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...

DuchessofMalfi Wed 27-Mar-13 08:03:47

Thank you for my copy, which arrived yesterday smile Looking forward to reading it.

lasttothebar Wed 27-Mar-13 21:17:21

Thanks mine arrived today

gailforce1 Tue 02-Apr-13 18:16:14

I have just placed a reservation for this book with the library. Looking forward to getting a copy and getting started.

My husband is completely engrossed in my copy now, which is interesting as I wouldn't have had it down as his cup of tea. But I think it is a very more-ish book.

Hope everyone got their copies now?

Xmasbaby11 Sun 07-Apr-13 23:33:06

Has anyone managed to find the extra stuff on the Vintage website? I am reading it for book group and wanted some discussion points.

gailforce1 Mon 08-Apr-13 09:51:44

I found some critics reviews on Vintage by typing in The Innocents in the Search bar but no discussion points for a book club. There was a pretty uninspiring reader review as well! Still waiting for my copy from the library. Have you started it Xmas?

Picturesinthefirelight Mon 08-Apr-13 12:51:29

I've ordered it from the library. I'm second in the queue.

LadyMountbatten Mon 08-Apr-13 22:43:49

I downloaded kindle sample and gave up I'm afraid. The Yiddish annoyed me.

Fourkisses Tue 09-Apr-13 14:09:45

Thanks for my copy. Currently only on chapter 4. The Jewish words have made it a bit of a chore to get into at first but I hope I've got over that now. Needing to google to see what they all mean grin

Choccheesecake Tue 09-Apr-13 15:36:09

I read this over the weekend - just couldn't put it down. With relatives in exactly that area I knew every place and every person (convinced Rachel is a morph of two of my cousins!) and absolutely loved it.

I do have one question though... Most of the stuff in the book implies that the main characters are orthodox (as in synagogue rather than observance...) ie the sitting in the ladies' gallery and the various customs and rituals (tashlich) etc. But a couple of things didn't quite fit. Adam's sister was (I think) 13 when her father died and her bat mitzvah was looming - yet if she was orthodox it would have taken place at 12. Ditto the Hoop Lane crem stuff (ie orthodox/traditional Jews are buried and not cremated).

Given Adam's father was the religious one of the family and most of the other characters so perfectly reflect the United synagogue-style community that I know from Hampstead Garden Suburb I just wondered whether this was an error or done intentionally?

Lomaamina Tue 09-Apr-13 21:36:29

I loved your book, which I can happily say I read months ago, when I first spotted a review in one of the Sundays. I must admit to not being well-read enough to get the 'Age of Innocence' allusions, but that's no matter: I found the book unputdownable and I felt the main character's difficulties with the strictures of the community were very true to life and (as you said in a recent radio interview I believe) just as true for any other family-oriented community as the Jewish. My only slight discomfort was with how the central characters seemed to move through life on tracks perfectly oiled by the comfort of financial security. All those generous trips to Eilat!

My question is: do you think that the real-life equivalents to your main protaganists are likely to recognise themselves in this picture; to be equally chafing at the narrowness of their (albeit supremely comfortable) lives? Or are they going to be identifying with Rachel through and through?

DuchessofMalfi Sun 14-Apr-13 13:59:35

Just started reading it this morning. So far so good, but could do with a glossary for the Hebrew phrases.

Lomaamina Sun 14-Apr-13 15:58:18

DuchessofMalfi happy to offer my translation services for free grin!

DuchessofMalfi Sun 14-Apr-13 19:03:10

grin Thanks - I might take you up on that Lomaamina!

oldmacdonaldhadafarm Mon 15-Apr-13 17:42:39

Chatting about the book with a friend (I loved it btw) and she said that you are Eric Segal's daughter. Is this true? How did I not know this? I looooove his books and have read them all over and over (if it is true did that put a lot of pressure on you to succeed in the same field?)

SarahAndFuck Tue 16-Apr-13 20:19:26

I downloaded this to my Kindle and loved every word. If you haven't finished reading the book, don't read this though.

I was interested in Rachel very much. She was very much dismissed throughout the book as an only child, a spoilt child, a pampered child who had grown-up to become a bit of a child-woman, in need of constant soothing and gentle handling, helpless, a perfect Jewish princess who relied on her parents and fiancé to continue the pampering and pandering so she didn't really have to grow up all that much.

Everyone in the book seemed to like her but Adam swayed between adoration and annoyance. And she was annoying. But he seemed to view her as being so naive and self-involved and satisfied with her lot that it was only at the very end that she came across as being very shrewd and clever, and he suddenly came across as being incredibly naive about her.

I didn't like her very much as presented through Adam's eyes, I preferred Ellie, but Rachel right at the end was the one who seemed to come out of the book as the most complex person after all.

Lomaamina Tue 16-Apr-13 20:24:20

SarahAnd I so agree with your analysis. She really came true in the end and you almost wanted to go back and see if you'd missed the clues to her character earlier on.

