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The Worm Hole Podcast Milestone Episode 02: Alex Hay, Stacey Thomas, Lucy Barker

Celebrating 100 episodes of this podcast, Charlie is joined by Alex Hay, Stacey Thomas, and Lucy Barker for a general bookish chat with a concentration on the writing. The trio toured together as debuts and we get to witness just how well they work together.

General references:
Downton Abbey
Ocean’s Eleven
Mary & George (Julianne Moore)
Zsolt’s Instagram post on The Revels
Fear The Walking Dead
Pride And Prejudice

Books mentioned by name or extensively:
Alex Hay: The Housekeepers
Isabella Beeton: Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management
Stacey Thomas: The Revels
Lucy Barker: The Other Side Of Mrs Wood

Buy the books: UK || USA

Release details: Recorded 18th January 2024; published 1st July 2024

Where to find Alex online: Website || Twitter || Instagram

Where to find Stacey online: Twitter || Instagram || TikTok

Where to find Lucy online: Website || Twitter || Instagram

Where to find Charlie online: Twitter || Instagram || TikTok


02:44 How the trio’s debut novelist tour came about
05:42 Anecdotes about the tour
08:37 Will you do another tour?
09:40 Last discussion on the tour
10:39 What is historical fiction, what does it do, what’s it for?
20:51 Was there anything particular that you liked in research but couldn’t include in your book?
31:25 What is the best reader or fan encounter you’ve had?
34:25 If your book was to be adapted who would you want cast in it?
37:46 Tell us more about what you’re writing at the moment


Please note that this transcript has been edited for legibility and is not a 100% accurate representation of the audio. Filler words and many false sentence starts have been removed, and words have been added in square brackets for clarity.

Charlie: Hello and welcome to The Worm Hole Podcast. This is the second of a few milestone episodes which I’m posting over the next month or so to celebrate episode 100. These are different to the usual episodes – we’re talking casually and there’s more than one author; you can consider this a party. I’m also using some of the same questions as I did for party number 1 because I love to hear what different authors have to say on bookish topics. Before we begin may I ask you listeners, please do rate and/or review this podcast, if you can, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Podcast Addict. So, I’m your host Charlie Place and today I am joined by three authors of historical fiction. They’re going to introduce themselves so that you can get an idea for their voices straight away.

Alex: I am thrilled to be at the party, and congratulations on episode 100 and beyond. I’m Alex Hay. I’m the author of The Housekeepers, which is a historical heist set in London in the summer of 1905, telling the story of Mrs King, who is a charismatic and sharp witted housekeeper who, on being unfairly dismissed from her post after many years of loyal service service, decides she’s going to enact her revenge by carrying out the most audacious robbery high society has ever seen.

Charlie: Stacey.

Stacey: Hi Charlie, I’m so happy to be back on The Worm Hole Podcast again. So my debut, The Revels, it’s set during the English Civil War, and it follows a young man, Nicholas Pearce, who’s apprenticed to an infamous former witch hunter. The only problem is that Nicholas is a witch himself who can hear the dead sing. And my story is all about him trying to survive while getting drawn into an increasingly gruesome witch hunt. And if that wasn’t complicated enough, finding love for the first time.

Charlie: Lucy.

Lucy: Hi, Charlie, thanks so much for having me on as well. My book is The Other Side Of Mrs Wood, which is the story of two warring spiritual mediums in 1873 London. And it is about a medium who is at the top of her game; she’s been a brilliant medium for years and years and years, and has managed to avoid being exposed throughout that time. But she sees interest starting to wane, and when a young, upcoming medium knocks on her door, she sees an opportunity to reignite interest and to perhaps find a little apprentice for the future.

Charlie: And listeners, obviously, go check out all those books if you have not read them, they are great. So you three did a tour. You were going to different bookshops and promoting your books together. Can you tell us about it? The initial idea if you know it, how it went, etcetera. Who wants to go first? Stacey?

Stacey: This is what my publicist Becky told me, but basically when I was visiting bookstores up north – I think it was Alex, your editor, Caitlin, she basically messaged Becky to just be like, ‘it will be great to put a tour together with Alex and Lucy’. And so I think the idea came from, Caitlin, if I’m not mistaken.

Lucy: Yeah, I’ve no idea. I just had this really exciting email that came through, it was like, ‘do you want to go on a tour with these guys?’ [Stacey and Lucy chuckle.] And I was like, ‘oh, my God, yes!’ [Laughs] it was such… I mean, like, because we’re all debuts as well, and there is a really lovely link between our books – you’ve got Stacey’s and mine has got this supernatural, or is it supernatural or whatever, kind of like, linking through – just making sure that mine is the pivotal book here [laughs], and then Alex and mine has got that kind of link with the strong Victorian/Edwardian woman and trickery and conning and all that kind of stuff. So, yeah, it was a really good synergy. What did you think, Alex? Did it come from Caitlin?

