Nicci Gerrard is one half of the writing duo, Nicci French. She is also the author of The Winter House, Missing Persons and The Moment You Were Gone. Her latest novel, The Twilight Hour was released by Penguin on 23rd October. We chat with Nicci about her writing, her new novel and her favourite word.
Hello Nicci. Thank you so much for joining us. Can you tell us about your novel, The Twilight Hour and how the idea originated?
Thanks so much for having me! And for asking me these questions.
The Twilight Hour is really about the past and present life of Eleanor Lee. Now in her nineties and blind, she needs to tidy away her life before her family discovers secrets that she has kept hidden for seven decades. She is about to be moved from her old house by the sea to a home and she employs a lost young man called Peter Mistley to go through all her papers and photos. Gradually he – and the reader – are drawn back into Eleanor’s turbulent history, her love and her guilt. I wanted the novel to shift between two times and to unwind a story that still has power over the present. I also wanted to show how the old – who are often invisible to us – contain all the selves they have ever been. Eleanor might be in her mid-nineties and close to her death, but she is also youthful, caustic, purposeful, passionate and complicated. She still has hopes and desires. She is brimful of memories.
I first thought of writing The Twilight Hour when I and my siblings were moving my very old and extremely frail parents out of the family home. It was very poignant, gathering together a life and packing it away, deciding what to keep and what to discard We came across a film of their wedding day, and that ghostly sense of their young and radiant selves was powerfully moving.
Do you plan much before a novel and do you edit as you go?
I do plan – or at least, I have to have a sense of the journey the novel will make and I have to know why I’m writing it, what is its beating heart, if that makes sense. But then, my plan always goes awry, because of course a novel isn’t like a machine. It won’t obey you. Characters don’t want to do what you thought they should. They go their own way – and that’s good, it’s when the novel is working and taking on life.
I edit as I go – which often means throwing things away and starting again. And then when I’ve finished. And then after my agent has read it. And then after the publisher has read it….But often I think that I know from the start if something is working or not, and if it isn’t all the editing in the world can’t save it.