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Libby & The Lido
September 27, 2018 12:00 pm / Leave a comment
Every spring and summer for the past 10 years, I’ve been privileged to be part of the Women’s National Book Association’s Great Group Reads Committee. For the past few years, I’ve reached out to authors of some of my favorite reads – most often debut novelists – and interviewed them here. I am delighted to say that this month’s interviewee, Libby Page, has made our 2018 list of recommended books with her gorgeous debut novel, THE LIDO. (It’s a testament to how much I love this book that I don’t resent Libby for getting published in her mid-20s.)
Here is a smattering of the numerous glowing reviews THE LIDO has earned:
“Charming… an unusually poignant tale of married love.”—The Washington Post
“In many ways, this meditation on community and swimming follows in the footsteps of the enormously popular A Man Called Ove… Both are charming and heartwarming.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Populated with endearing, multidimensional characters covering a wide span of ages and backgrounds, Page’s debut novel makes it easy for readers to imagine themselves in the mix…Page’s underdog tale can also inspire timely discussions about how to build diverse, place-based communities. A smart suggestion for book clubs and readers who enjoy substance with style.”—Booklist
“A delicious debut about the endearing friendship between two women who join forces to save the town pool. Refreshing, funny and heartwarming, The Lido is must read.”—Laura Dave, national bestselling author of Eight Hundred Grapes and Hello, Sunshine
“A joyous and uplifting debut—a testament to kindness and friendship.”—Sarah Winman, author of When God Was a Rabbit and Tin Man
“This debut is set to be one of the biggest of the year.”—Grazia (UK)
“Brimming with charm and compassion.”—Daily Express (UK)
“A lavish depiction of an unlikely friendship, a London community and life-long love, all charmingly told in rich, yet gentle prose.”—Catherine Isaac, UK bestselling author of You, Me, Everything
“Feelgood and uplifting, this charming novel is full of heart.”—Lucy Diamond, UK bestselling author of The Beach Café
“Did I #lovethelido? So much my heart broke a little turning the last page. A stunning debut.”—Clare Mackintosh, UK bestselling author of I See You
Libby, thank you so much for taking time to do this. You’re my first international interview (Libby lives in England.)! Before we get to your book, let’s talk about you and your unusual background. How did you start in fashion and end up writing novels?
I have always wanted to be an author – I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t want to write novels. If you asked me at age six, seven, eleven, what I wanted to be when I was older, the answer was always the same. But as I got older I realized that you don’t just ‘become’ an author – it’s a little more challenging than that! I decided to study journalism at university, thinking that this might be a career where I could still write in my day job, while writing for myself on the side. I have always loved fashion and the history of fashion so decided to specialize in fashion journalism, although the course was quite broad and covered all the basics of journalism too. I did lots of internships at fashion magazines while I was studying, but ultimately found that it wasn’t actually for me. When I left university my first job was at the Guardian, writing for their students and education section. But I found that writing for my job meant that I had less time and headspace when I got home to write creatively – which had always been my main passion. So, after a year I decided to leave my job at the Guardian and move over to work in marketing instead. This turned out to work well for me – I found that doing something very different for my 9-5 meant that I had more creativity and energy left to write for myself. That’s when I started writing The Lido.
At the ripe old age of 26 (and, I assume, 25 when your book was sold?), your journey to publication couldn’t have taken very long! How did it come about?
