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...

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN Tue 30-Apr-13 21:12:52

Welcome to Mumsnet by the way grin

I think Ellie might have found Adam stifling if they had ended up together. I'm intrigued by your comment that the ending didn't go the way you wanted - what would you have liked to happen?

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:14:47

EmmaClarkLam

Not sure if this is how I ask Francesca Segal a question for th webchat (not done this before!) Here goes: what made you decide to look at the conflict between the needs of the community and the freedom of the individual? Also, how difficult was it to write the book from the point of view of a man?

I'm as new to this as you are smile

I think what drove me to explore it was the suspicion that it was a pretty universal conflict, but that I could use an example from a very specific world, and one that I know very well, to explore questions and dilemmas that face almost everyone, coming of age - independence versus security; one's own needs versus the needs of a community.

As for writing from a man's perspective, in the end it came very naturally. It felt like the right way to tell the story.

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:16:23

amazingface

Hello Francesca. I haven't read your novel yet blush BUT I'm planning to get my hands on it really soon.

Can I ask you to say a bit about your favourite female writers, please? smile

Of course! There are almost too many to name, but I adore Jane Gardam, AS Byatt, AM Homes, Penelope Fitzgerald, Hilary Mantel, and I am beginning a new relationship with Iris Murdoch who I'm ashamed to say I've not yet read much.

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:18:21

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN

Welcome to Mumsnet by the way grin

I think Ellie might have found Adam stifling if they had ended up together. I'm intrigued by your comment that the ending didn't go the way you wanted - what would you have liked to happen?

Yes - he'd probably have driven her mad, expecting her to react to the world like Rachel.

I'm not sure what I wanted was relevant in the end - I think the right thing happened, and they didn't give me much of a choice in the end - I just foresaw it as it would be. I feel sad for Ellie, but I think, as you said, that Adam wasn't the right man to make her happy.

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:19:41

And also - thank you very much for the welcome! smile I am thrilled to be here, thank you for having me.

FrancescaSegal

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN

Welcome to Mumsnet by the way grin

I think Ellie might have found Adam stifling if they had ended up together. I'm intrigued by your comment that the ending didn't go the way you wanted - what would you have liked to happen?

Yes - he'd probably have driven her mad, expecting her to react to the world like Rachel.

I'm not sure what I wanted was relevant in the end - I think the right thing happened, and they didn't give me much of a choice in the end - I just foresaw it as it would be. I feel sad for Ellie, but I think, as you said, that Adam wasn't the right man to make her happy.

TheOldestCat, I agree, I thought a lot about parenthood throughout reading the book - Rachel, Adam and Ellie are all defined by their parents, or lack of them. In some ways, it seemed like their struggle was to find a balance between being someone just like their parents and being their own person. They naturally looked for role models, but had to develop their own version of them.

EmmaClarkLam Tue 30-Apr-13 21:21:22

I omitted to say in my earlier post how much I enjoyed the book. I have been recommending it to lots of friends. Some of your observations on human nature were so insightful and right on the mark. I kept thinking - 'yes exactly' although I doubt I could have expressed it as well as you did.

nzbabies Tue 30-Apr-13 21:23:25

Hi Francesca,
I only just found out about the book and began reading it yesterday - I love it. It is intriguing and beautifully-written. I am really interested in the character of Ellie. Is this your first novel? How long did it take to write, what was your daily writing process, and what writing did you do before you wrote the novel? Thanks for answering my questions!

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:24:06

TillyBookClub

I felt the book was grappling with ideas of freedom, and whether people really want freedom. Ellie has it and is quite unhappy. Rachel doesn?t want it, and appears ignorant and intellectually unadventurous. There's that moment when they're in New York and the playwright is describing a sense of unbounded freedom in genetics, and Rachel just doesn't get it. But then you?d be mad to want total freedom. Total freedom would be absolute anarchy.

The family stability and support that rallies round during the crisis is almost like the hero of the book, charging in on its white horse. Freedom seems like the enemy at that point. Like the free market way the money has all been lost.

I think it is very interesting that even at the end, even after a certain maturity has set in, Adam doesn?t choose freely, he is directed by the pregnancy. Do you think if Adam had truly made himself free, he would also have been happy? Or does freedom never lead to much happiness?

I suppose it depends whether you see him as having chosen freely after the miscarriage, though - at that point it was his choice to try again for a baby.

I think as you say, one must balance between freedom and conformity, and that's precisely the dilemma at the core of the novel. Total freedom means a total lack of support or structure - and madness, as you say. No freedom at all is impossible. Navigating between social pressures and individual needs is one of the fundamental challenges of growing up.

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN Tue 30-Apr-13 21:24:32

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!

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:25:51

EmmaClarkLam

I omitted to say in my earlier post how much I enjoyed the book. I have been recommending it to lots of friends. Some of your observations on human nature were so insightful and right on the mark. I kept thinking - 'yes exactly' although I doubt I could have expressed it as well as you did.

Thank you so much - I'm absolutely thrilled! You can't know how much it means to hear.

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:29:42

nzbabies

Hi Francesca,
I only just found out about the book and began reading it yesterday - I love it. It is intriguing and beautifully-written. I am really interested in the character of Ellie. Is this your first novel? How long did it take to write, what was your daily writing process, and what writing did you do before you wrote the novel? Thanks for answering my questions!

Thank you so much.

Yes, it's my first published novel - but I did write another one first that I decided was best put under the bed. It was a fantastic exercise in discipline, but I wasn't ready then.

This novel took me about two years, working extremely intensely on it. I'd been a journalist for ten years, so I had a lot of writing experience, and I suppose also experience with deadlines, and with responding to edits without tearing my hair out. But I hadn't written fiction until this book.

My daily process involves at least 2-3 hours of good, solid self-loathing, procrastination, and visiting the fridge to see if anything interesting might have arrived in it in the ten minutes since I last checked. In between those vital hours, I try to write about 500 words a day, mostly in the morning, and to read as much as humanly possibly in the other waking hours. I'm inspired by other writers.

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?

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.

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 21:38:08

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...

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.

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 21:45:39

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 21:47:35

grin
Join Mumsnet!

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?)

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

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?

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

Parenthood is definitely not compulsory! grin

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...

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