SarahAndFuck Tue 16-Apr-13 20:34:10

I know I will reread the book at some point Loma, and I will be looking out to see if I missed things about her. And I'm hoping to like her more the next time I read the book.

SarahAndFuck Tue 16-Apr-13 20:37:01

I've also downloaded The Age of Innocence (free on Kindle) so I can compare. I've never read it, so I'm wondering how I might view it having read this one first.

Lomaamina Tue 16-Apr-13 21:19:51

I bought The Age of Innocence, but to my shame, I failed to get into it. Let me know how you get on, won't you?!

SarahAndFuck Tue 16-Apr-13 23:06:19

I will. Have you given up completely, or will you try it again at another time? I find sometimes it's just not the right time for a book, but often love them on the second or third attempt.

Lomaamina Wed 17-Apr-13 10:13:33

That's a point (which makes me feel a bit less dim): I think I wasn't in the mood to memorise who all the different characters were. My day job is spent reading (and writing blush) lots of rather dense academic text so I tend to look for lighter reads for the evening. Thanks to your tip I've downloaded a free Kindle version, which should hopefully mean I can search back for characters' names as I did recently with the brilliant John Lanchester's 'Capital'.

I'm currently reading the enthralling 'The Soldier's Wife' (thanks to mumsnet for the free copy! www.mumsnet.com/Talk/mumsnet_q_and_a/a1672994-Q-A-with-author-Joanna-Trollope-Send-a-Question-and-enter-a-draw-to-win-one-of-ten-copies-of-her-latest-book-The-Soldiers-Wife-ANSWERS-BACK).

gailforce1 Wed 17-Apr-13 17:53:28

No sign of my copy arriving at the library any time soon so I wont be able to join this month's chatsad see you all in May..

Xmasbaby11, we're hunting for reading group material on the Vintage website too - have contacted them and will let you know.

Interested in the posts about Rachel v Ellie. Despite Rachel's princessy perfection, I found Ellie more predictable than Rachel, in her model/rebel/damaged girl way.

I have started to re-read original Age of Innocence too. First time I read was for a Eng Lit course comparing novels with film adaptations, and I could only remember Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Rider in big dresses.

textfan Sat 20-Apr-13 02:24:55

How do I 'join' the book club? I'm an English grad looking to widen my reading even more in prep for teacher training.

Lomaamina Sat 20-Apr-13 16:34:27

There's a link to join on this page, along with other book-related things: www.mumsnet.com/books.

DuchessofMalfi Sun 21-Apr-13 16:34:57

I'm half way now, and really enjoying the novel.

One question that occurred to me, so far, is concerning the tight-knit community. You explain how everyone is connected either by blood or by marriage. Everyone seems to know everyone else, and either they meet at Jaffa and Lawrence's house, or on holiday in Eilat. I wondered whether this was meant to show how close and comforting it is to know everyone else, or whether we ought to see that as almost a suffocating, claustrophobic atmosphere where everyone knows everyone else's business. There's nowhere to go for privacy. Even when you're on holiday you find yourself sharing space with the same people you see every day, and at the synagogue.

The same comment could apply to any tight-knit community - island, village anywhere really where everyone seems to know everyone else's business.

In a way, I wonder whether Adam admires Ellie because she is a free spirit. She hasn't got close ties to the family - she seems able to come and go like her father has done.

Anyway, I'm going to read on, and come back with further thoughts smile

textfan, just click on the Book of the Month links on the homepage (or on the Books homepage) and then come and read the book, ask a question, listen in, whatever you want.

And a reminder to everyone that you don't have to have read the specific book of the month to join in - the authors are here to answer questions on all their work, the process of writing, what recent books they rated, the childhood books they loved. So please feel welcome to get involved, whether it is a specific question or a more general one.

Speaking of which... it is time to start sending any advance questions to Francesca. So if you can't make it on Tuesday 9pm, or you'd like to be first in line, please put your question up here before Monday morning.

Look forward to seeing you all Tuesday night.

DuchessofMalfi Thu 25-Apr-13 08:20:07

I finished reading it last night. First of all, I want to say thank you to Francesca Segal for writing such a thoroughly enjoyable novel. I loved it.

I did wonder, at first, whether I might need a phrase book to translate the Hebrew/Yiddish phrases grin but it turned out to be quite easy to get the meanings. And, in fact, it was a nice touch - another means of drawing all the characters together.

I liked the way at the end that the community all pulled together to help Lawrence and Jaffa in their financial difficulties.

Adam was an idiot - he nearly lost the best thing in his life through his stupid behaviour. I liked that the family and wider community pulled together to remove Ellie, quietly and quickly, from the scene to protect Rachel and Adam's marriage. Nice touch ending on a family party.

I'm looking forward to your next novel smile

cm22v077 Thu 25-Apr-13 13:53:45

Hi, enjoyed the book but was disappointed that it didn't go the other way at the end! Have always been fascinated with Jewish culture so it was an interesting read.
I know a few girls like Rachel who infuriate me so was routing for Ellie and Adam the whole way even though it was wrong!
My question is, do you know people like Rachel? Were your characters based on people who you know or have observed?
Thanks!