I was 24 when I sold my book! I feel incredibly lucky for everything that has happened to me – I certainly wasn’t expecting it to happen this way! I had the idea for my book back in 2014 and spent about six months planning it before starting to write. For me planning was less about plotting out exactly what was going to happen, and more about fully forming my characters so that when I came to write they took the story in their own direction in some ways. I started writing in earnest in 2015, fitting it in around my full-time job. I would write in the mornings before work, on my lunch breaks, in the evenings and at weekends. It was quite full-on! I decided to take a bit of time out to focus entirely on the book, so saved up some money and quit my job in the brand team at a retailer, moving to Paris for six weeks to write intensely there. (It had always been a dream of mine to spend some time writing in Paris so I thought I would go for it!) I wrote about half of my book during that time in Paris – being able to focus on it and nothing else really helped. I then moved back to London for another job in marketing, this time at a charity. But by then I already had a decent chunk completed, so I felt much more motivated to keep going and finish it. The next step was sending the finished manuscript out to literary agents, and this was the longest part of getting published for me. It took me a year to find an agent and I received lots of rejections along the way. I was close to giving up when I heard about a new agency being founded and that they were looking for new writers. I contact Robert Caskie at this agency (Caskie Mushens) and he replied very quickly and enthusiastically. Things happened quite quickly after that – we did some edits together and he then sent it out to publishers at the start of 2017, which is when I signed the deals. Then it was a year of editing and working towards publication with the publishers. In many ways it has been a whirlwind, but there have also been lots of steps leading to this point.
Wow! That’s amazing. (Why didn’t I think of going to Paris to do some writing? Even a grocery list or two…) Speaking of travels, what has been the most surprising part of your journey so far?
The whole process of publishing a book has been entirely new for me, so every single thing has been a learning experience! Learning all the steps that happen along the way and all the different people involved has been fascinating. For me the really surprising thing has been how friendly the publishing industry is – lots of people in publishing houses seem to know each other, having moved around in different jobs in the industry. For such a huge industry, it still feels very personal, which I love. In the lead up to the launch in the UK I visited independent bookshops to ‘hand sell’ copies to book buyers. I had no idea that this was something authors did but I loved doing it – it was amazing to meet in person the people who would be selling my book. I have been so impressed and inspired by the booksellers I have met along this journey – there is such creativity and passion in this industry.
Are you working on a second book? Have we seen the last of Kate? (I hope not!)
I am writing a second book, yes! It is a standalone novel though, so not a sequel to The Lido. Although who knows – I’d never say no to revisiting the characters if inspiration struck in the future.
My fingers are crossed! In the meantime, any advice for aspiring authors?
My main advice would be to persevere. I was very close to giving up when I found my now-agent. The journey to publication can be quite demoralizing but I’m so glad I didn’t give up. I’m also pleased I didn’t give up with the actual writing of the book. It can be quite an isolating experience and you do sometimes question why you’re doing it – I think it’s a common trait among writers to be plagued by self-doubt. But you have to push through this and remember why you’re doing it – and I’d say that for most writers it’s simply because they love writing. And loving something is a pretty good reason to persevere with it, in my opinion.
Beautifully put, and absolutely true. And now, on to The Lido itself!
What did you come up with first, the story or the characters?
The start of the idea came from wanting to write a story about the importance of community. I lived in Brixton as a student and found that there was a really strong sense of community there, but that it was under threat with lots of big chains moving into the area and new blocks of flats being built. When I stepped back I realized this was something happening across London, and in towns and cities everywhere really, with community spaces being threatened by new developments. It made me really worry about what kind of places we will be left with if we lose all these special community hubs. I am a keen swimmer, so the lido seemed a good place to explore this theme of community. The characters came next, starting with Rosemary and Kate and growing from there.
Interesting. That makes perfect sense. What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
Just sticking at it was definitely hard at times. I wrote it with no real expectation of getting published, just because it was a story I wanted to write. But it meant that there were certainly moments when I doubted what I was doing and why I was giving up so much time for it. I’m definitely glad I persevered though!
I am, too – and no doubt many other readers will be glad as well.
You capture the voice and, more importantly, the heart, of an 80something woman in Rosemary so authentically. Where did you draw your inspiration from?
Thank you! Rosemary’s character isn’t based on any specific person but was definitely inspired by older women that I have encountered when swimming. You often see women of Rosemary’s age in the changing room, and they can be very hardy and dedicated outdoor swimmers. I loved the idea of a character who is that age but is not a ‘little old lady’ – someone who is still very active in her community and who feels young at heart. Because I imagine that being that age doesn’t necessarily feel so different on the inside to being twenty-six. Your body might change, but you’re still you – why wouldn’t you be? So in some ways it wasn’t too hard to get into the mindset of an 80something, because I honestly believe we all have much more in common than we think, regardless of age. The emotions we all experience are universal. Kate and Rosemary both experience loneliness, for example, for very different reasons, but the feeling is the same. Those common emotions are what unite us, I think.
