Episode 9

Writing dual timelines and co-writing historical fiction, with Hazel Gaynor

27 March, 2024

Hazel Gaynor, bestselling author on both sides of the Atlantic, joins Theo and Julia to talk about the processes and priorities for writers of dual-timelines. She explains how weaving back and forth between characters and eras can create mystery and allow the author to provide both light and shade in order to ensure variety in tone and mood.

Having written novels set both close to home and far afield, Hazel is also eager to talk about how to find the right story for you. She explains how she finds her stories and characters and explores what it feels like to find the nugget of gold that becomes the foundation for a story.

This episode also explores Hazel’s ongoing collaboration with co-author Heather Webb and the unique demands of co-writing historical fiction.

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Click here for the transcript

[00:00:00] Julia Kelly: I am historical fiction author Julia Kelly, and I’m joined by my co host Theodore Brun. This is another really exciting episode of the History Quill podcast, but first, Theo, how are you?

[00:00:25] Theo Brun: I’m doing so so, I would say. I’ve been a little under the weather, uh, of, in the last week, but I’m kind of coming back fighting just about, even if I look a little bit pale today. How about you?

[00:00:38] Julia Kelly: I’m doing well. I’m doing well. I, uh, I’m also, uh, sort of hiding in my, in my writing cave, so, uh, not too much to report unfortunately, um, but I hope you’re feeling better soon.

[00:00:48] Theo Brun: Yeah, well, writing is happening, so that’s good, and I, and the only thing I will report is that I did have some input from my agent. Yesterday, who thought, said that what I sent her was good, which is always a relief. Um, yes, it was definitely a beast, because it was one of those, I’m writing this ghostwriting novel, which I’m not 100 percent sure, well, until she came back anyway, I was like, is this working or not?

And, I mean, I’m always a bit lacking in confidence when it comes to a first draft, so it was nice to get something positive.

[00:01:22] Julia Kelly: Well, we have got a really action packed episode for you today. A really great conversation, um, with historical fiction author Hazel Gaynor. Um, so I think we will jump right into that.

[00:01:33] Theo Brun: Excellent. Let’s get into the conversation.

[00:01:43] Julia Kelly: We are really thrilled to give a very big welcome to, uh, my friend and very, very talented historical author Hazel Gaynor. Hazel, welcome to the podcast.

[00:01:54] Hazel Gaynor: Thank you so much. Lovely to be here.

[00:01:56] Julia Kelly: We’d love to hear a little bit about, um, you and your books, just to kick us off and, uh, orient readers who may be, um, hearing about your work for the first time.

[00:02:07] Hazel Gaynor: Oh, a potted history of Hazel Gaynor. The pressure when you’re asked to talk about yourself. Um, so the short version, uh, is that I write historical novels. Mostly set in the 20th century, um, mostly inspired by real events. Um, I’ve, I’ve written about everything from my debut novel focused on the Titanic. Um, that was called The Girl Who Came Home and, um, that was 10 books ago, unbelievably.

Um, which makes me sound old and wise, but I’m not sure I’m, I’m, I’m certainly not the latter. Um, and my latest book, The Last Lifeboat, um, is a story set in the Second World War. And I guess what I’ve always tried to do with all of my novels, even if the premise is something very familiar for readers, is to dig into that piece of history and find a lesser known or an unknown part of that piece of history.

Um, to, to find a voice that maybe hasn’t been written about as often. Um, and I do always try to write from a, a female point of view, to find stories particularly of, um, very ordinary women who found themselves in these exceptional circumstances and, and how they, Um, found strength, uh, within themselves to, to overcome adversity.

And I, I, I’ve just been so fascinated by the stories and the people I’ve discovered in my research. So that’s my, uh, that’s my sort of little whirlwind version of, of, of what I write. Um, and as I said, I’ve been writing for just over 10 years now. I, I live in Ireland, um, originally from Yorkshire. Very proud Yorkshire lass.


[00:03:59] Theo Brun: East Riding, no less. That’s where my, my mother in law lives up there. Yeah,

[00:04:04] Hazel Gaynor: It’s the best bit of Yorkshire. Uh, so

[00:04:07] Theo Brun: That’s what my wife, my wife always says that.

[00:04:10] Hazel Gaynor: I’m, I’m Yorkshire Irish at this stage. Cause I also got my Irish citizenship, um, a couple of years ago. So I know I’m very proud to have my Irish passport. Um, so yeah, I’m a bit of a mixed bag and I, I suppose I’d pull into all of that in terms of.

Where I, where I find my stories. So I’ve pulled some from Yorkshire. Um, I’ve pulled some from, from British history. I do try to weave Ireland in there when I can. Um, so yeah, I, I just find this job endlessly fascinating as I’m sure we all do.

[00:04:43] Theo Brun: It’s very interesting looking at the list of the books that you’ve read and the variety in terms of the different stories that you tell, which I’d love to ask you about a little bit later. But, but actually, as you were talking just then, um, you know, you characterize what do they have in common, these. uh, ordinary women who were sort of confronted with something, uh, in terms of adversity and how do they get through that?

How do they come, overcome and, and, and find their way forward? And I thought, it made me think actually of, of how you got into writing, which I didn’t know whether you could unpack a little bit more, because I know that your background was in the least for a little while, wasn’t it? Um, and Things went a bit awry in 2008, you hit this kind of wall of adversity and then you pivoted and did something else with your life.

So, and then there was actually a few years, was it three or four years before you published your first novel. So I don’t know if it’s useful for for our readers to kind of hear how you went from, you know, what seemed like a massive setback to actually turning that into opportunity into the career that you’ve now had.

