Letters to the Lost – Iona Grey: Guest Post

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for this lovely book.  I have read Letters to the Lost and I adored it – my review will be up this week. 

In the meantime, I’d like to welcome Iona to the blog to tell you a little about writing dual time frame novels.

Writing Dual Time Frame Novels

The first stories I fell in love with as a child were fairy tales. The second ones were dual time frame novels.

Tom’s Midnight Garden. Charlotte Sometimes. A Traveller in Time. When Marnie Was There. As a little girl in the 1970s these were the books I sought out in the library – scanning back blurbs for a mention of the ingredients I found irresistible: ‘old house’, ‘mysterious’, ‘past’. I think it must have been a great era for children’s TV drama too, as several of the books I loved were made into mini-series (the junior equivalent to Poldark, which also enjoyed its first Sunday night airing around the same time!) and I’d rush home from school to claim the best place on the sofa to watch Carrie’s War and Moondial. I still have my copy of Carrie’s War, though all the pages are falling out. I loved the whole book, but the bit that really got to me was the beginning when grown-up Carrie goes back with her children, and we see the house at the centre of the story as a ruin, and the town all deserted. And the end, of course, when the story comes full circle. (Oh knickers – I still well up just thinking about it.)

There’s something so unbearably poignant and powerful about looking at the past in the context of what comes afterwards. Would the film Titanic have been such a ten-tissue weepy if it had been a straightforward historical piece, without the framework of the present? I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t. It’s amazing to think how things that now seem inevitable and unquestionable might be the consequence of chance or heartbreaking accident a few generations ago. All of us have a family history, whether we’re familiar with it or not, and it’s humbling to think that we’re here because, or maybe in spite of, the trials and triumphs faced by our ancestors in very different times to our own. Women in particular often faced challenges that seem outrageously unjust to us now, and in writing Letters to the Lost I became aware of the extent to which the law and society limited women’s choices only two generations ago. Jess, the heroine of the contemporary part of the story, faces some of the same problems that Stella has to deal with in the 1940s strand, but she is able to turn to the authorities for help whereas Stella – with no rights and no voice – finds nothing but dead ends to every escape route out of her predicament.

Of course, the best bit about writing about the past in the context of the present is being able to wave your authorly magic wand, solving longstanding mysteries, righting wrongs and showing how time has healed old wounds or served justice on those who deserved it. (Who doesn’t love the bit at the end of Titanic when we find out that loathsome Cal ‘put a pistol in his mouth’ after the Wall Street Crash?) There’s something wonderfully satisfying about seeing the effect of the years on your characters; who has survived, who has been poisoned by hurt or jealousy or resentment, who has remained true to themselves and triumphed. It’s karma, but speeded up!

I’ve always felt a sneaking envy of people with psychic ability, and a connection with a world just beyond the reach of the solid here and now. Having said that, I’d probably scream the roof off if I ever did have a close encounter with a ghostly presence, but I can’t help feeling a wistful yearning to establish some kind of connection with the past. In the absence of a time-travel machine, thank goodness for dual time frame novels. Definitely the next best thing.

Letters to The Lost is published by Simon & Schuster and was released on 23 April 2015

1943, in the ruins of Blitzed London…

Stella Thorne and Dan Rosinski meet by chance and fall in love by accident. Theirs is a reluctant, unstoppable affair in which all the odds are stacked against them: she is newly married, and he is an American bomber pilot whose chance of survival is just one in five.

… He promised to love her forever

Seventy years later Dan makes one final attempt to find the girl he has never forgotten, and sends a letter to the house where they shared a brief yet perfect happiness. But Stella has gone, and the letter is opened by Jess, a young girl hiding from problems of her own. And as Jess reads Dan’s words, she is captivated by the story of a love affair that burned so bright and dimmed too soon. Can she help Dan find Stella before it is too late?

Now forever is finally running out.


4 thoughts on “Letters to the Lost – Iona Grey: Guest Post”

  • This book sounds so good – love dual timeframe books as well. Iona's post reminded me of books I loved when I was young. Read Charlotte Sometimes to my own two when they were younger but had completely forgotten about When Marnie Was There!

  • (Trying again after the internet ate up my comment yesterday…)

    Thanks Liz – so kind of you!

    Janet and Joanne, it's so great to meet other people who liked those books too. Such a shame that a lot of them are no longer available, as I really think they've stood the test of time. One of my favourite authors was someone called Nina Beachcroft (she wrote an astonishingly good book called Cold Christmas – definitely recommended for festive fireside reading if you can get hold of a copy!) and I think all of her books are out of print now. I'm always intending to reread all those old favourites, but there's so much great new stuff out there too (Liz Fenwick's latest is calling to me…)

I do love to read any comments 😊

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