When we began this book, we didn’t have the faintest idea what the process of co-writing would be like, but we were excited to tackle this new adventure. We’re so glad we did. Here’s the story of how Last Christmas in Paris came to be.
We first ‘met’ in 2013 after being introduced online by our mutual agent, Michelle Brower, who had a sneaky feeling these two history nerds would get along. She was absolutely right. We hit it off instantly and for the next couple of years we supported each other through our journeys in publishing. In early 2015, Heather approached Hazel about writing a short story for an anthology she was working on which would focus on the events surrounding Armistice Day in WWI. That anthology became Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War, a moving tribute to those lost and left behind in war. As the anthology was nearing completion, we both felt there was an awful lot more to say about this world-changing event. We had another story we wanted to tell.
Towards the end of 2015 the idea to co-write a historical novel began to take shape through a series of ‘What If…?’ emails. The final concept for a novel, written through all four years of the Great War, emerged from a frenzied Facebook Messenger exchange one afternoon and Last Christmas in Paris was born. Letters were such a critical part of the war - the only way loved ones could keep in touch - so it felt right that this book would be an epistolary novel. What better way to tunnel into the hearts and minds of our dear Evie and Thomas?
At the outbreak of war in 1914, it was famously declared that it would be over by Christmas. It was this fact which brought us to the idea of a group of friends making plans for that Christmas in 1914 and which become horribly interrupted. Four Christmases would come and go before the war was over and the soldiers returned home. Since Paris was under threat of occupation by the Germans in the earliest stages of the war, it seemed this iconic city of romance would be the perfect place for Thomas and Evie to long to visit. And of course we both love Paris, too!
Once the topic was settled, we had to decide how we would accomplish this! But how do two writers, living in different time zones, in different continents, write a book together? It sounds difficult, if not impossible, but far from being either, we absolutely loved the whole experience.
The book was written through a literal exchange of letters of our own. Hazel would wake up in Ireland first thing, pen a letter from one of her characters, and excitedly wait for a reply. Several hours later, Heather would wake in the U.S.--ecstatic--to find mail in her inbox. She would respond in kind, sending her characters’ words over the e-waves. The process felt so organic the story flowed, and in no time, we had a first draft! Editing, on the other hand, became an operation of military precision. We used comment bubbles and colored fonts to carefully track our changes, and somehow, it just worked.
Of course, having a writing partner demands a lot of trust and commitment. We navigated the pressures of juggling our individual writing projects, and the demands of kids and family life along the way as well. Often, one of us would contact the other to explain a delay because the kids were sick, or the heating was broken, or some other crisis got in the way. Skype chats and Google Hangouts became weekly powwows to flesh out plot snags and character arcs.
But at last, we met! When Fall of Poppies released in March 2016, Hazel traveled to the U.S. as part of the book tour. Our first face-to-face meeting was in a hotel room in Connecticut (amid much squealing), and after several days of trains, car rides, events, cocktails and laughs, we became the best of friends.
Writing this novel has made us both long for a return to the hand-written word. It is only because of the permanency of the letters written during the war that we are able to understand so fully its impact on those who lived through it. Shortly after beginning, Hazel was given a packet of letters written from her great-grandmother to her son, Jack, during WWII. The letters were returned, addressed ‘To Mother’ after Jack went missing in action. He was never found and the family still do not know what happened to him. To have this piece of family history is amazing, and to see the outpouring of emotion and the little snippets of daily life at that time is truly something to be treasured.
Writing can often be a lonely process, so it was been wonderful to share that process with someone else. This book was a challenge in so many ways, but a complete joy in so many others. And the best part? In writing “The End,” we not only completed a book, but we also made an incredible friend along the way.
Last Christmas in Paris is available now wherever books are sold.