I love that. You are absolutely right, Libby!
Whom did you relate to most as you wrote, and why? Did that change at any point?
I related to both Kate and Rosemary very strongly throughout the book. There are obvious parallels between Kate and myself – she is a similar age and like her I too have experienced what it’s like to move to a big city and feel somewhat overwhelmed. But I have now lived in London for over seven years and absolutely love living here. When writing Kate’s character there were moments when I wanted to say to her, ‘It will get better! This place has so much to offer!’. Right now I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, but in The Lido, Kate still has a journey to go on in order to find her place in the city.
Rosemary is obviously a very different kind of person to me, but I related to her a huge amount too. Although I fortunately have not experienced the bereavement that she is dealing with at the start of the book, I can imagine how that might feel and I put those feelings into the writing. And although she is 86, she was a young woman once too and I very much wanted to get a sense of her younger self across in the book. I think often we can look at older people and forget that they were children, teenagers, young women once.
Is it strange to admit you love a character you created? Because I do love Rosemary! I’d love to be like her when I’m older – I admire how involved she is in her local community and that’s definitely something I’m trying to put into practice in my own life. You could say that writing about her has inspired me in that way.
I think both Rosemary, and this story, will inspire many people.
Did your story – or characters – take any surprising turns?
Both Kate and Rosemary were so clear in my mind that when writing they often did or said things that I wasn’t necessarily expecting. They grew the more that I wrote and that often took the story in new directions. That said, I did have a clear idea of the general plot when I started writing.
“Stories were Kate’s friends when she found people challenging.” Is this fiction or autobiography? 😉
I think all writers are readers first and foremost, and I am certainly no exception. I have always loved reading – it’s what inspired me to want to become an author. I love that books can be a real refuge for readers – the right book at the right time can be very powerful. But I have always loved people too, so in that way I was a much more sociable child than Kate. That love of people and their stories is probably the second thing that made me want to be an author, after the love of words themselves.
Had you always planned to include such a wonderful medley of supporting characters, like a pregnant woman, an adolescent boy, and even (spoiler alert!) a fox? And how on earth did you come up with a fox, anyway?
The thing I love about lidos is that they really can be hubs for the local community. People from all backgrounds come here to swim, and so I wanted to reflect this in the book. For me the supporting characters were there to show the role places like this can play in our communities – these special places where people come together. You might not know anything about the people you swim alongside or walk past in your local library or bookshop, but they are there and they all have their own story and reason for visiting. And you share something with them just by being in the same place.
The idea for the fox came about because I wanted to show a glimpse of the Brixton area from a different perspective to help build up a picture of the place for readers who have never been there. In London foxes are everywhere – you get very used to seeing them wandering down your street in the day as well as at night. They do cause a bit of a mess sometimes but I think most people feel quite affectionately about them – I personally think of London’s foxes as my neighbors. They share this city with us and live alongside us – I wanted to imagine what life must look like through their eyes. It’s just a couple of fleeting scenes but I hope might encourage readers to try and look at their own neighborhood from a new perspective. When we live somewhere we can sometimes stop seeing new details about the place – often it takes putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes (or in this case, paws!) to do that.
That’s a great idea!
“A small life was more than big enough for her if it had George in it.” Rosemary and her beloved George were married for 64 years – just like my parents! Are they modeled on a real-life couple you know?
Although Rosemary and George aren’t based on one specific couple, I have been lucky to have witnessed many great love stories throughout my life, from grandparents, to family friends, to my mum and stepdad. But the thing I find about these great true-life love stories is that they are not usually the dramatic affairs you often read about in books or see in films. True love, I think, can often be very ordinary. But that’s what makes it so wonderful. Rosemary and George are in some ways a very normal couple (they are not wealthy, they spend their whole life in the same neighborhood) and yet they are also remarkable – they grow together throughout their lives and are true partners for one another. That is the kind of love that I aspire to nurture in my own relationship and was the kind of story I felt most compelled to write about.
