Wouldn’t you feel cheated if the woman you’d imagined was the villain of your childhood turned out to be someone rather extraordinary?
Edwardian Brighton. A wide-eyed girl enters Mr Parker’s photographic studio and receives her first lesson about the rising medium that is to shape her life: “Can you think of a really good memory? Perhaps you can see it when you close your eyes. Now think how much better it would be if you could take it out and look at whenever you wanted to!”
2009: Disgraced politician Sir James Hastings has resigned himself to living out his retirement in a secluded Surrey village. He doesn’t react when he learns that the mother who had abandoned him dies at the age of 108: he imagined she had died many years ago. Brought up by his father, a charismatic war-hero turned racing driver, the young James, torn between blaming himself and longing, eventually dismissed her as the ‘villain’ of his childhood. But, when he inherits her life’s work – a photography collection spanning over six decades – he is forced to both confront his past and re-evaluate what he wants from his old age. Assisted by student Jenny Jones, who has recently lost her own mother to cancer, Sir James is persuaded to look at the photographs as if he is seeing through his mother’s eyes, only to discover an extraordinary tale of courage and sacrifice.
“Three. I have three stories,” Lottie Parker tells her solicitor while putting her affairs in order. “But it was Oscar Wilde who said that a story is almost certainly a lie.”
Targeted Age Group:: Adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I was reading a biography of Lee Miller, one of my heroines. I knew her photography but, as it turned out, very little of her life. She was an extraordinary, extraordinary person. One of the most sought-after fashion models of her day, who became a muse to surrealist photographers and artists such as Man Ray and Picasso. But she had always yearned to be on the other side of the lens and, in time, she became highly respected for her own work. At the outbreak of World War II she became dissatisfied with her fashion work and documented the Blitz for Vogue, then underwent yet another transformation to become the only woman in combat photo journalism in Europe, taking incredible personal risks. Lee also recorded the first use of napalm at the battle of St. Malo, the liberation of Paris, and she was there when the victims of Nazi concentration camps were liberated. Her personal relationships were never straightforward, but it a huge testament to the strength of her personality that all of her ex-lovers became friends.
Other things, I stumbled upon along the way. One of the things that happened while I was writing a book that spans the period of the First World War was the death of Harry Patch. I had been deeply moved watching and reading about the histories of the last of the Veterans, and admired him greatly for his decision to speak out after so many years’ silence. After all that time had passed, you could still see how raw his emotions were.