Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Q&A with Jennifer Robson




Jennifer Robson is the author of the new historical novel Coronation Year. Her other novels include The Gown. She lives in Toronto.


Q: Coronation Year is your second book featuring a major event in the life of Queen Elizabeth II, following The Gown. What inspired you to write about her coronation?


A: The Gown had the Royal Wedding of 1947 as its backdrop, because I was really interested in looking at how the end of the war, and the continuing period of austerity that followed, affected the lives of ordinary people.


With Coronation Year, I’ve again chosen to take a significant royal occasion — this time the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953 — and look at how it affected British society. This time, however, the period of austerity is coming to an end and the future is, at last looking bright — but was this true for everyone? Or was it a time of hope and glory for only a select few?


Q: How did you create your characters Edie, Jamie, and Stella, and is the Blue Lion based on an actual hotel?


A: Edie was the first character who came to me: she was there, full-formed, the moment I began to think about the hotel and the weight of expectations that its owner might inherit along with the property.


Jamie came next, and again he, too, sprang into my mind in what felt like a heartbeat. Like Edie, he perpetually feels like an outsider; like Edie, he has reached a crisis point in his life where he cannot imagine continuing on as he has before, but isn’t yet certain of what his future will bring.


Last of all was Stella: another outsider, another character who is deeply uncomfortable in her own skin. Unlike Edie and Jamie, though, I had met Stella before: she was a secondary character in Our Darkest Night, and I had wanted to know what became of her after the war. The only way to find out, I realized, was by continuing her story in Coronation Year.


As for the Blue Lion, I’m afraid it exists only in my imagination. If you go to the location I’ve described, you’ll find a lovely historic pub called the Sherlock Holmes; but if you step back, and let yourself imagine, I hope you’ll be able to see the Blue Lion there, too.

Q: How did you research this novel, and did you learn anything especially surprising?


A: I like to rely upon primary sources, just as I did back in graduate school: the difference now is that nearly everything I need to access has been digitized and is available online. When I was a student at Oxford 30 years ago nothing was online — I had to dig through sources page by page!


For this book I looked at newspapers and magazines from 1952 and 1953 as well as newsreel footage; I read diaries and memoirs; I pored over old maps and census records and business directories; and I spent many long and boring hours combing through government files at the National Archives. All of this combined to give me as good an understanding of the period as my time and resources allowed.


As for surprises? It wasn’t a surprise, as such, but I was incredibly impressed by the depth of planning that went into making Coronation Day such a success. Thousands of people worked incredibly hard to ensure everything went off without a hitch — and they did it all without the help of computers or a single cellphone!


Q: Once again, you included cameo appearances from characters who appeared in your previous novels — how do you decide on who should make an appearance?


A: To a large degree my decisions on who to include are governed by the plot as I develop it, and not (as some might think) by straightforward sentimentality. I’ve built up a sort of alternative universe in the pages of my last four books, Coronation Year included and I like the idea of my characters bumping into one another now and again.


If there is one character who links all four books together, I would say that it’s Walter Kaczmarek, even though he’s absent from the pages of Our Darkest Night. But it’s his creation, Picture Weekly, and his work there, that ultimately serves as a direct link between my books.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I wish I could tell you but I’m still at the delicate stage of plotting away madly and figuring everything out! It’s set in England, and it takes place in the 20th century — and beyond that I can’t say anything more.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Readers looking for the P.S. section that typically appears at the end of my books (but has been curtailed because of paper shortages) can find all the usual materials on my website, among them a book club guide, suggestions for further reading, an essay on my imaginative creation of The Blue Lion, and much more. Simply visit www.jennifer-robson.com.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jennifer Robson.

No comments:

Post a Comment