Alex: I think you’re right. I think Caitlin Raynor was our mastermind, and I’m so pleased because actually it’s quite daunting to go out and meet readers for the first time. And having two other obviously brilliant authors [Stacey and Lucy chuckle] alongside you on that first journey is pretty special. And the debut year is so strange anyway, and so full of questions and new experiences, and I’m sure we’ll talk about that a bit more in this discussion, having two other authors who were at the same stage of the journey to chat about that with both onstage and off was just really, really special. So hooray for the trio tour. My tour buddies, I loved it [Stacey and Lucy laugh].

Lucy: And actually, our books all came out roughly around the same time as well, because I was first on the 22nd [editor’s note: June] – were you the 7th July, Alex?

Alex: Yeah, I was just after you [Lucy: yes], I think. And then I think Stacey was just after me.

Stacey: I was the 20th July. So, yeah, it was all really close.

Lucy: So we were all going through that whirlwind together. And also, Alex and my agent share an office as well, so I think that maybe there was a little bit of excitement from them that we were going to be hanging out.

Alex: Yeah, there was. And actually, funnily enough, I was in my agent’s office earlier this week, and I was very glad to see both The Other Side Of Wood and The Housekeepers side by side on our agents shelves [Lucy: it was lovely] just as they’re side by side in our hearts [Lucy laughs]. So it was nice, yeah, loved it. Yeah. So well done, Caitlin, if you’re listening, thank you very much. You gave us a lovely year.

Charlie: Well, thank you, Caitlin. We’re saying, thank you, Caitlin – thank you, Caitlin, for introducing me to Alex as well, which led me to know Stacey and Lucy as well. Have you any, like, anecdotes or anything about this tour? Was there anything particularly memorable that you can tell us or anything like that?

Lucy: I think on two occasions we were faced at the very last minute with the fact that no one was going to be interviewing us. I’m sure that’s absolutely fine, and it is absolutely fine; I’ve had it since as well. But I think because we were such newbies and in fact, it was our first event that we did together, and it was your first event, full stop, wasn’t it, Stacey?

Stacey: Yes, and I was absolutely terrified. Like, just terrified [laughs].

Lucy: And we arrived and the really lovely people in the bookshop said, ‘I’m so sorry, the person’s off sick. You’re going to have to do it yourself.’ But like, oh, my! These two professionals here were just like, ‘it’s okay’. I couldn’t believe that that was your first time, Stacey. It was incredible.

Stacey: I was so nervous the whole way through. And I think what I loved about you and Alex was you were just so calm about it when the event was going on. It’s like that put me at ease as well moment. I felt like I was taking internal, the notes, throughout, just watching you both, like, how to relax a bit more as well. But I think if you guys weren’t there and maybe if I was with other people, I probably would have just frozen up because I was like, ‘oh, my God, this is my first time’. It’s like they’re all looking at me and ‘oh, I need to remember my talking points’ [laughs].

Lucy: Talking points always go out the window anyway, although it was terrifying, and I think it was a really good exercise for all of us as well because we hadn’t met each other before and it gave us the opportunity to sit down and go through what are our salient talking points. [Stacey: yeah.] What do we want to talk about? Which actually, you don’t get the opportunity to do that when you’re being interviewed by someone else necessarily, you don’t get that opportunity to direct it.

Alex: I agree with that. And also, I think because the usual format is a Q&A I learned so much, actually, and was sort of consolidating my own thoughts about my own process, basically on the stage and while in conversation. And I know certainly on topics like research, on structure, on plotting versus pantsing – you know, all those good old topics – I suppose I was actually really listening quite hard and as hard as the audience to both Stacey and Lucy and gained so much from those conversations. And actually, it’s a really rare and quite special thing to have that sort of chunk of time to properly talk about process with people. I mean, I could talk about writing process all day long [Lucy laughs, Stacey says ‘yeah’], and it’s nice to be around people who feel exactly the same way. So,yeah, just loved that. But I share the moments of panic when we thought, ‘hang on, we’re going to have to run this show ourselves on stage’. But guys, I think we did a really good job. I think, you know, it was great. Lovely moderation all round. [Stacey: yep.]

Lucy: I don’t think anyone necessarily realised that that had literally been dumped on us, in the nicest possible way, because they were so genuine, weren’t they? And they were so sweet and generous to us [Stacey: yeah]. It was a really lovely experience.

Charlie: Well I’m sat here thinking, ‘you’re good to go. I can leave, you carry on this podcast episode yourself’. [Charlie and Lucy laugh.] Do you think that you guys might do another tour for your next books together at all? Do you think that might be a possibility?

