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Q&A with Annie Lyons - The Air Raid Book Club

The Air Raid Book Club

By Aiden Simpson

We are thrilled to welcome Annie Lyons to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release The Air Raid Book Club out on the 11th of July 2023.

As the bombs began to fall, the book club kept their hopes alive…

London, 1938.Bookseller Gertie Bingham is facing difficult times, having just lost her beloved husband, Harry, and with a lingering sadness at never having been able to have a child of her own. Struggling to face running the bookshop she and Harry opened together, Gertie is preparing to sell up and move away when she is asked if she would be willing to take in a young Jewish refugee from Germany. Gertie is unsure and when sullen teenager Hedy Fischer arrives, Gertie fears she has nothing left to give the troubled girl.

But when the German bombers come and the lights go out over London, Gertie and Hedy realise that joining forces will make them stronger, and that books have the power to bring young and old together and unite a community in need in its darkest hour…

The Air Raid Book Club

I know that your first job after leaving university was as a bookseller at a bookshop (honestly sounds like a dream job to me ha-ha). Was this first job part of the inspiration for Gertie’s character and her love of books?

Definitely! Ever since working as a bookseller, I’ve wanted to write a novel set in a bookshop because there is nowhere quite like it. I wanted to reflect the joys and occasional frustrations of dealing with customers but also that feeling when it’s just you and the books. It’s my favourite thing to get lost in a bookshop for an hour or two (and I do run my hands along the spines and sniff the pages like Gertie does!)

Following on from that question I know you also started a creative writing course around 2009 and that seems to have inspired Hedy’s character and the story she writes during the novel as well. In many ways it almost feels like both Gertie and Hedy’s characteristics are two sides of the same coin taken from parts of your own literary journey, would you agree?

That’s a very insightful observation which I hadn’t really considered. I suppose in the true tradition of ‘writing what you know,’ I always use parts of my own bookish experiences. It’s also fun to write as another writer and create stories for them. I’d love to read the full manuscript for The Adventures of Gertie and Arno and see Elizabeth’s illustrations!

I think it would be an understatement to say the novel truly depicts the power of books as a means of connection during times of crisis, would you say that is one of the core messages you wanted to get across when writing this novel?

Absolutely. It’s one of my heartfelt beliefs that books and stories have that unique power to offer comfort, reassurance and escape when the world is dark. When I researched the novel, I discovered that this is exactly what happened during World War Two and then again when we all faced the pandemic over eighty years later. Books sales and library loans, particularly of classic novels, soared. I find that enormously heartening.

I like to think I’m quite good at figuring out where a narrative is headed in a novel, but The Air Raid Book Club constantly had me on the edge of my seat wondering where the story was going to go next. Did you already know how the story was going to finish and where everyone was going to end up before you started, or was the ending something that came into fruition as you were writing the earlier chapters?

That’s a very good question and I’m delighted it kept you guessing! Obviously, the events of the Second World War give any book set during that time a natural structure but I wasn’t sure how it would end until quite late on. I knew it would be sad but I wanted there to be an uplifting side to it too. It started to come to me as I got to know the characters better and realise what was in store for them.

One of the things I particularly loved about the novel was the quotes taken from other authors at the start of every chapter that reflect what was currently happening in the narrative. Did you take inspiration from these past literary authors such as Austen or Doyle?

Definitely. It was a lovely literary challenge and I was lucky that these authors provided me with an embarrassment of riches. I particularly love Jane Austen, the Brontës and P.G. Wodehouse (my dad gave me a book of his to read when I was a teenager and I’ve never looked back). I also had to include Emil and the Detectives, which was one of my favourite books as a child and is such a fantastic adventure!

Though the narrative of The Air Raid Book Club is predominately one of hope in the face of the unknown, the novel does not shy away from depicting the harsh nature of war, and especially the numerous casualties and deaths. What was it like to have to write a narrative where tragedy feels almost inevitable for many of the characters?

I found it very hard at times. Listening to Richard Dimbleby’s description of the liberation of Belsen concentration camp for example affected me deeply. I think everyone should listen to this and I wanted to make sure that his report, which in many ways defies description, was referenced. I believe that the only way to understand history is to learn from it and you have to face the darkness in order to appreciate the light.

Finally, knowing your success as a bestselling author of contemporary fiction, what advice do you have for inspiring writers who want to get into the industry and have their voice heard?

It’s a long road. You need determination, resilience and patience, and if one person who doesn’t rely on you for food or love likes your writing, don’t give up!

The Air Raid Book Club

Having worked in the worlds of book selling and publishing, Annie Lyons decided to have a go at book writing. Following a creative writing course, lots of reading and an extraordinary amount of coffee, she produced Not Quite Perfect, which went on to become a number one bestseller. Her second book, The Secrets Between Sisters, was nominated in the best eBook category at the 2014 Festival of Romance and Life or Something Like It was a top ten bestseller.

Annie's Instagram: @annielyonsauthor


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