Jenny Lecoat is a debut novelist with a long career in words, from stand-up comedy to journalism and screenwriting, Her fascination with this period in the history of the Channel Islands inspired a novel which I recently read and enjoyed, my review will be live in the coming days. In the meantime, here’s a little more about Jenny and her inspiration.
Hi Jenny, welcome to Mic Loves Books and thanks for talking to us.
Can you tell us about what made you decide to write a novel?
When I heard about Hedy’s story, I was inspired to do something with it, but didn’t want to write another Occupation screenplay (Another Mother’s Son, about my own family history, came out in 2017.) I had tried and failed at writing a novel about twenty years ago, so I wanted to see if I could achieve it this time.
You have had quite a varied career, can you tell us how that helped you switch to writing novels?
I don’t think my stand up comedy years had much influence here, but writing for television and film for many years taught me a lot about storytelling and structure. That kind of work also develops a skill for knowing when to ask for help and when to plough on alone.
Your debut novel is The Viennese Girl, can you tell us a little about it please?
It’s a Romeo & Juliet love story set during the Occupation of Jersey, Channel Islands, during WW2. But it’s also about a small island community struggling under the force of Nazi oppression, and about trust, dependency and human values.
What inspired you to write this particular story?
It’s based on true events. The story gained public exposure in 2016 when the Jersey woman who hid Hedy in her own home was awarded a posthumous Yad Vashem award. It was such an extraordinary tale of courage and defiance, and given my personal interest in the historical period, it was instantly attractive.
I imagine this novel would have taken quite a bit or research, can you tell us about the research you did?
I had already done a lot of research about the Occupation for my screenplay, which involved reading many history books, diaries and accounts of the island’s war years. The facts of this particular story were fairly thin, as we don’t know how any of these people met or how the relationships between them developed. So I used the known events as a foundation, and my imagination combined with the historical background to create the story.
How many of the characters were actual people?
Hedy, Kurt, Dorothea and Anton were real people, and a couple of the local politicians are also historical figures. But of course in a fictionalized account, how they are portrayed is influenced by one’s own interpretation and creative decisions.
The novel ends as the leads embark on an unknown future, do you have any plans for a sequel that shows how things turned out for them?
No, it was the extraordinary period of the early 1940s that always interested me.
Are you working on anything new you can tell us about?
I am considering another book set in Jersey in a different period, but it’s very early days. Sometimes you can work for months on a project and it still ends up in the bin.
Have you got a favourite place and time of day to write?
If I’m fully engaged with a project I usually start in the morning and work till about mid afternoon – after that my brain seizes up. If I’m pushing to get something finished, or have a deadline, I’ll go back and do a couple of hours more in the evening. I’m lucky to have a dedicated office where I can close the door and concentrate – I need silence to work, whereas my husband, who’s also a writer, needs music playing constantly.
What is the most important piece of writing advice you’ve been given?
I used a tutor to help me make the transition to prose writing, and she told me to view writing a novel as similar to directing my own movie. That helped me a great deal.
Thank you for your time and a fascinating read.
You can find Jenny Lecoat on Twitter.
The Viennese Girl is published by Allen & Unwin and is available now from Angus & Robertson Bookworld, Booktopia and where all good books are sold. In these uncertain times it would be great to try and support a local bookstore, many of the ones in my area have put systems in place to fulfil orders even though their physical stores may be closed to the public.