From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:
Hello readers. Summer is in full swing here at Woodston Cottage. My hydrangeas, anemones, and roses are blooming. We had a heatwave over the weekend that sent this hot weather wimp inside and under a fan!
Today I am so happy to welcome bestselling author Rachel McMillian to Austenprose for an exclusive interview in celebration of her latest historical fiction novel, The London Restoration, which just released this week.
Rachel is a multitalented writer who is happiest when she is lost in history researching her latest novel. She has written two historical mystery series: the Herringford and Watts mysteries set in 1910 in Toronto, Canada, and A Van Buren and DeLuca mysteries set in 1937, Boston, USA. Recently, she has branched out into nonfiction too with Dream, Plan, and Go: A Travel Guide to Inspire Your Independent Adventure (2020), and her forthcoming A Very Merry Holiday Movie Guide: *Must-See, Made-for-TV Movie Viewing Lists *Inspired New Traditions *Festive Watch Party Ideas (October 6, 2020), which I am really excited to read.
Today we are thrilled to be participating in the blog tour of The London Restoration and offer an exclusive interview with Rachel for Austenprose readers. Enjoy!
London, Fall 1945. Architectural historian Diana Somerville’s experience as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park and her knowledge of London’s churches intersect in MI6’s pursuit of a Russian agent named Eternity. Diana wants nothing more than to begin again with her husband Brent after their separation during the war, but her signing of the Official Secrets Act keeps him at a distance.
Brent Somerville, professor of theology at King’s College, hopes aiding his wife with her church consultations will help him better understand why she disappeared when he needed her most. But he must find a way to reconcile his traumatic experiences as a stretcher bearer on the European front with her obvious lies about her wartime activities and whereabouts.
Featuring a timeless love story bolstered by flashbacks and the excavation of a priceless Roman artifact, The London Restoration is a richly atmospheric look at post-war London as two people changed by war rebuild amidst the city’s reconstruction
Welcome, Rachel. Thanks for joining us today to discuss your latest historical fiction novel, The London Restoration. It takes a lot of passion and drive to write a novel. What was the spark that ignited your imagination to write this book?
I hadn’t ever considered writing the WWII era even though I love to read about it until I was on vacation in London a few summers ago. While I had spent considerable time in the city previous to that trip, I made a list of some of the old buildings I had never visited before: including St Bartholomew the Great in West Smithfield: one of the oldest churches in London. This church withstood Henry VIII’s desecration of the monasteries, the zeppelins of WWI, and the bombs of WWII: I was very inspired by something that had seen centuries. On the same trip, at All Hallows by the Tower near Tower Bridge, I learned that while the bombs caused great destruction to London’s buildings and churches, they exhumed many artifacts from the Roman time of Londinium. I found it fascinating that something so horrible could unearth such priceless treasures.
The novel is set in post-World War II London. Why did you choose this setting, and what is it about the era that might surprise us?
As I said, I was very inspired by the churches, their gorgeous architecture, and their rebuilding. I was also very interested in Wren but knowing the publishing world and the zeitgeist and trends of the book world, I figured that a book set in Wren’s era was not as saleable as something set in the post-war world with flashbacks.
Let’s talk about your heroine Diana Somerville who is an architectural historian and served as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park. That is a rich background. Can you share some of her backstory and what she is currently passionate about?
Diana’s father was a professor and obsessed with churches. Since a young age, especially after his death, she used them as a way to connect to his passion and to feel safe, even as she is not a particularly religious person. He always told her that if she was ever lost in a city, or a town or even a nearby field or trail, to look for the steeple of a church which is the centre of every community and the highest part of a high road. Diana is an architectural historian with an incredible academic prospect when the war finds her newly married and wanting to find something to do with her time and to contribute while her new husband is at the front. Bletchley Park recruited many women from academic realms with unique perspectives of seeing problems and of viewing the world (Bletchley’s location was partly chosen by MI6 due to its proximity to Oxford and Cambridge). She is always passionate about Christopher Wren and is slowly opening up to a passion for Mozart inherited from her time at Bletchley and some new friends she made there. But I would say Diana’s true passion is making up for four years she was without Brent while he was at the front and she was tucked away intercepting signals in Hut 3 of Bletchley.
