Tonight, I am delighted to welcome to the blog for Friday Night Drinks, fellow RNA member and author… Liz Harris.
Hi Liz and thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?
I don’t even have to hesitate a moment – I’m always up for a gin & tonic. Usually, it’s Fever Tree tonic. It’s healthy, you see. Fewer calories in both the alcohol and the mixer means that I can justify a second, and all on the grounds of improving my health.
A woman after my own heart. If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?
Money will be no object as I’m going to sell shed loads of my latest novels, of course, so I’m taking you to Kerala in India. We’re going for a trip on the Backwaters in an upmarket peasant rice boat. It’ll be the ultimate in luxury, despite the word ‘peasant’, with a crew of three waiting on just us. As we drift down the blissfully serene Backwaters, sipping our gin & tonics, we’ll chat about books.
While Kerala is a dry state – the wives of fishermen plagued the last government to abolish alcohol as their men were drinking their wages before they got home. The government obliged, and then lost the following election – there must have been more male voters than female. You can now only buy alcohol from sparse outlets.
In one of the hotels I stayed in, wine was put in a teapot and poured from that into our glasses.
If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?
Rugged Australian actor Peter Finch would be the man. I fell in love with him in A Town Like Alice, a book I adore, and my love affair continued with The Nun’s Story, one of my all-time favourite books and films.
With Peter Finch as Dr Fortunati in The Nun’s Story at the fore of my mind, I used to want to be a nun, but only on condition that I was sent to tend the sick in Africa, alongside a Dr Fortunati, and only if I looked like Audrey Hepburn when I donned a wimple.
As for a female to join us, Jane Austen. No one can capture person’s idiosyncracies as she can. But she doesn’t tell you that they’re vain/stupid/self-deluded, etc – she lets them condemn themselves every time that they open their mouth. Throughout our evening together, she would ask leading questions of those at our table, with the straightest of faces, and listening to their replies would be great entertainment.
I LOVE A Town Like Alice, it was my Desert Island Book for August. So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. What have you got going on? How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?
I’m fascinated by history, particularly that of the US and UK after the mid 1880s. I find the years between the wars particularly exciting, with the changing social conventions, developments in housing, and emergence of laws such as The Matrimonial Causes Act, 1923, which took the first step towards bringing equality between the sexes when it came to divorce.
Each of the novels in the series can be enjoyed on its own, without the others having been read. Each focuses on a different member of the Linford family.
What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?
After writing for seven years, submitting my novels in vain throughout those years, I submitted The Road Back to Choc Lit. When I heard back that they loved the novel and were going to publish it, I was overwhelmed. My husband was out, and I couldn’t wait for him to return. When heard the car draw up, I held the door open, smiling. Surprisingly, he didn’t pick up that there must be something momentous as I was gazing at him so pleasantly, and just walked on into the house.
I’ve heard from Choc Lit, I called to his retreating back. He turned. I burst into tears. He came forward, arms outstretched. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘Someone will take your book.’ And he hugged me. I managed, when I finished blubbing, to let him know that those were tears of pride and pleasure.
People said really lovely things about The Road Back, including the late Colin Dexter, creator of Inspector Morse, who asked if he could say something to go on the cover. My biggest challenge since then has been to write novels that will be enjoyed as much as The Road Back. I hope I’ve succeeded.
I am dreaming of that moment, it must have been amazing! What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, it’s just us talking after all!
My mother was an actress, and I did a lot of amateur dramatics before I had my two sons. I tend to think, and write, in scenes, and I think any of my novels would make an absolutely superb film. My backgrounds – America, India, Ladakh, France, Italy, to name but a few – scream out for the big screen.
I’m thinking of a film with the stature of ‘The English Patient’, for example. Well, you did say to be as ambitious as I like!
What have planned that you are really excited about?
I went to Vietnam earlier this year, from the Mekong Delta up to Hanoi, just before Covid-19 took over and dominated our lives. It was amazing! Sadly, my trips to Italy, Greece and France this year have all had to be postponed. As soon as there’s an approved vaccine, I shall start travelling again, and those locations will be at the top of my list.
But keen as I am to start travelling again, the biggest thrill will be meeting up again with the friends I’ve made through writing, at RNA parties for example, or at chapter get-togethers. Zoom is better than nothing, but there’s nothing that beats the real thing!
In the interim, I’m very partial to the local pork sausages. I have some for dinner tonight, and I’m really excited about that!
I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?
I can’t list a favourite, I’m afraid. I’ve been to places that I knew would interest me, and I’ve loved exploring them all and learning about their past.
Top of my bucket list is the west coast of Canada and thence up to Alaska. I’d intended to do that last year, but ended up going to the east of Canada, and visiting Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara. I had a fabulous time. I’d now like to fly to Calgary, get the Rocky Mountaineer to Vancouver – first class, of course – spend a week in Vancouver and then take a leisurely cruise up to Alaska. Bliss!
All of those things are top of my bucket list! Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.
I lived in California for six years in my early twenties, a year in San Francisco and five in Los Angeles. During the LA years, I was friendly with an actor. While he was looking for roles, he used to drive the studio tour bus for MGM. I would go on the tours with him as a resident starlet, hair down to my shoulders, hanging over one eye, meaty thighs peering forth from beneath mini-skirts, and in low-fronted tops. At the end of each tour, I was photographed with the visitors. It was huge fun! I got to know just about everyone in the various series being filmed, and those in the films that were in production.
Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?
I’d give you a copy of The Nun’s Story, by Kathryn Hulme. I thought this a deeply romantic novel in parts, even though ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’ never exchanged a kiss. It fired my imagination, and has lived in my head in all the years since I read it.
The lead character of the book, Sister Luke (pre-convent name Gabrielle Van Der Mal), finds her faith tested in Africa where she finds herself at odds with headstrong Dr. Fortunati, operator of a remote Congo hospital, with whom she gradually builds respect, and again during World War II, when she is ordered not to take sides. Ultimately, Sister Luke is forced to decide whether to remain in the convent or return to the outside world.
Gabrielle/Sister Luke is stretched between her desire to be faithful to the rule of her congregation and her desire to be a nurse. As a nun she must remove all vestiges of “Gabrielle Van Der Mal” and sublimate herself into the devoted bride of Christ. As a nun there is no room for her personal desires and aspirations. Ultimately, the conflict between her devotion to the Church and the nursing profession, juxtaposed with her passionate Belgian patriotism and her love of her father (killed by Nazi fighter planes while treating wounded) bring her to an impasse, which serves as the dénouement of the novel.
So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?
The advantages of being a secondary school teacher, which I used to be, is that there’s a Science department in the school. In order to help the sixth formers who were rolling up in a hungover state for my early Monday morning class, and certainly not because I thought it would be useful for me to know, I asked one of the scientists to come up with a fast and effective remedy for a hangover. Drink gallons of water before you go to bed, he said, and I the morning, and fresh orange juice, too.
Apparently, fresh orange juice is infinitely better than strong coffee, which, contrary to belief, is about the worst thing you can take for a hangover.
Luckily, I hate coffee! After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?
Having left the Backwaters in Kerala, we would head to the of town of Fort Cochin. We’d explore the town, which is interesting and exotic, and end up in the gardens of a superb hotel that actually serves wine, poured from a bottle into a glass. As daylight fades, fairy lights start sparkling in the trees, and it feels like paradise.
That sounds wonderful, I wish we could go right now! Liz, thank you so much for a marvellous evening, I have thoroughly enjoyed myself.
London, 1923.Alice Linford stands on the pavement and stares up at the large Victorian house set back from the road—the house that is to be her new home.But it isn’t her house. It belongs to someone else—to a Mrs Violet Osborne. A woman who was no more than a name at the end of an advertisement for a companion that had caught her eye three weeks earlier.More precisely, it wasn’t Mrs Osborne’s name that had caught her eye—it was seeing that Mrs Osborne lived in Belsize Park, a short distance only from Kentish Town. Kentish Town, the place where Alice had lived when she’d been Mrs Thomas Linford.Thomas Linford—the man she still loves, but through her own stupidity, has lost. The man for whom she’s left the small Lancashire town in which she was born to come down to London again. The man she’s determined to fight for.
Born in London, Liz Harris graduated from university with a Law degree, and then moved to California, where she led a varied life, from waitressing on Sunset Strip to working as secretary to the CEO of a large Japanese trading company.
A few years later, she returned to London and completed a degree in English, after which she taught secondary school pupils, first in Berkshire, and then in Cheshire.
In addition to the eight novels she’s had published, she’s had several short stories in anthologies and magazines. Her latest novel, The Flame Within, is the second in The Linford Series, a sweeping saga set between the wars. Each of the novels in the series is a standalone.
Liz now lives in Oxfordshire. An active member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Historical Novel Society, her interests are travel, the theatre, reading and cryptic crosswords. She also – pre-covid – gives regular talks to WI groups, book clubs and at literary conferences.