Kate says, “Hope is the most painful thing.” And yet one thing that stands out most to me about this book is its hopeful nature, its positivity. Can you speak to this paradox?
I am a natural optimist, but I have met lots of pessimists throughout my life who perhaps hold themselves back from being hopeful and thinking the best might happen in case they end up disappointed. I think it’s a particularly British trait to be prone to cynicism. If you really care about something, for example by getting involved in a local campaign or fighting for something you believe in, there is a chance that you might end up not getting what you want. If you let yourself think positively, sometimes you are proven wrong. But I still believe that being hopeful is an important thing and I tried to capture this in my book – that some things are worth fighting for, even if you aren’t sure if your efforts will be rewarded. I personally would rather live my life in hope, and the journey towards hopefulness is an important part of my book.
And, speaking of hope, what do you hope readers will take away from this novel?
I hope that readers enjoy the book and it leaves them feeling uplifted. But I would also love if it made people look a little differently at the places in our communities that are often easy to overlook: the libraries, the swimming pools, the independent bookshops. We can sometimes take these places for granted, but I truly believe that we would lose so much if these places were to disappear from our streets. Oh, and if people felt inclined to go for a dip in their own local pool that would be wonderful too!
Libby – thank you SO much for taking time to answer these questions. I adore your book and its characters and your writing. It was difficult limiting myself to quoting only a few lines, as there are so many I love.
Thank you so much! It was a pleasure to answer these questions and thank you for your support of me and my book!
Now that you’ve read her interview – and, I hope, WILL read her beautiful book, if you want to follow Libby on social media, here are two ways to do it: Twitter: @LibbyPageWrites and Instagram: @TheSwimmingSisters
Travel Back into the Past with Author Nomi Eve
October 9, 2015 3:31 pm / 2 Comments on Travel Back into the Past with Author Nomi Eve
I first “met” Nomi Eve thanks to the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA). Her latest novel, HENNA HOUSE, was one of our Great Group Reads candidates. With its elegant prose, meticulous research, and fascinating glimpse into a little-known world, it was so well-loved that it became one of our 2015 selections. As one of her many fans, I contacted Nomi and she was kind enough to grant an interview for this blog.
Specializing in historic fiction, Nomi’s first book, THE FAMILY ORCHARD, is a unique multi-generational saga based on her own family’s history. It was a Book-of-the-Month club Main Selection, and was nominated for a National Jewish Book Award. It also received starred reviews from both Kirkus (“Lyrically overpowering”) and Publishers Weekly (“…sensual, spiritual, and humorous…”). One of my favorite lines is, “When he spoke he waved his hands wildly as if he had extra vowels in his fingers and verbs in his fists.” Another favorite, which – perhaps – is the heart of this book, is “…what is family but a living hall of a loved one’s many faces?”
HENNA HOUSE begins in 1920 Yemen, and features an unforgettable heroine and the tremendous role the art of henna comes to play in her life. In addition to being a GGR selection, it was also selected as the One Book One Community Selection for the Philadelphia Jewish Community Read program, and is rated 4 ½ stars on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. One of my favorite lines is, “Without henna, I wouldn’t know how to read myself.” Another is, “I wondered what it would feel like to speak a weapon, and to forge a word.”
One of Nomi’s goals was to reach 100 book clubs; she has already surpassed that with 139! Her new goal is to have 100 Skype visits (she’s already at 69). If you’re interested in Skyping with Nomi, you can sign up at her website: http://nomi-eve.com/
And now it’s time to let Nomi speak for herself.
- It looks like the first two stories/chapters were published separately; had you always envisioned them as part of a larger novel?
Yes, I always envisioned those chapters (and all the chapters) to be part of one unified narrative. But because each generation in The Family Orchard is treated separately, those early chapters were easy to excerpt for publication in literary magazines.
- How much of this book, these stories, are true? Are you father’s recollections 100% based on fact, and yours mostly fiction?
I tell people that at the beginning of The Family Orchard that the “My Father Writes” passages are taken almost word for word from my father’s actual notebooks. And in the beginning the “I write” passages are completely “fictional” or imagined. But somewhere towards the middle of the book this flips, and truth comes to reside in my voice, while my father’ voice embroiders and covers over the essential facts of the family narrative.
