Diana K Holmes
The Modern Girl
Updated: Apr 28, 2019
My favourite kind of book to curl up with has two narratives—one set in the past and the other in the present day—and is full of mystery, intrigue, romance and beautiful settings. I blame it on growing up in rural England surrounded by old manor houses and medieval churches. There's such a strong sense of the past all around that it almost feels like it hasn't gone away. But I live in New Zealand now, where there might not be medieval churches but there are plenty of rambling Victorian houses, incongruously placed amid a raw landscape, and it was one of these which was my inspiration for The Modern Girl. That place became Wharerata (house of the red beard) in my book.
So I had my setting, now I needed people to inhabit it and a time in which to set it. Cue the 1930s. Between the wars was an interesting time, and one of great change. It was also recent enough for people to still be alive who'd lived through it, which was important for my story. The research has been fascinating—ranging from the grim Depression years, to the glamour of Hollywood and, not least, the many examples of 1930s architecture in New Zealand. It's amazing what 1930s gems you find when you're searching for the Ladies behind a cafe's facade—wooden staircases and beautiful stained glass windows (Palmerston North cafe), to a long-since disused cinema ticket box (Dannevirke cafe).
And then I came across an article about a young New Zealand woman who won a beauty pageant and a Hollywood screen test and I knew I'd found my heroine. Emerging from the Victorian world of her parents, Frances is determined to be modern and yearns for the glamour of Hollywood. But life becomes complicated for this innocent abroad and subsequent events become buried under the passing years until her great grand-daughter, Paige, arrives at Wharerata to find a house which has been shut up since 1937. Paige is determined to find out what happened in the house and, in the process, to heal herself from the legacy of that time.
I'm currently in the final stages of revision for The Modern Girl—an excerpt of which you can find here. Let me know what you think!