Lissa Evans is the author of Wed Wabbit, Their Finest, Spencer’s List, Odd One Out, Big Changes for Stuart, Old Baggage and Crooked Heart. Her latest novel, V for Victory, is published by Doubleday on 27 August 2020.
Lissa kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about V for Victory.
‘V for Victory’ is set during the last six months of World War 2, when London was besieged by rocket bombs, and the winter was the coldest in living memory. In a large house next to Hampstead Heath, Vee Sedge is just about scraping by, with a herd of lodgers to feed and her young charge Noel (fifteen) to clothe and educate. When she witnesses a road accident and finds herself in court, the repercussions are both unexpectedly marvellous and potentially disastrous – marvellous, because she meets someone who sweeps her off her feet, and disastrous because Vee is not actually the person she’s pretending to be, and neither is Noel, and the end of the war won’t just mean peace, but discovery…
2. What inspired the book?
It’s actually the third in a loose trilogy, which began with Crooked Heart (which was set in 1939) and then leapt backwards to Old Baggage, which begins in 1928. Characters from both books appear in ‘V for Victory’, and although I wrote it to work as a stand-alone, a reader who tackles the others first will be able to follow characters from one book to the next, and see the threads that link them. I loved the opportunity to revisit my characters, whom I now know about as well as my own family! I also wanted to write about the end of the war, a period which was much less familiar to me than that of the Blitz, and which – in spite of the inevitability of the coming victory – was a time of extraordinary privation and fear.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
I usually have an idea of the main characters and the broad arc of the story, but as I get to know the protagonists, they often pull the plot into unexpected directions; minor characters become major, and new ideas spring out of the connections that arise. What I aim for more than anything else is to avoid the reader thinking: ‘that wouldn’t happen’; I want every step of the way to be believable – for the plot to spring from the characters, and not the other way round.
4. Is there anything about writing and publishing a book that still surprises you?
That it never gets any easier. That I always get stuck at some point, and wail to my (usually) patient family ‘I just don’t think there’s a book in this.’ That I still never believe that I’m going to finish. That during this ‘stuck’ period, I will flick through my other books and suspect that a different person must have written them. That when I eventually do manage to finish a book, I’ll immediately panic that I have no further ideas, and will therefore never be able to write anything ever again.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
Reading, mainly – fiction and non-fiction in just about equal proportions. Also watching tv, playing the piano badly, gardening, feeding the birds, gabbing with mates and going on twitter.
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
The book I’ve read most often is actually The Shipping News by Annie Proulx – I re-read it every couple of years – but if you’re confining me to a single book, then it would have to be something longer and heftier. I’d choose Middlemarch.
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
Q If you could emulate one other writer’s creative process, who would you choose?
A Graham Greene, who wrote 500 words a day and stopped after 500, even if he was in the middle of a sentence – after which he went and had a long boozy lunch with friends. Blissful fluency.
About the Book
It’s late 1944. Hitler’s rockets are slamming down on London with vicious regularity and it’s the coldest winter in living memory. Allied victory is on its way, but it’s bloody well dragging its feet.
In a large house next to Hampstead Heath, Vee Sedge is just about scraping by, with a herd of lodgers to feed, and her young charge Noel ( almost fifteen ) to clothe and educate. When she witnesses a road accident and finds herself in court, the repercussions are both unexpectedly marvellous and potentially disastrous – disastrous because Vee is not actually the person she’s pretending to be, and neither is Noel.
The end of the war won’t just mean peace, but discovery…
About the Author
Lissa Evans has written books for both adults and children, including Their Finest Hour and a Half, longlisted for the Orange Prize, Small Change for Stuart, shortlisted for many awards including the Carnegie Medal and the Costa Book Awards and Crooked Heart, longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.