Please welcome Hazel Gaynor to the blog for her tour! Hazel’s new book, THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME:A Novel of the Titanic, just came out and she was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about it. Also, there’s a tour-wide giveaway, so be sure to check that out at the bottom of the post!
Congratulations on your new novel, THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME! Will you tell us a little about it?
Firstly, thank you for inviting me to My Bookish Ways!
I’m so excited about the release of my debut: THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME – A Novel of the Titanic. The novel tells the story of a young Irish woman, Maggie Murphy, who reluctantly leaves her Irish home and her sweetheart, Séamus, to start a new life in America with her aunt. They travel on RMS Titanic. Seventy years later, Maggie confides in her great-granddaughter, Grace, sharing her experience of the traumatic events of April, 1912. Maggie’s revelations have far-reaching repercussions for them both.
I’ve been fascinated with Titanic since I was a teenager. When I started my research for the novel, I came across the record of a survivor from a small parish in County Mayo, Ireland. From there, I discovered the history of a group of Irish emigrants – now known locally as the Addergoole Fourteen – who travelled together on Titanic. I knew immediately that I’d found the inspiration for my novel. I wanted to explore the experience of a third class passenger on Titanic, the aftermath of the disaster and how such an event can have far-reaching repercussions on a survivor’s life. Through Maggie, I hope to allow readers to immerse themselves in an aspect of the Titanic disaster they might not have considered.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
I’ve loved reading since I was a child and I’ve always dabbled in creative writing in some form or another. After university, I went straight into a corporate career in the finance and legal sectors. I left my job in 2009 to look after my children, and that was when I began to tap back into my creative side. Initially, I wrote a parenting blog in the few moments I snatched while I was at home with my two children. This led to writing freelance for the local and national press and my writing began to get noticed. Eventually, that long-held ambition to write a novel finally felt like something I could achieve. I consider myself very lucky to have found something I love working at.
The Girl Who Came Home is based on one of the most famous events in history: the story of the Titanic. Why do you think this event still resonates so strongly with so many people today?
There is an undeniable air of romance to the era of the great steam liners which seems to only increase with the passing of time. We admire the elegance of the ladies’ outfits and the debonair gentlemen, we look at images of Titanic’s stunning interiors and the craftsmanship that went into her construction and can hardly believe that this amazing ship, carrying the wealthiest among American society, sank with such loss of life.
As it happened at a time when radio communication was relatively new, Titanic became the first major news event of the twentieth century, and the first to be broadcast around the western world – the events being recorded in unprecedented detail. Titanic also sank at the dawning of the film industry and as a consequence the story has been told over and over again, so that it has become a very visual event. We can almost imagine what it would have been like to walk those decks. And, perhaps, we are intrigued by the notion of what we would have done in the circumstances. Could we have left our husbands? Would they have insisted that we get into the lifeboat? Could we have passed our child to a stranger in the hope that they would survive?
With the planned construction of Titanic II and a maiden voyage scheduled for 2016, I expect our fascination with Titanic will only continue to increase over time.
In your research for the novel, what was one of the most interesting things you learned?
I had never really considered the aftermath of Titanic before I started researching the novel. The hours the survivors spent in the lifeboats; the number of days they spent on the rescue ship, Carpathia; the thousands of people who gathered to see the survivors arrive in New York. It is easy to think that everyone who survived simply stepped off the Carpathia and went on with their journeys in America. But many were taken into the New York hospitals, traumatized and suffering from hypothermia or other problems. Their ordeal was far from over and many suffered from survivor-guilt for many, many years.
Why do you think readers will connect with Maggie Murphy, and what did you enjoy most about writing her character, and the book?
Maggie is a spirited, resilient young girl from a humble, Irish community where family was everything. As the novel is written in two different periods – 1912 and 1982 – we see Maggie as a seventeen-year-old girl – heartbroken to be forced to leave her home and her sweetheart – and also as an elderly lady. By allowing her to grow into a mature woman, we are able to experience her full life story and learn what happened to her after Titanic. I hope that readers will enjoy immersing themselves in the Titanic era through Maggie’s eyes. I love Maggie’s strength – her hope and determination – and her relationship with her great-granddaughter, Grace.
Maggie was a lovely character to write and I found that her voice developed very naturally on the page. I always felt that she was very real – sitting on my shoulder, making sure I got it right! Hers was a very emotional story to write – as was much of the book. I can only hope that readers will enjoy getting to know Maggie – and my other characters – as much as I enjoyed writing them. While THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME is an emotional read, I hope readers will feel genuinely moved and uplifted by it.
What are a few of your favorite authors?
I have very diverse tastes and read anything and everything. Favourites I would return to time and again are: Philippa Gregory, Rose Tremain and Sarah Waters and in terms of classics, I love the Brontes and Jane Austen. I have enjoyed many recent debuts, particularly by Eowyn Ivey and Hannah Kent and I’m excited to see what they write next.
What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline. I’ve wanted to read the novel for ages, but am ashamed to say I am only getting around to it now. It has done amazingly well and I’m very proud to be published by the same publishing house!
You’re originally from England, but now live in Ireland. What do you love most about living there, and where would
take a first time visitor?
I’ve been in Ireland for ten years now and it is all so familiar to me that I’m surprised when friends and family visit from the UK and are struck by the ‘Irish-ness’ of everything: the coloured houses, the pubs, the churches and round towers! It really is a beautiful country. The people are genuinely lovely and it is true – the Irish do love to talk! I would take a first time visitor to Glendalough in County Wicklow. Or, further afield, I’d take them to the Gap of Dunloe, in County Kerry. Stunning. Of course, a pint of Guinness is also compulsory.
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I love to go for long family walks. We are surrounded by some lovely countryside and I like to get away from the desk and on top of a blustery mountain – although plot ideas and scenes pop into my head all the time. I also love to potter around the lovely little villages of the Lake District in England when we stay there with family.
What’s next for you?
My second novel, DAUGHTERS OF THE FLOWERS, is about two sets of sisters and is set around a charity for orphaned flower sellers in Victorian London. The story spans several decades across the late 1800s and early 1900s. I love the Victorian and Edwardian eras and the streets of Victorian London were a wonderfully haunting place to explore in my imagination. I am very excited about the book’s publication early next year.
About THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME:
Inspired by true events, The Girl Who Came Home is the poignant story of a group of Irish emigrants aboard RMS Titanic—a seamless blend of fact and fiction that explores the tragedy’s impact and its lasting repercussions on survivors and their descendants.
Ireland, 1912. Fourteen members of a small village set sail on RMS Titanic, hoping to find a better life in America. For seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy, the journey is bittersweet. Though her future lies in an unknown new place, her heart remains in Ireland with Séamus, the sweetheart she left behind. When disaster strikes, Maggie is one of the lucky few passengers in steerage who survives. Waking up alone in a New York hospital, she vows never to speak of the terror and panic of that terrible night ever again.
Chicago, 1982. Adrift after the death of her father, Grace Butler struggles to decide what comes next. When her Great Nana Maggie shares the painful secret she harbored for almost a lifetime about the Titanic, the revelation gives Grace new direction—and leads her and Maggie to unexpected reunions with those they thought lost long ago.