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN Fri 26-Apr-13 17:07:52

I enjoyed the book too. I guessed fairly soon that Adam was going to fall for Ellie, which made me think I knew how it was going to end, but then with just a couple of chapters to go I realised I still had no idea who he was going to choose.
I didn't find any of the characters that sympathetic, which was really refreshing in a way because it made them much more real and meant that even though the book was through Adam's eyes I didn't feel manipulated into being on his side (or anyone else's!)
My question to Francesca is, what did you think of the ending? Did you secretly wish that Adam had been free to go off with Ellie?

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN Fri 26-Apr-13 17:09:04

blush or that will be my question if I make it on Tuesday!

Thanks to everyone for advance questions (and do keep them coming), I'm sending to Francesca now, and looking forward to meeting her properly tomorrow at 9pm...

See you all then.

And for all those scribbling quietly away at their own first novel (or who long to get started), don't forget Francesca is teaching the Mumsnet Academy Fiction for Beginners course on Saturday 8/Sunday 9 June.

SarahAndFuck Mon 29-Apr-13 20:25:39

My Questions

I suppose we would all like to know if you were rooting for Rachel or Ellie throughout the book, and which of them you wanted Adam to choose?

But did you know who Adam would choose when you started the book, or did his choice only become clear to you as you wrote?

And did you like Adam?

I found myself liking Ellie far more than I liked Rachel, but by the end I thought Rachel was far more complex than anyone gave her credit for, including Adam. I think when I reread the book, I may have different loyalties second time around.

When I first started reading, I thought - this is similar to naomi aldermans 'disobedience' - that is, the arrival from new York of an ex-insider who is going to cause ripples among the insiders and have an affair.

As it transpired the books are v. Different and I did love them both. I thought the second half of yours was terrific with great momentum. I wanted to ask tho, if, when you first heard about 'disobedience' did your heart fall or did you understand immediately that there is 'room' for all?

aristocat Mon 29-Apr-13 22:11:51

What a charming book, thank you. I must confess that I am finding the Jewish words a struggle but I have not finished reading it yet, sorry.

My question to Francesca is simply what's next please?

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN Mon 29-Apr-13 22:29:30

Does anyone else see parallels with Gone Girl?

Both heroines far more manipulative than they appear to be on the surface, both men unfaithful & on the verge of leaving them but then at the last moment trapped by a pregnancy. OK, it becomes clear that Amy Dunne is an outright sociopath but she practically tells us that herself. We never hear Rachel's voice, we only ever see her through Adam's eyes, & it's clear by the end that he doesn't know her very well at all.

Fourkisses Mon 29-Apr-13 22:41:39

It took me a little while to really get into the book because of the Hebrew. However, once I got past that I was hooked, and couldn't put it down! I swayed between wanting Adam to do the right thing and then rooting for excitement with Ellie. By the end Rachel's character was depicted as more complex than we had first realised, possibly the most complex character in the book.
Un-put-down able and charming.
I haven't read the Age of Innocence so I missed those links. I'm off to download that to my kindle now smile

SarahAndFuck Mon 29-Apr-13 22:53:08

*SPOILER***

Was Adam trapped by a pregnancy though?

I wondered that, because he certainly seems to be by the first one. But after Rachel loses the baby it seems to be him that wanted her to try again for the baby they have by the end of the book. And I wondered if he did that because he had realised her loved her and wanted a family with her, or because he felt guilty and to blame in some way. Or for some other reason. But he seems so happy to be a father.

I kind of hope that when we realised there was more to Rachel than Adam had led us to believe, Adam himself realised the same thing once he got over the shock of the pregnancy and realised that he loved this 'new' Rachel. And that perhaps the miscarriage, coming at the same time as the financial crisis her family were in, gave them the opportunity to be a married couple without the overwhelming outside help from family that Adam seemed to struggle so much with. They could finally be a couple relying on each other.

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 09:29:15

Hi Tilly, very much looking forward to the book chat this evening! Just writing this to say a quick hello to everyone, and to test my Mumsnet posting skills. See you all this evening!

Francesca x

TillyBookClub

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...

minimuffin Tue 30-Apr-13 10:19:42

Hello - finished this last night and really enjoyed it. I knew how it would end from about halfway through the book - Adam was never going to have the guts to break out of his world - but I don't mean that in a bad way.

I found him a really sympathetic character. He was just curious about the world beyond his own safe community and he wasn't sure how much to give in to that curiosity and where it would take him ultimately. He'd only been with one girl in his life and I think he'll spend the rest of his life knowing that he "did the right thing" but wondering "what if?" because life isn't black and white, feelings change, sometimes you think you did the right thing and sometimes you wish you'd had the guts to do something a bit different. He never even gets to test the water, other than the brief encounter with Ellie. There are good and bad things about belonging to such a close community and this book illustrates them really well. It's not all "closed" either - you have Ellie's dad who decided to break out of NW London and found happiness (though brief) and Willa London who married "in" and is happy. There is the gay couple who are totally accepted - the community is very human, it's not a strict, stifling one.