That is so interesting! Did you expect this to happen, or were you surprised? And why do you think it did?
What I was interested in as a writer was the following: How do we know who we are, where does truth reside in family stories? And how do you form an identity when family history isn’t what it seems to be. The structure of The Family Orchard represents how we figure out who we are – we inherit stories from our parents and grandparents. But the stories inevitably have holes in them – holes left intentionally or by accident of memory. The process of growing up is a process of fashioning our own narratives as a way of filling in the holes and coming to terms with all that has been left out.
I guess that’s something we all do, one way or another – even if we don’t write a book about it.
- Did you draw more from research of your own imagination?
Both. I can’t write without researching and I can’t research without imagining.
I love the way you phrased this, Nomi.
- The co-writing with your father is so unique, how did it come to be? Had you planned to collaborate with him all along?
No, I never planned to write this book in this particular way. But I did plan on writing a book that wrested with our family history. As a young novelist I think that I felt both blessed and burdened by my father’s family tree-notebooks. One day I just opened one up and copied out some words. Then I found myself writing “I write…” and this novel was born.
Okay, this just begs for more explanation! When did you first learn of your father’s family tree-notebooks? When did he first begin writing them? How many were there? How much did you draw from them in writing your novel? Do you think your father ever envisioned them being used in such a public way? What was his reaction when you first discussed it with him?
I grew up with the notebooks. They, and the family tree map, were his passion. He was always working on them. They were an essential fact of my growing up. I drew from them tremendously. Whole passages I took right out of them. And in other cases I assimilated information and imagined the lives of the people he had researched. No, my father never envisioned what I was going to do. He was incredibly gracious and gave me leave to do whatever I needed to do with his work.
There’s no denying you put them to great use.
- Did you consult with him as, or after, you wrote each section? Did he ever ask you to add, delete, or change anything?
No, I never consulted with my father to ask permission for anything. But I did consult with him for help in my own research. My father gave me the greatest gift. He didn’t judge and he didn’t ask me to delete anything. He gave me his blessing to confront our family history on my own very public terms. I will be forever grateful to him for this.
It is an incredible gift. And now you have shared this gift with your own children, as well as your readers. Thank you so much.
- Have you ever thought of writing a companion book around your mother’s family tree?
No, but maybe now that you’ve suggested it, I’ll have to go and do that!
I hope you do; I would love to read it!
- Is your family name really “Sefer,” which would be very appropriate considering it’s Hebrew for “book”!
No, it isn’t. But I did choose that name on purpose J
- What is the distinction between “I write” and “I tell”?
The “I write” sections are fictional 3rd person constructs. The “I tell” passages are first person memoir-style touchstones that trace my own struggles with the journey of writing this book.
- One your heroines, Miriam, is an excellent seamstress who weaves stories into cloth. This reminded me of the use of henna in HENNA HOUSE – coincidence?
No coincidence! I’m really interested in women’s traditional arts and crafts and realms of household expertise. I’m really interested in women’s gathering rituals. Both henna and sewing/embroidery fit that bill and inspire me as a writer. Miriam is based in my grandmother Rivka who was rarely without a crochet needle or embroidery needle in her hands.
- What inspired you to write this story?
I was inspired to write Henna House by my love for a close relative. A Yemenite Jewish woman named Ahoova. I’m named for Ahoova’s late husband and we have always had a special bond.
- Is historic fiction your favorite, both to read and write? If so, could you name some of your favorite works, and writers, of historic fiction? When did you first become interested in it, and what drew you to it?
I’m a very eclectic reader but yes, I do love historic fiction. I certainly love writing it. I think that one of the reasons I gravitate towards historical fiction in my work is that I love to learn things as I write. Doing the research that I need to do to write my books keeps me engaged in my own process. I grew up reading Gone with the Wind, Little Women, and other works of a different era (other than the one I was living in.) My list of historical fiction fav’s is quite long, so I’ll just mention a few – The French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles, The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan, The Piano by Jane Campion and the first Outlander book. Okay, Outlander also falls into Fantasy, but I think it fits the bill.
