Setting sail to the Savoy with Hazel Gaynor
Hazel Gaynor has written three of my favourite reads. Such iconic settings and a fascinating periods of history captured in words – The titanic, the flower sellers of Covent Garden and behind the scenes of 1920s London and the Savoy Hotel..
But she’s that nice she popped over to the Booktrail for a chat – and cake of course. Budget wouldn’t stretch to the Savoy sadly….
Setting sail to the Savoy …
You wrote the story from the point of view of a group of Irish immigrants whose plight affects various generations? What kind of research did you have to do to achieve this?
When I started my research, I discovered records of survivors from a small parish in County Mayo, Ireland. This led me to the story of the Addergoole Fourteen – a group of fourteen Irish emigrants who travelled together on Titanic. I knew immediately that I’d found the inspiration for my novel. I wanted to explore the experience of a third class passenger on Titanic, the aftermath of the disaster and how the event had far-reaching repercussions on survivor’s lives. I researched by reading newspaper archives of the event, survivor interviews and memoirs of relatives. I visited museums and the area where my characters were from in Ireland. There is so much written about Titanic – my challenge was to stop researching and start writing!
Did you find anything that surprised you?
I didn’t know that three dogs were saved in the lifeboats. Also, everything about the aftermath surprised me as I hadn’t really considered that part of the event before researching. The hours spent in the lifeboats, the conditions on the rescue ship Carpathia, the arrival in New York and the situation in the hospitals. White Star Line officials pinned hush money to some of the third class passengers clothing and forced them to sign disclaimers to prevent them from suing. Astonishing.
I’ve heard a story that they are rebuilding the ship. Would this be better as a museum to remember those who died?
The Titanic II project is the brainchild of Clive Palmer, an Australian millionaire. It has already had several false starts, originally scheduled for a maiden voyage in 2016. The revised schedule claims to see the replica set sail in 2018, but we shall wait and see. Some think it is a great idea. Some think it is a dreadful insult to those who sailed on Titanic. I would be interested to see it and walk around it as a museum, but I don’t think I’d like to set sail on it!
You write about Mr. Shaw’s Home for Watercress and Flower Girls, a home which cares for London’s flower girls. What an amazing story and those poor girls! It shows the beauty of flowers compared with the horrific conditions faced by the sellers. Was this strange to you?
This was one of the intriguing points of the story for me.
When I started researching the book I found lots of accounts of child street sellers and was especially moved by an account of two orphaned watercress sellers. They became my characters Florrie and Rosie. The conditions the children lived and worked in at the time were unimaginable – the beauty of the flower markets and the beauty of the ladies and gentlemen their little posies were bought by was such a contrast. It was a fascinating world to set my story in.
What is your favourite flower and has it changed since your learned more about the language of flowers?
My favourite flower is the freesia, because they remind me of my mum. I was so fascinated to learn about the language of flowers. I think it’s such a shame we’ve lost that language and tradition.
Do you own a flower dictionary?
I borrowed one from the library during my research and came across some amazing antique examples. They really were beautiful.
Please tell us about your new novel – and its setting!
The Girl From The Savoy is set in London in the early 1920s. It tells the story of two women from very different backgrounds: Dolly, a chambermaid at London’s iconic Savoy Hotel, and Loretta, a famous actress in the West End. Both are struggling in the aftermath of the Great War which has left them with secrets and regrets. When Dolly replies to an advertisement for a composer’s muse, she is thrust into the exhilarating lives of Loretta and her brother, Perry. A brighter future beckons, but at what cost? And, of course, there’s also plenty of cocktails and dancing and fabulous clothes! It was a wonderful book to research and write.
Have you ever had tea at the Savoy hotel?
Not yet! I live in Ireland, so I’m saving it as a treat to celebrate when the book is published in the UK in September. I was very fortunate to meet the hotel archivist while I was researching the novel. It was really inspiring to sit in the hotel lobby and talk about the hotel’s history. I also have grand plans to research the cocktail menu in the famous American Bar!
Dolly and Loretta seem very polar opposites to each other – one a chamber maid, the other a rising stage star. Was 1923 a very difficult time for women on either side of the social spectrum?
The fascinating thing about this period is that women’s roles were changing dramatically. For many, the war had opened their eyes to a new way of life. Women had worked in roles outside domestic service and for a girl like Dolly, it was nearly impossible to tolerate a life of servitude after the relative freedoms of factory work. For the social elite such as Loretta, the war had also challenged the accepted social norms for young ladies. Many shunned their expected roles and had volunteered as nurses. In many ways, their lives were also given great freedoms through war, living away from the stuffy confines of their privileged lives. With the suffragettes fighting for the vote and many women having to manage without their husbands and sons who never returned, this was a real period of social change and that was part of the fascination for me to set the novel during this period.
Thanks Hazel for taking us through your three lovely books. Highly recommended by me!!