In my last post I reviewed The Lost Ones by Anita Frank, which was a book I really enjoyed. It is haunting, complex and mysterious, not to mention beautifully written and containing an excellent cast of well developed characters.
I read The Lost Ones together with Kriti @ Armed with a Book, and all the many aspects of the story naturally gave us so much to discuss. After we had finished, things became even more exciting when Anita agreed to take part in a Q&A with us!
Anita was absolutely lovely and I am grateful to her for taking the time to answer our questions. This was her debut novel, and I shall definitely not hesitate to read anything she publishes in the future.
Without further ado, on to the Q&A!
1. Hi Anita! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us about your book. Can you tell us a bit about yourself first?
Thank you for inviting me along! So, I’m originally from Shropshire, but I now live in Berkshire with my husband and three children. I read English and American History at the University of East Anglia and worked in media analysis and communications before becoming a stay-at-home mum.
I am now a full-time carer for my youngest child who is severely mentally disabled due to a rare form of epilepsy. It has been my life’s ambition to become a writer.
2. The Lost Ones is your first novel. What was the moment when the idea of the book first came to be? What made you pursue it?
I’d had the idea of a ghost-busting trio for quite a while, but the setting and relationship between the characters changed somewhat over time. Originally, I’d imagined it as a family-friendly TV show for Sunday evenings (never hurts to dream big!) but it turned a little darker than that when I came to actually write it.
While I have always wanted to be a writer, I’ve never had much confidence or self-belief. I had a friend who was writing a psychological thriller (Rebecca Kelly, Monstrous Souls) and I agreed to beta read for her. During the conversations that followed she persuaded me to write my ghost story and with her support and encouragement, The Lost Ones was finally born.
3. Which of the characters did you associate with most? Did you bring any of your own experiences into this book?
I think Stella is my favourite character, but she isn’t like me! She’s much bolder than I am and more likely to speak her mind, regardless of who she might offend! I did draw on my own experiences of love and grief when writing her story.
3. Having never been to England, Greyswick (the setting of The Lost Ones) reminded me of the big mansions shown in television shows like Downton Abbey. Why did you choose England in 1917 as the setting for your book?
I love big old English houses and for me it was an absolute must to have my story taking place in one. I had originally envisaged it being set in the Victorian era, but when I came to write it, I decided the First World War period would be far more interesting.
There was huge upheaval at this time, with the world at war, the changing role of women, social change, as well as wide ranging developments in science and technology. There were still servants and horse drawn vehicles, but there were also modern inventions – motorcars, aeroplanes and so on. There were also great scientific advances being made in terms of invisible methods of communication across vast distances – such as telephony, telegraphy and radio.
These developments became particularly relevant to the rise of Spiritualism at this time, as bereaved families tried to contact loved ones lost to the war. The astonishing technological advances made it seem increasingly feasible that we might be able to communicate across the greatest divide of all.
In short, the Great War seemed like the perfect backdrop to a ghost story, not only because of the death and grief that surrounded it, but also because ghost stories had been inextricably linked to the war from the very beginning of the conflict, with soldiers at the front and families at home reporting all sorts of ghostly sightings and shenanigans!
5. How did you approach creating the haunted, threatening atmosphere of Greyswick? What made you choose to write a story featuring ghosts?
I spent my early years living in a haunted farmhouse, so I grew up listening to my parents telling people about the strange incidents experienced there. As a result, I have always loved ghost stories, but it’s the question of why a house is haunted that interests me the most, hence the mystery at the heart of the novel.
I’ve always been curious as to what might have happened in our farmhouse to lead to the haunting, and who it was that walked around in hobnail boots, smashing ornaments and opening doors! When it came to portraying the supernatural, I didn’t want to make it too obvious – ghosts walking hither and thither – but I didn’t want to stray into the (for me) far-fetched realm of horror either.
I wanted it to be tangible but subtle, believable, which I think is much more unsettling. So I drew on things that had been experienced not only at the farm and but at other hauntings I had read about over the years – dropping temperature, moving objects, inexplicable noises, strange smells and so on. I was very keen that the book should be atmospheric and the threat implicit rather than explicit.
6. To what extent would you say historical attitudes towards women played a crucial role in The Lost Ones?
Reflecting the historical attitudes towards women wasn’t something I consciously set out to do, but it became an inescapable consequence of exploring Stella’s story, and gradually developed into a key aspect of the plot.
Women had so little authority and respect at this time, but the First World War became a watershed for women’s place in society. The critical role they played at home and abroad both enabled and sustained the war effort and they defied all expectations, proving themselves not only capable, but essential. Their sterling efforts ensured their voices could no longer be ignored and after the war, we begin to see women (gradually!) enfranchised at last.
7. Annie Burrows was our favourite character, she was so much of a mystery and we loved how she gradually grew in confidence. How would you describe her as a person?
I had always intended Annie to be the book’s narrator and I made several attempts to write the story from her point of view, but they all failed. When I gave Stella the chance, she leapt at it! So I realised Annie was going to be a shy character that I was going to have to ease out of her shell as the story
She is, I think, incredibly bright, sharp and wise, but she is the person that will stand at the edge of the crowd, observing all, never missing a trick – she doesn’t want to be the centre of attention, she hasn’t the confidence for it. But she is incredibly loyal, and deep down she is brave and principled and determined.
If you’re in a fight, she’s the person you want on your side, because you can rest assured, when push comes to shove, she will never let you down. She will dig deep and find the courage to fight for you until her last breath.
8. Your writing style is extremely eloquent and uses a lot of formal language, yet at the same time I found it very engaging – I loved it! How did you develop this style?
Thanks Stephen! I personally don’t like to read modern parlance in historical fiction. I want to be transported back to the era the book is set in, and for me, the language used helps create that setting.
Stella’s manner of speaking came very clearly into my head from the moment I gave her voice. I’m sure that creation has been deeply influenced by the historical novels I’ve read and all the period dramas I’ve watched over the years!
9. What are some of your favourite books? Did you take any inspiration from them while writing The Lost Ones?
I do read a lot and enjoy books from many different genres, from classics like Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskill and Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone to ‘chick lit’ such as Sarah Mason’s Playing James.
I think Sarah Waters is a wonderful writer, The Paying Guests is probably my favourite of hers, and I really enjoyed John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies. Kate Morton is always a safe bet if you’re looking for a good book too.
I did read Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions before I started writing The Lost Ones, and I thoroughly enjoyed that. I don’t tend to get spooked by scary books but there was a scene in there that unnerved me!
Wow! There was a lot for me to take away from Anita’s answers – many of them were very enlightening indeed and I loved reading them.
I must admit that I am intrigued by the ‘haunted’ farmhouse she grew up in, while I found her answer about not having much confidence or self-belief quite moving, especially when she is in fact an extremely talented writer. But it is something many of us, me included, struggle with.
My favourite answer of all was the one about Annie Burrows. It was amazing to find out that she was intended to be the narrator at first, but the way Anita describes her is exactly the way I saw her as a character. I found Annie as a character that I could really relate to in some ways.
Finally, I had to raise a smile at Anita’s answer to the last question as The Silent Companions is actually one of my current reads!! So far I am really enjoying it, and it is indeed very spooky.
What did you think of Anita’s answers? Did you find it fascinating to find out more about her experience as an author and thoughts on historical fiction? Let me know in the comments!
Happy reading 🙂