Lucy: I’d love to. I’d really love to. I think there’s a really nice synergy between us. I think we’re all very different speakers. I think we’ve got very different approaches, and I think it’s a really nice trio.

Stacey: I’d love to do more events together as well. The first event we did, I emailed my publicist and I was just like, ‘Lucy and Alex are lovely, so I’m looking forward to the rest of the tour’. And if any more ideas come up, I’d love to do that too, so, yeah, definitely.

Alex: And I think at the time this podcast comes out, we’ll probably have all had our paperbacks out as well [Stacey: yeah]. So as we record this, it’s a chilly day earlier in the year, but by the time this goes out, hopefully it’s going to be balmy days of summer. And we’ll be taking our paperbacks around the country in our wheelbarrows [all laugh], shifting them wherever people will take us.

Lucy: Yeah, that’s a really good point, actually, yeah. I mean, we did say that, didn’t we? That we’ll do something for the paperback, if people will have us.

Charlie: Go on then, one more question on this. I’m interested to know how many, roughly – I don’t expect you to know the exact number – roughly how many events did you do together?

Lucy: well, we make it sound like it was thousands. I think it was four?…

Stacey: Yeah, I think so as well, because there was York, Bristol, Manchester and, oh, god, I can’t remember the other one.

Lucy: Alex and I did Bert’s.

Alex: Yeah, we did Swindon together, yeah. [Stacey: Ah.]

Lucy: Yeah, on the hottest day – sorry, Stacey, that was arranged later [laughs].

Stacey: Okay, don’t worry, I don’t feel left out.

Lucy: Sorry! [Stacey laughs.]

Alex: We missed you so much. We both talked about it, we were like, ‘this feels wrong. There’s a gap’. Yeah.

Stacey: All right, I feel better. I’ll stop giving you evils! [Stacey and Lucy laugh.]

Alex: We definitely pitched your book on stage. That you can be sure of [chuckles].

Lucy: Oh, definitely did.

Charlie: That was wonderful. It’s lovely to hear everything as well, because I’ve been seeing on Instagram, I was like, ‘oh, that looks good’. Getting your thoughts and your stories has been lovely. So we have some more general questions, I suppose. Here we go; we’ll move on to the general questions. So this is a quite potentially vague question, but let’s go with it: What is historical fiction? As in what does it do? What’s it for? Et cetera?

Alex: Well, I think historical fiction is, for me, the best kind of escapism. And it’s probably the genre that’s closest to fantasy to write because you’re building a world filled with textual details, and I think a huge part of the appeal of reading historical fiction for me is the sights and sounds and tastes and fabrics and clothes [Stacey: yeah] and voices of the past. So I think so much of historical fiction is about that world building. And for me, that’s always the way in – I start with setting, actually, and try and come up with some form of concept within that. And for me, always, gluing a plot structure onto a particular moment in time is the way I can start to build a plot. So that’s sort of my selfish and personal way into it. And, you know, love writing and reading it for that reason.

Lucy: I come from the other way, so I’m always character before plot, or setting or anything. But I think also, historical fiction offers a bridge from today to the past in that through-the-keyhole-y fantasy kind of way as well. I think for me, what’s really important when I’m writing is that the characters that I am creating are people that you could relate to and can relate to, and I feel very passionately about putting flesh on the bones of these people that live there, bridging that gap so that history doesn’t feel like such an abstract concept, and just to ground it a little bit more and so that you can really, really, relate to it. Because I think if you take away all of the dresses and stuff like that, which I love writing about, all of the settings I love writing about, you’re always just writing stories about connections, and that doesn’t change, whatever genre you’re writing in. But historical opens that door into a real world.

Stacey: No, I have to agree with that, Lucy, because I love doing the research for historical fiction. But I just remembered when I was writing The Revels, I had to remind myself people are people, no matter the century. So it’s trying not to get distracted. But then one of the things I love about historical fiction is what Alex said – it’s the escapism. I grew up reading it and watching all of these period dramas, and I just remembered, in a way, it was kind of like a fantasy because I would imagine myself in those times, in the clothes, what my life could possibly be like – when I did I’d always imagine myself with a lot of money [laughs].

Lucy: Oh, yeah. Yeah. You’re always rich.

Stacey: Yeah, in the past, you just realise, ‘God, things were really hard’, [laughs] but it’s just the fantasy. And then I come at it both from, I guess, like a setting and character in that I like to discover the events, but then also to just try to figure out who are the kind of characters who would inhabit those worlds; not just people at the centre, but maybe people who are kind of on the outskirts. And then usually that’s where my story comes from.

