Join Francesca Segal to talk about April Book of the Month, THE INNOCENTS, Tuesday April 30, 9-10pm

(112 Posts)

Firstly, many congratulations to our April author Francesca Segal - not only the winner of the Costa First Novel Award, but also now longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction, announced two days ago.

Francesca's debut novel is a beautifully executed homage to Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. The central story of THE INNOCENTS - a newly engaged couple from a privileged community, whose impending marriage is threatened by a dangerously seductive cousin - remains the same. But Segal's transports the characters to contemporary London, specifically the sheltered and insular Jewish community of Hampstead Garden Suburb. Adam and Rachel have known each other since childhood; their families (like all the families they know) meet in the same synagogue, holiday in the same Israeli resort, gather at the same feasts at each other's houses year after year. When the wayward and vulnerable model Ellie Schneider arrives back from New York, she causes much consternation in her inability to act 'appropriately'. To Adam, her presence makes him reevaluate everything he held dear: the stability and security that he has always strived for suddenly appearing claustrophobic and restrictive. Segal's masterstroke is her anthropological take on society: the collision between timeless Jewish customs and the changing world beyond the NW postcode, and the endless cultural expectations that every character - from shiksa bride to widowed matriarch to ex-pat New Yorker - must shoulder. Fun, observant and a clever twist on tradition.

You can find more details on our April book of the month page, where there are 50 FREE copies to give to Mumsnetters - to claim yours please fill in the form on the book of the month page. We'll post on the thread when all the copies have gone. If you're not lucky enough to bag one of the free books, you can always get your paperback or Kindle version here.

Find out more at Francesca's beautifully designed website or you can follow her on Twitter: @francescasegal

There are also interesting discussion points and a Q&A on the Vintage website.

We are thrilled that Francesca will be answering questions about THE INNOCENTS, her prizes and her writing career on Tuesday 30 April, 9-10pm. So please feel free to discuss the book here throughout the month and then come and meet the author on Tues 30. Hope you can join us...

SarahAndFuck Tue 30-Apr-13 22:18:36

Thank you very much Francesca and Geraldine.

My night is well and truly made now smile

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 30-Apr-13 22:14:17

Another great bookclub discussion grin Thanks to Francesca and to everyone who joined in.

And if you enjoyed tonight and want to join in again next month, Carlos Ruiz Zafon is our May guest author - everyone welcome.

Name out of hat for signed copy of tonight's book is SarahAndFuck. Please email bookclub@mumsnet.com with your real life name and address and we'll get it posted to you.

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 22:07:21

TillyBookClub

Definitely not Keira. And I agree, DDL not how I see Adam at all (though he might make a very good Lawrence).

I think we're fast running out of time, so I just want to say a very heartfelt thank you to everyone for their questions, and for making this such a lively and thoughtful discussion.

Most of all, Francesca, thank you very much indeed for coming tonight, and for all your generous and insightful answers. You answered every question with such speed, and in such a professional way, I can't quite believe it's your first one. Good luck with the next book - you are always welcome to come and join us for future bookclubs, as an author and a reader.

Many thanks again.

Ah, everyone, I just had such a lovely time and thank you so much for your questions and comments, it's been brilliant. I'm so honoured to be here and to be part of the Mumsnet Book Club - it would be an absolute pleasure to come back! Have lovely evenings, all - and thank you again for having me.

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN Tue 30-Apr-13 22:05:54

Goodnight, Francesca, & thank you.

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 22:05:38

TillyBookClub

And can I squeeze another question in (sorry everyone, feel like I'm banging on here):

Did your time writing the Debut Fiction column on the Observer make you particularly nervous about doing it yourself? And how did the inspiration to do a modern Age of Innocence happen?

I wrote a monthly column on Debut Fiction for three years, during which time I read innumerable first novels. I think the most important lesson it taught me was just how many there are out there - the world didn't need me contributing another first book. So I really wanted to wait until I had something to say, and a novel I couldn't not write. But yes, it made me incredibly nervous. I probably waited longer than I would have done, but that's no bad thing.

Definitely not Keira. And I agree, DDL not how I see Adam at all (though he might make a very good Lawrence).

I think we're fast running out of time, so I just want to say a very heartfelt thank you to everyone for their questions, and for making this such a lively and thoughtful discussion.

