Bestselling Author


The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry

New York Times bestselling author Patti Callahan Henry joins Jane Healey on the podcast to discuss her new novel, The Secret Book of Flora Lea. When a London woman discovers a rare book with connections to her past, long-held secrets about her missing sister and their childhood in the English countryside during WWII are revealed. As she embarks on a feverish quest, revisiting long-dormant relationships and bravely opening past wounds, her career and future hang in the balance.

Patti Callahan Henry

Patti Callahan Henry is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of several novels, including Surviving Savannah and Becoming Mrs. Lewis. She is the recipient of the Christy Award, the Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of the Year, and the Alabama Library Association Book of the Year Award. She is the co-host and co-creator of the popular weekly web show and podcast Friends & Fiction. A full-time author and mother of three, she lives in Alabama and South Carolina with her family.

Jane welcomes with Patti Callahan Henry about her latest novel, “The Secret Book of Flora Lea.” This New York Times bestselling novel has recently been released in paperback and has received critical acclaim for its enchanting narrative and homage to the art of storytelling. Patti, a celebrated author and podcaster, shares insights into the inspirations behind her book’s evocative settings and the profound historical research that shaped its creation, including the touching and turbulent tales of children evacuated during WWII through Operation Pied Piper.

Here’s what we covered:

  • [00:00:00] Introduction to the episode and guest author Patti Callahan Henry.
  • [00:01:18] Discussion on the novel’s premise and inspiration behind its story.
  • [00:03:29] Exploration of the WWII backdrop, specifically Operation Pied Piper.
  • [00:07:15] Insights into the emotional and logistical aspects of child evacuation during the war.
  • [00:09:11] Patti’s research process and the authenticity it lends to the novel.
  • [00:13:14] The influence of Patti’s personal experiences on the settings in her book.
  • [00:18:00] Balancing historical accuracy with creative storytelling.


[00:00:00] Jane: Welcome to Historical Happy Hour, the podcast that explores new and exciting historical fiction novels. I’m your host, Jane Healey, and in today’s episode, we welcome Patti Callahan Henry to discuss her latest novel, the New York Times bestselling book, The Secret. Book of Flora Lea, which just came out in paperback April 2nd.

Kirkus gave it a starred review and called it magical, an enchanting tribute to the power of storytelling. Thank you so much for coming on, Patti. I’m so happy to be here, Jane. I was so happy when you asked me. Thank you. Thank you. And I know we have a lot of your fans on here, so I feel like you almost don’t need an intro, but I’m going to do one anyway.

Patty Callahan Henry is the New York Times and USA Today best selling author of several novels, including Surviving Savannah and Becoming Mrs. Lewis. She is the recipient of the Christie Award, the Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of the Year, and the Alabama Library Association Book of the Year Award.

She is the co host and co creator of the popular weekly web show and podcast, Friends in Fiction, which I know everyone on here is big book lovers. I highly recommend the podcast. I listen to it all the time. A full time author and mother of three. She lives in Alabama and South Carolina with her family.

Again, welcome.

[00:01:17] Patti: Oh, I’m thrilled to

[00:01:18] Jane: be here. Hi, Sharon. I see you there. Oh, Sharon’s so great. I don’t think Sharon’s missed one. So we’re here to talk about The Secret Book of Flora Lea, which I loved. It’s One of, one of these wonderful stories within a story of novels talk to me about the premise and how you came up with it.

[00:01:35] Patti: So I was doing some research for another novel I wrote called Once Upon a Wardrobe. And in that novel, I go through part of the novel. It’s about a lot of things. But one of the main things it’s about is the seven events in C. S. Lewis’s life that I can see inside the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And one of those events.

is Operation Pied Piper. It’s when children left the cities to live in the country to be kept safe from German bombs. And when I read it, I knew about it, but I didn’t know what it was called. And when I saw Operation Pied Piper this thing clicked in me that is a very terrible legend. And that, and we can talk about that legend in a minute if you’d like, but What it did is it immediately made me imagine two children, and that’s what the book is about.

It is about two sisters, Hazel and Flora Lea, and they are sent away in 1939 from their loving home in London at Mecklenburg Square in Bloomsbury to live in the countryside of England with a mother and son in the Oxfordshire countryside. And Hazel and Flora Lea are sent away, and Hazel, to keep her little sister calm, makes up a fairytale world for her little sister, Flora Lea.

The fairytale world is called Whisperwood and the River of Stars. And it is where they go together. It is a secret place only the two of them know about. A year goes by and Floralee disappears. And Hazel believes that she went to look for Whisperwood and something terrible happened. Twenty years goes by and Hazel finds a book called Whisperwood.