Lucy: For me as well, when you talk about the research, too, that gives a template. It’s quite nice to have something solid to be working with rather than everything be reliant. I love fantasy, but I could never write it because I would never be able to start writing because there would always be something I had to imagine, or… I think I’d be exhausted. We were talking about how much our research informs what we do, when we were on the tour. I think Alex and I had a little bit of a thing about weather [chuckles], but that’s what I mean by having that template.

Alex: We had quite a lot of discussion, actually, on tour ,about the code, historical fiction, because I think there is a code in readers’ minds, and I know I have it, which is I either expect that the author has really faithfully stuck to the facts as they understand them, and that’s a loaded phrase in itself, or they’ve taken the spirit of the time and rendered it through quite careful choice of detail, that same textual detail I was talking about earlier, to create the effect of something that feels authentic, but of course might not actually be faithful to the historical record [Stacey: yeah]. And I am definitely that latter author who, I hope, thinks quite carefully about what I’m including or excluding and how I’m shaping things. But if it serves my plot [Lucy laughs], and the 26th June 1905 actually was a grey day [Stacey and Lucy laugh] and it needs to be a hot, sunny day in my plot, it’s going to be a hot, sunny day! And actually I put in my author’s note a sort of caveat around that, because I think readers expect to understand which camp you’re in. And for me it was quite important just to say, ‘look, I’m in that camp and I’ve used devices to serve my story and this is where’. But at the same time, we’re writing this genre because we love that research. And to Lucy’s point, falling down the rabbit hole of Mrs Beeton’s instructions on how best to care for a house [Stacey and Lucy laugh] – I mean, I could have happily done that for hours and hours and days and days [Lucy: Yeah]. And that’s where the joy lies. So, yeah, it’s a really interesting balancing act, and I would say the benefit of having spent this time together as a three was that I really got to think about that and hear different perspectives on that too, which has been really informative, actually, for me also, as I move into book two. So, yeah, thanks!

Lucy: Yeah, I agree with that [Stacey chuckles]. It has been; it was really interesting to see how other people do it. I’ve got one review on Amazon; don’t tell me not to read them. I will read them. It’s what I do [Stacey laughs]. And it says that they think it’s poorly researched. And it was because I didn’t go into detail about what the séances are like. And that hit me like a sledgehammer. You can say that my writing’s poor – which obviously it’s not, you know, whatever [laughs] – but, I find that really offensive because trust me, I wear my research on my sleeve. I wear it lightly, but I am not writing historical fiction for the fun of it, I’m writing it because I am passionate about this period and I love it and I want to contemporise it, so it’s readable and fun and funny, but I’m not going to churn out nothing, like nonsense. And this isn’t me saying, ‘like you, Alex [Stacey and Lucy laugh], like you in that other camp that doesn’t do any research’. I mean, I’m not saying that.

Alex: I’m sorry, Lucy, are you telling me [Stacey and Lucy laugh] you find it in any way incredulous to believe that there are trapeze-swinging housemaids with fantastic skill at robbing a house from top to toe within a matter of hours? Nonsense!

Lucy: But I think your book underlines this, though, Alex, that properly playful element of historical fiction which gets overlooked a lot – that it can be bonkers and chaotic and it can break those boundaries because people compared your book to Oceans… what number did…

Stacey: Oceans Eleven. Yeah. Meets Downton Abbey, which is very apt, yeah.

Lucy: But also, like, Oceans Eleven is in no way ever going to have ever happened. You’re never going to have got all of those people together. But we suspend our disbelief because it’s so brilliantly told and it’s so alive and so vibrant, and historical fiction, deserves those kinds of books. And that’s what Alex’s is. So sorry, I got a bit passionate there [Stacey and Lucy laugh] because I think all of our books bring a little bit of a different sparkle, a different kind of lens, a different way of looking at historical fiction. I never wanted to write a book that was just about women in the 1870s, I wanted to write a book that was funny. It’s historical second, it’s a story first.

