Nudge Books interviews Jane Hawking
Author meets Reviewer: Jane Hawking meets Erin Britton
In 1930s Greater London, Shirley is a talented ballerina who dreams of becoming a principal dancer at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company. Yet one summer, on the way back from staying with her grandparents in France, she meets a handsome young man, Alan, for a fleeting moment and her life changes for ever. Finding him becomes an obsession for Shirley and now she longs to fulfill her dreams in the ballet simply so that he might see her name in lights and know where to find her. With the outbreak of the Second World War, and those she loves in danger, Shirley’s priority becomes to help in the war effort, but with Alan appearing once more in her life, and the war threatening to part them for a second time, she knows that she cannot cope if she were to lose him again.
After reviewing Cry to Dream Again, Erin Britton interviewed Dr Jane Hawking, bestselling author of Travelling to Infinity: The True Story Behind The Theory of Everything and Silent Music, about her inspiration, her writing process and the future of the Immortal Souls series:
Erin Britton: As a prequel to Silent Music, Cry to Dream Again is the second book in the Immortal Souls series. Can you tell us a little about the significance of the series’ title?
Jane Hawking: The title of the series is a quotation from the Merchant of Venice which Piers, a new friend, quotes to Ruth, my young heroine, on one of their early meetings as they sit together on an enchanted summer evening under a full moon. The significance of the quotation for me is the implication that all human souls are immortal: they should be respected as such and allowed to fulfil their potential, which in the case of my two heroines, Ruth in Silent Music, and later her apparently dreadful mother, Shirley, in Cry to Dream Again, is considerable. Both have to overcome huge obstacles in pursuit of their dreams, but only one really succeeds.
EB: Your first book, At Home in France, was about your experiences of renovating a home in France and France is an important setting in Cry to Dream Again. Do you still spend a lot of time there? What is it about France that particularly appeals?
JH: I am by profession a linguist, specialising in French and Spanish, and have loved France and French ever since my father infected me with his enthusiasm for the country, the language and the people when I was very young. Nowadays Jonathan, my husband, and I escape to rural France as often and for as long as we can; the pace of life is slower and there I have the time to write, to learn new songs, to garden, to go for long walks and enjoy being with our lively friends.
EB: In Cry to Dream Again, ballet is very important to Shirley as an individual and to the plot as a whole. Do you have a background in ballet?
JH: I love to dance, whether folk-dancing, ballroom and Latin, or ballet. The music, especially ballet music, enthrals me and moves me deeply, and I wanted to convey that feeling in Cry to Dream Again, at the same time as describing the commitment, hard work and discipline that is involved in that particular aspect of the dance.
EB: The importance of taking control of your own destiny is a key theme in both Silent Music and Cry to Dream Again, with both Ruth and Shirley striving to make their own way in life despite the social norms and restrictions of the time. Is this an issue that has been particularly prominent in your life too?
JH: I have learnt from experience that one cannot control one’s own destiny, or perhaps one has to be extremely talented, committed or very determined to be able to do so. Even then unforeseen circumstances might well stand in the way. This I have tried to convey in the two novels and it is one of the main themes. However, I have also found that even if one hasn’t been able to fulfil a particular passion at the highest level, there can be great satisfaction to be gained in later life from pursuing one’s interests at a less elevated level, which probably means that one is also able to enjoy a broader range of interests and also benefit from the blessings and fulfilment of family life.
EB: A number of characters in both Silent Music and Cry to Dream Again suffer from depression, most likely stemming from their experiences during World War II. Was it a difficult issue to tackle? Did you set out deliberately to examine how depression impacts individuals and their choices as well as how it can have an influence across generations?
JH: It is particularly Shirley – both in Silent Music and in Cry to Dream Again – who suffers from depression. In Silent Music we see the effects of that depression and the traumatic problems that arise from it for Ruth, and in Cry to Dream Again, the prequel to Silent Music,we see the multiple causes of Shirley’s depression, not only through the effects of World War II. I did not initially set out to tackle the subject of depression, but it simply arose as have so many other themes in the two novels.
EB: In terms of complex characters such as Shirley, were their personalities fully formed from the outset or did they develop as you wrote the story? Did any of your characters end up surprising you?
JH: All my characters surprised me! Please see my answer to your next question.
EB: Relatedly, when you began the Immortal Souls series, did the story come first or the characters? That is, did you have a story that you wanted to tell and so come up with characters to populate that story, or did you have characters in mind that you developed the story for?
JH: I began with only the outline of a plot for Silent Music, and set the plot in a background, or rather several backgrounds. Then the characters grew out of the plot and their backgrounds, almost introducing themselves to me fully formed. It was a weird experience because for the length of time of the story telling, they became not only my friends, but a second family, and it seemed that they were dictating to me what happened next, using me as an amanuensis for their stories. Even now I sometimes find myself calling my young granddaughter Ruth instead of Rose! Shirley was particularly strange because when I had nearly finished Silent Music, she seemed to be asking me to write her story, complaining that Silent Music had not really done her justice, so that’s why I had to write Cry to Dream Again,as a prequel to Silent Music, rather than a sequel, which rather to my surprise seems to work.