Most of all, Francesca, thank you very much indeed for coming tonight, and for all your generous and insightful answers. You answered every question with such speed, and in such a professional way, I can't quite believe it's your first one. Good luck with the next book - you are always welcome to come and join us for future bookclubs, as an author and a reader.

Many thanks again.

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN Tue 30-Apr-13 22:03:16

I think Sarah's right. As soon as I've finished reading The Newlyweds I'm going to be starting again on The Innocents and I think paying particular attention to Rachel!

SarahAndFuck Tue 30-Apr-13 22:01:41

Thank you for your replies Francesca.

I am firmly decided now that Adam didn't know what he wanted until he lost it, and the miscarriage opened his eyes to his own desires and the change in Rachel, and so he wasn't trapped at all in the end.

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 22:00:23

codswallopandchips

I love the sound of this novel - I think it's going to be my recommendation for the book club I attend smile

So my question to Francesca would be:
What would you ask readers about the book? How would you like the discussion to kick off?

Oh, I'm so thrilled - thank you!

I'm always interested to know how readers feel about the ending - without saying what happens, I am always interested in knowing whether readers think that everything ended up as it should, or not.

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:57:55

EmmaClarkLam

Earlier you said that navigating between social pressures and individual needs is a challenge of growing up. Do you think that Ellie (who seems to represents 'freedom') has not grown up yet, or has not yet reached maturity? Is lack of conformity a sign of immaturity? It seems that Adam does the mature or 'decent' thing in the end. Are we to think that pursuing your own selfish needs (like Ellie's dad) is not socially acceptable?

Well, I certainly think that total conformity can be the result of immaturity too - one needs to think for oneself as an adult. But thinking, challenging, asking questions and then choosing to 'opt in' is just as legitimate as choosing the opposite.

I think Ellie's father is certainly selfish, although he has his reasons for being so - but Ellie making a choice to do things differently isn't necessarily immature. I think true maturity is being as honest as we can with ourselves about what we need to make us happy. And then, as far as possible, balancing that with the needs of those we love.

I love the sound of this novel - I think it's going to be my recommendation for the book club I attend smile

So my question to Francesca would be:
What would you ask readers about the book? How would you like the discussion to kick off?

And can I squeeze another question in (sorry everyone, feel like I'm banging on here):

Did your time writing the Debut Fiction column on the Observer make you particularly nervous about doing it yourself? And how did the inspiration to do a modern Age of Innocence happen?

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:54:31

TillyBookClub

There's a regular 'who-would-play-which-character-in-the-movie' debate in our bookclub discussion nights - so I'm putting it to the floor.

I can't name ones for Adam and Rachel but Ellie is Cara Delevigne in my head (not sure if she will be an actress one day but that's how I saw her)

Francesca, do you have actors in your head that you can imagine playing the roles? (and did the ghost of Daniel Day Lewis haunt you at all?)

OAs lovely as it would have been to be haunted by Daniel Day Lewis, I hadn't seen the film when I wrote the book and if I had I think it would have been a disaster. He doesn't look like Adam in my head at all, and it would have been terribly confusing. By the time I actually sat down to write my novel I had put the Wharton novel aside months before and endeavoured to forget it so that my characters could have a little breathing space.

I am always fascinated by other people's suggestions - I'm not very good at it. People Magazine said in their review that they thought Keira Knightly should be Ellie, but they didn't suggest anyone else for the other characters. If anyone has any good suggestions I'd love to hear them...

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN Tue 30-Apr-13 21:54:07

Parenthood is definitely not compulsory! grin

EmmaClarkLam Tue 30-Apr-13 21:51:42

Earlier you said that navigating between social pressures and individual needs is a challenge of growing up. Do you think that Ellie (who seems to represents 'freedom') has not grown up yet, or has not yet reached maturity? Is lack of conformity a sign of immaturity? It seems that Adam does the mature or 'decent' thing in the end. Are we to think that pursuing your own selfish needs (like Ellie's dad) is not socially acceptable?

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:51:33

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN

grin
Join Mumsnet!

No babies yet - I'm a little busy having books at the moment! But I don't suppose I should let that hold me back from joining grin

There's a regular 'who-would-play-which-character-in-the-movie' debate in our bookclub discussion nights - so I'm putting it to the floor.

