Thursday, July 28, 2022

Natalie Jenner--Bloomsbury Girls

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Sometimes you happen across a book that ticks all your boxes, the sort of book you dive into, don't put down and, when you finished it, wish you could start all over again.

I somehow missed Natalie Jenner's debut novel, THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY



But this spring, when I saw a mention of BLOOMSBURY GIRLS, I preordered the book because:

--London

--London in 1950, such an interesting period

--Bloomsbury, and not just Bloomsbury, but Lamb's Conduit Street!

--Bookshop

--Literary society

--Great cover!

It was a lucky find, and today it's my great pleasure to introduce Natalie Jenner, who has a few more things to say about luck!


Luck: writing’s dirty little secret

Natalie Jenner

I am almost embarrassed by how much luck goes into my writing. I am a dedicated pantser—a fun term for someone who writes by the seat of their pants—and luck plays an outsized part in what shows up on the page. As a group of people without a plan, what all pantsers have in common is an infatuation with the power of our imagination. Luck, writing’s dirty little secret, is what keeps that infatuation from becoming a very bad date.

As a former career coach, I know another little secret: what you randomly encounter in life can completely change it. My new book Bloomsbury Girls is a tale about such luck, mirrored by a writing process that hinges on that same what if doorway in life.

What if, in the fall of 2019, I hadn’t caught a Netflix documentary on Peggy Guggenheim?

I so loved one of its throwaway lines—“Guggenheim and Samuel Beckett spent five days in bed at the Ritz, and only opened the door once—for a tray of sandwiches!”—that I immediately put the idea on simmer in my brain, hoping to one day find a use for its unique mix of hot sex and whimsy.

What if, four months later, a rare bookshop in London had sent me the book I had ordered online (a Jane Austen edition with an introduction by Daphne du Maurier) and not Du Maurier’s memoir instead?

It was the first wave of the pandemic and things everywhere were a mess. The shop kindly let me keep the entire care package, which had been intended to boost someone else’s spirits in isolation. This was how Du Maurier—and not Jane Austen, for once—made her stealth entry into my brain instead.

What if, when my debut novel The Jane Austen Society released in May 2020, the bookstores hadn’t all been closed?

This must be the reason why I decided to set my next book Bloomsbury Girls inside the quintessential 1950s London bookshop, where disaffected staff and famous people of the time could circle each other. I now also had a way to insert cameo roles for that simmering trio in my mind: Du Maurier, Guggenheim and Beckett.

What if Daphne du Maurier had never met Ellen Doubleday or Oriel Malet?

Cursory initial research on Du Maurier quickly led me to Ellen Doubleday, her dear friend and object of affection. In pitching Bloomsbury Girls to my editor, I mentioned both Ellen and her husband Nelson Doubleday as potential characters, only to learn from my editor that by 1950, Nelson was dead. You really don’t want your research called out in an editorial pitch.

But once Nelson’s demise was dealt with, my research began in earnest. One day, while scrolling through a website on female literary friendships, I read about Oriel Malet, a young writer who had landed Du Maurier as a mentor after encountering her in a hotel corridor while waiting for a party being hosted by Ellen Doubleday to start. Suddenly, I had my lucky-break plot for my new book, while my own luck happily continued.

What if there was no The Mummy!

For a separate but parallel plotline, I needed a real-life woman-authored book with both demonstrable value and no repute. I found the perfect book within five minutes of Googling, but was convinced I could not be that lucky. So, I spent weeks scouring lists of old and relatively unknown books until I gave in to my own good fortune. As a writer, this is trickier than it sounds: the Wikipedia rabbit hole promises, and so often proves, that there is always something even better, just a little further down. And down.

What if Peggy Guggenheim had not worked at the Sunwise Turn?

At the bottom of that Wikipedia rabbit hole, I tripped across Guggenheim again, decades before her five days with Beckett in bed. It turned out that as a young heiress and socialite, she had worked at the Sunwise Turn, one of the first bookshops in America to be fully owned and operated by women. This fact would end up directly inspiring the caper-style ending to Bloomsbury Girls. My agent told me that a lucky writer gets these gifts sometimes, and you just have to run with them.

