Stacey Halls is the author of The Familiars. Her latest novel, The Foundling is published in paperback by Zaffre Books on 3 September 2020.
Stacey kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about The Foundling.
The Foundling is set in Georgian London, and is about a young woman, Bess, who left her illegitimate daughter Clara at the Foundling Hospital six years before. When she returns to claim her, having saved enough money to be able to support her, she is told Clara has already been claimed by her mother. So she sets out to find out who has taken her, and why.
2. What inspired the book?
The story idea came to me when I visited the Foundling Museum in London. The Foundling Hospital was established in 1739 by a sailor and philanthropist called Thomas Coram for babies at risk of abandonment, and it was the first place of its kind – essentially a children’s home where parents could leave their babies regardless of background or circumstance. Because places at the hospital were so highly sought, in its early days the hospital devised a lottery system where the mothers drew coloured balls from a bag, and the colour determined whether or not their child got a place. It was such a striking image, I ended up using it as the first scene in the book. The second thing that inspired me was the tokens – little objects that mothers would leave with their babies as a sort of secret deposit. The idea was if they were ever able to come in and claim their children however many months or years down the line, they would name the token they left with their son or daughter, and that way they’d be identified. It made me think what if someone abused the system, or there was a mix-up and two women left a similar token on the same day, and the story came from there.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
I do plan the story from start to finish, but not rigorously. As long as I know how one thing moves to the next that’s good enough for me. I can’t think of anything worse than having no idea what will happen; if I did that I’d likely redraft it 30 times, which to me just sounds like hell. I use a tried and tested framework for plotting to organise the bare bones of it, then build the story up from there.
4. Is there anything about the process of creating a novel that still surprises you?
I’m constantly surprised by the process of writing a novel. I feel as though the subconscious works harder than we realise; sometimes I’ll drop something into the start of the draft with no real reason or design, only for it to become useful or relevant later, and I think: ‘Ah, that’s why I put that in there!’ Also, I shouldn’t be surprised by this, but it definitely doesn’t get easier the more novels you write. It’s just as hard if not harder every time, because you don’t want to fall back on the same old stuff.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
Thankfully I have no trouble relaxing! I love lounging around eating and watching reality TV. I have very low-brow taste in television and often rewatch whole series over and over. I think it’s a comfort thing. I also read and walk my dog; having a dog gives you a bit of routine away from the desk. I do spend a lot of time on social media, which I cut back on successfully this year, but it’s ramped up again for promotion.
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
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 which question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
Nobody asks me what my favourite snacks are while writing. The answer is mini cheddars, Fox’s chocolate Viennese biscuits, yoghurts and of course cups of tea.
About the Book
Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst, that Clara has died in care, she is astonished when she is told she has already claimed her. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl – and why.
Less than a mile from Bess’s lodgings in the city, in a quiet, gloomy townhouse on the edge of London, a young widow has not left the house in a decade. When her close friend – an ambitious young doctor at the Foundling Hospital – persuades her to hire a nursemaid for her daughter, she is hesitant to welcome someone new into her home and her life. But her past is threatening to catch up with her and tear her carefully constructed world apart.
About the Author
Stacey Halls grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire, as the daughter of market traders. She studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire and moved to London aged 21. She was media editor at The Bookseller and books editor at Stylist.co.uk, and has also worked as a journalist for Psychologies, the Independent and Fabulous magazine. TV rights of The Familiars have been sold to The Bureau production company.