Alex: That makes total sense to me. And thank you for those kind words from both of you [Stacey laughs]. And I think this is why I love genre and why I think it’s so fantastic to have certain parameters set. And I know I, as a reader, again, have certain expectations. And I think when you have sort of set out your stall for the reader, and in my case, for example, said, ‘this is a caper, but within that framework, I can guarantee to you that this, this, and this is all going to feel faithful to the past [Lucy agrees], but we’re going to twist with the world from a structural perspective’ [Stacey: yeah]. I think then you’re playing fair with the reader from a genre perspective. And, you know, I won’t always get that right. And I think what we’ve probably found on this tour, I don’t know about you two – the really interesting thing for me in this process has been some readers get it, some readers don’t. And then there’s this bit in sort of the middle of the Venn diagram where people really understand what you’re about, and it’s almost like they’re in your head, too [Lucy agrees]. And inevitably, that’s the smallest pool. But it’s so precious because you start to find, on those four events we mentioned earlier, a couple of people, perhaps across each one, who are totally locked in to what each of us were doing. And in a way, I think I’d underestimated how amazingly special it would be to actually find readers that were sort of – not your readers, no one owns a reader – but there was a real affinity there. And of course, it’s obvious because you’re not writing into a vacuum, your writing to be read. But I think it’s easy on the publishing journey to think of yourself as, ‘right, I’m writing for an agent, and then I’m writing for my editor. And then I’m hoping the book responds with retail’ [Lucy agrees]. And you can sort of forget, which is mad, but you can sort of forget why you’re doing it. You’re doing it to entertain [Stacey: yep], and you’re trying to write to one specific person that you don’t know yet, and you just hope if you can build a career, that that little pool in the middle of the Venn diagram will get bigger, and bigger, we hope, we pray. But so much of that is about understanding what their expectations are and delivering against those. And you just have to learn that on the job as you go. And this is why I find this discussion genre of so, so compelling, because I think that’s probably now, as we move through book two, what we’re all trying to perfect and get right and build on. And I love that we’re going on that journey.

Charlie: Go on, then. I’ve got a question that fits with this. Well, the two topics you’ve raised that I’ve got questions for, we’ll go with the first one. So it’s on research. Was there anything particular or, I suppose, any things that you would have liked to have included – they were really awesome things you liked – but you couldn’t include in your book, that you can share with us?

Lucy: I bet you’ve got some Stacey.

Stacey: Oh, my god, I’ve got so many!

Lucy: Stacey had, like, 600 pages of research, 600 pages long.

Stacey: I think it might’ve been Cesca Major who said, ‘for all the research you do, you only ever really use 10%’. And with me, I probably just need to use, like, 2% of all the notes I had [Lucy chuckles]. Some of those details I wanted to include, some bits were quite gruesome. So like how they would kill witches when they would bury them near the sea. So their souls would be able to cross over. And I found that out later on when I’d already had my edits. I could have included it, but it’s like it was starting to just feel a bit too packed with details and it didn’t… like it fit, but I already had a lot of those kind of examples already, so I just felt like it would have just been a bit of an overload. And then I guess if I ever had a sequel, because I kind of go into King James’s history and his relationships – well, I touch upon his relationships with his male favourites – and I had this idea that Will, one of my main characters, was in his orbit, and I would have loved to have explored that dynamic a bit more because I just find it so fascinating; with King James, he had these male friendships or relationships. You had all these rival court factions. They would promote these men to get his attention. I was so fascinated by all the stories I uncovered about that, but again, that would be a completely different book. Although I’m very pleased that there’s going to be a TV adaptation with Julia Moore, I can’t wait to see it. But, I think because I’m just quite interested in these power struggles, I was like, ‘oh, my God, I really want to write about this’, but I had to just finish the story about what The Revels was about and then maybe come back to that story a few books later.

Alex: I have a character I adore in the housekeepers called Hephzibar Grand Court, who I love immensely and immeasurably, who is a fading music hall star and former scullery maid who also comes from a family background of con artistry. And I had, in my research, built a lot more of the world within which she was trained and had looked more at some pretty infamous con artists through the 19th century in the UK and in the States in particular. And actually, I pared lots of that back for the book, but it has been a very rich vein for book two. So the world of con artists, of confidence women, has been the sort of bucket I was delighted to reopen [Lucy laughs]. So, yeah, lots, lots of rich stuff there, plus a plug for the future, hooray! [Stacey, Lucy, and Charlie laugh.]

Lucy: I’m trying to think about any curve-like nuggets. I think there was so much around all the cattiness between all of the really successful mediums that was fun. That was almost unbelievable to a certain extent, and I think that’s why it just sounded so petty, because it was because it’s adults arguing about whose invisible friend is best [Stacey and Lucy laugh]. I couldn’t really include it because I think it would have just then gone off. I think when you make a decision about what you’re going to include and what you’re not going to include, everything that’s in there has to serve the story, and you have to just be really mindful. I mean, your first draft, you can just put any old thing in, but if it doesn’t serve, then it has to go. I’m just trying to think of, like, where I was, like… sorry, this is a question for me, just the other two. Is that okay?

Charlie: Sure!

Lucy: Because I’m thudding my way through my book two first draft, which has been a first draft for a year now because I keep restarting it – what changed in your first draft to your final thing? Not obviously all the details, but was there anything major that changed?

Stacey: I feel like for me, it’s deciding who the main character is, and then because I write from the first person perspective, that’s how I worked my way into the story. But then as I was writing it, I found that the character was changing, and so I realised that I need to let go of who I thought the main character was and go with who instinctively I was more drawn to. And so that shuffling of characters to help me find my way into the story. So I feel like for me, the character and their motivations change a lot in the drafts. And then I also just feel like I was constantly restarting because, like, book two, I’ve just found it an absolute beast [Lucy laughs]. And I feel it is maybe because of that weird experience of writing when your first book is out. So any writers out there, if you’ve written your first book, just write your second one immediately because it will help you when your first book is published, you’ve already got your second book out, so hopefully that should make things easier.