[00:05:53] Hazel Gaynor: Yeah. Um, and, and, and I often, you know, describe myself as a, as somebody who has certainly not followed a conventional path to being a published author. Um, and I think for some people that’s. That’s, that’s good to hear, you know, that there isn’t one, one way to do this. Um, I’ve certainly gone about things in a very strange way, but it’s all worked out.

Uh, so my, my background was, uh, working in professional services firms. So my, my day was very much the corporate commute, suited and booted. Um, I lived and worked in London. Big, you know, corporate office buildings. And then when I moved to Ireland, um, I continued that for a little while. And it’s, it’s interesting because through all of that, I was always the one who wanted to do any bits of creative writing within those jobs.

So if there was a piece of communication, if there was a staff newsletter, um, anything in a team away day, I would always put my hand up and do that. Um, I’ve always loved story. And I suppose that the short way of explaining all of that is I think I was always in the wrong job. Um, I, I had a very successful career, and I never expected to have this second.

Amazing life writing for a living. I didn’t know how you became a writer. I didn’t know any authors. I didn’t have any access to anybody in this industry. Um, and I know a lot of writers have lovely stories of when they were little and they, they always dreamt of being a writer. I was a reader. I absolutely loved reading.

I read from being a very young age. I could read before I went to school. We went to the library all the time. My mom was hugely inspirational in taking me and my sister to fill the house with books. Um, so when I got to a point, as you said, in the sort of, you know, mid, mid 2000s, the Celtic tiger stopped roaring.

Um, and as many people did, I found myself in a situation where the career that I’d had and assumed I could have forever wasn’t there anymore, but I also had two young children. So I kind of had, I’ve always said, looking back, it was a real silver lining. Um, suddenly I was confronted with. Who are you? And what are you going to do with the rest of your life now that this career has gone away? And what I did, which I think is fascinating, is I wrote about that transition. So I started to write about how it felt moving from Literally the boardroom to the kitchen, um, and having two little tots running around and how did I feel about that? And I started a blog. Blogging was all very cool and new at the time.

Um, social media was like this big new way of accessing, uh, people’s lives and stories. I started a blog called, and I’m still very proud of this name, Hot Cross Mom. Um, and it was really cathartic. It was like me somehow exercising this, um, shift in my life. And through that blog, I started to write for local newspapers, had a little column, started to write for features for magazines about being what was called at the time, a stay at home mom.

Um, funny how language changes and that, you know, we wouldn’t sort of talk about a woman like that now. But it. gave me a way of finding my voice, um, and that then led to me doing something I had said for years was I was going to write a book one day. I didn’t know what that book was going to be. Turns out it was about the Titanic.

So, you know, if you’re going to go somewhere, start big. Um, and, and I instantly knew I was doing what I’d been meant to do the whole time. I, I honestly can’t tell you how right this feels. Um, and, and I was rejected for five years through submissions to agents, publishers, and every time I got a knock back, it just made me more determined.

As I mentioned, I’m a Yorkshire lass. There’s something in there about being stubborn.

[00:10:09] Theo Brun: My wife talks about that. Is that a Yorkshire thing? I think it must be.

[00:10:13] Hazel Gaynor: absolutely. Um, and, and eventually I self published that first novel, The Girl Who Came Home. Um, I had finished it. About six months before 2012, which was the centenary of the Titanic sinking, suddenly Titanic was everywhere again. Um, and it was really a decision to, I remember saying to my husband, if I publish this on Kindle, I might get a hundred readers.

Um, and that’s better than it sitting on my laptop, tormenting me. Um, and within a year it had had a hundred thousand downloads. Um, and I had written another novel. I got an agent in the States. A couple of years after that, I got a publishing deal with Harper Collins. I mean, it sounds like the dream happened.

Um, but I feel like I. I really put in the graft and my apprenticeship to test whether I had what it takes to keep going. Persistence, I think, is often what writers need as much as a creative mind. Um, but once I got that yes, it sort of all, you know, it was like dominoes. Just everything kept falling into place.

Um, but yeah, I, I, I took a very sort of circuitous route to, to get there. Um, and now I have wonderful friends, um, a community of writers that I can talk to, that I can turn to. And I love offering advice to aspiring writers because I didn’t have it. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t know who to ask. So, um, I love talking about that journey, um, and sharing the, the slightly strange process that, that I took, but we got there in the end.

[00:11:53] Julia Kelly: One of the reasons I love talking to you is because you’re, you’re fantastic at putting into words kind of the experience of being an author and what it is like to try to do this work day after day. One of the things that struck me in your both description of your books and also your description of your career is that idea of finding your voice, but also bringing to light these elements of history that maybe haven’t been talked about before or more or less forgotten by the public.

I’m thinking of a couple of your books in particular. So you can, you know, you can. You can go, go with this wherever you want to go with it. But can you give us some examples of where you go and how you start the process of looking for that? Because I imagine looking for lesser known elements of history is in and of itself a challenge because they’re lesser known.

So you won’t necessarily know they’re out there. What is the discovery process like for you?

[00:12:49] Hazel Gaynor: Well, that’s a great question. And, you know, it’s something that I think anyone who’s writing is always interested in, in idea. Where does idea come from? Um, I’m actually just at the minute rereading Elizabeth Gilbert’s, um, book, Big Magic about the creative life. Um, and she talks about this sense of idea.

