Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Last Bookshop in London, and for your character Grace?
A: The idea for The Last Bookshop in London started with a major bombing event during the Blitz in late December 1940 when the book industry in London on Paternoster Row was bombed. It’s estimated that over 5 million books were destroyed.
This was during a time when paper was being rationed and mass book production was incredibly limited, which only made the travesty all the more devastating.
The Last Bookshop in London was meant to be a celebration of reading, even in a time when it feels as though all is lost and how community can help rebuild, especially with the power of a good book.
When it comes to Grace, I really wanted to showcase the love of reading and thought the best way to do this would be to re-introduce that discovery of a love for reading through Grace’s eyes.
By making her not being much of a reader from the start and having her find a book that sinks into her heart and mind, people can share her enchantment and relive their own experiences with loving books all over again.
Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?
A: I love history and I love research. I threw myself into this project with every book I could possibly find on the subjects of the Blitz, life in London during World War II and how people reacted to the events they were living through.
It really surprised me how so many people didn’t just work a day job, but also volunteered at night to help out the community – whether as a nurse or a fireman or operating a mobile canteen to provide tea or even walking the streets while bombs are falling as an Air Raid Precautions Warden, like Grace.
One of my favorite historical tidbits I found was about carrots. Britain’s pilots were so good at chasing down Nazi planes because of advanced radar technology.
However, they obviously didn’t want Germany to know about this, so they launched a campaign promoting the mass consumption of carrots and how they can make people see in the dark, especially pilots. Rumor has it that apparently the campaign was so convincing, Nazi pilots started to be fed more carrots.
Q: What did you see as the right mix of historical fact and your own fictional story as you wrote the book?
A: The setting and events that transpired in the book were all real. While the characters are fictional, I did an extensive amount of research on the culture of life then.
I read through diaries and used people mentioned as inspiration for these characters as well as noted reactions to certain events. There is a certain mood that is really captured in people’s musings on paper and I tried to incorporate that feel into the book.
I also peppered in some extra historical detail here and there as I personally enjoy those tidbits as a reader of historical fiction. I think that’s why there is such an appeal to the historical fiction genre, education and entertainment all rolled into one perfectly wrapped package.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: I hope that in reading The Last Bookshop in London, readers come away recalling their own love of reading and are reminded that the darkest days can still be lit by the brilliance of books.
I also hope people come away with newfound knowledge of life during the Blitz in London and how wonderfully unflappable the British spirit remained throughout. I suspect there may be a few more books added to people’s TBR (to be read) pile at the end of this too. I know I certainly enjoyed the reading list of classics that I mention in the story. J
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A top-secret project that I will hopefully be able to share more information on soon. Suffice it to say for now, The Last Bookshop in London will not be my only historical fiction.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: For all those animal lovers out there (like myself), I only want to add a quick note to not worry about the cat in the story – he doesn’t get hurt.
Thank you so much for having me on your wonderful blog!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb