Author Q&A: Betty Annand- The Girl from Old Nichol
Born into extreme poverty in the London slums, young Gladys Tunner strives to survive her circumstances, including her alcoholic parents. Desperation and dreams for a better life are constant. Her childhood best friend and protector, Toughie, looks after her until she’s forced to escape into the English countryside, creating an elaborate masquerade that leads to both love and heartbreak.
In anticipation for the release of her debut fiction novel, author Betty Annand, shares how her own family history and love of the Victorian Age and Industrial Era inspired her creation of The Girl from Old Nichol.
AJ: What is one of your favorite things about the Victorian Age and how were you inspired to use it as the setting for your book?
BA: One of my favorite things about the Victorian Age was The Great Exhibition (also called The Great Shalimar) in The Crystal Palace built in Hyde Park, London, in 1851. Although it was designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, It was organized by Prince Albert and Henry Cole.
The Victorian Age also ushered in the first industrial revolution and the inventions were astronomical. The steam locomotive, the sewing machine, and the bicycle were just a few of the machines that made life easier. I think Price Albert deserved more credit for the progress made at that time than he received.
The inspiration I had for writing a book set in the Victorian Age happened because I know nothing about my paternal grandmother’s lineage. A cousin in England had researched and documented my grandfather’s side of the family years ago and I suppose I could have done the same on Grandmother’s side, but I decided it would be more fun to invent a great-grandmother and go on from there – hence the creation of Gladys.
AJ: Gladys undergoes a lot of hardships but also has encouraging moments from supportive friendships and achievements from hard work. What was your favorite win that Gladys experienced in the first book?
BA: I think Gladys didn’t fully appreciate how far she had come until she called her employers negotiation bluff and won. Rising from the position of a lowly chambermaid to a singing barmaid was a giant win.
AJ: What do you feel was the most difficult decision that Gladys has to make?
BA: In my first book, the most difficult decision Gladys has to make is whether to run away from Old Nichol and leave Toughie (the boy she has loved since she was four) behind, or confess to him that she had committed a terrible crime, thus putting him in jeopardy as well.
AJ: We know that the idea for your story originated by listening to your father talk about his life in England. Would you be willing to share a memory that stands out to you of a story he told, or a way he inspired you to write this?
BA: One of the stories Dad told us was that, until he and his twin sister were old enough to go to school, they rode around in a miniature coach made to resemble the Queen’s that their father had gotten made. It was pulled by a very well-trained and well-groomed goat. We were never sure if we fully believed the story, but years later I went to England and met an Aunt who had a picture of the coach, complete with the twins and the goat. Dad’s stories gave me a picture of England that was full of humor, drama and intrigue – a world full of fodder for a book.
AJ: Gladys has quite a few admirers, who is your favorite of her romantic interests?
BA: In Book one, I liked Gladys’s eventual husband, Tom Pickwick, a lot, but it was his friend, Keith Corkish, who was my favorite. I cried over what happens to him when they go to India.
AJ: Can you give us a small tease at what we might see in the next phase of Gladys’s story?
BA: Gladys finds there is a certain amount of prestige to being a housekeeper and at times she’s almost content. Her talent as a musician will also be helpful to her in the coming years. She and James Hornsby, her employer, will share some poignant experiences together – some good and some bad. Gladys’s past will once again come back to haunt her, and this time it will threaten everyone at “Four Oaks”. The biggest and most life changing decision Gladys will ever have to make will happen in book two.