Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Q&A with Eliza Knight




Eliza Knight is the author of the new historical novel Starring Adele Astaire. Her many other books include The Mayfair Bookshop. She lives in Maryland.


Q: You’ve said that you ran across a letter from writer Nancy Mitford--the subject of one of your previous books--in which she mentioned an acquaintance named “Delly.” How did you learn that “Delly” was actually the performer Adele Astaire, and at what point did you decide to write this novel?


A: My journey into the life of Adele Astaire began in early 2020 while reading a letter Nancy Mitford wrote to her sister when I was researching my novel The Mayfair Bookshop. Of course, I had heard of Fred Astaire many times and knew he had a sister, but had never really studied her history or realized that in the height of their theatrical career Adele was the more famous sibling.


In Nancy’s letter from 1933, she wrote after having had lunch with Adele, “Delly said I don’t mind people going off and f***ing but I do object to all this free love. She is heaven, isn’t she?”


Of course, after reading that rather shocking statement, I thought, my who in the world is this Delly and how have I not heard of her before? The footnote stated that Delly was Adele Astaire, sister to Fred Astaire. I was immediately intrigued and spent the next two days in a deep research dive learning everything I could and then determining that I had to write about her.


In 2021, I was finally able to write the pitch for the book, and fortunately my agent and editor agreed that Adele’s story was one I needed to write.


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Adele and her brother Fred Astaire?


A: Adele and Fred had incredibly close relationship. Not only as siblings but as dance partners. They grew up dancing together, relying on each other. Because of their performing schedule they often had only each other for friendship as children. I think they relied heavily on each other and valued each other’s opinion greatly. They were also extremely protective of each other.

Theirs was a close and loving relationship throughout the duration of their lives. When they weren’t in the same city together they wrote letters to each other constantly, made long distance phone calls, chatting about everything down to their favorite soap operas. Adele continued to spend her summers in Ireland until 1979 and was sometimes joined by her brother as well.


In 1981 when Fred Astaire was presented with the AFI Life Achievement Award, he thanked his sister, who had already passed away earlier that year, and told the audience how his sister was the reason he was a dancer to begin with. It was very touching and just goes to show how much he truly adored and respected her.


Q: Your character Violet was based on an actual historical figure--why did you decide to include her in the story?


A: Violet Wood, though a fictitious character, was based off of other historical performers of the time like Daisy Violet Rose Wood (aka Marie Lloyd), whom I took part of her name from. Through her character, I wanted to explore the juxtaposition of Adele’s journey. You’ll notice often when one is up the other is down, and vice versa. Both of them started with meagre means, and they both struggle in different ways to reach their goals.


Q: The writer Madeline Martin said of the novel, “Starring Adele Astaire peels back the layers on Adele Astaire’s life beyond the stage while highlighting how ferociously an intrepid dreamer must fight for an edge into the spotlight.” What do you think of that description?


A: I think it’s lovely and I’m so grateful she had such nice things to say about the book. One of the goals I had in writing Starring Adele Astaire was to peel back the layers of Adele’s life and present her not only as a performer but as a woman with dreams both on and off the stage, and I’m very pleased with how the book turned out.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m currently working on the edits for two novels that will release in 2024. Lady Ella and Norma Jean, a novel of the friendship between Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe, will release in February; and The Queen’s Faithful Companion, a novel of the Queen’s corgis, will release in the summer. I’m very excited for both of these books!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Yes! I’ve created a fun reader supplement. It has a playlist, some yummy recipes, and a deleted scene from the book. On the playlist are actual songs that were recorded by Adele and Fred singing together in the ‘20s and ‘30s! Loads of fun J The supplement can be found here:


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Eliza Knight.

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