- Why did you choose to tell us the fate of two main characters at the beginning of the novel, rather than let it unfold?
Henna House is a first person narrative. I love reading and writing first person narratives, but I always struggle with beginning them—the reason is that I always want to know “What is the reason for this outrageous act of speech?” Because no one really narrates their life – no one spends 300 or so pages telling you everything that happened to them. So I always feel the need to give my first person narrators a reason why they have decided to do this rather outrageous thing. The dark fate that two of my main character’s meet is that compelling reason for Adela. She needs to let her readers know that their fate is what has set her on this journey of narration.
I think that makes a lot of sense, and is a novel approach (no pun intended).
- What was the most difficult challenge of writing this book?
Getting it published. There is nothing easy about getting a book published. I’m so grateful to Scribner for taking my book out of manuscript pages and binding it between covers.
- What was the most satisfying part?
Seeing that beautiful cover image for the first time and then getting the opportunity to meet with readers in my book club visits.
The cover is exquisite.
- Any hint as to what your next book will be?
No, I’m still keeping it close to my chest.
Fair enough. I’m already looking forward to reading it, though! Thanks so much for giving us these glimpses into your creative process, Nomi.
Interview with Jillian Cantor, Author of MARGOT
September 15, 2013 5:05 pm / Leave a comment
As part of the Great Group Reads Selection Committee for the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA), the best part of “the job” is finding fantastic books, then getting to recommend them to everyone I know (once the list is out, of course).
One of the books on our Hot-Off-The-Press List is MARGOT by Jillian Cantor, and it’s my honor and pleasure to share this interview with you.
Jillian Cantor has a BA in English from Penn State University and an MFA from The University of Arizona. She is the author of award-winning novels for teens and adults including, THE SEPTEMBER SISTERS, THE LIFE OF GLASS, and THE TRANSFORMATION OF THINGS. Her latest novel for adults, MARGOT, a re-imagining of Anne Frank’s sister in post-war America, is fresh-off-the-press, published by Riverhead Books. It’s already receiving rave reviews. Her next book for teens, SEARCHING FOR SKY, will be published by Bloomsbury in 2014. Jillian was born and raised in a suburb of Philadelphia (which, coincidentally, is where MARGOT is set), and currently lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons.
Here is the review I wrote for Jillian’s latest novel, which has received rave reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly & Kirkus, as well as numerous other publications, a modest smattering of which can be found following the interview.
By Jillian Cantor
If you have read The Diary of Anne Frank, seen any of the movie/TV/stage versions, or heard of World War II and anything related to it – this book is a must-read.
Set in 1959, Margot is a stirring, thought-provoking novel with the premise: What if Anne Frank’s sister, Margot, didn’t die at Bergen-Belsen? What if, in fact, she found her way to Philadelphia, changed her name to Margie Franklin, and became a legal secretary?
What if she had gone from one kind of hiding to another?
A frequent refrain throughout the book is “hiding who you are… so much easier than hiding where you are.” This notion was first voiced by Peter, the young man who lived in “The Annex” with Margot, Anne, and five others. According to the famous diary, Peter and Anne were an item; according to Margot, she was the one he favored. And it was mutual.
Fourteen years after surviving the Holocaust, Margot still fantasizes about finding Peter. It had been his idea to move to Philadelphia, “The City of Brotherly Love” – surely no harm could come to them there. Yet, even as part of Margot yearns to build a future with Peter, another part knows he is most likely dead. And another part of her is in love with Joshua Rosenstein, the Jewish lawyer for whom she works.
Margot is a rich, complex character full of contradictions: a non-practicing Jew who still lights the Sabbath candles and refuses to eat ham; a sister who feels both resentment towards, and guilt over, Anne; a survivor struggling to build a new life, yet unable to escape her past.
Towards the end of the novel, one of Margot’s few friends suggests an outcome that – finally – offers a way out of her immense survivor’s guilt: “Ilsa has given me a story I may be able to cling to.”