I was fascinated by the insights into the Jewish community of NW London as I'm fascinated by Judaism generally, my only criticism was that in parts the explanation of the High Holidays etc seemed a bit clunky, it suddenly went into RE lesson territory. But I guess that's difficult to write - it's useful background and it's fact and you have to weave it in somehow.

I found Rachel irritating and childlike but that's because I've never quite understood women who are obsessed with getting married from an early age. I can't imagine a life where you have never sowed any wild oats but I know that some people can - it doesn't scare them, and nor does spending their whole life in the place they were born. Something about that is enviable, and I think Adam understands that but doesn't feel it - that's his conflict.

I thought the twist about his Dad at the end was clever - the extent to which he hadn't really resolved his feelings over his dad's death. Made me look at him in a new light. The whole relationship with Lawrence was wonderful and made his dilemma so much harder. I didn't really have a huge amount more respect for Rachel - she just got what she wanted didn't she? Ellie I found slightly 2-dimensional, never felt I really got to know her, but then you didn't really need to. It was about Adam.

Sorry all a bit garbled as I'm writing in a bit of a rush but I really enjoyed the book and just wanted to share thoughts - will come back with a question for Francesca later when I have chewed it over a bit more.

minimuffin Tue 30-Apr-13 14:59:14

Hi Francesca - I have a couple of questions:

I was just wondering about your writing process today - did you write or consider writing a different ending where Adam took the plunge and left Rachel for Ellie? Or was it always clear to you that his character would never do this? (I really cared about him by the end of the book - I read another bookclub choice - Brooklyn by Colm Toibin - a couple of years ago and still wonder occasionally how things would have turned out for Eilis, would she have been happy. I know that I will keep wondering about Adam as well now!)

Did you include the bit about the miscarriage at the end to show that Adam hadn't felt trapped by Rachel's pregnancy, but had, in effect, re-committed to her and his marriage by trying for another baby? To me (because it all happened so quickly after Ellie's departure) it seemed that fatherhood gives him a clear focus and purpose, an anchor, yet another reason to do the right thing, so he is glad to try for another baby as soon as possible, it saves him as well as his marriage.

You portray your own community really positively and realistically in this novel, I think, and the portrayal is an affectionate one. Has the reaction to it in NW London been positive?!!

aristocat Tue 30-Apr-13 17:38:41

I should have written that I was not lucky enough to get a copy this time but went to my library because I thought it was one I would like to read smile

platanos Tue 30-Apr-13 18:23:48

Just wanted to say I really enjoyed your book. I am interested in tightly knit communities - how they can be both a source of security and a trap. Are you part of such a community?

I rushed the end (I wanted to know what happened blush] but was a bit surprised by Adam's "sudden" grief for his father. Is it because the community took care of the family when his father died, and he had no real chance to grieve?

Rachel surprised me a the end too. But then maybe I should not be so surprised, parenthood is a life-changing experience, and a new side of us often appears...

Will they be happy together? I can't decide...And will Ellie ever be allowed back? what then?!?!

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN Tue 30-Apr-13 18:26:06

I like your reading of it, Sarah.
Maybe the first pregnancy led to his getting to know a more adult Rachel, one he could actually live with as an equal.

DuchessofMalfi Tue 30-Apr-13 18:27:39

I thought that about Rachel's pregnancy too, minimuffin. It would have been too easy to say that Adam had been trapped by Rachel's announcement of her pregnancy, and we would go on assuming that he felt resentful towards her for not allowing him to walk away from his marriage. But it wasn't that simple. Because she sadly lost that baby, their new baby boy symbolised a fresh start for all.

Many interesting questions already. Looking forward to 9pm very much indeed...

And a quick newsflash: everyone who posts a question will be entered into a lucky dip to win a personalised signed copy of THE INNOCENTS.

We'll announce the winner at the end of the chat.

See you soon.

TheOldestCat Tue 30-Apr-13 18:37:48

Won't be able to make the chat but just to say I loved the book.

As others have said, Rachel was clearly more complex and interesting than Adam believes; I felt the whole novel turned on that point.

My question - is how much of the story for you revolves around fatherhood (parenthood)? It's interesting Adam and Ellie have both lost parents, Lawrence is the father figure for Adam, Rachel's son at the end. No time or brain space to devote to now, but it's the theme that intrigues me.

Thanks

SarahAndFuck Tue 30-Apr-13 18:39:36

I hope so Empress

Although as with Gone Girl, I really hope we might have a sequel one day to see how they are getting along.

I'd like to see what happens if Ellie comes back on the scene in ten or fifteen years time, and how Adam and Rachel have fared in their marriage. And what happened to Adam's sister and Rachel's parents. If Ellie's father ever came back (I have a secret hope that he left as a feckless drifter and reappears as some Alan Sugar tycoon type to stir up trouble with the older family members).