Lucy: Oh, that’s too late for me [Stacey and Lucy laugh]. Although everyone did tell me that. Everyone did tell me that, and I was like, ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ll totally write it’.

Stacey: I always like to comfort myself because I kind of wish that when I first started querying my agent that I had written my second book. But then I remember talking to a friend, she said, ‘okay, but if you’d written a second book, it would be a completely different book to the one that you’re working on now’. And then she said, ‘are you excited about the one you’re working on now is something you’re passionate about?’ And then I said, ‘yes, yes’, to both of those questions. And she said, ‘so that’s the book you should be writing’. So I think it’s just that as much as you can just agonise over lost time, sometimes you just have to be like, everything happens for a reason. And then, yeah, just move with it, I guess.

Lucy: Yeah, let’s go with that.

Alex: I know this is going out on audio, but I’m nodding furiously to everything Stacey says [Lucy laughs]. I mean, to answer the first question, thinking about The Housekeepers, between first draft and finished book loads changed, and the main stuff I did on my own or after my husband actually read the first or second draft, was just lots of chopping characters, moving things around. By the time we got to actually editing the book with Headline and with Graydon House in the States, the biggest change for me was just building the framework of the story. And the key thing was actually pulling the… if you imagine this as a sort of upstairs, downstairs dynamic, as a plot, pulling the upstairs dynamic into sharper focus sooner. And just making sure that the arc for my antagonist was dovetailing with that of my protagonist in the right way, that was the real light bulb moment for me. And where the book sort of fell into balance. Because in prior drafts, my antagonist appeared sort of around the 33%, that classic first third point. Whereas once we sort of rebuilt the book, her story was really there from chapter two, and that was a big change. That was the biggest thing that set lots of other things off as well, because it’s all dominoes, isn’t it? Those big dominoes just knock everything else down in different directions. So that was probably the biggest shift on book one.

Lucy: I’m always scared of the dominoes. I don’t want to push a domino because I’m like, ‘ahh, I can’t, I can’t write any more’. For me, writing book two, this has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in writing because I know how much went into making book one work. I know how little of that first draft exists in the final draft, and that’s galling. But I think just listening to the two of you there, because I’m writing now, even listening to the way that you two are talking, I’m taking stuff from that and thinking, ‘oh, yeah, no, I need to think about the arc and where that sits and what happens here’. And you’re constantly learning and you’re constantly applying, and you’re never, ever going to be an expert on any of this because every book you start like a complete novice because you don’t know it and it doesn’t know you.

Alex: I so agree and echo everything you’re saying about book two. And Charlie, thanks for bringing us together for writers therapy [Stacey and Lucy laugh, Charlie says, ‘you’re welcome!’]. It’s exactly what I needed this afternoon. It’s terrifying. And I think two things. The first is how on earth did anyone ever write without their editor? The level of support and advice I get both from my agent and from my editors in the UK and the US on every single bit of the book just makes me absolutely in awe of anyone who could do it all by themselves. And I just feel very humbled, actually, because, you know the trajectory is supposed to be that you’ll get better with every book, and, you know also that everyone always says, ‘no, it gets harder’. It really does get harder. And book two, for me, has been a case of they’re not really edits. ‘Edits’ is a really nice, polite word for what is actually a massive rewrite. Because you realise if you want to get your book to where you think it could be, and to Lucy’s point, you don’t just knock over the domino, you take all the dominoes out of the line and then replace them really wobbly little twigs [Stacey and Lucy laugh] and then paint and gauze them and then try and actually knock down the whole thing and build something else entirely that’s actually a castle in the corner and that process of just like, ‘oh, my god, I’ve really got to take a deep breath and just recognise that this is just work, [Stacey and Lucy: yeah] and I just have to get my fingers to the keyboard and build a whole new world to make sure this draft functions’. It’s really hard [Lucy agrees], and you want to get it right. You want to just do the very best you can. It’s just such graft. Really, really hard graft. So yeah [Stacey agrees].

Lucy: My husband said to me the other day, ‘but is what you’re writing any good?’ I hadn’t even thought about that[Lucy and Stacey laugh]. I’m so constantly interrogating what I’m writing, I think I’m probably so much more aware of the technique and the structure and the importance of the nuts and bolts than I was or I have ever been. And, yeah, it’s really helpful in the long run but it’s really unnerving in the short term because when you’re writing any other thing, it’s free and it’s… yeah, it is work, I’m not saying it’s not at all. It’s a lot of work. But those first few chapters that you write of a new book, they’ve always come to me like butter, and they’ve just been coming at me like grit [Lucy and Stacey laugh].

