I am delighted to welcome Eliza Graham today, to talk about her new novel, The History Room.
Hello Eliza, nice to have you here. Letchford, the private school in The History Room feels very genuine. Did you base the school on any particular place?
My children are at schools that sometimes play matches against various other schools in the South that look pretty amazing: acres of grounds, beautiful old buildings.Some of the pupils are pretty slick and amazing-looking, as well. It's easy to think that everything must be perfect. But of course, teenagers are teenagers wherever they are. I certainly had an idea of what the school looked like and it was fun building the world in my imagination.
I was interested in how you parallelled the effects of the past, particularly war, on two different generations. The repercussions of the injury to Meredith's husband and his rehabilitation must have been difficult to write. How did you go about tackling this subject?
We live quite near Wootton Bassett, to where repatriation of dead service personnel used to take place until recently. Every time I saw one of those big Globemasters overhead I'd feel a sense of dread and wonder who was waiting for a lost son or husband or father. I spent some time watching documentaries about how emergency medical transfers are operated between Camp Bastion and England to get the contemporary details right (I sincerely hope). Very sadly it seemed that almost every week there were details of casualties in the newspapers and it wasn't hard to learn about the work institutions such as Headley Court in Surrey, the rehabilitation centre, offer. It was tragic to read about the effects on relationships of injuries in warfare. But some of the stories of service personnel who'd survived appalling injuries were inspirational, too.
How did you research the Czechoslovakian wartime history? Were any of the events based on real incidents?
I read biographies to try and get a real sense of the tragic history of Czechoslovakia from 1938 and through the Soviet occupation and there were stories I came across that were similar to the one I tried to portray of young people deciding they couldn't bear to stay on in their own country once the Soviets smashed the Prague Spring. The escape stories were quite gripping in many cases. It must have such a hard decision to make: to leave your home or stay on.
Emily is a very dark character and pivotal to the plot. Please give us an insight into how her character developed.
Although she is dark she was actually really interesting to write, which sounds awful. But most of the other characters are more or less decent people, or aspiring to be so. So writing about someone who has no scruples was rather a release. I wanted to play a rather unpleasant stunt involving a very lifelike 'Reborn' doll and I needed someone who could do unpleasant things and was exploitative, preying on younger girls.
On a more serious note, I have read quite a lot about adolescent girls who cut themselves. I found it hard to understand at first but the more I read about it the more I wanted to know. So Emily was quite intriguing for me and I enjoyed writing her parts of the novel.
Thanks very much, Eliza.
Check out Eliza's other novels, Playing with the Moon, Restitution, and Jubilee
Review of The History Room
This is a novel where nearly everyone has a secret past, and their past impacts on the present to create a plot that gradually unfolds for the reader. The plot begins with a prank at a private school, which shocks the pupils and staff. In trying to find the culprit, Meredith Cordingley, a teacher at the school, must delve into the motives of her pupils and into her family's past. In doing so she discovers her father, the headmaster, is not the man she thought he was, and that the repercussions of war still haunt him. Not only must she contend with family secrets, but Emily, a teaching assistant at the school has an axe to grind, and will stop at nothing to get revenge for events of the past. Chilling and mysterious, this is a book I can highly recommend.