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Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb are the authors of Meet Me in Monaco and Last Christmas in Paris. Hazel Gaynor has written seven historical novels including The Girl Who Came Home and The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter. Heather Webb is the author of six historical novels set in France, including Becoming Josephine and Ribbons of Scarlet.
What an impressive resume from the two of them! Meet Me in Monaco was the first novel I’ve read from the two authors and I’m a huge fan (check out my review and discussion questions)! I can’t wait to read more of their work.
Get to know Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb with the below Q&A where they discuss how their writing partnership came together, why they love historical fiction, what they’re working on next and much more!
What are some of your favorite novels?
For Heather: I love a lot of the classics, of course, like Pride & Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and basically anything by Dickens, but a few of my favorite recent reads include Circe by Madeline Miller, Jane Steele by Lyndsey Faye, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and The Distant Hours by Kate Morton.
For Hazel: This is why we get along. I have so many similar favourites! All the Austens, Brontes, and Dickens! In terms of more recent favourites, Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier, and the Restoration and Merivel books by Rose Tremain are two of my absolute favourites. I also just read and loved Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts.
When did you both know you wanted to become authors?
For both of us, writing full time was a second career. Heather was a high school teacher for a decade, and Hazel worked in the corporate world in London. For Heather, she realized she wanted to become a novelist after a series of really intense dreams centered around Josephine Bonaparte (which became her debut novel). She started reading up on Josephine’s life and could hear her voice almost instantly. That said, Heather was always a writer in some capacity but had never realized it until the dreams. For Hazel, her writing career started with a blog about making the move from corporate life to motherhood, and her ambition to write a novel finally began to take shape in 2011.
How did the writing partnership come together for the two of you?
We were introduced through our mutual agent in 2013 when we were both debut historical novelists. In 2015, we worked together on WW1 anthology, Fall of Poppies and started to talk about writing a book together. We got along so well online that we thought we’d give it a go. We had a fabulous time working on Last Christmas in Paris and realized this might need to be a partnership that lasts. Meet Me in Monaco began to take shape in early 2017. The rest, as they say, is history! We love writing our solo novels, and love this special partnership we now have, too.
What is the process like for crafting novels? Do you both alternate chapters, split up the book in halves, etc.?
We do all of our work via Google docs to start, assigning ourselves a character or characters, and then we take turns in writing the first draft, dividing the writing time every other day, or every few days. We also schedule plotting phone calls (via Google) every other week, sometimes more often. When we get stuck on something or need to make a big decision, we brainstorm and one of us plays devil’s advocate sometimes to make sure our characters’ motivations are sound and the direction in which we’re headed makes sense. After we’ve done a couple of reads, we both edit every single page so the voices and storylines are consistent. We love doing our solo projects as well, and co-writing fits really well around that. It makes 95% of the writing process more fun, more manageable, and much faster!
Can you talk about some of aspects that you really enjoy about writing historical fiction?
We love discovering the untold aspects of the past; discovering the gaps in the archive or the historical record. That’s where we can step in with out research and imagination to craft a rich and entertaining novel. For example, one of our main characters in Meet Me In Monaco, Sophie Duval, was based on a piece of information we found during our research that perfumers were asked to submit samples, in order for a perfume to be commissioned for Grace for the big day.
We also really enjoy the research. Beyond traveling to the locations where our books are set or where our characters live, we get to learn so much and find ways to make the facts interesting and beautiful for our readers and that’s a ton of fun. For Meet Me in Monaco, we traveled to Monaco to get a sense of Grace’s world in the pink palace overlooking the sea, and also to Grasse, France, to learn about perfume-making (and we took a perfume-making class as well!) and really step into Sophie Duval’s shoes.
What inspired you both to write Meet Me in Monaco? Were you both fans of Grace Kelly prior to writing the novel?
We had such fun writing Last Christmas in Paris together, and wanted our second co-written book to be a real contrast to the setting of war. We started to think about a summer book, full of fun and glamour, and the south of France and Grace Kelly soon followed! Meet Me in Monaco starts at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955, the year Grace met Prince Rainier of Monaco. The book was inspired by the whirlwind romance and wedding that followed. While we were both fascinated by Grace Kelly, we didn’t know much about the details of her life as an actress, or the events that led to her becoming Princess Grace of Monaco. After spending so much time with her during our research for the book, we are now bigger fans than ever and have rewatched many of her movies, as have readers after finishing the book!
Are you all planning on writing another novel together?
We are currently working on our third co-written book, an historical coming-of-age tale about two sisters who follow in the footsteps of Nellie Bly’s race around the world in order to secure their grandmother’s inheritance.
What are you currently reading and what’s on your TBR (to be read) list?
Hazel: Tidelands by Philippa Gregory. After that, Circe by Madeline Miller and The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin.
Heather: I’m currently reading Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen and also City of Girls by Liz Gilbert. Coming up on my list for fall reading is Dracul by Dacre Stoker and JD Barker, and Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid.
Thank you to Hazel and Heather for the fantastic Q&A! Click here to order Meet Me in Monaco on Amazon.