Q & As for ‘The Angel Tree’

1) What made you decide to re-write Not Quite An Angel?

Not Quite an Angel was originally published in 1995, one of eight books I had published under my old name, Lucinda Edmonds. In 2013, some of my publishers asked me about my backlist, so I told them all the books were currently out of print, but they asked for some copies. Into my cellar I ventured, and pulled out the books I’d written all those years ago. No exaggeration – they were covered in mouse-droppings and spider webs and smelt of damp, but I sent them off, explaining that I had been a very young novelist, and I completely understood if they wanted to bin them then and there. To my surprise, the reaction was incredibly positive and I was asked if whether I would like to re-publish them.

I said I’d think about it, because I was just beginning the first book in The Seven Sisters series. Then I sat down and read Aria. I couldn’t remember a word of it and found myself turning the pages on my own story to find out what happened.

After a massive re-write, Aria, was published in 2014 as The Italian Girl. I decided to tackle Not Quite An Angel next, and changed the name to The Angel Tree. It was published first in Germany in November 2014, and went straight to Number 1 on the Spiegel Bestseller list. I was astounded!

2) How did you go about changing the original novel Not Quite an Angel to the The Angel Tree? How do you feel your writing has changed since then?

I would say that experience has definitely improved me as an author and I feel very lucky to get another chance to improve the books. Retrospect is a wonderful thing and with the benefit of time, I can see both the stories and characters’ strengths and weaknesses. I was so much younger when I wrote my first novels – in my early twenties. When I read back through some of them now, I realise what a naive perspective I had. Today, I hope my characters have far more depth and I’m able to use some of my own experiences when creating them. The phrase ‘older and wiser’ rings very true. I feel that I was a storyteller before, but now I am a writer too.

In The Angel Tree, I decided to make a major change to the story – in the original novel Greta died in the car accident, but when I re-wrote it I felt it better to have her alive, albeit with amnesia and a shadow of her former self, adding more drama and poignancy to the relationships between the main characters. It felt bizarre – rather like a ‘sliding doors’ scenario – the difference between living and dying and the subsequent consequences of Greta’s survival on the plot and the other characters.

3) What was your initial inspiration behind Not Quite an Angel/The Angel Tree?

I met some fascinating characters during my time as a young actress, on the London stage and in film and television. Actors in particular, tend to be a tortured bunch, with the ‘public’ face often very different to the reality of the human being behind it. Unless of course, they start to believe their own myth and the fantasy world they inhabit, as Cheska does. When I met my husband Stephen some years after I wrote the book, I found out that he had known someone very much like Cheska…

I’d also experienced being in the spotlight and have a number of close friends who are famous in their field or married to someone who is, so I’ve learned how fame can affect people first-hand. The whole concept of fame terrifies me, so when I was writing about Cheska and the extremes of her fame and lack of freedom, I put a lot of my own fears into that. To be honest, I have no idea why anyone would go out of their way to seek fame for its own sake, like today’s reality TV stars seem to do. I treasure and protect my private life and my family – they’re what keeps me sane.

4) At the heart of The Angel Tree are various kinds of mother-daughter relationships…. How do you feel the love between a mother and child is different to any other kind of love?

I believe a mother’s love for her children – male and female – is probably the most powerful force on the planet. There is such a deep connection between mothers and their children, and if you ask any mother, they could tell you a story about an instinct they’ve had about their child that proved to be correct. Mothers – in both nature and humanity – will go to extraordinary lengths to protect and nurture their young.

That’s not to say that all mothers are perfect. In The Angel Tree we see some awful examples of motherhood: Cheska abandons her own daughter, and is later a toxic and dangerous influence on Ava. And Greta’s ambitions for Cheska push her daughter further and further into mental illness. We also see how certain modes of behaviour are passed down from mother to daughter, and it is Ava who is lucky enough to escape this vicious circle by finding a surrogate mother in LJ.

5) Why did you choose Monmothshire in Wales?

The location always seems to find me. I went to Monthmouthshire many years ago and fell in love with its raw beauty. It’s one of the most beautiful areas of Britain.

6) The Angel Tree spans a forty year period. Did you enjoy writing the past or modern sections most?

I love the fact I get to write about both and can reflect and highlight the changes in society – especially for women – over the last century.

Basically I write two stories in one book, often with a totally different set of characters in each. And sometimes, especially with the past sections of the book, I really feel that I’m being told the story even though the threads of both past and present are often complex. It all seems to come together holistically by the end.

7) Marchmont Hall serves as a kind of anchor to the various characters in the book, especially Ava. How important is the concept of ‘home’ to you in your writing and in your personal life?

Searching for a ‘home’ is a familiar theme in literature, because it is so profoundly human. Marchmont Hall is a very gothic presence that shelters as well as traps its various inhabitants. I find that in a lot of my books, as well as in The Angel Tree, my characters go on a journey to finding the metaphoric home within themselves, and those around them who they feel ‘at home’ with.

8) What would you say are the main themes of the book?

Family bonds – good and bad – forgiveness, and, of course, hope for the future. It’s all we humans have to keep us going. Oh, and of course, an amazing atmospheric house, which has a defined character all of its own.

8) Will you be re-publishing any more of your older books?

Yes, I plan to rewrite more over the next few years. I recently published a new book entitled The Olive Tree, a story that I originally began to write in 2006. It’s a real departure for me, being completely contemporary and with no ‘sweeping’, epic plot. This meant that the characters had to be spot-on as there is nothing to hide behind. It was another learning curve on my quest to improve and hone my writing skills. And I’m sure that the huge amount of work I did on it will benefit future books I write.