I am the kind of person, and writer, who chooses to see all of this as a form of luck. It fuels my imagination—the other altar at which I worship. In Bloomsbury Girls, there are many random encounters that lead to lucky breaks—the very type of good fortune that I experienced while writing this book. No one wants to think that life can indeed be this random or beyond our control. Everyone likes to think that hard work and perseverance are enough. They are indeed essential to success, but the dirty little secret—both in my book, and in the writing of it—is that luck can play just as big a part.

The good news? We can make our own luck. Just stay open to the possibility, recognize it when it shows up, and run as fast and as far with it as you can.

 Bloomsbury Girls is about three women in 1950s London who work at an old-fashioned bookshop and are engaged in a battle of the sexes with the male managers of the shop. With the help of famous literary figures of the time including Daphne du Maurier, the female staff find a way to realize one very ambitious plan: to take over the bookshop from the men who run it. 



Natalie Jenner is the author of The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls. Both books were instant national bestsellers, June Indie Next Picks, Amazon Best Books of the Month and People Magazine Picks of the Week. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie has been a corporate lawyer, career coach and, most recently, an independent bookstore owner in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.

DEBS: Of course when I finished Bloomsbury Girls I immediately read The Jane Austen Society, which I loved as well. The books are interconnected but don't have to be read in order.

REDS and readers, what book have you run across by chance that was a perfect fit for you?

79 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your new book, Natalie . . . .

    “The Identicals” by Elin Hilderbrand is one of those stumbled across by chance books with a story that stays with you . . . .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm guessing it's about twins, Joan! Going to look it up.

      Delete
    2. Hi Joan, it's Natalie -- and thank you!

      Delete
  2. I feel like half the books I've read and enjoyed were books I stumbled upon. There is certainly some luck involved, but that's what makes discovering those gems fun.

    Congrats on the new book!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I just had two lucky "stumble on" books this AM ...and both are by Natalie Jenner. Thank you,Debs! How did I miss Jane Austen Society? I'm off to find both of them right now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good luck, Triss, and I hope you find and enjoy them both!

      Delete
    2. Lol I am apparently Anonymous here - the comment above is from Natalie :)

      Delete
  4. Another pantser here, Natalie - and the Bloomsbury Girls sounds wonderful! I believe luck happens, but you have to be ready for it. I landed my agent that way eleven years ago. He came to our NE Sisters in Crime chapter looking for authors. I signed with him and we landed a three-book cozy contract a month later. But I had been writing for a while, I had a completed manuscript and a few short story pub credits, I knew how to write a perfect query letter, and I didn't let the dust settle on the email from our chapter president.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi it's Natalie & yes it was the same for me! My debut novel was actually my sixth ;)

      Delete
  5. NATALIE: Your books are a surprise discovery, so thank you! And is there some special mystical writing energy in Oakville, ON? I have found and enjoyed reading some great books by other Oakville authors including Hannah Mary McKinnon and Jennifer Hillier.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, it's Natalie. It's a small town. Jenn and Hannah and I are all friends -- they've dined at my house lol!

      Delete
    2. I'll admit to playing detective. I saw that Natalie had mentioned Hannah Mary McKinnon in the acknowledgements for Bloomsbury Girls, so I asked Hank to ask Hannah if she would put me in touch. I love these writer connections!

      Delete
    3. DEBS: A-ha, so glad that you were able to use Hank & Hannah to connect with Natalie! And yes, I know that Oakville is a small town. I passed by Oakville for a year commuting on the GO Train between Burlington & Toronto's Union Station.

      Delete
    4. Love these writer connections! xoxo

      Delete
  6. Welcome Natalie and congrats on your big success! Debs, the book I stumbled upon lately is Vicky Zimmerman's MISS CECILY'S RECIPES FOR EXCEPTIONAL LADIES.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, it's Natalie - and thank you!

      Delete
    2. I always love your recommendations, Roberta, so putting this one on my list!

      Delete
  7. I have The Bloomsbury Girls on hold at my local library and am looking forward to reading it. I agree with you, Natalie, that luck plays a part in our life and that we have to recognize it when it lands in front of us. I like your advice to "run as fast and as far with it as you can". As for a lucky-find book, for me that was Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus; so good.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, it's Natalie -- and thanks for the hold, always much appreciated :)

      Delete
  8. It's so exciting to know that your trust in your own intuition and imagination (backed up by research of course!) has led to success. The book sounds wonderful. I had never really heard of Peggy Guggenheim until I visited the Robert Brady Museum in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Brady was an artist and collector, a fascinating and flamboyant personality, and best buddy of Peggy Guggenheim, He also was friends with Josephine Baker and other luminaries of his time. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at one of their parties!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, it's Natalie, and ME TOO!

      Delete
    2. Looking this up, Gillian. I'd never heard of Brady or the museum. What a find. And an excuse to some day plan a trip to Cuernavaca, which is a lovely city.

      Delete
  9. Congratulations, Natalie! Fellow pantser here. Luck is such a huge part of my process, but you definitely have to be ready to recoginize the opportunity when it appears.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, it's Natalie -- and that is indeed probably half the battle :)

      Delete
  10. Adding both your books to my TBR pile, Natalie!

    Does the Bloomsbury Group have anything to do with the eponymous Girls?

    A book that surprised and charmed me, and that I've both reread and recommended to friends, is Helen Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. A grown-up love story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I loved that book as well, Karen!

      Delete
    2. Hi, it's Natalie, and only in that the bookshop at the centre of my book is located in their wonderful oh-so-literary London neighbourhood. But I am a huge fan of Woolf and Forster and the latter in particular influences my writing (the epigraph to my debut novel is by Edward Morgan :)

      Delete
  11. As I'm struggling with wisps of a plot for my next book, I found Natalie's essay very encouraging. Remembering that luck has been there for me in previous books gives me faith in the process!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Deb, it's Natalie -- thank you so much for all your kind words in the blog post and for finding my stories. It means so much when a fellow author enjoys one's writing -- something this relatively newbie author is still relatively new to! Grazie (from the pages of my Rome MS :)

      Delete
    2. Hi Debs, this is a great post! Thank you!

      Diana

      Delete
  12. Congratulations, Natalie! I just know that I will love your books. There are so many books that have spoken to me that I can't choose just one. Maybe too early in the day. I am a big believer in luck and in making your own luck, too. One does that just as you said, by being curious and open to all possibilities.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, it's Natalie - and thank you, Judi! Curious and kindness are indeed the key to a happy life and career (says this former career coach based on vast anecdotal experience :)

      Delete
  13. I love the premise of Bloomsbury Girls and how you came to it, Natalie. Thanks for sharing! And I agree about "luck" - sometimes you don't know it even when it's staring you in the face.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh wow, thank you Hallie -- it is so cool to hear from you and, yes, luck can be a slippery little thing!

      Delete
  14. Welcome, Natalie! A lucky writer gets gifts from the universe--yes, indeed! And the universe knows when you are working and worthy--as your wild success proves. Plus--there's a lot to be discussed about being "open" to it. Know what I mean?
    And reds and readers, if you are not already totally hooked, here's a link to our reading of the terrific first chapter on First Chapter Fun! https://www.facebook.com/HankPhillippiRyan/videos/675899276808662

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, thanks for this, Hank! I missed it! Going to listen now!

      Delete
    2. Hank, it's Natalie -- I am SO grateful for all your support in spreading the word about my book -- I owe you and Deb drinks big time once I am Stateside again :)

      Delete
    3. Hey Natalie--will will welcome you with open arms! Lovely! xxx

      Delete
    4. Natalie, maybe we will meet up in London some day and share a glass of wine at Noble Rot in Lamb's Conduit Street!

      Delete
    5. Oh PERFECT xo

      Delete
  15. Congratulations on your new release! I look forward to reading it and then re-reading Hanff's 84 Charing Cross Road, which starts in 1949. London book shops in the fifties...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guessed when I read Bloomsbury Girls that Natalie was a fan of 84 Charing Cross Road, and of the wonderful Persephone Books, which until recently was in Lamb's Conduit Street. Sadly for me on my London visits, Persephone has moved to Bath. But do check out their wonderful books--they ship to the U.S.! https://persephonebooks.co.uk/

      Delete
    2. Hi, it's Natalie -- and it was a rewatch of the movie version that lit the spark for the whole book :)

      Delete
  16. NATALIE: Congratulations on your new book and welcome to JRW. I was lucky to get an advanced digital copy and I preordered the book. Interesting question about books.

    There was a book that had a great impact on my life. I think I was about four years old when I read the book. I think the title was THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD. I had just come home from the hospital (seven week stay because of spinal meningitis) and I had to learn everything over again - how to walk amongst other things. I remember the book so well because I often thought I could not do something (for whatever reason) and the book reminded me that I had the ability to do many things. The main idea was "DO NOT GIVE UP".

    Like Debs, your novel meets all of my checklist items! I lived in England for two months during the summer of 1990. It was wonderful!

    Diana

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Diana, it's Natalie -- I lived in England in the summer of 1990 too! In Bristol! What a coincidence and MUCH gratitude for your support of my book!

      Delete
    2. Hi Natalie! What a coincidence. I stayed in a village just outside of Oxford and spent part of my time at Oxford (Worcester College). I took a thousand photos. LOL. I also spent a week up in Scotland, visiting friends. Our class at Oxford made a day trip to Wales! The only place that I have Not visited yet is Ireland. Hope to visit Ireland when that darn pandemic is over!

      Diana

      Delete
    3. I was born in England and spent many summers and trips there over the years travelling all over Great Britain on my little Brit Rail student pass -- the best memories and I too cannot wait to go back!

      Delete
    4. Hi Anonymous! Love that you were born in England. Yes, I used the Brit Rail student pass. When I was living in England, many people thought that I was born in England. They were surprised that I was an American. LOL. I was a big fan of Princess Diana and I copied her dress style. Yes, I wore clothes made in England. I would go into shops in London or Oxford or Edinburgh (Scotland) and buy a cute outfit. Not many clothes, though. I wore clothes that I could wear all the time. I think I had 5 or 6 pieces and I would wear two or three at a time, so it looked like I had many clothes. LOL. I grew up watching BBC drama on our PBS local tv station and read many novels by English authors, I remember getting my hair styled (with curls) at a hair salon in Oxford where everyone working there looked like fashion models!

      Diana

      Delete
  17. Oh, this is indeed funny. Just this morning I finished reading Natalie's THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY for a historical fiction book group discussion next week. I loved the book and wondered if she had another in the works or out yet. Looking forward to talking about it with our group. Second funny thing is that I picked up my next read, Karen Cleveland's new one, THE NEW NEIGHBOR, and it has a quote from Jane Austen to begin the book. Not necessarily something you would expect with a protagonist that works for the CIA. Ha! Third, reading blogs and realizing that Natalie is a guest today here at JRW. And, yes, a new book. THE BLOOMSBURY GIRLS sounds great. I'll tell my group about it next week. Plus, Daphne du Maurier is a favorite of mine. All the stars were in alignment for me or so it seems!

    Natalie, thanks for writing the Jane Austen book and thanks for being here today. As I said, I'll pass along all you said to our little historical fiction group here in Kerrville, Texas. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kay, it's Natalie and that is indeed way too funny -- so thrilled you enjoyed TJAS -- I am told by readers of both that BG is in much the same vein -- plus it marks the return of intrepid servant girl Evie Stone ;)

      Delete
  18. Natalie, congratulations! Bloomsbury Girls is on my TBR list for sure! Hank and Hannah are just amazing, giving us a little taste of this and that to whet our reading appetites.

    I think that A Gentleman in Moscow was my big surprise. A friend and I sometimes mail books to one another and that was one she sent me. It was really uplifting to read in early 2020.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Judy, it's Natalie & thank you so much for your interest in my book -- H & H are the absolute best :)

      Delete
  19. THIS BOOK SOUNDS AMAZING! I loved The Jane Austen Society so you're an auto buy for me, Natalie. Mad respect for being a pantser - I'm a plotter - but even as such I am amazed at the serendipity involved in writing. The right fact at the right time or the perfect nugget of info from twenty years ago is suddenly the puzzle piece that holds the entire book together. Always a thrill.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jenn, thank you so much for reading and enjoying TJAS & sharing your own process -- keep well!

      Delete
    2. Hi Jenn, yes, there is the right time. Natalie's story reminded me of my own personal experiences writing my historical cozy novel. I have been doing a lot of background research like who were the ladies in waiting to Alexandra, Princess of Wales and future Queen of England and also who were the ladies in waiting to Elizabeth, the future Queen Mother.

      Diana

      Delete
  20. Natalie, Rhys here. this book is sitting in my TBR pile and is now coming to the top. Exactly my sort of book in every way with a personal connection. I was at university in Bloomsbury in the sixties, my former agent and publisher were both on Russell Square.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rhys, it's Natalie -- and wow, thank you so much for telling me all that -- and what an amazing place in which to study and be edited/published!

