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Dive into the post-WWI world of Britain's Bright Young Things...
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The Other Daughter

by Lauren Willig
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About the Book

Raised in a poor yet genteel household, Rachel Woodley is working in France as a governess when she receives news that her mother has died, suddenly. Grief-stricken, she returns to the small town in England where she was raised to clear out the cottage...and finds a cutting from a London society magazine, with a photograph of her supposedly deceased father dated all of three month before. He's an earl, respected and influential, and he is standing with another daughter-his legitimate daughter. Which makes Rachel...not legitimate. Everything she thought she knew about herself and her past-even her very name-is a lie.

Still reeling from the death of her mother, and furious at this betrayal, Rachel sets herself up in London under a new identity. There she insinuates herself into the party-going crowd of Bright Young Things, with a steely determination to unveil her father's perfidy and bring his-and her half-sister's-charmed world crashing down. Very soon, however, Rachel faces two unexpected snags: she finds she genuinely likes her half-sister, Olivia, whose situation isn't as simple it appears; and she might just be falling for her sister's fiancé...


About the Author
 

From Lauren Willig, author of the New York Times bestselling novel The Ashford Affair, comes The Other Daughter, a page-turner full of deceit, passion, and revenge.

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5 Questions for Lauren Willig

by M.J. Rose
 
The Other Daughter was entertaining, moving and disturbing. A hard combination to pull off. But you did by creating a very complex main character.  Rachel goes on a journey that changes her, starting off as a fairly innocent and kind young woman and then becoming calculating and desperate and out to get revenge. Can you tell us about how her transformations and how you managed to get her from point a to point b and then wind up a combination of all that she learned?

I’ve always been fascinated by how we construct our sense of ourselves, how the stories we tell ourselves about our families and our pasts shape our image of who we are as individuals.  What happens when you strip away those stories?  What’s left when you take away the external packaging?

In The Other Daughter, Rachel Woodley has grown up believing herself the daughter of an Oxford-educated botanist and his widow.  Rachel’s mother plays the organ in the church on Sundays and Rachel’s closest friend is the vicar’s daughter.  Rachel’s entire life has been shaped by being poor but respectable: she’s even taken a job as a nursery governess because it is one of the few means of earning a living her conventional mother considers proper.  So when Rachel learns that her “dead” father is (a) alive, (b) an earl, and (c) has another, legitimate family, it rocks the foundation of her world.  If there never was an Edward Woodley, then there can’t be a Rachel Woodley.  Even her name is a lie. 

It’s all the more staggering when you think of the sort of world in which Rachel grew up: Edwardian England, in which there’s still a strong culture of “bless the squire and his relations and keep us in our proper stations”.  People are judged by the externals of their existence.  No matter how blameless her own life to date, being a bastard makes Rachel automatically, retroactively tainted.  How does someone deal with that?  And with the sense of anger and betrayal that comes with knowing the people you loved most have consistently lied to you?

In order to learn more about her father and her father’s family, Rachel strikes a deal with a shady gossip columnist, Simon Montfort.  For reasons of his own, he’s willing to help her enter society under an assumed name, as his cousin, Vera Merton.  As Rachel gets drawn deeper into the shadow world of the Bright Young People, it becomes less and less clear which bits of Rachel’s personality are real and which a mere masquerade.  And the enigmatic Simon certainly isn’t helping….    
     
In guiding Rachel through the emotional labyrinth, I followed what I thought of as the Mary Stewart Rule.  One of the things I’ve always admired about Mary Stewart’s novels is her ability to place sensible people in insane situations: the world may be exploding around them, but they don’t lose their stiff upper lip common sense.  As she sheds and acquires identities, Rachel eventually comes to learn that there is a core of self that is fundamentally hers.  But it takes some pretty wrenching ups and downs!
 

 
World War I plays an important part in the book. Having just written about it myself I was surprised in many ways by the research I did. It was a much worse war than I ever realized, was that true for you? Did you know from the start that it would be such a linchpin for your characters?
 
Robert Graves’s World War I memoir, Good-bye to All That, still gives me chills.  I’d researched World War I for another book (The Ashford Affair) set immediately after the war, but had no idea what a linchpin it would be in The Other Daughter until I really started digging into the nitty gritty of the party-goers of the 1920s.  On the face of it, the Bright Young People themselves actively disclaimed any relation to the war, disclaiming it as the property of the older generation.  There’s a brilliant 1928 cartoon in which one Bright Young Woman says to another, “What?  You engaged to Arthur?  But my dear, he’s quite an old man.  He was in the war you know.”  Even more directly, in Nancy Mitford’s 1930 book, Highland Fling, she has one of her characters say sniffily to an older character, “We haven’t exactly forgotten it, but it was never anything to do with us.  It was your war and I hope you enjoyed it, that’s all.”

 
They’re lying, of course.  The more you look into the determined youth culture of the twenty-something partygoers of the late 20s, the more the shadow of the war is apparent everywhere, driving their artistic impulses and frenetic gaiety.  Nancy Mitford was fourteen when the war ended, Evelyn Waugh fifteen.  They were old enough to remember the war years, to have lost parents, siblings, schoolmates.  Many of the “old men” who had fought in the war—like my character, Simon Montfort—were all of four or five years older.

