Discover more about the Great North West Read 2019 with author, Phaedra Patrick
How did you come up with the idea for The Library of Lost and Found, and for your character Martha?
I wanted to write a novel inspired by my love and appreciation of books and libraries. I used to get excited about visiting Oldham library as a child, each Saturday with my family. I was an avid reader, but I also knew one day I wanted to write a book and to see it on the shelves.
I took inspiration for Martha’s character from a number of sources – my own inability to say ‘no’ to others, when I was younger, and my mum who takes on lots of tasks for friends and neighbours. I thought it would be interesting to create a character who is an extreme version of this, to the extent that her whole life and home are overstuffed with things she’s offered to do for other people, which leads them to take advantage of her kind nature.
Martha Storm’s surname comes from an exhibition I visited once in Whitby (I can’t remember what of). I saw the name Storm and liked how it also applied to Martha’s stormy family upbringing.
What did Zelda and Gina get up to in the USA? Would you be flattered if this became a topic of fan fiction?
I think they probably had a lovely time together sightseeing and sampling lots of different US dishes, as they are both fond of food. Perhaps they did some readings aloud out there. I’ve never considered that any of my work would be picked up as fan fiction, though this would be interesting to see!
Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing, or did you make many changes along the way?
This was an interesting book for me to write because, initially, the story was going to be completely different. I was working on one story then went back to the drawing board when I felt it wasn’t working. I wrote the first chapter of The Library of Lost and Found while holed up in a hotel, in the snow, in Minneapolis. I was there for a book conference and used to write in my room between sessions. I kind of went along on the journey with Martha not knowing what was going to happen in the story, so we found our way together. All I knew was that I wanted Martha to discover a book that opened up family secrets, that a library should take centre stage, and that the novel should celebrate the power of stories.
What do you think the book says about families, and also about friendship?
I always tell my teenage son that all families are different. In Martha’s case, her father is a strong character who shapes Martha’s life, and her mother’s and grandmother’s too. The women are from a generation who were supposed to accept that. However, Martha finds her own voice throughout the book and learns to stand up for herself and embrace who she really wants to be. You can’t choose your family but you can always try to be respectful, supportive and caring of each other. I think that friendship requires effort and time to nourish it and let it grow, and we should be open to people we might form bonds with coming into our lives. Some connections come easily and I find it interesting when very different characters in my book form unexpected friendships and help each other.
How was the novel’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
My debut novel, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, only ever had one title and I thought of it while sitting at my kitchen table. With The Library of Lost and Found (my third book) my publishers and I pinged ideas backwards and forwards for a while before settling on the title. I think there are lots of things that are ‘lost’ about Martha and her life, her family, her past and herself. I like to think the ‘found’ element of the title relates to her discovery of a mysterious book of fairy stories, finding out about her family, and rediscovering herself too.
Martha volunteers in a public library. How did you do your library research?
I was fortunate to be selected to take part in Read Regional 2017 which meant I visited and delivered 10 library events across the North. I was in a great position to to ask lots of librarians many questions! It was important to me that I covered aspects of their work and how libraries operate correctly, and I got to hear stories about library-goers too. Some of them made their way into my book.
What are you working on now?
My fourth novel will be called The Secrets of Love Story Bridge (in the USA and Canada) and The Secrets of Sunshine (in the UK). It does get a little confusing for a book to have two different titles, but it depends on what works best in those markets. It will be out in Spring 2020 in both countries. It tells the story of single dad Mitchell Fisher whose job is to cut off the padlocks that lovers attach to bridges, and he gets his own surprise second chance at love. I’ve been speaking to my literary agent about ideas for my fifth book and will start to write that soon.
What book is on your bedside table?
I tend to read non-fiction books about writing as they help to spark ideas for me. I’m currently re-reading Story Trumps Structure by Steven James, which is a brilliant book for anyone thinking of writing a novel. I’ve recently discovered Tara Jenkins-Reid, and loved her books Daisy Jones and the Six, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I’m looking forward to reading my friend B.A. Paris’s new book, The Dilemma.
Anything else we should know?
I had six or seven books rejected, and it took several years, before I got my first publishing deal, but I kept trying and now I’m published in twenty-two languages worldwide and am a USA Today bestselling author. I like to pass on what I’ve learned along the way, to help other writers, and have created an A-Z of writing tips on my website. If you’re looking for friendly advice and inspiration, do take a look at www.phaedra-patrick.com/writing-tips.
The Library of Lost and Found would be great book to discuss in groups.
Your local library service may be able to assist with a special reading group collection, or in reserving books, or you can obtain your copies.
Either way, check back for a reading group guide with background information, trivia, suggested questions and pictures.