      Delete
    2. Rhys, that sounds like wonderful memories! My second cousin was visiting London when he met with our great aunt and great uncle in Russell Square. They all were visiting London from America.

      Diana

      Delete
  21. I've read both books and absolutely loved them! Watching a small group of people gel and become friends while pursuing a common goal can be uplifting. Throw in some romance and famous people and you can't beat it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Pat, well that's so good to know, especially because book 3 is THE EXACT SAME ;)

      Delete
  22. Natalie, I loved THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, so BLOOMSBURY GIRLS has been on my to-buy list since I saw it was coming out.

    I agree with everything you say about the luck of running across information, meeting people, and putting ideas together. There's another type of luck we all rely on as well - that happy coincidence that topics, themes, characters and periods of history that fascinate us will also fascinate enough readers to make the work worthwhile.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Julia, it's Natalie, and you are so right about hitting a zeitgeist -- I remember when my agent signed me for TJAS -- he told me OTP that he receives so many Jane Austen queries every week, but "I don't think anyone has ever done WWII before." A chill went up my spine at his words--it was then that I knew I might finally have a chance at getting published after twenty years, five earlier manuscripts, and three hundred agent rejections!

      Delete
    2. Hi Julia! I agree with everything what you and Natalie wrote. Yes, the luck of running across information reminded me of when I had a conversation with a Deaf tour guide in Scotland. He was telling me about Princess Alice of Battenberg, the mother of Prince Philip. Alice was born Deaf. He also told me an interesting story about Prince Philip and all of his four children. I do not think it was ever in the press, despite the paparazzi. He mentioned that Prince Philip and his four children often have conversations in SIGN LANGUAGE! That gave me a nugget of an idea for my historical cozy mystery novel.

      Diana

      Delete
    3. Natalie, I am so excited for you and how your persistence paid off.

      Delete
    4. Hi Judy, it's Natalie -- thank you so so much for saying that! How kind xo

      Delete
  23. Love your writing process, Natalie! Congratulations on the new book. Must check out both!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Mary, it's Natalie -- and thank you so much!

      Delete
  24. These two Jenner novels were wonderful. I'm also a fan of Lamb's Conduit Street and was thinking of Persephone books and the other adorable shops. Not only do Duncan and Gemma frequent it but in at least one Lord Peter Wimsey, Charles walks down LC on the way to the police station!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, and I think Charles' flat is in Great Ormond Street. Sayers lived at 24 Great James Street, just behind Holborn Police Station for a good many years, so knew the area very well.

      Delete
    2. Hi Linda, I have a bookshelf at home dedicated to Persephone Books -- good catch!

      Delete
  25. Kathy Boone ReelJuly 28, 2022 at 5:52 PM

    Congratulations on your new book, Natalie. I just this past week put The Jane Austen Society on my TBR list. I hadn't taken a look at The Bloomsbury Girls yet, so I'm delighted to read about here today. It will go on my list, too. I have for years enjoyed reading about England in WWII fiction, mostly mystery and crime, but it seems lately that I'm reading more stories set after WWII, too, in the late 40s or the 50s, and even into the 60s. I had no idea I would enjoy those periods so much, but I do. So, The Bloomsbury Girls is going to fit right in my wheelhouse now.

    I do agree that luck does play a part in what goes right in our life or writing. Being at the right place at the right time has always been a factor in life's dreams working out. As far as books go, I've stumble upon quite a few that have been perfect fits or fortuitous finds. I'm going to go outside of my regular beloved genre of mystery/crime and name a few general or contemporary fiction books. The Girls by Lori Lansens, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, Stones From the River by Ursula Hegi, Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase, and Whirligig by Paul Fleischman. Many more, but that's a start.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I always love your suggestions, Kathy, and I can guarantee you'll love Bloomsbury Girls!

      Delete
    2. Hi Kathy, it's Natalie -- I love the 50s, the 20s -- those periods that show the scars of the past which will end up the faultlines of the future -- the future that I, as an historical fiction author, know but my characters do not. I like playing in that space for sure :)

      Delete
    3. Kathy Boone ReelJuly 29, 2022 at 1:02 AM

      Debs, thank you, and back at you. Natalie, I love the way you put that, "those periods that show the scars of the past which will end up the faultlines of the future."

      Delete