And the ideas are all around us all the time. And it’s about being tuned in as a, as a creative person, whether that’s a piece of art, whether it’s a short story, whether it’s a novel. And that some ideas will pass you by because you literally aren’t tuned in and ignore them. And we’ve all had that moment, I guess, where somebody announces a book and you’re like, that was my idea. I was going to write that next, but somebody got there first. And I love that. I love that sense that there are ideas that are for us, and there are ideas that are not for us. And it’s about I guess paying attention and sometimes it takes a while, sometimes it can take years to find the way to write a story and that has been true with me.

So, for example, starting out writing The Girl Who Came Home, I’ve been fascinated by Titanic since I was a teenager when the wreck was discovered. So that was in me, that story, that piece of history was always there. But it wasn’t until I lived in Ireland. And got to that point in my life where I was looking at what do I do next that I read about a group of, um, women, children and men who left Ireland on Titanic, um, and had this incredible story connected to them.

And that was my. That was my version of that story that hadn’t been told before. Um, and then I’ve had things from my childhood. So my second, my third novel, fourth novel, I’m forgetting

[00:14:49] Julia Kelly: It’s, you lose count at some

[00:14:50] Theo Brun: There are a few. There’s quite a few.

[00:14:53] Hazel Gaynor: So The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter was inspired by Grace Darling, who again, I read about and learned about as a primary school student.

Um, this incredible woman. I always felt she was like Florence Nightingale, but nobody knew about her. Um, who lived in a lighthouse up on the Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland. Um, saved survivors of a shipwreck. Had this incredible story that hasn’t been as talked about as for example, Florence Nightingale.

And she’s always been with me as well. Similarly, The Cottingley Secret. There I go back to Yorkshire finding a story of two young girls talking about finding fairies at the bottom of the garden. And that was that story. So there’s been that. And then taking us up to my most recent book with the last lifeboat, it was sort of a more curated find.

If you like, I wanted to write about evacuees in, in the second world war and that research process. led me to this story I’d never heard of, of children sent away by sea. So sent overseas, away from Britain, not to the countryside, which was the evacuee story I knew. And within that, I read an account of this incredible woman called Mary Cornish, who ended up in a lifeboat in the middle of the Atlantic with several children who were under her care that she was escorting to Canada from Liverpool and how she kept them safe.

Um, and helped them through this ordeal of being lost at sea, um, for a period of time. And, and her story was what led me to create my character of Alice in The Last Lifeboat. So sometimes it has been, I think, idea that has been with me. And other times I’ve gone looking, um, and sometimes I look and I find something that Isn’t meant for me.

And sometimes you’re lucky and you find that little bit of gold that then you grab hold of.

[00:17:02] Theo Brun: It’s great. It’s so fascinating hearing you talk about that. Can I ask you to talk about one book that had, had real personal resonance, resonance for me, just because of ideas that are coming to me about one of the next books I want to write. But it seemed a little out of, you know, your domain of sort of Ireland, Britain, the 20th century, and Yorkshire, which was the bird in a, in a bamboo cage, and this experience of the, you know, this lesser known.

theatre of operations, let’s call it, of the Second World War in China and the expat experience in China. Can you just talk a little bit about where that idea came from? Because that, that interested me that, that you know how two things align when you’re thinking about them and then suddenly, suddenly the idea is there in front of you as well.

[00:17:55] Hazel Gaynor: there, there’s your big magic. This is, this is

[00:17:57] Theo Brun: Yeah, exactly. That is, that is an, that is a classic example. Yeah.

[00:18:01] Hazel Gaynor: Um, and this is why, you know, I think people say, write what you know, or I never ascribe to that. You know, I always want to write what I want to know more about. And, and that was the case with the bird in the bamboo cage. And again, This was an idea that was literally sent to me, literally sent to me.

My agent sent me a link to, um, an NPR podcast recording, which was two people talking about, um, Girl Scout cookies, you know, in America they have, um. Girl Scout cookies season where the girls,

[00:18:36] Julia Kelly: Oh, yes.

[00:18:37] Hazel Gaynor: go around selling cookies. Um, and one of these, uh, people went selling cookies. Long story short, ended up meeting this incredible woman who had been interned in China as an expat in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. what had helped her get through that ordeal was being part of a group of brownie guides and girl guides. And I listened to this and my agent sort of sent it to me and said, just leaving this with you, do with it what you will. And I was like, what is this story? I had goosebumps. And I just replied to her and I said, I’m writing this book.

It’s astonishing. And I was terrified. I was absolutely terrified because I knew nothing about the war in the Pacific. I’ve never been to China. I didn’t know anything about that part of the world, let alone that part of the world in the 1940s. Research is a wonderful thing. Um, and again, found these incredible women who had taken this group of school children and kept them safe through four years, um, under Japanese guard.

And the, the resilience and the, the things they endured collectively and individually just had to be written. And, and again, this. This massive event that we know about, the Second World War. And yet here was a part of it that I feel we don’t hear about as much, the war in the Pacific, um, and what people endured there was very different to what we know about through the war in Europe.

And, and, and again, as I say, it really frightened me. So if you’re feeling frightened, Theodore, then I totally understand because it’s a, it’s a lot, there’s a lot of history in there. But

[00:20:32] Theo Brun: Yeah.

[00:20:33] Hazel Gaynor: I think you’ve just got to trust yourself and I think that comes with experience. I don’t know if I could have written that book 10 years ago.

Um, and that’s what I mean about ideas sometimes taking time. I’ve just finished writing a book literally yesterday. Sort of deadline phase. Thank you. Um, that again, I don’t think I could have written. Ten years ago, so you, you’d certainly learn the confidence in yourself that it isn’t always perfect the first time, far from it.