Which means that the fairy tale survived. So if the fairy tale survived, how did her sister? And that is what sets the story in motion.

[00:03:29] Jane: Such a good premise. The mystery of it all of it. I, I wanted to, you brought up Operation Pied Piper. That was actually one of my questions. I knew about it too.

I didn’t really know it was called that. And it’s a really unfortunate name if you want to talk a little bit about that to start. And also, I didn’t know how massive it was. I, you say September of 1939, in four days, over 800, 000 children were evacuated from the, from major cities. And I didn’t have an understanding of the numbers until this book, until I read your notes, it was shocking.

[00:04:00] Patti: So Operation Pied Piper, when I saw the name, I’m going to go back to the origin of it, which was that. When I saw the name, I had this kind of tingly sense at Jane, I know you get it when you, which means you’re curious about something. And if you’re curious about something, we ignore it at our own creative peril, right?

So I had that feeling like down my neck and down my arms. And it was all about for me that I’m a huge lover of myth and legend and obviously fairy tales. And I thought, I don’t think that’s a very good legend and I looked it up and it’s not. It’s a terrible German legend about a piper who plays a flute and leads children out of a German hamlet and the children disappear forever and drown in the river wyvern.

What the heck? Why would the British government name an operation to keep children safe After a legend of drowned and disappeared children. And so that’s when I started to dive really deep into what Operation Pied Piper was. And that was where the idea for Floralee disappearing at the banks of a river came from.

And as Hazel says in the book, it is a horror of a name for an operation that is meant to keep children safe. But yes, you already mentioned 800, 000 Children were sent away over four days. They say it was one of the most successful operations of the war. Now the Brits call operations schemes. So it was a scheme to say, to help save these children.

And it’d been in the works for months and months. There were posters all over the big cities. So if you lived in London, you’d see a poster about it, send your children away. And everybody knew that the edict would come down and that the edict would come down through the schools. You would get the notice at school.

And so they would send their children off to school every day with a knapsack. With packed in case they had to leave a gas mask and a luggage tag around their neck. That said where they were from, what school they went to and what town they were from. Because the children wouldn’t know where they were going.

The edict came down that day in 1939 in September and 100, 000 teachers were involved. And helping get these children where they needed to go. They were put on buses, and they were put on trains, and they were sent to the countryside, the seaside, Wales, Penzance, everywhere, where they thought the bombs might not drop.

And logistically, These children would get to a town and they would go to the town center or the church or wherever there was a gathering place. And then families that had already been chosen to bill it, which is what they call having somebody stay at your house would go into these places and say, I choose you.

I, can you imagine? You’re a kid, you’re seven years old, you just got sent away, exiled from home, and you’re sitting on a bench in a town hall, and families walk in and choose. And if there were leftover children, they would have to go door to try to give them away.

[00:07:15] Jane: So awful. I was reading that scene and I was like, talk about trauma after trauma.

Like you just pulled away from your parents and then you have to be like, you have to sit and be chosen or not. Yeah. Horrible. Horrible. Yeah, I actually, that was my next question. I was like, I can’t even believe that happened to these poor kids. And the question of as a mother, could you do that?

Could you just, I just recently rewatched the Guernsey literary and potato peel society. And the grandfather puts his grandson on the boat, and I’m like, Oh, it’s just heartbreaking, heartbreaking,

[00:07:49] Patti: and it’s, we watch it and we, we ask ourselves that question, could I do that from our.

Time and place and space, right? I couldn’t do that. I would go with them or, but it’s 1939. England is coming together. They are going to do anything to win this war and not be invaded. And they’re doing what the government tells them to do, believing that they will keep their children safe.

And for the most part, they did. There’s terrible stories and there’s wonderful stories, just like you would expect the children who were sent away. There are that many stories. I read a lot of first person accounts I interviewed, they call themselves evacuees. And of course they’re, we’re losing most of them.

They’d be in their nineties, late eighties and nineties now. So I did get to interview one in, when I was in London, they all pretty much tell the same story of the edicts coming down. getting on the train, being chosen by a family, being separated from their siblings, being sent to different homes.

And some people got great families and some people got terrible families. So

[00:08:56] Jane: yeah, just fascinating. That’s amazing. You got to interview. I think that’s one thing that I think it’s so important about these World War II stories because we are losing that generation, there’s not that many left now, and it’s just, it’s really nice to preserve the history in novels like this.

[00:09:11] Patti: Yeah, especially a good oral history. There’s a number of books about evacuees and, to have that oral and which is now written history I think is really important. Yes. Completely. Because they didn’t really talk about it. No. Like, when I finished interviewing her, I said when, cause her, she and her brother were separated.