How do churches a priceless Roman artifact factor into the story?
When Brent and Diana go to consult a bombed church—All Hallows by the Tower—the church where they were married, Brent discovers an artifact that turns out to date from the time of Christ. It really draws in how the bombs helped exhume some wonderful treasures. Its function is to provide yet another layer to the web of intrigue that sprinkles throughout the story: especially in the pursuit of a Russian agent named Eternity.
What do you hope that readers will come away with after reading The London Restoration?
First and foremost, this is a love story. It is a love letter to a love determined to survive even through a post-war era when divorce rates skyrocketed and despite four years of secrets that threaten to tear them apart. But their determination to continue despite the odds is something I think we can all take with us during challenges and times of adversity—like this year. Diana has a knack for seeing the destroyed city she loves not in ruins but for its potential. I hope that readers take that same sense of resilient optimism with them.
What was an influential novel you read as an adult that you can recommend to readers? Why is it important to you?
Oh, I have so many because I am such a constant reader. The Morning Gift, by Eva Ibbotson is influential to me because it just reminds me on every read how transportive books can be, especially in a year like this where travel isn’t in the cards. I am a huge fan of the marriage of convenience trope and this one set in the years preceding the war in Vienna and London just steals my heart.
I just finished reading an early copy of Mimi Matthews’ Gentleman Jim which is different in tone and adventure than her many wonderful Regency and Victorian-set books. With themes of Tom Jones and The Count of Monte Cristo, it is a glorious revenge and love story and the chemistry that radiates between the two leads is more sensually charged than Matthews’ other books (and wonderfully so).
Basically, I am always reading so I encourage people to check out my Goodreads and Instagram. I always have book recs.
Can you share any news about your next novel or nonfiction book?
My next novel The Mozart Code releases next Summer and while not a sequel to The London Restoration it highlights the pre-war, war, and post-war years of two characters many readers will recognize from this new book. I pitched it as Downton Abbey meets The Imitation Game. It’s a marriage of convenience story between Sophie Villiers (Diana’s friend from Bletchley Park) and Simon Barre an MI 6 agent with a covert team in post-war Vienna charged with exposing a lethal double agent. If Brent and Diana’s story is one of restoration, The Mozart Code’s motif is restitution as it features many of the beautiful artifacts misplaced during the war and Hitler’s occupation in Austria and Prague that are finding their way back to their homes—including the priceless death mask of Mozart.
As far as nonfiction, I have a book that is my true love letter to Hallmark and Made for TV Christmas movies releases October 6 called A Very Merry Holiday Movie Guide. Including everything from made for TV movie bingo to choose your own adventures to playlists and recipes and themed ideas to start new traditions or host royal teas, it is the must-buy book for anyone on your list who spends October—January (and even a month in the summer!) devouring all of these made for TV favourites.
Thank you again for visiting today, Rachel. Best wishes with your new novel.
Rachel McMillan is the author of The Herringford and Watts mysteries, The Van Buren and DeLuca mysteries and The Three Quarter Time series of contemporary Viennese romances. Her next work of historical fiction, The London Restoration, releases in Summer 2020 and takes readers deep into the heart of London’s most beautiful churches. Dream, Plan, Go (May, 2020) is her first work of non-fiction. Rachel lives in Toronto, Canada and is always planning her next adventure.
- The London Restoration: A Novel, by Rachel McMillan
- Thomas Nelson (August 18, 2020)
- Trade Paperback, eBook, & audiobook (336) pages
- ISBN: 978-0785235026
- Genre: Historical Fiction, Inspirational Fiction
Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Thomas Nelson © 2020; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2020, austenprose.com.