe pages of books. But times of war demand courage, and as the threat of German invasion looms, a plane crash near her home awakens a strength in Alice she’d long forgotten. Determined to do her part, she finds a role perfectly suited to her experience as a schoolteacher—to help evacuate Britain’s children overseas.

1940, London : Lily Nichols once dreamed of using her mathematical talents for more than tabulating the cost of groceries, but life, and love, charted her a different course. With two lively children and a loving husband, Lily’s humble home is her world, until war tears everything asunder. With her husband gone and bombs raining down, Lily is faced with an impossible keep her son and daughter close, knowing she may not be able to protect them, or enroll them in a risky evacuation scheme, where safety awaits so very far away.

When a Nazi U-boat torpedoes the S. S. Carlisle carrying a ship of children to Canada, a single lifeboat is left adrift in the storm-tossed Atlantic. Alice and Lily, strangers to each other—one on land, the other at sea—will quickly become one another’s very best hope as their lives are fatefully entwined.

You can purchase The Last Lifeboat at the following Retailers:

1 Winner will receive a $10 Amazon Gift Card.