Charlie: All right, then, so I will ask this question because I said I’ve got two questions to follow up. So reeling us back a bit, what is the best reader or fan encounter you’ve had?

Stacey: I’ll go [laughs].

Charlie: Go, Stacey, yep.

Stacey: So probably this young man who read my book and he follows me on Instagram. So he did a really lovely review and then in his review, he just said it’s one of the few books he’ll choose to re-read because he loved it so much [Lucy: aww]. And I was like, oh, my god. And then he came to one of my events in Manchester as well. So that was just really nice, I think, because people will read your book and say lovely stuff, and I feel like, especially when you’re going through book two, you’ll sometimes thinking, ‘did you really like it or are you just being nice?’ Because you can just really end up doubting your writing ability? So it was just really nice when he came and I was like, ‘oh, my god, there are people out there who do you actually like it, it’s not just my agent and my editor’, so of course I can really love the experience.

Lucy: I just think all of them have been incredible. I think my first star-struck moment was when Marian Keyes emailed me to say how much she liked it, which was really lovely. I’ve been blown away by how people actually like it because that, from those horrendous days where I didn’t ever think I’d ever be able to finish it in the depths of, like, draft four or something, to have anyone come up and ‘say I loved it’, it’s bonkers.

Alex: I agree with that, 1000% agree. All the moments we had talking to readers at events have been really, really special [Lucy agrees]. But the thing that really surprised me was people emailing you to tell you they really enjoyed the book. And I’d set up my website and obviously had a contact form and just believed no one would ever get in contact. And it’s been really, really special to go on there and see stuff coming through from people, really all over the world, and just saying they enjoyed the book and thought it was good. And I think, to Lucy’s point just now, there’s definitely a moment when you’re in the sort of final edits, I would say, before copy edits, where you’ve lost all sight of whether the book is any good or not. And there are dark nights of the soul moments where you think you are about to unleash absolute horror show onto the market, which, of course, you’re not because your publishers have far too much integrity to let you do that. But you can convince yourself that you really don’t know how to write or craft a story at all. And it’s incredibly encouraging and reassuring to see people who have no reason or need to get in touch, get in touch and say that they really enjoyed it and it meant something to them, or they thought you did something particularly well. And you’ve got to sort of store up those moments because I think we’re all probably of a similar approach, which is no one will be tougher on ourselves than we are on ourselves. And so it’s lovely then just to sort of bank some of those kind words and you can turn to them when you need them, because you do need them sometimes. So, yeah, that’s really, really special.

Charlie: I have a feeling we might get some, ‘there is one already answers here’. Let’s see. If your book was to be turned into a film or TV show, who would you want cast in it?

Lucy: Should we go, like, Alex? Because Alex’s is.

Alex: I don’t know, is the honest answer. And, yeah, I’m really thrilled that The Housekeepers was optioned a screen, but it’s not lost on me that lots of things can be optioned and it’s a long old game, so keep your fingers and Edwardian toes crossed [Stacey laughs] that one day my–

Lucy: There’s no such thing as Edwardian [Lucy and Alex laugh].

Alex: Yes, quite right. Your, late, late Victorian–

Lucy: Late Victorian [laughs].

Alex: Late Victorian toes entirely crossed. And one day we’ll see them on screen. So I’m going to give a massive fudge answer, which is ‘I don’t know’. I don’t know. I mean, obviously you dream, but I shall throw the baton on.

Charlie: Stacey.

Stacey: Oh god, I feel like I’m one of those people, I can never remember actors real names, I always just know them from the shows [Lucy laughs]. I can’t really think. I think with Nicholas, just someone who will portray the kind of vulnerability and ambition. So I guess like an up-and-coming young actor, and with Will, I was inspired by the actor Colman Domingo, if I’ve got his name right. He’s an American theatre actor, but he’s been in Euphoria, and, I think, Fear The Walking Dead, and I really like his poise, his swagger, and the vulnerability. So I feel like he could really portray all those layers to Will’s character. But for everyone else, if my book was made into a film, I’d just be happy, with any actor who was there. You know, as long as they’re happy to be there, then, yeah.

Charlie: Lucy?

Lucy: There’s an actress called Claire Rushbrook. If you don’t know her name, you would know her when you saw her. I’ve always really thought she’d be brilliant. Her or Rosie Cavaliero, who’s quite similar. They’re really, really strong actresses. And then I haven’t really thought about Miss Finch, and she feels a bit ubiquitous to me [Stacey chuckles]. I think my thing, though – obviously, this is me getting quite hot under the collar about a movie I’m not having made – I really want my characters to present as relatively average and normal looking. I’m so over gloss, and I want them to have greasy fringes and maybe a bit of bad skin. Do you remember the Pride And Prejudice, Keira Knightley one? [Stacey and Charlie: yeah.] Everyone talked about how, ‘wow, they haven’t used any makeup and everyone looks really sallow’. I’d like to go a step further, just make them look really awful [laughs].