So, I guess that's another question for Francesca. Any chance of a sequel? smile

Yes, the story is crying out for a sequel in ten years time!

I agree with others about the miscarriage and then the next baby showing Adams willingness to be 'trapped'. A great detail.

I wanted to also say I thought the dialogue and characterisation was fab. Has anyone you know seen themselves in the characters - whether they were based on them or not - and if so what were the reurcussions?

Evening everyone,

I am delighted that Francesca is joining us tonight from Israel to talk about her writing, her inspiration and the events that led her to write THE INNOCENTS. We already have many questions to get through, so off we go...

Francesca, firstly, thank you very much indeed for taking the time to be here. And many congratulations on a wonderfully engaging book and all your prize success. We'll kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread. And then we'll aim to get through as many new ones as possible over the next hour (although getting through all the posts above may take a good chunk of that...)

I'd also like to add our two standard MN Bookclub questions (which we like to ask all authors):

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction? (without giving away too much of your MN Academy Writing for Beginners course...)

Over to you...

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:01:44

TillyBookClub

Evening everyone,

I am delighted that Francesca is joining us tonight from Israel to talk about her writing, her inspiration and the events that led her to write THE INNOCENTS. We already have many questions to get through, so off we go...

Francesca, firstly, thank you very much indeed for taking the time to be here. And many congratulations on a wonderfully engaging book and all your prize success. We'll kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread. And then we'll aim to get through as many new ones as possible over the next hour (although getting through all the posts above may take a good chunk of that...)

I'd also like to add our two standard MN Bookclub questions (which we like to ask all authors):

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction? (without giving away too much of your MN Academy Writing for Beginners course...)

Over to you...

Hello everyone,

I'm so thrilled to be here - thank you so much for having me!

First of all, to answer Tilly's questions:

What childhood book most inspired you?

Several, at different stages. The books I remember devouring in early childhood were Richmal Crompton’s Just William series, and then when I was about twelve being absolutely captivated by anything John Wyndham had written. But the book that first stopped my heart was Wuthering Heights. I think it’s still, secretly, my template for true romance!

What would be the first piece of advice you would give to someone attempting to write fiction?

The first is absolutely fundamental – to read everything you can lay your hands on. All writers are passionate readers; it’s how one learns the craft. The more one stuffs into one’s brain, the more likely it is that several completely discrete facts, or thoughts, or stories, will fuse into something new and inspire you. I am always surprised when writers say they don’t read fiction when they’re writing as they want to keep “their” voice – I think the more voices you’ve heard, the more likely you are to be able to know your own.

And the second is to try not to be self-conscious. No one need read a word you’ve written until you’re ready to show them so until then write entirely for yourself, and try your utmost to ignore those invisible eyes looking over your shoulder at the page. (As they say, dance like no one’s watching etc.)

For anyone who wants to write, I think Stephen King’s little slip of a book, ‘On Writing’ is fantastic. I’ve not yet read any of his fiction (I get very easily scared!) But it is a generous, wise, honest account, and a practical guide to writing. He compares it to laying pipe, which I think is an excellent analogy.

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:02:48

Thank you so much. You are very observant! In my head, Adam grew up in a Reform family, which explains Olivia’s bat mitzvah etc – I grew up Reform, and I knew a lot of families who observed tashlich, even though they weren’t orthodox. I never imagined Hoop Lane Crematorium – right across the road is the Hoop Lane Jewish cemetery, which is where Adam’s father is buried.

But Rachel’s family go to a United Synagogue – and of course, when Adam gets together with Rachel, it’s Rachel’s family traditions they take on, as a couple. Hence the women’s gallery and hats (and contradictions!)

Choccheesecake

I read this over the weekend - just couldn't put it down. With relatives in exactly that area I knew every place and every person (convinced Rachel is a morph of two of my cousins!) and absolutely loved it.

I do have one question though... Most of the stuff in the book implies that the main characters are orthodox (as in synagogue rather than observance...) ie the sitting in the ladies' gallery and the various customs and rituals (tashlich) etc. But a couple of things didn't quite fit. Adam's sister was (I think) 13 when her father died and her bat mitzvah was looming - yet if she was orthodox it would have taken place at 12. Ditto the Hoop Lane crem stuff (ie orthodox/traditional Jews are buried and not cremated).

Given Adam's father was the religious one of the family and most of the other characters so perfectly reflect the United synagogue-style community that I know from Hampstead Garden Suburb I just wondered whether this was an error or done intentionally?

