The French Lesson by Hallie Rubenhold
MEET THE AUTHOR
In the latest in a series of Meet the Author Interviews I talk Hallie Rubenhold about her latest historical novel The French Lesson which is has just been released through Doubleday and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.
I began by asking Hallie about her latest novel.
Congratulations on your latest book The French Lesson published by Doubleday. Being a lover of history and historical novels, I have to admit at enjoying it very much. As it is just published can you give a brief synopsis of The French Lesson?
I’m so pleased you enjoyed The French Lesson! I always have a very hard time giving a synopsis of this book because I feel I’m too close to it to be able to discern the woods from the trees.
It’s about a lot of things, but I think it’s quite well summarised in the phrase, ‘it’s Dangerous Liaisons meets A Tale of Two Cities’, with a little bit of Thackeray thrown in for good measure. The French Lesson is the second book in a trilogy about my heroine, Henrietta Lightfoot and how she evolves from being an innocent girl to a scheming woman (which hints at what’s to come in the third novel). It’s told in first person, as a memoir when Henrietta is much older and involved in an on-going battle over reputation with her very dysfunctional family. I won’t reveal anything more than that as there are many twists and turns in this story and I don’t want to give anything away. Although it’s part of a trilogy, it’s also very much a stand-alone read.
What made you want to be an historian and historical writer and become involved in broadcasting and historical consultancy work for television drama’s such as Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell?
I’ve always loved history, writing and filmmaking since I was a child. In fact they really are just extensions of the same thing – story telling. I find the past fascinating and I think that growing up somewhere where a sense of the past was so noticeably absent – Los Angeles – made me more desirous of connecting with it on some level. I also blame the place of my birth for my interest in film.
Do you think history is important today?
History is absolutely important today, however if we define history as simply a memorised roll call of names and dates, then it loses all meaning. I feel very sad when I hear that this definition of history is what so many people associate with the subject.
Personally, I feel that social history has the most relevance in our lives – it’s fundamental that we understand how we lived and how we have evolved as a society. History is and should be the study of what it means to be human.
Is there a favourite period in history that you like to write about?
The period called the Long Eighteenth Century (c. 1680 – 1837) really is the era that I most love, though I find the nineteenth century and the seventeenth century pretty fascinating too.
If you were about to make a long journey and could take only one historical book with you what would that book be? Apologies for putting you on the spot with this one?
I’m assuming you mean historical novel. I’d take Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, which is one of my all-time favourites. This novel is so layered that I’d never tire of re-reading it and contemplating the complexities of its characters.
I like talking to authors about their writing routines, some can be creative in the early hours and others like to write in busy coffee shops with the hustle and bustle of everyday life around them, can you tell me about your writing routines and what motivates you.
I’m useless in the morning and have always been so. I’m not a great sleeper so my brain usually doesn’t kick into gear until after 10 am. If I’m working from home I try to do my chores in the morning – answer emails, go to the gym, the supermarket, etc and then settle into work around lunch time. I try to work from the London Library at least a couple of days a week when they have late opening. This means I can interact with other people, which keeps me sane. The London Library is a great resource for writers – there’s a nice community of us there and we’re all quite supportive of each other’s work.
I tend to work fairly late into the evening, unless I’m going out. Often I’m writing until midnight, with breaks for dinner and coffee. I seem to really hit my stride after 4pm, which annoyingly is when many people are just starting to wind down their working day.
I love the silence of a deserted library in the evenings. I love it when my mobile stops ringing and the emails taper off. That’s pure writing bliss.
With your busy schedule do you get time to read? Are you currently reading a book at present?
I’m a very peculiar and fussy reader. When I’m writing fiction I can’t read fiction as I find that the voices of other authors start to intrude on my own. I read nonfiction when I’m writing my novels, and I read novels when I’m writing my nonfiction. At the moment I’ve been reading a lot of late nineteenth century journalism and commentary about the lives of the poor which will factor into my next book. I’ve just finished Jack London’s People of the Abyss, which was completely absorbing.
Are currently working on another project?
My next book is going to be a nonfiction book about the five women who were killed by Jack the Ripper. It’s absolutely shocking that in nearly 130 year’s no one has ever thought to write a collective history of these women’s lives. The amazing thing is that everything we think we know about them is wrong. Only one among the five was what might be considered ‘a career prostitute’. None of them came from the East End – they were from all over. One of them came from Sweden, another had lived on a country estate as the wife of a coachman. With the exception of one, all of the women were in their 40s, and most had been married and had children.
I’m really excited about writing The Five, which hopefully should be completed within two years. Watch this space!
I am extremely grateful to Hallie Rubenhold for taking the time out of her busy schedule to take part in ‘Meet the Author’. If you would like more information on Hallie’s work or further details of The French Lesson please visit Hallie’s website: HallieRubenhold.com
My thoughts on The French Lesson
The new historical novel by Hallie Rubenhold called The French Lesson is the second book in a trilogy about Henrietta Lightfoot and is written looking back at her time in Paris during the bloody French Revolution.
We find Henrietta caught up in the bloodletting that has set neighbour against neighbour and friend against friend and even Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are not immune from the Revolution and are imprisoned. Henrietta’s lover has let her go and despite the fact she could have escaped the fighting and gone back to London our heroine chooses to stay and sets off in pursuit of her one great love George William Allenham and soon there is trouble for Henrietta as well as grave danger and she needs help and support to survive.
Along comes Grace Dalrymple Elliott no ordinary woman is our Grace, she has a reputation and soon Henrietta soon falls under the protection of Grace but with this comes one very heavy price to our heroine and she comes face to face with some of the most powerful women in France and she put her own life on the line as she tries to find her lover.
The French Lesson is a fabulous gripping account at a time of war and tyranny and the smell of blood is in the air and heads are rolling literally. This is so wonderfully written with a blend of factual and real life people put together in a tale of love and lust and nothing is as it seems as the old order is put to the sword or the guillotine. This is not to be missed.
The French Lesson follows on from the first book Confessions of Henrietta Lightfoot- Mistress of Fate and the third book will follow in time but The French Lesson can be easily read as a stand-alone book.
My thanks to Patsy Irwin at Transworld Publishers for a review copy.
The French Lesson written by Hallie Rubenhold and published by Doubleday and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.
FREE PRIZE DRAW
Now here is your chance to win a copy of the excellent The French Lesson by Hallie Rubenhold. Just head over to my Twitter feed @Thelastword1962 and follow and Retweet the pinned review tweet. You will be entered into the draw. Terms and Conditions: Open to UK residents only. The free draw closes on Monday evening at 20.00hrs 25t April 2016 and entries after this time will be excluded. The winner will be selected at random and a copy will be sent out by the publishers.