Um, but you learn to work through the process through rounds of edits and be okay that it’s not perfect the first time. And I think that’s why a lot of ideas and books are abandoned because it isn’t what’s up here. And you think therefore, Oh, okay, this isn’t what I wanted it to be. I’ll just do something else.

But it’s, it’s the job, isn’t it? It’s the work that creates. what we hope will be close to what was up here. I’m not sure it ever quite gets to the, the ideal. If it does, then I’m very envious, but it can get close. Um, so that was an idea that literally, again, was Was given to me and I, I could have done, I suppose, several things with that, but yeah, that’s why it feels different.

And I loved that writing process. I loved the challenge of stepping out of my comfort zone. And that’s then led me to The Last Lifeboat because I felt I wanted to explore the Second World War more, but again, in a different way. So we ended up in a lifeboat in the middle of the Atlantic. So that was a very different situation.

To write about very claustrophobic, whereas The Bird in the Bamboo Cage was very epic and sweeping and, you know, four years. This is The Last Lifeboat’s eight days. So it’s a very different feeling as a writer.

[00:22:27] Julia Kelly: You talk about sort of those ideas that are for you and ideas that aren’t for you. I also heard that NPR story and I remember thinking to myself, that’s a really great story. Somebody’s going to write a really great book about

[00:22:40] Hazel Gaynor: Really?

[00:22:41] Julia Kelly: And I, and I let, and I, it just completely didn’t occur to me that it, that person could be me because I don’t think at the time I was the right person to write that book and I’m so glad that you did because it’s an absolutely fantastic novel.

So there you go. It’s just, you know, proof that these things, uh, these things happen and in real time, I wanted to make sure and ask you a little bit, um, because one of the things that I’ve seen throughout your books is playing with it. you know, narrative structure a little bit, whether it’s through dual timelines or multiple POVs.

Can you talk a little bit about why certain books you feel should be told for you in that way, and how you go about figuring out what a book needs when it comes to a multiple POV or a dual timeline, which kind of in and of itself is always a multiple POV, right?

[00:23:30] Hazel Gaynor: Yeah, yeah. Um, and again, you know, I never, gosh, I was so wonderfully naive when I started and I, I sometimes miss that naivety. And I didn’t, I didn’t think about, should I write this story of the Titanic in first person, uh, third person, dual timelines, linear. I didn’t know any of those terms. I didn’t even know I was writing historical fiction.

I didn’t know enough about the industry to. To know those frameworks, if you like, I just wrote my story and I try to remember that every time I sit down, even now, you know, whatever the industry needs this to be packaged as, uh, whatever, um, way it will be interrogated in terms of its narrative structure.

I need to tell this story. Um, and I do try to remember that now. So there was an innocence about. My first three books were dual timeline, um, and maybe it was a little bit about feeling it fit the story, but me also finding my way as a writer, um, and finding my way into writing history, and maybe there’s a little bit of comfort in pulling back from that history.

Every other chapter or a few chapters at a time and sort of coming back to closer to now I’ve never written the contemporary as in this time. Um, but it’s been two periods of history. And maybe that’s thinking about it now maybe, as I say, just a little bit of comfort in having two strands that you can add to.

Um, it’s very daunting to write in a linear way that this whole story has to happen over the 000 words. Um, but certainly with my first two books, The Girl Who Came Home and A Memory of Violets, it was about a sense of mystery that had been woven between generations. And I think that really suits a dual timeline, dual narrative, um, to sort of that.

Weaving back and forth between one character and another and the reader knows they’re connected in some way, but maybe doesn’t know how. I did it again with the Lighthouse Keeper’s daughter, um, bringing in narrative forms like diaries or letters, and I think historical fiction is brilliant for that because obviously everybody communicated in the written way, and that’s a piece of history our characters can work with.

But I do think if anyone writes In a dual timeline, both parts have to serve the story, so you can’t just throw in a second or third timeline or character to pad out the story. Um, and I think we’ve all probably read multi narrated or dual timeline novels where we just can’t wait to get back to the other bit.

You know, and you’re sort of sad when you turn the page, you’re like, Oh no, she’s taking us back there, I don’t want to, and you’re sort of skipping forward. So. I think both parts have to work. Um, they have to kind of, you know, dovetail really well. And you do have to plan that out, I think, quite carefully in terms of where does one part stop and the next part pick up again.

I’ve never written them in any way other than the reader reads the book. So, I know some writers with dual timelines, they’ll write one, then they’ll write the other, then they’ll figure out how to weave them together. I’ve never done that. I, I write as you read, so I’ll go from then to now to then to now.

Um, and that just works for me. But it can be a wonderful, um, way of bringing in light and shade if the story’s very heavy. You can bring in a sort of lighter thread if you, if you, if your reader needs a little bit of a breather. Um, it’s great for weaving in mystery, generational stories. Actually, The Cottingley Secret, I did that as well.

So we move between 1917 and the fairies, and then a contemporary bookshop in Ireland where this story is now unfolding again. And there’s something lovely about that as a writing and reading process. And then with The Last Lifeboat, I didn’t do that at all, which was It’s a totally different writing experience, but, but I do, yeah, I think the main thing is that both parts have to work hard.

You can’t sort of rely on one to do the heavy lifting and just throw another one in because it’s irritating to, to read that.

[00:28:19] Theo Brun: Can I ask you, talking of different ways of writing, choosing how to write books, you’ve obviously done several books now, I think, with Heather Webb co authoring. Um, is it four that you’re about to publish the fourth? I think that’s,

[00:28:35] Hazel Gaynor: that’s the

[00:28:35] Theo Brun: is coming. The fourth is coming. Um, that just seems totally alien to me. I, I just don’t know how that would work.

