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Q&A with Louise Hare - Harlem After Midnight

By Elle Summers

We are thrilled to welcome Louise Hare to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release, Harlem After Midnight, released on the 14th of September 2023.

Harlem, 1936: Lena Aldridge grew up in a cramped corner of London, hearing stories of the bright lights of Broadway. She always imagined that when she finally went to New York City, she’d be there with her father. But now he’s dead, and she’s newly arrived and alone, chasing a dream that has quickly dried up. When Will Goodman—the handsome musician she met on the crossing from England—offers for her to stay with his friends in Harlem, she agrees. She has nowhere else to go, and this will give her a chance to get to know Will better and see if she can find any trace of the family she might have remaining. Will’s friends welcome her with open arms, but just as Lena discovers the stories her father once told her were missing giant pieces of information, she also starts to realize the man she’s falling too fast and too hard for has secrets of his own. And they might just place a target on her back. Especially when she is drawn to the brightest stage in town.

I wanted to start by talking about the character of Lena. As many readers probably know, we have seen Lena before in your novel Miss Aldridge Regrets. I would love to know how it felt to come back to an existing character, did you discover anything new about Lena when crafting this sequel, and did you enjoy extending her storyline?

I love Lena so it felt very comforting to return to her story, despite her tendency to attract murder! One of my favourite discoveries when writing Miss Aldridge Regrets was the relationship between Lena and her recently deceased father. I felt very drawn to Alfie and as soon as I knew my publishers wanted a sequel I knew that he had to be a big part of the next book. The thing with Lena is that she’s a very messy person and so there’s still lots of her story left to be explored!

I loved the Harlem setting that you created in your book, and thoroughly enjoyed how you

referenced famous figures from that era! I would love to learn more about what inspired you to create this setting?

I’ve always been a little bit obsessed with the Harlem Renaissance and that community of high-achieving, Black creatives. Lena is very working class and I had fun throwing her in with a group of people who, on one level are similar to her, but on another they are very different. They’re highly educated with good jobs and financial stability. I wanted to see how Lena would assimilate to that environment.

On a similar line, it was really interesting how you made the text jump in both perspective and time, releasing snippets of information to your reader to all culminate at the end. How did you find not only recreating 1936, but also 1908 and how did you craft the voices to be appropriate for these time periods?

I will say that when I started out with this idea of two timelines, I hadn’t realized how much New York changed over those three decades! I ended up having to do a lot more research than planned but that helped to give a richer story, especially where the 1908 timeline was concerned – that storyline was quite heavily driven by the research into the lives of Black people who moved up from the southern states to the northern cities at that time, hoping to escape the Jim Crow laws. I find that whenever I’m starting a new historical fiction project it helps to read novels that were written at the time. Reading that dialogue and immersing myself in the issues and topics of the period really helps me to create my characters and those voices that feel authentic.

I couldn’t ask these questions without of course talking to you about the ultimate love interest - Will Goodman. In this text we learn more about Will’s past and his connections in Harlem. Much like the reader with the shifts in perspective and period, I felt that Will kept Lena on her toes, and his secret past keeps her wondering who to trust. How did the character of Will form? And again, how was it returning to his character from the Queen Mary? Did you always know his backstory, or did this develop over the course of Harlem After Midnight?

In Miss Aldridge Regrets, Lena spends a lot of her time playing a role around people who are very different to her. Because she’s trapped on an ocean liner, she has to keep up appearances. I wanted her to have an ally of sorts on the ship and that was where Will came in. In the first book he becomes the only person who Lena can trust. I thought it would be interesting in Harlem After Midnight to see what would happen when she discovers that he has his own secrets. How would that change how she felt about him? I had the sense throughout the first book that he was hiding from something, and that maybe that was why he spent his life at sea, shuttling back and forth across the Atlantic. It was only sitting down to write Harlem After Midnight that I figured out what it was he was running away from.

Your novel encompasses a wide range of voices, spanning different time periods as we have already discussed. Did this pose a challenge for you in trying to craft voice and tone throughout your book?

I’m quite a visual writer – I picture my scenes and then I write them. The tone and voice come

naturally as part of that process. I think that seeing the characters and hearing them speak, even if it’s just in my head, really helps!

I would love to talk a bit about the craft of a murder mystery. Do you start with the crime and work backwards to create motive and build your story, or do you work in a more chronological order?

I’m not a plotter. I start off thinking about who the victim might be but other than that I start at the beginning and formulate the plot as I go. For Harlem After Midnight, I didn’t decide on the murderer until towards the end of the first draft. In Miss Aldridge Regrets, I had decided from the beginning who the murderer was but when I came to write that scene I realized they hadn’t done it! Luckily, I’d already unconsciously set up the motive for the real killer so I didn’t need to do much rewriting.

Without wanting to give too much away - will readers be seeing more of these beloved characters in the future?

I hope so but I’m not sure yet. My next novel is definitely something different, a standalone story set in 1760s London.

Where can people find your murder mystery novel?

Anywhere you can buy books, ebooks or audiobooks! I’d always recommend supporting your local indie bookshop if you’re able to.

Louise Hare is a London based author. Her debut novel This Lovely City was published by HQ (Harper Collins) in 2020. The first of the Canary Club Mysteries Miss Aldridge Regrets (2022) and Harlem After Midnight (2023) are published by HQ and Berkley (Penguin). She has an MA in Creative Writing (Distinction) from Birkbeck, University of London.

Louise's Instagram: @lourhare


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