Jillian Cantor has given us a story “to cling to” as well. Haunting, powerful, heartbreaking yet hopeful, Margot is an excellent companion with The Diary of Anne Frank, as well as a stand-alone of great depth and power. It will stay with you long after you turn the final page.
These words, from Jillian’s own blog, are an excellent explanation as to why she chose to write MARGOT in the first place:
“The new book I’ve been working on takes place against the backdrop of an enormous historical tragedy, yet the story I am choosing to tell is a deeply singular and personal story of one woman’s loss. I’m finding the best part of writing it is in the details of this one particular woman and the people closest to her who she has lost and loved.
And I keep thinking about this one professor telling my class about how his dog died on 9/11, how it’s the smallest of tragedies that are worth writing about.”
Now, please sit back and enjoy the interview! If you’d like more information afterwards, check out jilliancantor.com.
Q: In the author’s note at the end of Margot, you wrote, “In creating Margot/Margie, I wanted to give back what was stolen… her voice, her life, her happy ending.” How happy do you envision that ending to be? Do you believe anyone who has survived the Holocaust can ever truly be healed?
A: Well, without giving away the ending of the book, I do envision that my character, Margie Franklin, has found a certain peace with her situation and her life in America by the end of the novel. I think that different people react to tragedy and horrors in different ways, so I don’t know that I can truly answer that second question. I think over the course of the book Margie finds ways to deal with the atrocities of her past, but I don’t think she’ll ever forget them and move past them completely. Part of what I was interested in exploring in the novel is the way tragedy can resonate and affect a person, even so many years after the fact.
Q: How accurate are Margot’s memories? Is the reader meant to believe her point of view? Question it? What’s the truth and what’s reality?
A: I’m fascinated by the idea of memory, the accuracy of it, the way, in time, memories start to fade and you can’t remember what really happened and what’s a story you tell yourself about what happened. I think in some ways memories are always fictions. I also think point of view and accuracy is an interesting question. You can ask two people at the same event to tell you what happened, and their stories are often different. What’s truth and what’s reality? I think we all have our own truths. Margie believes her memories are accurate, but then with time and distance and opposing accounts, she honestly doesn’t know what is true and what is not. I think the reader is along with her for the ride, questioning alongside her.
Q: Do you see Margot as courageous or cowardly?
A: I see my character Margot/Margie as courageous, which is the opposite of how she sees herself for most of the book. The things she did to survive, to make it to America, to start over, all take enormous amounts of courage. I’m not sure I could’ve done the same in that situation, though I would’ve wanted to.
Q: What was the biggest hurdle you faced in writing Margot?
A: This is the first time I’ve ever written historical fiction or really had to research to write, so I think the biggest hurdle was trying to find the balance between truth and fiction. I wanted there to be some historical accuracy to the scenes I wrote about the annex, but I also wanted to fictionalize Margot and her story – this is definitely a novel! At a certain point, I’d revised the book so many times and read and re-read Anne’s diary so many times that the lines between truth and fiction began to blur in my head. I also had trouble with pacing the book in the earlier drafts because I was including too much historical information. So finding the balance between writing a good novel and including the historical pieces of it was my biggest challenge.
Q: If – as I hope! – students read your novel alongside Anne’s diary, what would you want them to take away from the comparison? What do you think would resonate most with today’s teens? And what aspect(s) of Margot herself do you think they could identify with?
A: I hope students will read the novel alongside Anne’s diary too! I think it would be interesting for them to think about point of view, as well as the accuracy of diaries in general. Also, to consider what Anne and Margot were like as real people, real teenage girls, real sisters. Any teenage girl who has a sister can, I think, relate to the complex feelings Margie has for her sister in the novel. The novel is also very much a love story and a coming of age story. Margie is in her thirties, but she is still coming of age in America, learning to accept the things that have happened to her, the things she has done, who she has become. She’s struggling with her identity, which is definitely something I think teens can relate to.
Q: If you could somehow meet Margie, what would you want to tell her?
A: I’d tell her to take her sweater off, especially in the summer – just like Shelby does!
Q: If you could go back in time and ask the real Margot one question, what would it be (besides asking where her diary is!)?
