Thursday, November 11, 2021

Lori Rader-Day

Lori Rader-Day is the Edgar Award-nominated and Anthony and Mary Higgins Clark Award-winning author of The Black Hour, Little Pretty Things, The Day I Died, Under a Dark Sky, and The Lucky One.

Her new novel, Death at Greenway, is based on the true events of a group of children evacuated out of the Blitz during World War II—to Agatha Christie's holiday estate, Greenway House.

My Q&A with Rader-Day:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

So much work! I had a slightly different title for it, but my publisher suggested this one because it was shorter. It also sounds like an Agatha Christie novel, doesn’t it? It’s not, but because Death at Greenway is set at Agatha Christie’s house and features cameos from the author, it makes sense to strike that tone. The word Greenway absolutely had to be in the title; that was advice given to me by Sophie Hannah, who writes the Poirot continuation novels for the Christie estate.

What's in a name?

There are two Bridget Kellys in Death at Greenway. When the second Bridget arrives on the scene, the first Bridget and our protagonist allows the group at Greenway to call her Bridey, as her mother and siblings had, But then that other Bridget claims “Gigi” as her nickname and Bridey is stuck being called a baby name, and one that reminds her only of loss.

Why two Bridgets? Well, our favorite author Agatha Christie appreciated a little identity swapping in her stories, and so do I. Twins or doubling is a Gothic literature staple, though the idea of there being two Bridgets didn’t come from any real concept. The story was born with Agatha Christie’s reference in her autobiography to “two hospital nurses” chaperoning the Greenway evacuees. That facelessness gave me a chance to wedge fiction into the story, but it also inspired the fictional household’s inevitable comparison between the two, though they are so very different, and Bridey’s beliefs that, in comparison to Gigi, she pales in every measure.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I love writing beginnings but because I discover as I go along instead of setting the course ahead of time with an outline, I often have to go back to add, delete, or change the beginnings. I also work hard on endings, so they get quite a few revisions before I’m satisfied. Don’t even ask about the middle. That’s a disaster.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

My characters usually have some little piece of me in them, even the villains because of course villains are the heroes in their own stories and it helps to have a kernel of understanding of them.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Death at Greenway was inspired by nonfiction (but found in a literary way, in a book). But I spent a great deal of time on research outside the literary: in historical records, in World War II photos, in 1940s advertisements, and in music of the era. Music was especially helpful to set the mood as I wrote. I always keep a playlist for my novel-in-progress and then share it out afterward. Greenway’s playlist had a lot of Vera Lynn, the angelic voice of World War II, but also a few more contemporary tunes that I thought helped me with theme and tone.

The other best inspiration I had was Doreen Vautour, the woman who was once one of the Greenway ’vacs. Her memories, relayed to the National Trust and shared through the BBC years ago, led me to connecting with her and getting to know her. We just celebrated her 83rd birthday, and she spent at least part of it re-reading Death at Greenway—this time leisurely since she’d already read it for whodunnit!
Visit Lori Rader-Day's website.

--Marshal Zeringue