Adele Parks is a much loved author for her contemporary women’s fiction novels, selling over two million copies in the UK. However, she’s changed things up a bit with her fourteenth novel as its set in the 1920s and covers the loss, glamour, pain and passion surrounding four women during the aftermath of World War One. Having read and loved Spare Brides Raeesa Mukhtar was lucky enough to chat to Adele when she came down to Wanstead Library to talk about her latest book as part of Cityread London.
When I arrived at Wanstead Library the seats were already filling up for Adele’s much anticipated talk. I didn’t have a chance to save myself a seat as I was taken straight through to talk to Adele, who was using her time productively by learning a bit of French on her smartphone! She was more than happy to put her language skills on pause though, so that I could ask her my burning questions.
R: So the first thing many of your fans will notice is that Spare Brides is not like your other novels, it’s set in a completely different era, the 1920s. How did you come about making that change?
A: ‘I’d written thirteen contemporary novels and they’d all been top ten best-sellers and so the temptation is to continue doing what you know you’re good at. But just like any job, you’re never at your best when you become comfortable, you’re actually at your best when you’re slightly uncomfortable. So that’s why I wanted to do something a bit different. As well as this, we were coming up to the centenary anniversary of the war and quite rightly we’re going to commemorate all the brave soldiers. However, to me the sacrifice the women made was also very significant and women’s history isn’t in the history books, its passed down through mothers telling their children about their history. So, if you haven’t married and had children, who is going to tell your story? So I felt the women of the 1920s had been silenced and I just wanted to tell their story’.
R: The way in which you tell their story is truly compelling. I think what stands out most is that each of the four women that are central to the plot, stand for a different aspect of the 1920 like the glamour and the heartbreak. How did you go about creating these friends that are also very different from one another?
A: ‘The way I work is I plan my story before I start my research so I know what I’m looking for. So I knew that the story would revolve around Lydia, the one woman who has the husband but can’t forgive him for taking a desk job, and not actually fighting. Then I thought about how she would need really supportive friends. I wanted her to have Sarah, a woman that went through the horror of losing her husband and is now struggling to take care of her family, as a sharp contrast to Lydia who cannot see how lucky she actually is to have her husband alive. Then I thought it would be quite interesting to have Beatrice – the woman who’s never seen romance because that tragedy is quite profound. Then in contrast to her, I wanted Ava, someone who really had razzed around quite a bit, and who was comfortable with that because she was financially independent and emotionally secure. So they organically formed as a contrast to one another and as genuine women that existed at that time’.
R: As you have been saying, a huge amount of research has gone into writing the book. What were the most interesting facts you discovered when you were researching the war?
A: ‘There were some extraordinary things. The more research I did through primary resources, the more I found the men and women to be more like us than we are led to believe. A lot of the facts came from letters and diaries written at the time which revealed intimate thoughts such as the feeling of being cheated. When they came back they were so damaged and I was quite surprised about the drug and alcohol abuse which no one thinks about in this period. Also the assumption that they were just frivolous party people in the 1920s when actually they were fighting to forget so they were doing a lot of drowning their sorrows and that surprised me as well’.
R: So this damaged soldier that you alluded to, is Sergeant Major Edgar Trent, describe him as a character (without giving away any spoilers!)
A: ‘He is a hero. He is really a proper hero. He is damaged and I think genuine heroes quite often are. I think he’s had to absorb so much more than we know which is also true of the modern world as well, people who do noble things have to absorb an awful lot of pain as well’.
R: Would you say Beatrice stood for a lot more than just being another character, because she didn’t really get to start a life at all before the war started and once it was over, she no longer even had the opportunity to start a family because things were so tough?
A: ‘Yes, Beatrice’s youth was literally grabbed from her and she is the Spare Bride. These women were suddenly pushed out into quite an aggressive world where they were expected to stand on their own two feet, find their own income, they had no protection. There was no gentle release, they were just shoved out there and I think Beatrice was robbed and she does represent her generation as being robbed’.
R: Are there any traces of your previous novels in Spare Brides?
A: ‘I think fans of my work would hopefully agree that over the last few years particularly, I’ve been pushing the boundaries of my own genre by introducing topics such as Alzheimer’s, adoption and all sorts of things that aren’t traditionally in commercial women’s fiction. The things I enjoy most about writing is writing about relationships and not just boy-girl relationships but relationships between friends, sisters, parents and children. So, even though this is a massive departure because its set in the 1920s, in many ways its quite similar to what I’ve done before because it is about four women who are incredibly good friends, but in incredibly testing times. Although in Spare Brides I am asking a lot more from my readers because I’m asking them to engage with a war that’s now a hundred years old but I’m also trying to get them to engage with the youth struggling to rebuild their lives afterwards’.
Time had literally flown by and the next thing I knew it was time for Adele to start her talk. Adele tested our knowledge of the war by throwing out some questions regarding the numbers of men that had been lost during the war, in order to put her novel into context. She also teased the audience by reading some extracts. This certainly sparked off the Q&A session where the intrigued audience wanted to know more about this fascinating topic that Adele has depicted so well in her book.
The murmurs of fascination and intrigue spread throughout the library with people rushing to get copies of Spare Brides immediately and having them signed by Adele was also a real treat.
Post Author: Raeesa Mukhtar