So after all talking non-stop about these books and gushing over how much I loved them, Stella was kind enough to agree to an interview with me. (You can probably guess just how ecstatic I was!).
1. Firstly these books have stolen my heart, I will never be able to describe just how much I enjoyed them. Where did your inspiration come from for the series?
Thank you, Victoria! You’re very kind. I absolutely loved writing these books so it’s wonderful to think that might have come through in the writing.
I got my inspiration for the series while on holiday in Italy. Fifty Shades was all over the news and, of course, I had to read it. I was mildly shocked by all the sex but I could see that the main attraction of it was actually the impossible, tortuous psychological relationship between Christian and Ana. Several of the people I talked to about Fifty Shades said how much they had enjoyed the lovers’ emails. And that got me thinking about how important emails, texts and DMs are to modern romance. Just as letters were important in the past. And then I got to wondering if it’s possible to fall in love with someone just through their words?
While I was thinking all this, I was lucky enough to be staying in beautiful romantic Italy. I decided to take a break (!) from my holiday to scribble down a few paragraphs and it was as though I was suddenly channelling Luciana Giordano, a Venetian heiress in the sixteenth century. It was so easy to find her voice. Perhaps I’d had too much limoncello!
2. The books were set in Venice, Paris and Berlin, did you go to each place for your research?
I did. I’m very lucky. Venice, Paris and Berlin are three wonderful cities. They’re very different. It’s easy to find romance in Venice and Paris, of course, but I was surprised by how much I loved Berlin. There’s such an energy there. Creative, melancholy and hopeful all at the same time. And it’s subversively sexy too! The Helmut Newton museum is a must-see.
3. One of my favourite things about the entire series was how each book told two stories. We had the lives of two women we were equally compelled to know more about. Did you have favourite woman from Sarah’s research? I think mine was the story of Kitty and Otto.
I did love Kitty and the research I did into Weimar Berlin for her story was absolutely fascinating. It was such a wild moment in Berlin’s history. They had enormous nightclubs that would rival anything you’d find in Vegas today. The Haus Vaterland, which Kitty and Otto visit on their first proper date, really existed. One of its floors was set up to resemble a section of the Rhine and had a river you could sail on and artificial rain-storms! Unfortunately, most the landmark buildings of Weimar Berlin were destroyed in the Second World War but there are a couple still standing. The nightclub which was once called ‘Heaven and Hell’ is now a branch of H and M, which is certainly my idea of purgatory.
I read some great fiction while I was doing my research and can recommend the following books to anyone interested in the historical elements of my stories:
Book of Human Skin – Michelle Lovric
La Dame Aux Camelias – Alexandre Dumas
Goodbye to Berlin – Christopher Isherwood
4. Another thing I adored was how Sarah and Marco fell completely in love before they had ever met, it wasn’t based on looks, just on their minds. It was raw and honest. I enjoyed reading them getting to know each other through email and felt the frustrations of Sarah who was desperate to meet Marco in the flesh. What was your favourite part of their story?
My favourite part of their story was the moment when Sarah first meets Marco in the flesh – having forced her way into his hidden office – and he is actually quite cruel, telling her that he thinks she’s patronising him and has her own subconscious motives for wanting a boyfriend like him – that she thinks he’ll make her look better. That conversation felt very real to me.
5. Did you set out from the beginning to write three books?
I did. I wanted to see if I could write convincingly of love in all those different periods. I hope I pulled it off. I don’t think love has changed much since the first caveman gave his sweetheart the best bit of the woolly mammoth.
6. In my review I said the series was like a modern day Beauty and the Beast, would you agree?
It is a bit like that and I’m glad. A much better fairy story to aspire to than Cinderella, IMO!
7. What did you edit out?
Not at lot. I had to write the books at top speed so they were meticulously planned, which helps enormously when it comes to avoiding writing sequences that don’t go anywhere. Which isn’t to say that if I had a chance to go over the books one more time, there wouldn’t be something that got the chop!
8. In the last book, The Girl Behind The Curtain you added Marco’s perspective, something you hadn’t done in the previous books. I LOVED hearing his tale on situations. What made you do this?
I decided that Marco had to speak for himself so that we could properly understand and sympathise with why he’d been such a pain in the neck before. Without his viewpoint, it would have been much harder to understand why Sarah was bothering or to believe that they could possibly have a happy future together. I wanted to be sure everyone loved Marco as much as Sarah did.
9. If you had to be one of the ladies in Sarah’s research who would you choose? I would choose Kitty, I liked how she fell in love so easy, but I also adored her relationship with Otto. He was such a gentleman and that won me over.
I’d choose Kitty too. Bonkers, boy-mad but so much fun. And I imagine that if we could have followed her through the 1940s, we would have seen her grow into a formidable woman, cultured, kind and courageous. But I loved my other heroines too. And I especially liked Arlette, the prostitute / madam who takes Augustine, the heroine of the second book, under her wing. She’s Machiavellian and totally without morals but she’s definitely a tart with a heart!
10. If you had to choose any of the men for yourself who would you pick? I would go for Marco, he made me swoon so much and he had a rocking library!
I’d pick Otto. Marco is too self-indulgent for me! But Otto was kind and clever and tremendously brave. He wasn’t afraid to stand up for what he believed in and defended the helpless against great evil when he might kept quiet for an easier life. Also, in my head he looked a lot like Daniel Craig!
11. When writing where do you get your inspiration from? Who inspires you?
I am inspired by all sorts of things: items in the news, paintings, music, strangers passing in the street. Like most novelists I know, I am a terrible eavesdropper, seizing on curious, funny or outrageous snippets of conversations and weaving stories around them in my head. I believe there really is a book in everyone. There’s a story behind every face you see.
Right now, however, I’m working on a book inspired by a painting of a storm cloud over a desert. You’ll have to wait and see where that leads!
12. Can you describe the series in 5 words?
A journey to the heart.
Thank you so much Stella for taking the time to answer my question. I really appreciate it.
You can your own copy of each book here:
DO IT! Honestly they are the most spell binding books I’ve read and I’m madly in live with them all.