Um, can you just talk a bit about a, how that came about and B, how does it work from idea to execution?

[00:28:54] Hazel Gaynor: Yeah. I mean, great idea. Have one author in Ireland, one in New England in America and write books together. What could possibly go wrong? Um, it’s, it’s amazing. Um, and the fact that we’re just about to publish a fourth is testament to that. So Heather and I have the same agent and again, you know, isn’t it amazing how Life brings you in various ways.

So when I finally secured an agent back in 2013, uh, a wonderful lady called Michelle Brouwer, who’s now with Trellis, um, her own agency. She also represented Heather and she connected us and said, look, you two are both writing historicals. You’ve got debuts. We could all do with a friend, right? So, you know, chat, hang out.

And we just got on. So we supported each other. cheerleading on, on, on social media when our books came out. And Heather then sent me an email and said, I’m thinking of creating an anthology, getting nine authors together. to write about the armistice, the end of the First World War. Are you interested? And I was like, yeah.

Again, I’d never written about the First World War, terrified me, but I I was eager to do whatever I could to, you know, expand my career. So I said, yeah, um, and we wrote a book together with seven other authors called Fall of Poppies. Um, went to the States on tour, met Heather, fell in love with her as a dear friend.

And shortly after that book came out. Uh, I messaged her and said, do you want to do another anthology? And she said, no, never again.

[00:30:35] Theo Brun: Is

[00:30:38] Hazel Gaynor: nine authors together in a, in a book. It’s yeah, it’s a lot. She said, but I would write a book with you. Um, and what we decided to do was write a novel that expanded on all the research we’d done for Fall of Poppies, set in the first world war, um, told between two characters. A Guy and a Girl, but written in letters. So an epistolary novel written in an exchange of correspondence between character A, character B, Tom and Evie. One of us wrote each, and it was amazing. We literally wrote letters to each other as our characters through the four years. The Four Christmases of the First World War, and that became Last Christmas in Paris, and we had such a riot writing that together.

We said, should we do it again? Um, and we did. We work on Google Docs, so it’s sort of a live document that we can write, write in. The time difference is really helpful because by the time I’ve got up and written. I can then, you know, tag your it, and Heather picks up when she’s up and about in the States, and then I get up the next morning and there’s stuff added from her.

Um, and talking about dual narrative, dual point of view, that’s exactly how we’ve done it. So we’ve always written together books that revolve around two, two main characters, and we write one each. But we write every single page together, ultimately, through the editing process. Um, and we’ve just said as long as we’re enjoying this, we’ll keep doing it.

There’s no pressure, um, there’s no obligation. If we come up with an idea and we’re both excited, we’ll pitch it. And if our editor wants it, we’ll write it. And so far, um, so far so good. It’s been amazing. And it has also been really helpful to each of our individual writing as well, which isn’t unexpected.

Bonus, my, my book wife, as I call her.

[00:32:39] Julia Kelly: Could you talk a little bit more about how it’s been helpful to you for your individual careers? Um, because I think people might think, Okay, co written book, it’s something completely different. It’s a completely different process.

[00:32:54] Hazel Gaynor: Yeah. And it is a different process because you’ve got to let go, you know, and we all hold onto our books, right? The first draft with the door closed, right. As Mr. King advises us, but this, you have to let go of that from the beginning. There cannot be any ego. You’ve got to be really, you’re being edited all the time, essentially by your co writer.

And, and I guess what it’s. given us both is it’s a side project. Um, it’s, it’s that sense of always creating and it can also be a little breather. So when you’re working on your own book and you get down a plot snag or you just run out of energy, but you still want to work, you still want to write. You can jump into this other project and it’s that, you know, it sounds like a cliche, but it’s like anything, isn’t it?

The more you do it, the better you get at it. Um, and, and I, I don’t know how you both work, but I find it really hard to not be writing. So even when I’ve delivered a book yesterday, for example, I’m now thinking what I need to get back to the next one. And what, what a co written book allows us to do. Which is often running concurrently with our own work is to keep, you know, keep your training gear on and go out for another run sort of thing.

Um, and it,

[00:34:20] Theo Brun: it quicker?

[00:34:22] Hazel Gaynor: I’d like to say yes. No, it

[00:34:26] Julia Kelly: in it, you say yes. But,

[00:34:28] Hazel Gaynor: doesn’t feel like it. Um, do you know what it is though? It’s really great. If you get to a point in it and you’re like, Oh, I’m exhausted. And it’s like, right, your turn, you fill in the next bit. Yes. I think it helps in terms of maybe considering things in a slightly different way, you know, I’ve, I’ve, Heather’s funny, she’s always, we write and I’ll write this lovely, I think I write naturally quite poetically.

But she always says to me, you know, that’s really lovely, but something has to happen. So she’s always, she’s the, she’s the little voice on my shoulder saying something has to happen. There has to be tension. Um, so I’ve learned that now when I’m writing on my own, I’ve got Heather on my shoulder saying beautiful prose, Hazel, but what happens?

Um, and you know, and she’s equally learned similar things from me. So. You know, as I say, we wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t, uh, enjoyable. It’s not easy. I mean, you certainly couldn’t just say to any of your mates, should we write a book together? We have become friends through the process, but it started off in a very, um, I suppose organic way.

It’s not like I, and I have lots of very dear writing friends. And I’ve said to them, I love you very much, but I am never writing a book with you because you would drive me mad and our brains don’t work the same way. Heather and I have a synergy. We don’t write in exactly the same way, but we compliment each other.