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:03:27

Thank you so much! I’m thrilled you loved the book. I think, and as you note I’ve said elsewhere, that anyone who is part of any close community will relate to elements of this world. If you live in a small village you have the same experience of everyone knowing when you pop to the pharmacy (“Maybe she’s pregnant!” etc); and anyone from a close family is familiar with the experience of wanting to please one’s parents, while also wanting to make decisions for oneself. I think people have interpreted the book many ways, which is legitimate. Some people see only the claustrophobia and feel stifled by it – and I’m sure there are people in that world who find it challenging sometimes – but some people focus on the strengths that come with it – the support of the community, the strong moral values of family and responsibility and caring for one another. I appreciate both sides (but I do find Rachel very annoying!) But people are people, in the end. It’s a human story.

Lomaamina

I loved your book, which I can happily say I read months ago, when I first spotted a review in one of the Sundays. I must admit to not being well-read enough to get the 'Age of Innocence' allusions, but that's no matter: I found the book unputdownable and I felt the main character's difficulties with the strictures of the community were very true to life and (as you said in a recent radio interview I believe) just as true for any other family-oriented community as the Jewish. My only slight discomfort was with how the central characters seemed to move through life on tracks perfectly oiled by the comfort of financial security. All those generous trips to Eilat!

My question is: do you think that the real-life equivalents to your main protaganists are likely to recognise themselves in this picture; to be equally chafing at the narrowness of their (albeit supremely comfortable) lives? Or are they going to be identifying with Rachel through and through?

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:04:02

oldmacdonaldhadafarm

Chatting about the book with a friend (I loved it btw) and she said that you are Eric Segal's daughter. Is this true? How did I not know this? I looooove his books and have read them all over and over (if it is true did that put a lot of pressure on you to succeed in the same field?)

Thank you. It’s true! You didn’t know it because I did as much as was humanly possible to keep it quiet. I am so immensely and deeply proud of my father, and I know he would have been equally proud of me now my book is published, but I wanted to be my own writer, and I wanted the space to succeed or fail on my own terms. And yes, to answer your second question, it would have put immense pressure on me if this book had come out with ERICH SEGAL’S DAUGHTER WRITES NOVEL plastered all over it – which is why I didn’t tell anyone!

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:04:41

Thank you so much – I am absolutely thrilled that you enjoyed the book. Yes – I agree. Throughout the novel we are on Adam’s shoulder, and he isn’t always right. He feels hugely constrained by the community and by certain choices he’s made, whilst remaining blind to the fact that other people have made entirely different life choices around him and the world didn’t stop. Similarly, while Rachel is sometimes incredibly annoying, Adam is so patronising about her – I would smack any man who tried to call me ‘Pumpkin’! He underestimates her. He’s a little pompous too, and a very conventional man at heart.

SarahAndFuck

I downloaded this to my Kindle and loved every word. If you haven't finished reading the book, don't read this though.

I was interested in Rachel very much. She was very much dismissed throughout the book as an only child, a spoilt child, a pampered child who had grown-up to become a bit of a child-woman, in need of constant soothing and gentle handling, helpless, a perfect Jewish princess who relied on her parents and fiancé to continue the pampering and pandering so she didn't really have to grow up all that much.

Everyone in the book seemed to like her but Adam swayed between adoration and annoyance. And she was annoying. But he seemed to view her as being so naive and self-involved and satisfied with her lot that it was only at the very end that she came across as being very shrewd and clever, and he suddenly came across as being incredibly naive about her.

I didn't like her very much as presented through Adam's eyes, I preferred Ellie, but Rachel right at the end was the one who seemed to come out of the book as the most complex person after all.

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:05:17

Thank you so much (and I’m glad you managed without the Yiddish phrasebook in the end – my publisher wanted me to do one, and I wasn’t sure, sorry if they were right and I should have included it!) Yes, to answer your first thoughts, both close and comforting – and at the same time, intensely claustrophobic! I’m so thrilled you liked the book, thank you ☺

DuchessofMalfi

I finished reading it last night. First of all, I want to say thank you to Francesca Segal for writing such a thoroughly enjoyable novel. I loved it.

I did wonder, at first, whether I might need a phrase book to translate the Hebrew/Yiddish phrases grin but it turned out to be quite easy to get the meanings. And, in fact, it was a nice touch - another means of drawing all the characters together.

I liked the way at the end that the community all pulled together to help Lawrence and Jaffa in their financial difficulties.

Adam was an idiot - he nearly lost the best thing in his life through his stupid behaviour. I liked that the family and wider community pulled together to remove Ellie, quietly and quickly, from the scene to protect Rachel and Adam's marriage. Nice touch ending on a family party.

I'm looking forward to your next novel smile

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:05:54

No, I didn’t base the characters on real people. The book is very much fiction. But like you, I have also met quite a few girls like Rachel though, and I was always quite scared of them. They seemed absolutely certain that they knew what they wanted, and that anything else was out of the question. I know, a lot of people wish it had ended in precisely the opposite way. But if it had gone the other way though, do you think it would have lasted?

cm22v077

Hi, enjoyed the book but was disappointed that it didn't go the other way at the end! Have always been fascinated with Jewish culture so it was an interesting read.
I know a few girls like Rachel who infuriate me so was routing for Ellie and Adam the whole way even though it was wrong!
My question is, do you know people like Rachel? Were your characters based on people who you know or have observed?
Thanks!