Alex: Yeah. The 1995 Persuasion, I always think, is a really good example of that [Stacey: yeah]. I just think it just has a real look of grit and you can see the steam rising on cold days, and it’s really muddy. And I agree with you, there’s just something that just throws you into the world when that’s done. Really brilliantly.

Lucy: Yeah!

Alex: Yeah.

Lucy: And I think one of the things that all three of us, all of our books push the boundaries, whether it be between reality or whether it be between possibilities. So I think when all of our films are on the big screen [Stacey laughs], I think it’s really important to contemporise them as well. And they’re not traditional historical fiction, they have something new and something different about them. So, yeah, let’s uglify our people.

Stacey: But do they still wear nice outfits, though?

Lucy: They can still wear amazing outfits.

Stacey: Okay, good.

Lucy: And actually, you know, if Olivia Colman’s going to be in all of our films [Stacey laughs], then she’s the only one who can remain gorgeous.

Charlie: All right, Olivia Colman, if you listen to this, [Lucy: yep] we need you here. So obviously you have talked about them in a variety of ways, but let’s kind of hone in – can you tell us what you are writing at the moment? And listeners, do be aware we are talking about this six months in advance of you listening to us, so there may be more news at the time you’re listening.

Alex: My book two is set in the same world as The Housekeepers but stars a fresh cast and a new dastardly scheme. And it’s a con this time, as opposed to a heist. So I’ve got to use all those delicious details of confidence women and various charlatans of all shapes and sizes. And I’ve stepped back a few years, and we’re in 1898 this time, which just gives me the chance to play with the tail-end of some of those really delicious, gaslit, high Victorian melodramatic tropes as well. So it’s been a bit of a head scratcher to write, and the first draft came quite slowly, actually, which was very different from the experience of writing book one, where I had my plan for my heist and writing the first draft was actually quite quick. This has been more of a circular process to try and get the right framework and the right structure. And I’m deep in structural edits now as I’m talking. So fingers crossed, by the time this goes out, it’s passed muster and it’s still on track! But it’s been a real learning curve to write, but I really love it. It’s been a joy as well.

Charlie: Awesome.

Stacey: So my second book, it’s set in London 1958, and it follows the last of the debutantes who curtsied to the queen before the whole curtsying system was abolished. My story is about the people on the outside of those systems – the debs, social secretaries, and what they’ll do when that system is abolished, and infiltrating that elite society is made a lot more difficult. So, yeah, I’m still working my way through my draft, so I won’t say too much because I’ll probably change everything again [Lucy laughs]. But, yeah, I’m really excited about it!

Charlie: It’s not about debutantes by the time you’re listening to this, maybe – you know, it could be something else [Stacey, Lucy, and Charlie laugh].

Lucy: It’ll be about aliens.

Stacey: Yeah, I was going to say that as well [Lucy laughs] Like, yeah, I could have an alien invasion in the 1950s if I wanted [laughs].

Lucy: Oh, my god, I love that! Maybe I’ll write that. Yep. So I am… my book is set in 1908. I don’t want to say too much about it because I have yet to get to the end of a draft, and it is not because of any reason other than trying to find the right person to lead it. And it is set by the sea, and it’s about women again, I’ve got some strong ladies in there, and it’s about understanding one’s worth and what worth means in 1908 England.

Charlie: Okay. All right. Well, thank you guys for coming here today and for supporting my podcast. I’m really, really glad to have had you back on, and I’m really glad I invited all three of you [Lucy laughs]. And I think you should definitely do another tour together, because, listening to you talk and your interactions, it’s like you’ve known each other for absolutely ages [Lucy laughs]. So, yep, thank you for being here!

[The following lines overlap, until Alex’s line]

Stacey: Thank you for having us.

Lucy: It’s been a pleasure.

Stacey: It’s been so nice to be reunited.

Lucy: And I’ve missed you guys!

Stacey: I have as well!

Lucy: I’ve really missed you! [Stacey laughs.]

Alex: I know! Thank you for the reunion [Lucy: yeah], this has been really special, and it sounds like we can go offline after this and talk it through, but it sounds like we’re all deep in book two [Stacey: yep], so it’s been lovely to talk to my pals at the moment when it’s needed!

[Recorded later] Charlie: Listeners, thank you for your continued support, it’s very much appreciated. The Worm Hole Podcast Milestone Episode 2 was recorded on the 18th January and published on the 1st July 2024. Music and production by Charlie Place.

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