I said, did you, when your brother, and they all survived, their dad survived, they all ended up back together. I said, did you and your brother talk about it when you got back together? And she said, never. Wow.

[00:09:43] Jane: I

[00:09:44] Patti: know

[00:09:45] Jane: that’s unbelievable. But then I think that it was a generational thing. Like my grandfather was in World War Two, never talked about his experiences.

I think it was just like moving, they put it in a box and moved on, got out of life. Yeah. Yeah. I want to talk. I love research, of course. And so talk to me about your research process for the story. It sounds like you did travel for it. Any surprises, I love all those tidbits.

Yeah. Oh, Jay, I know you do the same thing. For me, the research is multi, multi layered. So I always start with reading. I start reading, is this a story I really want to tell? Is this, is that initial impulse right? Is it a dead end? So I do a lot of reading. I read a lot of, like I said, first person accounts about what it was like to be sent away, what other books were written about it.

[00:10:34] Patti: And then I start building my story around the timeline. So then the next phase is a lot about what was going on in exactly September 1939 in this very particular location, what was it like in London and what was it like in Oxford? Then it was a lot about what it was like to be sheltered and exiled from your family, because I wasn’t writing about World War II in a way that so many amazing books have been written.

I don’t have spies. I don’t have, you don’t even see any, we see one scene of London’s some of the carnage of a bombing, but on the whole, we are in a bubble in Oxford for most of this novel. So the war itself is like a out here affecting the kids, but not something they see every day. And that is a very different experience than being, in a place that’s being blitzed, blitz creeped.

So then the next thing I usually do once I get rolling with the story is visit the places where this story takes place. And every single location in this novel that you read about, I put my feet on. So I can’t, you can’t always do that, but for this novel, I could. So every scene, whether it’s Bloomsbury, Mecklenburg Square, an antiquarian bookshop where Hazel works, Oxfordshire, Binsey, the river, a pub.

I’m sorry, I had to go to pubs. All of that, every single place you went, I went before you so and then interviews, so I I don’t do research on the front end and then I do a little bit, then I start weaving it together, then when I’m about at a certain point where I need what I need, then I go visit.

So I was over there for about a month, visiting all the way down to Cornwall because we have some scenes in Cornwall insane Ives and all of that.

[00:12:31] Jane: Oh, amazing. What about Cape Cod? Did you make it to Cape Cod? Oh gosh, and Cape Cod! Yes,

[00:12:36] Patti: definitely I did. So I grew up going to Cape Cod. Oh, you did? I know I’m a Southern author and everybody thinks I’m a Southern girl but I’m actually not.

I grew up outside Philadelphia. And until I was 13 and my dad was a preacher. And so we had, he got summer, like a large, like teachers, you got a large chunk of summer off. And I spent all my summers until I was 13 on this little spit of land in Orleans in Cape Cod. So I didn’t. Yeah. And then I got to go when I was writing the book and then I got to go when the book was published.

So it was really fun revisiting that place and what it felt like.

[00:13:14] Jane: Oh, really fun. I love Orleans. I love that part of the Cape is a little quieter,

[00:13:18] Patti: yeah. Beach and I just were all Meg’s lane was where I was Crystal Lake. So I went back and I just. I love it there. I have to say, I would like to figure out how to go once a summer, but it doesn’t always happen.

But I left when I was 13 and then I didn’t go back for years and years. Jane, those formative years, like those memories are implanted. They are what it feels like, smells like, almost more than any other place we go to later in life. That’s so true. Totally.

[00:13:52] Jane: I want to talk about Hugo’s Rare Bookshop because this is a story about the power of stories and storytelling.

I loved all the literary references, of course, like so much fun. I love that early on you mentioned this 1932 letter from Hemingway to Fitzgerald oh my gosh, I love stuff like that. And there’s like a vintage books here in Gloucester, Mass called Dog, Dogtown Books that’s like that. It has all the old, very old like vintage mini books, like mini Pride and Prejudice and all this great stuff.

Talk to me about how you came up with this bookshop. Was it based on a bookshop that you went to in London or did you just create your, like your dream bookstore. A little bit of both.

[00:14:31] Patti: So I definitely made it up at first. I knew that I wanted Hazel to be working in an antiquarian bookshop when she found this.

Rare edition of Whisperwood. So I needed her to be in a place, and I, there are a lot of reasons I put her in a bookshop. Most of them had to do with character development. I wanted her to be a stifled writer. I wanted her to be what I call a shadow artist. Which is a term I took from Julia Cameron, who wrote The Artist’s Way.

