Welcome to the first of my Meet the Author series, where I’ll be talking to some wonderful authors about the work they do. To kick off this series of blogs I’d like to introduce you to the lovely Annie Lyons, bestselling author and bookworm extraordinaire who wrote one of my favourite books of 2020 Eudora Honeysett is Quite Well, Thank You (or to our friends over the sea – The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett).
It’s no secret that I absolutely adored Eudora’s story. Just like the best of kindred books it found it’s way to me by chance and at just the right time. It arrived at the bookshop I work in one grey old Monday morning and when reading the first few pages I knew we were going to be friends from the start. Eudora is 85, determined, kind and rather done with life. She’s all ready to pack it in (by the way of a trip to Switzerland), but then life happens, as it often does, when you least expect it. With several occurrences snowballing acquaintances into friends, Eudora busies herself with life whilst waiting for death. And I know that the prospect of a book about death may turn you away but please don’t let it. Death for me is something that has always been quite big in my head, especially after recent years, but I timidly decided that I was going to continue to read as Eudora seemed so matter-of-fact about it and not scared in the slightest, and that for me gave me comfort and in the end, made me look at life and death in a whole new light and certainly made me feel a whole lot less scared about talking about it. Annie has made Eudora’s story funny, mindful and full of courage, kindness and life and in no way brings anything morbid to the table.
We spend our time with Eudora in the present day alongside the hilarious and joyful 10 year-old Rose and funny and jovial 80-something Stanley, but we also time-hop back to see milestone moments from Eudora’s life. From a war-torn childhood to life as a young woman post-war; family relationships to the choices that forever changed her path in life; we see life from all angles and leave the final page with a better understanding of what it is to be human and what it means to live.
I love the fact that our main protagonist is an elderly woman who’s life hasn’t taken the expected route set before us by society and that the subjects of loneliness, family estrangement, mental health and friendships are threaded throughout for the reader to mull over and consider from several different generational viewpoints. I also loved the message of both young and old working together – I think so often one generation is overlooked by the other due to fear or the thought that the other ‘just won’t understand’ but in Eudora it shows that no matter your age, there are lessons we could all learn from one other and that friendship doesn’t have limits when it comes to the simple fact of how long you’ve inhabited the Earth.
Eudora for me encompasses strength, loyalty and kindness and the three main characters now feel like friends. If I could recommend just a handful of books to you that came out this year, this would definitely be a the top! So without further ado, meet the author herself…
1. What gave you inspiration to write Eudora Honeysett is Quite Well, Thank You?
I had long wanted to write a book about death because I’m a little bit obsessed with the topic. I think this stems from my own fear of dying and also my belief that if you fear something, the best way to deal with it is to talk about it or in my case, write a book about it! What I was very clear about was that I didn’t want it to be depressing. I wanted it to be uplifting and hopeful and if possible funny because those are the books that I love to read and the ones I try to write as well. So when I started to consider this in earnest, I knew I needed a special main protagonist to carry this weighty topic. I’ve also been quite struck by the lack of strong elderly female characters in novels and Eudora is my attempt to redress that a little. I also think that women of Eudora’s generation have a different attitude to death. There’s something very distinct about the generation who lived through the war. I didn’t have to look too far for inspiration because my mother was born in 1934 and bore many of the traits I wanted Eudora to have – resilience, a reluctance to ask for or accept help and mostly importantly, an acceptance of death being part of life. Having a character who was essentially unafraid of death meant that I could be similarly unafraid to write about it and of course, adding in Rose and her cheerful curiosity meant I could inject humour too!
2. How did you become an author?
I have always worked in books. I started my career as a children’s bookseller at the much-missed Books etc. on Charing Cross Road and then worked for Egmont Children’s Books for twelve years. During this time I got married and had two children. It was while I was on maternity leave after the birth of my second baby that I started to feel as if I wasn’t using my brain as much as I would like. I’d always enjoyed writing and had an ambition to write a novel so I enrolled on a creative writing course at my local Adult Education Centre and absolutely loved it. This gave me the impetus to start work on my first novel but as my maternity leave ended and I went back to work, it became difficult to find time to write. After the financial crash in 2008, I was made redundant and so writing became a lifeline for me as I struggled with life as a stay-at-home mum. Thanks to my son’s naps and my daughter’s love for Peppa Pig, I was able to grab small amounts of time to write and managed to finish my first novel! It took four more years, a lot of rejections and a moment when I nearly gave up before I was offered a book deal in 2013. That first novel was published as ‘Not Quite Perfect’ becoming a Kindle bestseller and bringing me a new career as an author.