EB: What are you reading at the moment? Can you recommend any books/authors?
JH: As a linguist I have been very influenced by French and Spanish literature in the original languages, and Russian in translation. I try to alternate between the languages but only read French novels when in France. I would certainly recommend all the French, Spanish and Russian classics, but there is of course so much literature in English that I love, from Jane Austen through the Brontes, George Eliot, Dickens, etc. At present most of my reading is of necessity research for Book Three of Immortal Souls: The Blitzed City by Karen Farrington about the bombing of Coventry, Millions like Us by Virginia Nicholson about the role of women in World War II, Spitfire Womenby Giles Whittell about the Air Transport Auxiliary, She Landed by Moonlight by Carole Seymour-Jones about the secret agent Pearl Witherington etc., etc. Two novels which fascinate me at the moment are Do Not Say We have Nothing, by Madeleine Thien, about cruelty and persecution in twentieth century China, and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, about a blind French girl and a German boy whose lives are shattered by World War II. In the gaps between reading other material however, I always come back to War and Peace.
EB: Can you tell us a little about your writing routine?
JH: Alas, sad events and numerous other considerations have intervened, and I haven’t had any time for writing since Christmas. I sense that my characters are getting impatient with me and want me to take up my metaphorical pen, i.e., the computer, again and get back to work. Normally I spend the morning doing other things, like going to classes, meeting friends, shopping etc and then I shut myself away in my tiny office and write. My lovely daughter, Lucy, gave me a mug which says on it, “Go away! I’m writing!” and that’s how I feel when the words start to flow!
EB: Could you give us a hint about what you are working on at the moment? Is there a third book in the Immortal Souls series to look forward to?
JH: The third book in the series has been interrupted but is ready to be continued. At present it’s a question of finding the time and considering an appropriate title – possibly Outrageous Fortune, but that has still to be decided. It is supposed to follow on from both Silent Music and Cry to Dream Again, uniting the two, I hope, if all goes according to plan!
Our thanks to Jane Hawking for participating in this excellent Q&A.
Cry to Dream Again
From the number-one bestselling author of Travelling to Infinity: The True Story behind The Theory of Everything
Book 2 in the Immortal Souls series
In 1930s Greater London, Shirley is a talented ballerina who dreams of becoming a principal dancer at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company. Yet one summer, on the way back from staying with her grandparents in France, she meets a handsome young man, Alan, for a fleeting moment and her life changes for ever. Finding him becomes an obsession for Shirley and now she longs to fulfil her dreams in the ballet simply so that he might see her name in lights and know where to find her.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, and those she loves in danger, Shirley’s priority becomes to help in the war effort, but with Alan appearing once more in her life, and the war threatening to part them for a second time, she knows that she cannot cope if she were to lose him again.
From the number-one bestselling author of Travelling to Infinity: The True Story behind The Theory of Everything
Book 1 in the Immortal Souls series
Growing up in London in the aftermath of the Second World War, Ruth is an observant and thoughtful child who finds herself in a confusing and mysterious adult world. She seeks refuge in her memories of her idyllic stays with her grandparents in the picturesque East Anglian countryside – which provide comforting visions of a simpler life. As she comes to terms with her surroundings and her own adolescence, Ruth finds the motivation to pursue her dream of becoming an accomplished pianist, and discovers some family secrets along the way.
A coming-of-age novel about the unpredictable nature of human behaviour and about taking control of one’s destiny, Silent Music is a timeless portrait of post-war Britain, as well as a lyrical paean to hope and aspiration.
Travelling to Infinity
The number-one bestselling memoir behind the Oscar-winning film The Theory of Everything
In this compelling memoir, Jane Hawking, Stephen Hawking’s first wife, relates the inside story of their extraordinary marriage. As Stephen’s academic renown soared, his body was collapsing under the assaults of motor-neuron disease, and Jane’s candid account of trying to balance his twenty-four-hour care with the needs of their growing family will be inspirational to anyone dealing with family illness. The inner strength of the author and the self-evident character and achievements of her husband make for an incredible tale that is always presented with unflinching honesty; the author’s candour is no less evident when the marriage finally ends in a high-profile meltdown, with Stephen leaving Jane for one of his nurses, while Jane goes on to marry an old family friend.
In this exceptionally open, moving and often funny memoir, Jane Hawking confronts not only the acutely complicated and painful dilemmas of her first marriage, but also the fault lines exposed in a relationship by the pervasive effects of fame and wealth. The result is a book about optimism, love and change that will resonate with readers everywhere.