Jeanne Whitemee is the author of over forty novels and short stories. She started out as an actress, before realising her ambition of becoming a fulltime writer.
The Lost Daughters chronicles the intertwining lives of two young women in 1950s England, whose lives are beset by personal loss, and their remarkable journey to the capital, to exceed the expectations of their gender and embark upon remarkable business ventures.
How did you come up with the idea for The Lost Daughters? And why did you decide to start the story in 1955?
I’m always fascinated by the way a meeting between two people can influence their lives and I think that the fifties was an interesting decade – a world struggling to reshape itself after WW2.
Although they occasionally meet, Cathy and Rosalind tell their own separate stories. What made you decide to have two protagonists instead of just one?
The two girls come from totally different backgrounds and yet their early friendship establishes a firm relationship. I thought it was fascinating to tell their very different stories separately and show how their paths cross in spite of their different circumstances.
So The Lost Daughters is mainly set in London, with later chapters in Suffolk. What made you choose Edgware specifically as a location?
My father was a Londoner so I do have connections in London. I also have friends in the suburbs so locations like Edgware and Burnt Oak are familiar to me. I lived in Suffolk for three years, so that county is one I know well.
Was the theatre theme influenced by your own time in theatre? If so, have you ever met anyone like Rosalind’s fame-hungry mother Una?
Yes, I used my own knowledge of the theatre and members of the acting profession as research for this story. I grew up in that world as my father was a musician (pianist) and musical director in a repertory theatre in the Midlands. Probably influenced by this, I later attended drama school and progressed to a career in the theatre. All of my characters are the product of my own creation, although sometimes their behaviour and idiosyncrasies are based on people I have met.
Which aspect of the book did you have to do the most research for?
Probably the hotel business, although I do have some experience of running a hotel as my grandparents owned and ran a small hotel in my early years.
What advice would you give someone looking to write their debut historical fiction novel?
Embarking on a historical novel is a serious undertaking and should not be undertaken lightly, because a lot of readers trust what they read as a true picture of life in that particular era, even though it is a work of fiction. The age-old advice is ‘Write about what you know’, and this is sound advice, but if an author wants to write about a longer bygone age, then thorough research is essential. Read all you can on the period and subject. Make notes – visit places and locations if you can – check on costume and hairstyles of the period – the kind of food eaten and the speech used, i.e. do not use present day slang such as ‘OK’, or ‘fashionable’ phrases like ‘any time soon’. On the other hand, speech changes all the time so don’t get bogged down by it and certainly don’t pepper your work with words like ‘gadsooks’ etc. Remember that your work must be readable. A pinch of atmosphere is better than a shovel full of authenticity. The most important aspects are the story and the people, and if you get them right, you’ll have a ‘page turner’ – and that’s what you’re aiming for.
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