Um, and it works, but I I’ve heard of a lot of people trying to co write and it hasn’t worked. So I, I’d approach with caution, I think is my advice. When it works, it’s a wonderful thing.

[00:36:14] Theo Brun: Julia, you up for it? Do you wanna, do you wanna,

[00:36:18] Julia Kelly: I was gonna say,

[00:36:19] Theo Brun: wanna co write a book?

[00:36:20] Julia Kelly: World War II, Middle Ages mash up thing.

[00:36:25] Theo Brun: we’ll meet, meet, dual timeline,

[00:36:28] Julia Kelly: Exactly.

[00:36:29] Theo Brun: timeline. We’ll somehow figure it

[00:36:31] Hazel Gaynor: Come on guys, get, you know, it’s, it’s just waiting to happen.

[00:36:35] Julia Kelly: It’s, it’s funny you mentioned though, because I have, uh, chatted with a couple of, and I do have one writing friend I think I could potentially write with, because I do think our brains are similar and our process is similar, but it’s one of the reasons that I love talking to authors because sometimes I sit there and I think, we just approach this completely differently and it’s fascinating, um, but I don’t know if I could necessarily Make my process work in a way that would work for that person and vice versa.

So it’s, it’s wonderful that you two have figured out what works for both of you and, and how that, you know, also has a positive benefit for your individual careers.

[00:37:13] Hazel Gaynor: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s been, and again, you know, it’s not like either of us ever sat down with this big grand plan, you know, five years from now, I’d like to be co writing books with an author who lives on the other side of the world. Um, but it’s, I think, I suppose it goes back to the ideas, you know, scenario of.

Being open to things and, and if opportunity knocks, what do you do about that? Um, and, and it’s just been a wonderful addition to this crazy job that we all do. Um, and, you know, as I say, it, it wouldn’t necessarily work for any, everyone. Um. But it, but it is, it’s, it’s great fun and we’re, we’re enjoying it, but I am dreading going back to edits

[00:38:01] Julia Kelly: Yeah, naturally. Well, this has been a wonderful conversation. Before we go, we want to make sure that people can find you and follow along with your career. 10 books and growing. So where can people look for you online? And maybe if you want to plug what’s recently come out as well.

[00:38:22] Hazel Gaynor: Well I’m always procrastinating on Twitter or X or whatever it’s called these days. So I’m very straightforward. I’m at Hazel Gaynor on most platforms. Hazelgaynor.com is my Website, which as I’m saying it, I’m thinking needs to be updated. Uh, and I have a newsletter as well. So I, I try and do a newsletter about once a month.

Um, to share what’s coming up, cover reveals, giveaways, what I’ve been reading. Um, and I, I don’t, you know, do more than, if I do one a month, I’m doing well. So I certainly don’t fill up your inbox too much. Um, and I have an exciting new release of the Last Life book coming out in paperback in April. So this lovely story that’s taken me on an incredible journey so far is.

It’s coming back, uh, with a new look in April. And we also recently just heard that my incredible narrator, Billie Fulford-Brown, uh, has been shortlisted for an Audies Award, um, and is going over to L. A. for the ceremony in March. So she’s up for Best Fiction Narrator, and she did such an amazing job of Dramatizing, uh, The Last Life Boat.

So I’m so thrilled for her and for the book. So we’ve, yeah, there’s lots, lots coming up. So exciting times.

[00:39:41] Julia Kelly: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for joining us and, and talking us through all of this. It’s been wonderfully inspiring and insightful, uh, all the way through.

[00:39:51] Hazel Gaynor: Thank you. And I look forward to you two and your collaboration, uh, on a, on a novel set

[00:39:56] Julia Kelly: We got to talk about this.

[00:39:57] Hazel Gaynor: was it?

[00:40:01] Julia Kelly: Thank you, Hazel.

[00:40:02] Hazel Gaynor: Thank you both so much.

[00:40:03] Theo Brun: Yeah. Thank you so much. Thanks Hazel.

Well, that was a fantastic conversation, with Hazel Gaynor. I loved that. So many great points as always, um, to dissect there, but first a little housekeeping.

[00:40:24] Julia Kelly: Of course. Uh, so before we dive in, I want to make sure that I let all of our listeners know about a special bonus episode for the podcast, which is available exclusively to our email subscribers. The episode is about how to succeed in historical fiction, and we’re joined by two very accomplished historical fiction authors, Gill Paul and David Penny.

They share all of the ingredients to their success with us. And, uh, they also talked to us a little bit about how you can succeed in the genre as well. To get that episode, go to the historyquill.com/ bonus. You can find the link in the description or enter it into your browser.

[00:40:59] Theo Brun: That’s right. And there’s so much great advice in that episode. So do go ahead and try and try and find it. Right. So. Hazel Gaynor, where, where should we start, Julia?

[00:41:12] Julia Kelly: So I love talking to Hazel because whenever I do, whether it’s for a recorded interview, that’s, you know, publicly available or just chatting away over lunch or something like that, I feel like she has. She has wonderful insights into sort of what it is to be an author, what it is to be a professional author, and then she’s also really thoughtful about the craft of writing as well.

So I think, I think maybe, if you don’t mind, maybe let’s start with sort of her ideas about finding the right story and having that story be the right thing for you to write as an author, um, Have you run into those situations before where you’ve thought, you know, This is great. This is wonderful. I’m not at the place in my career where I can write this.

Or, alternatively, this is absolutely the right story for me. And you just have that gut instinct, known reaction that this is, this is for you.

