Jacquie Bloese studied on our six-month Writing Your Novel course back in 2013. Now she has a book deal with Hodder & Stoughton for her debut The French House, a love story set in occupied Guernsey during WW2.
We asked Jacquie about her time on our course, the inspiration behind her debut historical novel and her top tips for aspiring authors….
You were a student on our first-ever six-month Writing Your Novel course in 2013. How did your time studying with us impact your approach to writing?
I always took my writing seriously, but the course focused my ambition, honed my identity as a writer, and gave me confidence. It also taught me the importance of the pitch! By the time the six months came to an end, I’d decided to work part-time to give myself more dedicated writing time – a decision that I’m sure I wouldn’t have been brave enough to make otherwise.
What is one piece of advice from your tutor that has stuck with you?
‘Sharpen up your writing!’ This sounds harsher than it was! It was great advice as finding an agent is competitive and it’s worth spending the time to really make your writing stand out from the crowd.
Many of our students find a real community on our courses – are you still in touch with any of your course mates?
Absolutely – they’re among my closest friends! A group of about ten of us have stayed in touch ever since the course, and we meet regularly to workshop, drink wine, and gossip! I think we all feel very lucky to have met each other – I really believe that writers need other writers.
Your debut novel The French House is to be published by Hodder & Stoughton. It is a love story set in occupied Guernsey during WW2. Could you tell us a bit more about your novel and the inspiration behind it?
The French House is about two former lovers: Émile, who lost his hearing in a tragic accident, and Isabelle. Both unhappily married to other people, the Nazi invasion throws them together again, through their work at the ‘French House’ – Victor Hugo’s former residence. The occupation brings with it dangerous and difficult choices that endanger them, their families and their rekindled love …
I grew up on Guernsey, and my grandparents lived through the German Occupation and had many stories to tell. Their anecdotes piqued my imagination, as did the grim experiences of my great-grandfather who lost his hearing as a young man in the same way as Émile, and whose story has always haunted me. This set me on the path of writing part of the novel from the point of view of someone whose deafness allows him to see what others can’t, but whose voice, for too many years, has remained unheard.
The idea for the setting came from a summer job I had as a student, working as a guide at Hauteville House, the ‘French House’ of the title. Victor Hugo’s life-long muse and mistress, Juliette Drouet, famously lived across the street from him, and it occurred to me that with such a legacy, Hauteville House was the perfect setting for another rather different kind of love story.
Do you have any advice for writers working on historical fiction?
I find that if I’m stuck with plot in particular, diving into research can really help spark new ideas. I used a variety of sources for The French House, including long chats with my late grandmother, as well as reading published diaries and first hand accounts from the Occupation to create what I hope is a convincing story.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
I’m at my best in the morning and yes, I’m a clichéd writer-in-pajamas – I like to get up and get on with it, without getting too distracted by other things! I write each scene long-hand very roughly, then re-write editing as I go into a Word doc. I also work as a freelance ELT editor so I fit that work in alongside the writing – a change of focus can work as a refresh, I find.
Finally, what is next for you and your writing journey?
I’m busy writing the first draft of my next novel for Hodder and Stoughton, another historical novel with a working title of The Pier, set in 1890s Brighton. And like everyone I’m looking forward to much more freedom as the year progresses – and maybe a writing retreat or two.
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