Inspiration for The Last Bookshop In London

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books

Inspiration as an author can come in many forms. It can be an event that once happened or a person you know or have read about, it can even be an experience you yourself have had that manifests itself into a scene for your next book. All it takes is a grain of sand caught in the folds of your brain to work itself into a gleaming pearl.

I had many inspirations when writing my recently released New York Times bestselling historical fiction, The Last Bookshop in London. But then, it’s so easy to draw ideas from history with its powerful impact and incredible stories. 

The event which really began to spin the idea for my story was the bombing of Paternoster Row. This particular area of London is known for its history in the book trade that dates back to the 17th century when the area was wiped out by the Great Fire of London. The book publishing industry rose from the ashes like a literary phoenix and publishers and booksellers continued to flock to Paternoster Row.

During WWII, however, when the Nazis bombed London for seven months straight during the Blitz, Paternoster Row received a direct hit. Countless bombs and incendiaries rained down on the publishing district and reduced it to rubble and ash with a fire that took days to fully extinguish.

This attack resulted in the destruction of over 5 million books. It was a heartbreaking loss made all the more devastating in light of the paper ration which prevented more books from being printed to replace the ones that were lost. As a book lover, this struck me in the heart. But through incredible loss can come the greatest hope and that inspired the bookshop where I had Grace work for Mr. Evans. 

As far as characters go, I received most of my inspiration from the Mass Observation. This was an initiative funded by the men who came up with the concept where hundreds of people were paid to record their daily life in journals and diaries before, during and after the war. It was a truly unique opportunity to have an inside look into the lifestyle of the time as well as how the daily bombings affected the overall mindset.

But in reading those detailed accounts, characters began to take shape in my mind. The naysayer who always had an opinion (like Mr. Pritchard), the woman who unexpectedly finds purpose in her war efforts (like Viv) and then there is Colin’s character who is an especially dear one to me. 

He came to me after one entry I read where a mother lamented over her son who was being conscripted into the military and was scheduled to depart the following day. She observed his gentleness with the family dog (one he had saved, cared for and kept as a boy) and went on to bemoan how tender-souled men are not meant for war. It was a heartbreaking observation and one I wanted to push forefront in my story. I wanted to highlight those men forced into war when their spirits were never meant for battle. 

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