[00:42:06] Theo Brun: I think that, yeah, I mean, there are always ideas coming, aren’t there? And some of them really stick as something close to your heart that you Yeah, seems to have been served up for you. I think that was the point that seemed to really strike you in particular, especially in the negative, almost like that, that you came across an idea and you’re like, that’s not for me.

I can see it’s a good idea. Um, I mean, to put some flesh on the bones, the, the, the question, the reason I saw this kind of connection with, with her story set in China was, I think, because it’s January, you know, it’s the start of the year, um, I’d been reflecting on, like, what is, A story that I want to tell it kind of really, you know, I’d look back and go, that was a story worth telling.

And I think the backstory to this is, is coming to a bit of a crossroads in the stuff that I’ve been writing so far, which is, I’m not sure it’s going to go forward with the publisher that I’m, not I’m with in terms of just a continuation of the series that I’ve been writing. So I was like, what are the kind of stories that really has stayed with me?

And one of them is not actually a novel, but it’s a movie, Chariots of Fire. And it’s always come back to me again and again through my life. You know, when I was a kid, I was a, you know, he tried to be an athlete, so I was interested in it then, and it sort of came back another time and another time. And I was listening to the, um, soundtrack over the, uh, the weekend, and suddenly started having this idea, because, I don’t know if those who may have seen the movie, or it’s connected with one of the guys in it, it’s Eric Liddell, who ends up, although he’s connected with the, the Olympics, which is the main part of the story, he goes on to be a missionary in, in China, and he ends up dying in an internment camp.

Japanese internment camp. And I, it was not the same story that she told, but it, there was a sort of similarity. It’s more of a male story between two brothers and it’s fictionalized and what have you. Anyway, started coming up as an idea. And I, I think a lot of things came together where I was like, wow, I’m at a point where I’m going to start pitching to my Editor for some new ideas.

This has suddenly blown all the others out of the water in terms of the story I want to tell. And it’s like a sort of Cain and Abel story between two brothers, um, in that setting. And, um, yeah, there’s something about it that really kind of gets into your heart that, Although you have other ideas. Um, there are ones that you just suddenly want to get going and start telling and start researching.

And I think that’s probably the best way I can answer that question is, is the actual practical outworking of what that feels like. So we’ll see whether it has traction in terms of Editorial interest from a publisher, but certainly as the author. Yeah, you get the hooks of a story get into you and hopefully this won’t let let me go.

How about for you?

[00:45:14] Julia Kelly: Well, first of all, um, great movie. And, uh, just recently showed that to my husband for the first time. It’s fantastic. Stands up on rewatch. Absolutely. Um, you know, in terms of my, it’s, it’s interesting having this conversation now because I am at a bit of a, um, I don’t know if it’s a pivot point. I think it’s a bit too strong, but I am thinking about what a book that I already have a contract for will be.

It’s the second book on a contract and I’m trying to formulate a pitch and I’ve been Playing around with ideas that just it’s almost like they’re, they’re almost within reach, but I haven’t quite been able to pin them down. And I think that that might be a sign. And I’ve been sort of, um, I made a note or two while I was listening to Hazel speak.

I think that. What started this idea and what started these topics, maybe it’s not quite the right time for me to write about those books, but there is the nugget of something that has come up and I don’t want to say too much because, again, this is this is very much in in the beginning stages of, um.

Even conceptualizing a pitch. There is something there. I know there’s something there and I think that maybe that’s where I need to go off and I need to do a bunch of reading and I need to do a bunch of thinking and just start to figure out what that pitch looks like. Um, and knowing that maybe I, the idea that initially brought me to this subject.

Maybe that’s for a couple of books from now, but there is something really valuable to be had in the moment. So I think there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of value to sort of exploring the world and exploring the research and diving down some research rabbit holes and seeing where it brings you. Um, and then also figuring out, you know, what is it that.

What is it about the idea that that is really pulling you in what’s the hook? What’s the thing that is making you excited and sort of focusing on that because sometimes research can feel so broad and so big It’s hard to get your arms around it when you’re starting to narrow it down to an actual book idea So I think for me that was part of part of what was wonderful about talking with her is it sort of?

Reminded me that you know I can always go back. I can write books that maybe I wasn’t ready to write two or three books ago because they needed time to percolate or I needed time to grow as an author.

[00:47:39] Theo Brun: Yeah, that was an interesting point as well. The idea of feeling a little trepidation in terms of can you actually pull this one off? And maybe that’s always stretching out. That horizon is always just stretching a little further, further ahead of you. Even though, as she said, she was writing books now that she definitely couldn’t have written eight years ago or ten years ago when she started out.

And that’s always, I suppose it’s getting comfortable. Um, with that feeling of a little bit of fear, because it’s slightly the unknown. But you’ve been in that, you’ve got to remind yourself that you’ve been in that place before, haven’t you? Where, even right at the beginning, it’s like, how do you write a novel?

How do you write anything? A chapter? Um,

[00:48:26] Julia Kelly: I have that feeling every time I start a book. It’s, I, I know I’ve done this before, but I have no idea how I did it. And that’s frightening. It’s, it’s, it’s a really, it’s the question of can I do it again? Right?

[00:48:39] Theo Brun: Yeah, there was a brilliant meme I saw recently on social media. It was called something like author’s anxiety or writer’s anxiety. And it was like, I’m anxious because everyone’s reading my, my review. Everyone’s writing reviews about me. I’m anxious because no one’s writing reviews about my book. I was like, I’m anxious because I haven’t yet delivered my.

manuscript to my editor. I’m now anxious because I have delivered my manuscript to my editor. Do you know what I mean? Like there’s basically, you could be anxious about everything in the writing world. So maybe it’s better to just be anxious about not, not too much, or, or at least just get used, get used to that feeling that there’s always something to worry about.