But it’s essentially a person who surrounds themselves with the things that They love that they’re scared to do. So I have Hazel working in an antiquarian bookshop. She collects notebooks that she never writes in. She collects antique pens and inkwells. She hangs out in coffee shops where writers hang out, but she won’t let herself make up stories anymore because she believes that her story made her sister disappear.

And so I knew I needed her in that. Environment in that milieu. And so I designed an antiquarian bookstore in London. I did some research. I looked at some of them. But you asked about an interesting story from research. So this is one of them. So when I went there, I hired like a tour guide company for a couple of things.

One to give me a tour of Binsey, one to help me meet with the owner of an antique bookshop. And. My book opens with Hazel working in an antiquarian bookshop called Hogan’s Rare Books and Tim and Edwin run the store. Edwin is the father and Tim is the son. And for those of you who haven’t read it, I won’t spoil anything, but the opening scene Hazel does something regrettable that affects Tim.

Okay, so I go to this rare bookshop to interview him so that I can get what it really looks like and feels like correct in my novel and I walk in the front door and I hold out my hand and I say hi I’m Patti and I’m here to interview the owner x and x tour guide you know set it up and this man stood there he had white hair and wire rimmed glasses and a little white beard exactly what like he stepped out of central casting of an antique bookshore and he said hi i’m the owner my name is tim

[00:16:58] Jane: oh that’s crazy i know i love that i was

[00:17:01] Patti: so floored i was just like oh my god that’s so crazy he’s like of course you are of course you are and so I said, no way, that’s the name of my bookshop owner in the book.

He said, you’re going to name him after me. I said, no, that’s like already his name. Like the book is being written. So I, what I usually do in those instances is that I had already designed the store. I had already written most of the book and then I take what I learn there and weave it in. So I went to visit, it’s a little store it’s called Buyers and it’s on Cecil Lane in London.

And I went there and I learned a lot from him about how they, operate a store, where they store the books, what counts as Antique, what doesn’t, what’s most valuable, and I don’t want to give everybody a lesson in a book. That’s not why they’re reading it. They’re reading it to find out what happens to Flora Lea.

But I did take a lot of the things I learned from Tim and weave them into the antique bookstore.

[00:18:00] Jane: Yeah, and that’s an interesting point because I think that you have to make it authentic to the experience of someone who works at a bookstore. And I think people like to read about work, like about what people do for jobs.

Yes, especially jobs that can be so exotic. Yeah, like that’s a little different. But at the same time, like you don’t want to take them out of the story too much. That balance, I find, is important. It’s tricky,

[00:18:23] Patti: jane, because when you’re doing historical research, you want everybody to know all the great stuff you learned, right?

Oh, yeah. You can’t. You can’t. You can try and get as much of it in as you can, but at some point and we’ll talk about what I’m working on now later, but Part of it has a tiny bit to do with Beatrix Potter. And my agent read one of the versions. She was like, I think we’re a little heavy handed on Beatrix.


[00:18:48] Jane: like, I know, but there’s so much. Oh, that’s good stuff. Yeah. Yeah. Like it’s

[00:18:53] Patti: just so hard not to put

[00:18:55] Jane: it in. Yeah. So good. I want to talk about people always ask in on these webinars about cover design. This is a beautiful cover. I’ll try to hold it up. And I looked up Benzi after after reading the book, of course, and now I like, appreciate the cover even more because it looks like pictures and photos.

It doesn’t it? It really does. And so did you have say in the cover design? Do you have much say?

[00:19:18] Patti: I have, I do get some say I gave them a mood board. So I gave them a board with, so I published with Atria, Simon and Schuster, and they asked for what are your ideas? And so I made this whole kind of mood board and on the mood board were pictures I had taken in Binzie.

But I had a lot of things on there. It was a mishmash of all my favorite. What I didn’t want was a little girl with a suitcase or a train. That’s what I didn’t want. But I have been through a lot. This is my 18th book. I’ve been through a lot of covers and a lot of covers that I’ve had to negotiate or fight over.

Or I know Sharon you’re always so kind about Surviving Savannah. If you could have seen that first cover. It was and so I’m used to fighting for covers and holding my breath when the email comes in, Jane, you see that, and that the title line is cover idea. Do I open it. This was the first cover.

[00:20:23] Jane: Oh,

[00:20:23] Patti: amazing. So they nailed it. They nailed it. We made a couple tweaks like in color. That was it. We nailed it.

[00:20:31] Jane: Yeah, it’s my

[00:20:32] Patti: favorite cover. I just think it’s and all of the covers have been astounding. My Australian cover was, oh my gosh, drop dead the British cover. The Canadian cover was gorgeous.