3. If you could give yourself advice when you were starting out in your writing career, what would it be?
You are good enough.
4. Throughout Eudora’s story we flash back to her past from wartime childhood to life post-war, all the way to present day. What sort of research did you do and did you find any resources particularly helpful?
I loved researching the wartime scenes. It’s such a fascinating part of history. I spent a lot of time on the BBC website reading stories from the WW2 People’s War archive (https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/). Some of the stories are incredible and it enabled me to get a real feel for the detail of what it was like to grow up and live through that time.
5. Eudora herself has ended up feeling like a good friend. Do you have any characters that feel that way to you?
That’s lovely to hear. I have so many because I particularly love books where you take the characters to your heart and miss them when you finish the story. I particularly remember feeling like this when I finished ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls. I stood gazing out of the kitchen window for ages after I’d finished it because I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t be spending time with Emma and Dexter any more!
6. If you could spend one day with Eudora, Stanley and Rose, how would you like to spend it?
I love this question! I think I’d like to join them on another trip to the seaside, have one of Rose’s massive ice creams and go on the merry-go-round. That would be just about perfect.
7. I found the way you wrote about the more difficult subjects in Eudora’s story such as death, family estrangement and loneliness was so honest and open. It really was a breath of fresh air to read about these topics in such a way alongside the kindness and humour of Eudora and the other characters. If people wanted to explore some of the themes of your book more, do you have any good recommendations?
I’m so glad it brought you comfort. I read an excellent non-fiction book called ‘With The End In Mind’ by Dr. Kathryn Mannix. She is a palliative care doctor and writes about dealing with death every day but does so in such an honest, human and beautiful way. She talks about it being a privilege to be there for individuals and families as they face the end of their lives. It’s such an important book, which also offers practical advice about how to talk to our loved ones about death.
8. As a Children’s Bookseller I’m always intrigued to find out what book(s) first sparked your love for reading?
I would have to say that it was ‘The Little House in the Big Woods’ by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which my mum read to me when I was small. I was entranced by this story of her life in a place very different to where I lived – there were no bears wandering around my corner of south-east London! It really sparked my imagination and we read all of the books in the series. It was also the first book where I sobbed uncontrollably when a character died!
9. This year feels like it’s been a bumper year for good books! What has been your favourite book this year or your most anticipated book yet to be released?
It would have to be ‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O’Farrell. She is one of my favourite writers and I think this is her best book yet – it also made me cry! As for what’s to come, I’m a huge fan of Ruth Hogan and I know there’s a new book in the pipeline so I can’t wait for that.
10. I know this is a tricky question for any bookworm, but if you could only have three books on your bookshelf, what would they be?
That’s very difficult! I’m going to say ‘A Patchwork Planet’ by Anne Tyler, ‘Any Human Heart’ by William Boyd and ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte but it would probably change if you asked me next week!
11. If you could offer the world one piece of Eudora advice, what would it be?
A friend messaged me the other day to say that she’d been telling her children to be more like Eudora and show kindness above everything else. I love the idea that Eudora’s being quoted to bemused children! I also think kindness is what the world needs not just now but always. It’s a small but powerful force.
Thank you to Annie for taking the time to read and answer my questions – it’s an honour to have you as my first author featuring on my blog! If you would like to find out more about Annie and her books, please visit her on Twitter @1AnnieLyons and Instagram @annielyonsauthor. And to keep following my bookish adventures subscribe to Views from a Bookshop and get emails whenever a new blog is posted and for more random bits and bobs from a booksellers life you can find me on Instagram @viewsfromabookshop and Twitter @jayniebooks.
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