A: That’s tough to answer, on so many levels. If I really could go back in time, then I have to imagine that I would’ve been hiding in an annex too or sent to Auschwitz right alongside them. I think that’s what made this such an emotional story for me to write. I envisioned Margot and Anne as me and my sister, only fifty years earlier and in Europe. The difference is, my sister and I had the fortune of being born in a different time and a different place. It’s terrifying to imagine being back there, in that time, during the Holocaust. But if Margot had lived, and I had the opportunity to talk to her now, I’d like to ask her how she feels about The Diary of a Young Girl, and how the accounts of the annex in there differ, or not, from her own memories.
Q: Did your role of being an older sister have any impact on – or change in way because of – this book?
A: It definitely had an impact on this book. When I read the diary as a teenager, I really identified with Anne. I felt I was like her, Jewish, a dreamer, a budding writer, and if I’d lived where and when she did I could’ve been her. But when I re-read the diary as an adult, I really noticed Margot for the first time. I barely remembered her from my earlier reading. I’m the older of two sisters, like Margot, so it occurred to me that if I’d been there, at that time, I wouldn’t have been Anne at all. I would’ve been Margot. I think the sister relationship is a special one and a complicated one. When I read the diary as a teen, I thought of the story of the annex as Anne’s story, but coming back to the diary again as an adult, I realized it was Margot’s too. My younger sister and I are so different and we have such different memories of our (very same) childhood. So yes, all of this impacted my writing of the book!
Q: You wrote that your children make all your “stories worth telling, but most especially this one.” Care to elaborate?
A: That phrase we often hear about the Holocaust: never forget — I think, in a way, this is my small contribution to that, and to my children, too.
Q: You mentioned that you’re working on a new YA novel. Care to give any information about it to whet our appetites?
A: It’s called SEARCHING FOR SKY and will be published in summer 2014 by Bloomsbury. It’s the story of a teenage girl and boy who have spent nearly their entire lives on a deserted island, only to be “rescued” and brought back to California where they learn that the island they were raised on may not have been the paradise they thought.
Some of the Much-Deserved Praise for MARGOT:
People Magazine gives it 3.5/4 stars: “a convincing, engaging might-have-been.”
Also add: Selected as one of the Women’s National Book Association’s Great Group Reads!
“…Psychologically subtle, satisfyingly suspenseful, and sensitively written.” – Margaret George, New York Times bestselling author of Elizabeth I: A Novel
“…a compassionate imagining of what might have happened had Margot Frank survived…a tour of the emotional nether land so often occupied by those who have survived the unimaginable and an example of extreme sibling competition—and love.” — Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers
“A moving, spellbinding book about sisters, memory, and love… Spectacular!” — Jen Lancaster, New York Times bestselling author of The Tao of Martha
“This beautifully told sister narrative is more than an intriguing what-if? It’s a meditation on the nature of survivor guilt and the legacy of invisible wounds. Margot takes on big questions in an intimate story, and carefully considers whether it is possible to survive–and thrive– after unspeakable horror. A moving, affecting novel.” — Diana Abu-Jaber, author of Crescent and Birds of Paradise
“Cantor brilliantly channels Anne Frank’s sister Margot…. A haunting meditation on who we really are versus who we wish we had been, regret, loss and how we love in the face of sorrow. Glowing as a rare jewel, Margot is about discovering the truths of our lives, no matter what the cost.” — Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You and Is This Tomorrow
“This is a haunting book—emotionally raw, beautifully written, and so close to the bone that it’s jarring to remember, when you come to the end, that Margot Frank isn’t really alive and well and waiting somewhere in Philadelphia to answer all your questions.” — Gwen Cooper, New York Times bestselling author of Homer’s Odyssey and Love Saves the Day
“The kind of story that will leave you breathless, both because of its ambitious subject matter and its deeply arresting storytelling. Cantor has created a stunning reimagining of Anne Frank’s sister….” — Ilie Ruby, author of The Salt God’s Daughter and The Language of Trees
“…The novel not only feels like a prayer for Margot and Anne, but for the many voiceless men and women whose memory deserves recognition.” –Erika Robuck, author of Call Me Zelda