 
In The Other Daughter, I wanted to show just how much the war was part of their lives, not just for those like Rachel’s co-conspirator, Simon, who fought in it, but for those who were still in the schoolroom when the war broke out.   Rachel, my heroine, has spent years working in a France still bearing the scars of war.  Olivia, her half-sister, is still suffering the consequences of a romance that briefly blossomed when the family seat was turned—as so many stately homes were—into a convalescent home.  Seemingly frivolous socialite Cece is still mourning the loss of a beloved brother, turning frenetically from cocktails to the occult and back again in an attempt to either forget or find expiation.  And my rising politician, John Trevannion, is building his career, as many did at the time, on a push for disarmament and a promise that war will never come again.
 
Impersonation Party, 1927.  Photo courtesy of Lauren Willig
 

England post-World War I was still so mired in what was "proper" even as  cracks were appearing and threatening change. The way you portrayed that in your novel was one of the most interesting aspects. Can you elaborate on the conflicts and tensions of that specific period and how it affects Rachel and those around her.

There’s nothing more fascinating than a society in flux.  By 1927, when The Other Daughter is set, you’ve got hemlines up to the knee, women working in offices, socialites quaffing cocktails—it’s all enough to make their Edwardian parents quail.  Jobs were scarce for the young, making disaffected youth even more disaffected; post-war industry was in trouble, leading to strikes and unrest.  All through England, there was the sense of the old order in upheaval, with some clinging desperately to the pre-war conventions and others flinging them to the wind, either by choice or necessity.   
 
As I was working on this book, I spent a great deal of time bludgeoning my brains as to what exactly the fascination of the Bright Young People might be.  After all, they were a fairly small and very self-referential crowd who didn’t do much but throw parties.  Their tenure was brief—they didn’t get going until 1924 and they’d mostly burned out by 1930.  But they generated an entirely disproportionate amount of media coverage, both then and now.  My theory is that it’s because they encapsulated those cracks in society.  To the old guard, they represented everything that was wrong with the new, post-war order.  They were the Boogeyman under the bed (quaffing cocktails under there, no doubt!).  To others, they represented post-war regeneration, the new youth rising from the ashes of the old world, free of old inhibitions, turning their backs on the world of their elders.  In reality, they were a group of disaffected dipsomaniacs with disposable income.  Symbolically, they came to mean so much more—and Rachel, my heroine, finds herself swept into paradox, caught between two sets of values.

You graduated from Harvard with a law degree. And you write fabulous historical fiction that sweeps the reader away. I have a feeling there is some connection between the two. Is there?

In this case, the chicken very definitely came before the egg.  I’d always known I’d wanted to write historical fiction.  After college, I toddled off to Harvard for a PhD in history with the naïve belief that this would help me write vivid and accurate historical fiction.  I hadn’t reckoned on the footnotes.  So many footnotes.  My writing went from “swashbuckling” to “snooze-inducing”.  As I moved from coursework to dissertation, it began to dawn on me that a) scholarly monographs aren’t necessarily the best path to blockbuster fiction, and b) the academic job market was a rather scary place.  Realizing that a re-think was in order, I began writing a deliberately over-the-top Napoleonic spy novel (think The Scarlet Pimpernal via “Blackadder”) while lobbing in an application to law school, the last refuge of the liberal arts major. 

In a nice twist of irony, I received my first book contract my first month of law school.  (You can just see the Fates snickering behind their hands, can’t you?)  I spent the next few years juggling briefs and book deadlines— which did lead to some amusing situations, from fellow summer associates running up to me and hissing, “I saw your books in the partner’s office!” to my personal favorite, the day my Corporations professor decided it would be amusing to devote a whole class to hypotheticals about historical romance novelists.  I still have no idea how he managed to link Forever Amber to Sarbanes-Oxley.

Note to self: next time, use pen name.

As to whether there’s some deeper link between law and fiction…. Perhaps.  On my first day at the firm, the partner to whom I’d been assigned sat me down and (with my book on the shelf behind him) said, “You tell stories.  We tell stories.  Now you’ll be telling stories for us.”  It was an interesting window into the labor of a litigator, and there’s more than a grain of truth to it.  Both novelists and lawyers are, after all, deeply mired in human foibles and mischance.  Both are aiming to persuade an audience.  The biggest difference?  When I write fiction, I don’t measure my time in six minute increments.

 
 
Thinking of all the book club readers who are reading this interview, would you put together your ideal book club–made up of authors, living or dead–who you would pick to meet with to discuss your book. And what would you expect them to ask you?
 
I’d want Nancy Mitford (top left) and Evelyn Waugh (top right) there, of course.  They could debate over whether I’d got the tone right and which of their friends set the mold for Rachel and Simon.  Definitely Brian Howard (bottom left) as well, for his patented drawl.  I have no doubt he would ask delightfully incomprehensible questions.  I’d also add in Stella Gibbons (bottom right), since I modeled my Rachel partly on her Flora Poste from Cold Comfort Farm
 
As to what they would ask me, I’m not sure—I’ve never been good at coming up with discussion questions!—but I have no doubt that Brian Howard would lead off with, “But, my d-d-d-dear….”
 

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The Seven Sisters

Rosemarie Caterina

West Caldwell, NJ
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