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:06:29

Yes, sometimes they aren’t sympathetic. Adam is self-satisfied and Rachel can be an enormous pain in the backside. But he’s such a conventional man at heart, however he might have liked to envisage himself, I’m not sure it ever would have lasted if he’d run off into the sunset with Ellie…

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN

I enjoyed the book too. I guessed fairly soon that Adam was going to fall for Ellie, which made me think I knew how it was going to end, but then with just a couple of chapters to go I realised I still had no idea who he was going to choose.
I didn't find any of the characters that sympathetic, which was really refreshing in a way because it made them much more real and meant that even though the book was through Adam's eyes I didn't feel manipulated into being on his side (or anyone else's!)
My question to Francesca is, what did you think of the ending? Did you secretly wish that Adam had been free to go off with Ellie?

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

SarahAndFuck

*My Questions*

I suppose we would all like to know if you were rooting for Rachel or Ellie throughout the book, and which of them you wanted Adam to choose?

But did you know who Adam would choose when you started the book, or did his choice only become clear to you as you wrote?

And did you like Adam?

I found myself liking Ellie far more than I liked Rachel, but by the end I thought Rachel was far more complex than anyone gave her credit for, including Adam. I think when I reread the book, I may have different loyalties second time around.

I didn’t know at the beginning what would happen – even though I had the Age of Innocence has a model, I was very open to it going in almost any direction that felt right to my own, twenty-first century characters. But by the time I reached the end I just knew what would happen – which was quite different from what I wanted to happen. It wasn’t up to me!

I didn’t always like Adam. I found him pompous and deeply conventional, although there were times when I pitied him. He’s hardly my dream man, put it that way!

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:07:35

I very much think there’s room for all. I am a huge fan of Naomi and her writing, and I think the worlds and the dilemmas that we describe are different enough that I didn’t need to feel threatened by the existence of the novel. If anything, I think the fact that she had written a novel set in (a very different part of) Jewish north London that had gone on to win a prize strengthened my belief that there might also be an audience for mine.

Thisisaeuphemism

When I first started reading, I thought - this is similar to naomi aldermans 'disobedience' - that is, the arrival from new York of an ex-insider who is going to cause ripples among the insiders and have an affair.

As it transpired the books are v. Different and I did love them both. I thought the second half of yours was terrific with great momentum. I wanted to ask tho, if, when you first heard about 'disobedience' did your heart fall or did you understand immediately that there is 'room' for all?

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:08:01

aristocat

What a charming book, thank you. I must confess that I am finding the Jewish words a struggle but I have not finished reading it yet, sorry.

My question to Francesca is simply what's next please?

Thank you so much! And I’m so sorry… after reading the comments here I feel so bad I didn’t include a glossary in the back – there was one point when we were talking about it, and then somehow it didn’t happen. What next – I am beginning the next novel, which is also a contemporary novel, set between London and Boston (which gives me an excellent excuse to go to America for “research”).

EmmaClarkLam Tue 30-Apr-13 21:08:18

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?

amazingface Tue 30-Apr-13 21:08:20

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

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:08:24

EmpressOfThe7OceansLovesMN

Does anyone else see parallels with Gone Girl?

Both heroines far more manipulative than they appear to be on the surface, both men unfaithful & on the verge of leaving them but then at the last moment trapped by a pregnancy. OK, it becomes clear that Amy Dunne is an outright sociopath but she practically tells us that herself. We never hear Rachel's voice, we only ever see her through Adam's eyes, & it's clear by the end that he doesn't know her very well at all.

I’m desperate to read that book! Yes – we learn that Adam’s often wrong about lots of things, Rachel included.

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:08:54

Fourkisses

It took me a little while to really get into the book because of the Hebrew. However, once I got past that I was hooked, and couldn't put it down! I swayed between wanting Adam to do the right thing and then rooting for excitement with Ellie. By the end Rachel's character was depicted as more complex than we had first realised, possibly the most complex character in the book.
Un-put-down able and charming.
I haven't read the Age of Innocence so I missed those links. I'm off to download that to my kindle now smile

I am absolutely thrilled that you liked the novel – thank you so much! And I hope you enjoy the Wharton.

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:09:36

SarahAndFuck

***SPOILER***

Was Adam trapped by a pregnancy though?

I wondered that, because he certainly seems to be by the first one. But after Rachel loses the baby it seems to be him that wanted her to try again for the baby they have by the end of the book. And I wondered if he did that because he had realised her loved her and wanted a family with her, or because he felt guilty and to blame in some way. Or for some other reason. But he seems so happy to be a father.

I kind of hope that when we realised there was more to Rachel than Adam had led us to believe, Adam himself realised the same thing once he got over the shock of the pregnancy and realised that he loved this 'new' Rachel. And that perhaps the miscarriage, coming at the same time as the financial crisis her family were in, gave them the opportunity to be a married couple without the overwhelming outside help from family that Adam seemed to struggle so much with. They could finally be a couple relying on each other.