I can't name ones for Adam and Rachel but Ellie is Cara Delevigne in my head (not sure if she will be an actress one day but that's how I saw her)

Francesca, do you have actors in your head that you can imagine playing the roles? (and did the ghost of Daniel Day Lewis haunt you at all?)

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN Tue 30-Apr-13 21:47:35

grin
Join Mumsnet!

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:45:39

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN

This is my first bookchat too, Francesca, & it's fascinating to be able to discuss your characters with you. I'm getting new insights into the book & I'm going to have to reread it AT LEAST once very soon. I'm definitely going to do bookchats more often!

Thank you so much, I'm so pleased you're enjoying it - it's absolutely thrilling for me, you can't know how exciting it is to be part of a discussion about my characters. For so long they lived inside my head, so it gives me such pleasure that other people can see them too.

I know, I think I will be logging onto the next one too, but as a reader. It's such a lovely community. I want in!

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN Tue 30-Apr-13 21:43:06

This is my first bookchat too, Francesca, & it's fascinating to be able to discuss your characters with you. I'm getting new insights into the book & I'm going to have to reread it AT LEAST once very soon. I'm definitely going to do bookchats more often!

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:41:12

EmmaClarkLam

Another question from me (if there is time): how do you develop your plots? Do you map it all out beforehand, or does the story evolve as you begin writing (from a basic framework)? You said earlier that the ending wrote itself - is this because the plot grows out of the characters, i.e. once you define the character and her/his choices, the plot is forged? I am wondering what comes first - plot or character? Chicken or egg?

I think it is a combination of the two. In this case, because I had the matrix of the Age of Innocence from which to work, I began with a framework, but I was very much open to the story deviating a great deal from that original inspiration, so while I had a map, it did evolve as I wrote. Now with the second novel, I'm also building a framework first. I like to have a sense of where I'm going - I don't want to risk writing myself down a dead end. But at the same time, as you write you get to know your characters better and better and they begin to do what they want, sometimes even if it isn't quite what you intended for them. If they veer away from the map at that point, it is because they have a very clear idea of where they're going, and you just have to follow them to find out.

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:38:08

TillyBookClub

Exciting to hear about your next project, and that its set partly in Boston.

I liked the way you inverted the countries from Age of Innocence - I remember that in Wharton's book the New York society is stiff and formal, and in comes this shocking beauty who has been in Europe, where all is much more permissive. But in your book, America is the land of the free (though I loved your portrait of the overly English expat with the monogrammed hankie).

Do you feel different in America? Have you always spent a lot of time there?

Thank you - yes, in the 1870's of Wharton's novel it is Europe that offers both freedom and potential moral corruption with its permissive values.

My father was American, so I spent a lot of time in America growing up, and as an adult I lived in New York for a while, and in Boston for two years. I suppose I do feel a little different there. I think I sometimes feel more English in America, and more American in London. The problem with belonging two places is that you're always a little homesick everywhere...

EmmaClarkLam Tue 30-Apr-13 21:36:27

Another question from me (if there is time): how do you develop your plots? Do you map it all out beforehand, or does the story evolve as you begin writing (from a basic framework)? You said earlier that the ending wrote itself - is this because the plot grows out of the characters, i.e. once you define the character and her/his choices, the plot is forged? I am wondering what comes first - plot or character? Chicken or egg?

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:34:07

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN

I guessed very early on that Adam was going to be attracted to Ellie, but then once it had happened you kept me guessing the ending right up to the last chapter grin

He had his own imaginary Ellie even before they'd met, didn't he? And given how wrong he was about Rachel, I'd guess he didn't really understand Ellie either.

Also it was lovely to see a positive portrayal of a gay couple - thank you!

Oh good, I'm so pleased! grin

Yes, he had constructed someone in his mind long before she came back to London.

Thank you very much - I'm proud that Reform Judaism in particular has fantastic and integrated LGB community.

Exciting to hear about your next project, and that its set partly in Boston.

I liked the way you inverted the countries from Age of Innocence - I remember that in Wharton's book the New York society is stiff and formal, and in comes this shocking beauty who has been in Europe, where all is much more permissive. But in your book, America is the land of the free (though I loved your portrait of the overly English expat with the monogrammed hankie).

Do you feel different in America? Have you always spent a lot of time there?

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