Interview: Iona Grey – Author of The Glittering Hour

Welcome to my stop on The Glittering Hour blog tour! I have something a little special for you today; an exclusive interview with author, Iona Grey. The Glittering Hour is her second book and after her successful debut, Letters to the Lost, she was struggling to come up with her follow-up, but then inspiration struck in the shower (where all the best ideas happen, right?) Currently working on her third book, she very kindly took some time to talk to me about her inspiration, all things bookish and a very modern reimagining of Pride &Prejudice‘s Mrs Bennet…

/ Hi Iona, lovely to talk to you! How long have you been writing?

I guess, like many authors, I’ve always written. As a young teenager I started lots of novels in exercise books, but always lost interest a few pages in. I definitely fell out of the habit as I got a bit older though… I suppose exams and essays took over, and writing became something I had to do. I found myself thinking about it again when I had small children, I used to piece together stories in my head during night feeds and slow afternoons playing. It took me a little while to get round to actually putting anything on paper though.

/ The Glittering Hour is set in such an iconic decade. What drew you to this era?

Reading about the Bright Young Things’ treasure hunts provided the initial spark of inspiration. I knew a little bit about the group, but when I came across a description of one of their late night races through the streets of London, it instantly captured my imagination. When I read a little further and dug a little deeper, I became even more fascinated by the era. It was so soon after the First World War, and yet so absolutely different in character to the decade that had come before. Everything seemed to have undergone such a dramatic shift and I knew that it would be really interesting to explore the changes and what underlay them.

/ What research did you do?

I read a lot, everything from social history books and autobiographies to the fiction of the time, noting all sorts of small details. Barbara Cartland, the romantic novelist, was on the fringes of the Bright Young Things’ circle and her autobiography, We Danced All Night was a great insight into the mindset of a young woman of the time, as well as the fashionable clothes and hairstyles and the hottest places to drink and dance. I spent a lot of time wandering around old houses – Calke Abbey in Derbyshire and the closed-up, abandoned Doddington Park in Cheshire – soaking up the atmosphere for my fictional Blackwood house.

/ Who are your favourite authors?

Ooh, so many! I love writers who can take me away from the here and now to a different time or place – Jenny Ashcroft, Kate Riordan, Katherine Webb, Kate Furnivall and Lucinda Riley can do this brilliantly. I love Kate Atkinson’s bold, original take on historical fiction and her ability to draw humour out of some very dark times. I love the way Sarah Waters evokes an atmosphere that sends a shiver down my spine, even when I’m reading in a hot bath. I love Jilly Cooper’s funny, vivid dialogue and the way she creates characters that feel like friends and Kerry Fisher’s unfailing knack of summing up a whole range of complicated, conflicting, painful emotions in a few pithy sentences, and making me laugh at the same time. (I’m going to wake up in the middle of the night for the next week thinking of lots more I could have mentioned!)

/ What fictional character would you like to have a drink with?

I’ve thought long and hard about this – there are so many exciting contenders and it’s been interesting to realise how different my answers would have been at different times of my life! Now I’m past the Rupert Campbell-Black stage, I’d love to sit down for a good gossip and a proper laugh with Mrs Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. I have three daughters of about the same age as hers so we could bond over the challenges of bringing up headstrong young women in a world where the odds are still stacked against them in lots of ways. (I bet that, after a couple of sherries, she’d have a few sharp words to say about the patriarchy.) She’s generally dismissed as being weak, silly, shallow and vain but I’ve always thought that was pretty unfair and I reckon if she was alive today she’d totally come into her own. In the twenty-first century she’d turn the family’s fortunes around by becoming an Instagram influencer (five pretty daughters – social media gold!) blogging about her useless husband, the celeb networking events she’d been to and the latest anti-aging products she’d been hashtag gifted, without people looking down their noses at her for being brash and vulgar and trivial.

/ Is there a book you consider to be your favourite?

That’s so hard! There are so many books that hold a really special place in my heart and some mean more at specific times or when I’m in a particular mood, but I think The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher is one that I love wholeheartedly, all the time. I read it first when I was at university, so it reminds me of happy days. It also taught me things about the war that school history lessons hadn’t covered, and about writing and books in general – most importantly that a book doesn’t have to be highbrow or complicated to be brilliant and for you to want to read it again and again.

/ Do you ever have writers block? How do you motivate yourself when that happens?

Oh yes. I am a card-carrying, t-shirt wearing, fully paid up member of the Writer’s Block Survivor’s Club! I’ve discovered that when it strikes it’s usually a sign that something has gone wrong with the book in progress. It’s so painful when all you want to do is see that word count finally start to rise, but the only solution I know is to stop trying to push forward and go back to find where the problem lies. Does the plot need stripping back and simplifying? Was the idea for the book not developed fully enough? Sometimes you can spot the issue and fix it, but if not I’ve learned to be ruthless. There’s no point in giving CPR to a book that just won’t come to life. Back to the drawing board to find an idea that makes your heart lift and your fingers itch to type!

/ What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Just start! Write anything. Don’t wait for the big idea or the perfect plot, write every day, as much as you can. Describe last week’s PTA meeting in the style of Jane Austen, or a trip to the dentist as the opening scene of a domestic noir. It’s fine to copy the style of authors you admire as you discover your own voice – gradually it’ll get stronger as your confidence increases, until you’re writing fluently in your own unique way. (Reading is essential too, of course!)

/ Speaking of, what are you reading right now?

I’m racing to the end of Liz Fenwick’s The Path to the Sea. It’s set in Cornwall and the action is split between the 1960s and the present day. It’s a fascinating, unexpected story about an era I knew little about, and featuring an irresistibly glamorous heroine with secrets aplenty. I’m desperate to discover them all!

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me, Iona! You can read my full review of The Glittering Hour here. Thank you to Anne Cater and Random Things Tours (@annecater) for inclusion on this fab blog tour! Get your copy of The Glittering Hour right here.

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