[00:49:21] Julia Kelly: Get comfortable with the idea that you’re always going to be worried about something. Yes,

[00:49:25] Theo Brun: yeah,

[00:49:26] Julia Kelly: absolutely.

[00:49:27] Theo Brun: but, but she certainly, it was nice. Notwithstanding that, to hear her describe that sort of slotting into a kind of mode of being, if you like, that she always didn’t know that was always there for her, but actually now she’s in it, this was what she was supposed to do.

[00:49:44] Julia Kelly: Yeah. Yeah, I think it’s a great reminder that not everybody comes to writing. Um, in a straightforward path, um, you know, different people have different ways of getting here and, you know, different people are at different places in their, in their writing journey, whether that’s a career or a hobby or, you know, whatever it is that, that ultimately you want out of it.

Um, I think that’s a great reminder that it’s not always, not always straightforward.

[00:50:12] Theo Brun: What about the co-authoring side? I know we joked about us co authoring.

[00:50:18] Julia Kelly: know, maybe it will

[00:50:19] Theo Brun: Yeah, it could come to that. Um, what do you think about that? Like, do you, do you find it tempting? Or it’s never occurred to me, I have to admit.

[00:50:29] Julia Kelly: Yeah, I do find it tempting. And again, I think part of, um, what’s important for me would be finding the right The right person with the right approach to it. Um, I think everybody’s writing process is very personal and very individual. And so it’s, it’s 1 of the reasons that I think it’s nearly impossible to replicate somebody’s writing process because ultimately it may not be elements of it might work for you, but it may not be for you full stop.

You know, I think for me, um, a lot of it has to do with balancing, uh, the right idea, the right co author, the right approach to working. And I think you don’t know what that is until you start to actually do the work together, right? Um, but I think you have to, my impression of it is you have to go in with a really strong idea that, you know, this is a professional relationship.

Can be a friendship as well, but ultimately you’re trying to produce something that you’re then going to presumably try to sell if that’s what the end goal is to have it published. And so I think everybody needs to be on the same page. Um, but I’ve, I’ve talked to both, um, Hazel and Heather before, and I think that their partnership seems, you know, uniquely, um, To, to work uniquely well, uh, and I think it’s exciting to see because clearly they get so much out of it on both sides.

Um, you know, as co authors, but also as individual authors as well. I thought that was really interesting hearing about how much it’s helped her, um, with her own books.

[00:52:00] Theo Brun: Yeah, it sounds like you can make, make it a little bit easier by structuring the book in such a way, like they were talking about two point, two point of views. I can sort of see how that would work. Because then you have more ownership over one voice and not so worried about the other one. You know, or more objectively, uh, you know, evaluating the other one on just to help the other person, but

[00:52:23] Julia Kelly: Have you been tempted by the idea of co-authoring? Outside of course of this, this co authoring idea that’s happening live on this podcast right

[00:52:30] Theo Brun: Yeah, exactly. I still think that dual timeline would be interesting. Someone discovering some, some, some archaeological discovery during the Second World War that was connected back to the medieval times. Um, now I think about it. I kind of am doing. I’m involved in this, to some extent, with my ghostwriting hat on.

I think I mentioned to you before this, um, I’ve got a contract to write a, uh, a kind of kid’s fantasy adventure. I mean, like, a bit, it’s not Harry Potter, but it’s like it in the sense that it’s set in the real world, but there’s kind of fantasy magic interrupting into our world, as it were. So it’s not like high fantasy, completely different world building.

It’s set in London, let’s say. And, um, mostly I mean the original idea didn’t come from me, but all the plot came, so far has come from me in terms of getting a synopsis and then I’ve written the first probably 20, 000 words, just me writing it, but it’s going to be this iterative process with not just one other person.

The purported author, but, but they’re like team of creative team, so I don’t know. I don’t know how that’s going to go.

[00:53:45] Julia Kelly: But it has this sort of collaborative approach to

[00:53:47] Theo Brun: Yeah, there’s a collaborative approach and you’ve got to, I’ve got to listen to their input and some of their input is definitely useful. Um, others, you know, the, the, the, whatever expertise we bring in terms of story structure and like how. Basically, you have to kind of keep the hooks coming and for that kind of a book, um, maybe it’s more in my court, but yeah, it’s, it’s different.

I’ve got to open my mind and accept that they’ve got a lot of ideas that they’re going to want to see. Ultimately, it’s, they’re going to be their name on the, on the cover, so they’ve got to be happy. So we’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.

[00:54:30] Julia Kelly: Well, it sounds like a fascinating process.

[00:54:33] Theo Brun: Yeah, I think it’s very different though to the idea of like two co-authors who are both historical writers, let’s do one together. It’s slightly different to that. Well, lots to think about from Hazel’s inputs. So hopefully, we can put some of that into practice.

[00:54:51] Julia Kelly: Absolutely. Thank you again to our guest, Hazel Gaynor, for a brilliant conversation. That unfortunately concludes this episode of the History Quill podcast. Um, but before we go, I wanted to remind you to head over to the historyquill.com/bonus to get our bonus episode on how to succeed in historical fiction.

Again, that features guest authors. Gill Paul and David Penny. It’s really essential listening for any historical fiction writers. So make sure to check it out and you can find the link in the description or by entering it into your browser.

[00:55:22] Theo Brun: And of course, wherever you’re listening to this podcast, make sure you like, subscribe and leave us a comment or a review. Thank you so much for listening to this episode and we will see you next time.

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