Yes, I love this interpretation. Adam has hugely underestimated Rachel – but also, she changes too. She’s been lucky and sheltered and privileged, but by the end of the novel she’s suffered. She’s grown up.

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:10:10

minimuffin

Hi Francesca - I have a couple of questions:

I was just wondering about your writing process today - did you write or consider writing a different ending where Adam took the plunge and left Rachel for Ellie? Or was it always clear to you that his character would never do this? (I really cared about him by the end of the book - I read another bookclub choice - Brooklyn by Colm Toibin - a couple of years ago and still wonder occasionally how things would have turned out for Eilis, would she have been happy. I know that I will keep wondering about Adam as well now!)

Did you include the bit about the miscarriage at the end to show that Adam hadn't felt trapped by Rachel's pregnancy, but had, in effect, re-committed to her and his marriage by trying for another baby? To me (because it all happened so quickly after Ellie's departure) it seemed that fatherhood gives him a clear focus and purpose, an anchor, yet another reason to do the right thing, so he is glad to try for another baby as soon as possible, it saves him as well as his marriage.

You portray your own community really positively and realistically in this novel, I think, and the portrayal is an affectionate one. Has the reaction to it in NW London been positive?!!

The ending was the main thing I struggled with in this book – when I was planning it at the beginning, when I was first getting to know my characters, I really considered almost every single permutation possible. But the better I understood Adam, the more clearly I could see what he would do – it didn’t feel as if I was deciding for him. I just understood. Yes – the miscarriage offered precisely what you describe – a moment in which he chooses fatherhood, and chooses without hesitation to stay.

The reaction has been very positive, in general. You can’t please everyone and so one or two people will always be a little offended. But the truth is – human beings are all the same. Every single community in the world has elements of the ridiculous about them, and as you say, I wrote with affection about a world that has a huge number of strengths. No one is perfect, but there’s also a lot to be proud of.

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:10:41

platanos

Just wanted to say I really enjoyed your book. I am interested in tightly knit communities - how they can be both a source of security and a trap. Are you part of such a community?

I rushed the end (I wanted to know what happened blush] but was a bit surprised by Adam's "sudden" grief for his father. Is it because the community took care of the family when his father died, and he had no real chance to grieve?

Rachel surprised me a the end too. But then maybe I should not be so surprised, parenthood is a life-changing experience, and a new side of us often appears...

Will they be happy together? I can't decide...And will Ellie ever be allowed back? what then?!?!

Thank you so much.

Will they be happy together – ah, I can’t tell you, but I’d love to know what you all think!

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:11:03

TheOldestCat

Won't be able to make the chat but just to say I loved the book.

As others have said, Rachel was clearly more complex and interesting than Adam believes; I felt the whole novel turned on that point.

My question - is how much of the story for you revolves around fatherhood (parenthood)? It's interesting Adam and Ellie have both lost parents, Lawrence is the father figure for Adam, Rachel's son at the end. No time or brain space to devote to now, but it's the theme that intrigues me.

Thanks

Thank you so much! It’s so lovely to hear. Yes – I agree. Adam underestimates Rachel from the beginning, he has the capacity to be incredibly patronising. And yes, to your second question too – both parenthood and grief are central themes in the novel. As in life, I suppose.

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:11:30

SarahAndFuck

I hope so Empress

Although as with Gone Girl, I really hope we might have a sequel one day to see how they are getting along.

I'd like to see what happens if Ellie comes back on the scene in ten or fifteen years time, and how Adam and Rachel have fared in their marriage. And what happened to Adam's sister and Rachel's parents. If Ellie's father ever came back (I have a secret hope that he left as a feckless drifter and reappears as some Alan Sugar tycoon type to stir up trouble with the older family members).

So, I guess that's another question for Francesca. Any chance of a sequel? smile

Ah, I would love to but I think probably not. I absolutely adored living in their lives with them and I also would love to know what happens further down the line, if that doesn’t sound odd, but I think I should leave them alone for a bit. I have tormented them enough! (and now I really want to read Gone Girl!)

FrancescaSegal Tue 30-Apr-13 21:11:56

Thisisaeuphemism

Yes, the story is crying out for a sequel in ten years time!

I agree with others about the miscarriage and then the next baby showing Adams willingness to be 'trapped'. A great detail.

I wanted to also say I thought the dialogue and characterisation was fab. Has anyone you know seen themselves in the characters - whether they were based on them or not - and if so what were the reurcussions?

Thank you! No, one one has recognized themselves because I haven’t based any characters on real people. I wrote what I hope is an honest portrait of a world, but the characters themselves are created. I’m sure for all writers there are touches here and there that are inspired by whatever strange hybrids might form in the subconscious, though…

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?

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...

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 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?

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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

Goodnight, Francesca, & thank 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.

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.

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

Thank you very much Francesca and Geraldine.

My night is well and truly made now smile

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