So I think just this kind of story. lends itself well to a really atmospheric cover.

[00:20:53] Jane: Yeah, I think too, because it’s like part fairy tale, part like beautiful countryside setting, and yeah, it’s

[00:20:59] Patti: important in it. Yes.

[00:21:01] Jane: Yeah, totally agree. I want to ask a few writing related questions that I always ask, and then I will turn it over and take questions from the audience.

Are you In terms of writing process, are you a plotter or are you a pantser? Do you write by the seat of your pants or do you plot things out? So I’ve changed through the years and I once heard an interview with Neil Gaiman and he described it as architect versus gardener and I don’t think he’s the originator of that, but I really like that.

[00:21:31] Patti: It feels more like how I would describe. So I’m an architect who gardens. So I used to be a total pantser, I have an idea and I’m just going to go for it. But once I started writing historicals, right when I wrote Becoming Mrs. Lewis, which is a true story of the improbable love story between C. S.

Lewis and his wife, Joy Davidman. And I needed to outline at least a little bit because. It was a true story that I was writing as a fiction, but I couldn’t get it wrong. These are beloved and well known people. So I spent a long time kind of building an architectural framework, but not outlining. And so that has, I do that now.

I spend a lot of time on the front end with these things, the historical time period, what my character wants. why they want it, why they can’t get it, what is holding them back and what will they get in the end. And as I start to work through those things, as I start to really nail that down, I don’t outline the book, but I have what I need to start making seeds.

[00:22:51] Jane: Excellent. I’m always fascinated to learn about process and

[00:22:54] Patti: everybody’s different. And guess what I hear. I hear, when we interview people on friends and fiction, and people talk about their process. I don’t know any two people have ever been the same. And, some people outlined so much that if I did that I’d never write the book.

Like our Mary Kay, she just. We’ll see what happens. I don’t know who did it. And I’m like, oh my god. I know that I’m faster than Hank. Philippi Ryan is a friend and she’s yeah, I just sit down every day and I’m just like typing. I’m like, what are you talking about? What are you talking about?

[00:23:26] Jane: That’s so crazy. That’s crazy. So I want to also ask about character development because you’re it’s filled with wonderful quirky well drawn characters like is your do you feel it your way along with figuring out the characters do you do those character profiles at the beginning like

[00:23:46] Patti: what do you think?

I don’t do character profiles as much as I do Need to know Like I said what they want or how they’re going to keep my main character from getting what they want I need to know why they are the way they are. For example, We’ll just use barnaby who is hazel’s boyfriend. I don’t have I don’t want him to just be Not a great boyfriend just for the cause of it.

I need to have, who is he? Why is he the way he is? And so that’s the kind of character development I do. I need to know to use a very kind of techie word in writing. I need to know what their wound is or what it is that, that, that is making them into who they are. And I do spend some time on that. On the front end, so that as they start to act and react in a novel, they have motivation to do it.

I’m not just having them willy nilly blow up about this or get mad about that. And I know those who have heard me on Friends in Fiction, I say this all the time, but I’m a pretend psychoanalyst. So I take these characters and I play psychoanalysts. And I like to give them an Enneagram number, and I like to find out what their wounds are.

And I think that’s the way I do character development. I don’t do profiles. I just play with their psychology.

[00:25:09] Jane: Fascinating. Very cool. This is, we touched upon this a little bit, but how do you strike a balance between fact and fiction in your storytelling, and are there any strict rules you follow?

Is there any? That’s a good question. I don’t think there’s any strict rules I follow. I will never stray from dates or times if they’re real. I’m not going to put a battle in a different place, or a I’ll compress time in a novel, for example, and becoming Mrs. Lewis, a year might pass, but I’ll say it, say that we’re, that a year has passed.

[00:25:46] Patti: I don’t try to, um, for me, it depends on whether it’s about a real person or a real time. But if it’s about a real person or about a real time, I don’t stray from the facts because those are the skeleton of the story. And then what, how I decide what to put in and what not to put in. It has to serve the story and the overarching question that the story is asking.

So what the overarching question, of course, in the Secret Book of Flora Lea is what happened to Flora Lea? So everything I put in has to touch back to that central question. Excellent.

[00:26:27] Jane: Yeah, such a good answer. Does that make sense? That totally makes sense. Yeah, I like I’m like, I need to take notes

[00:26:37] Patti: about that, too.

I think that’s almost an essay. It’s really good.

[00:26:41] Jane: It’s good. I know we have aspiring writers, authors in the audience. What’s the best advice you can give them about writing and about getting published? You’ve been successful and in this industry for a long time. I know that, Two different answers, essentially.

But what can you say about that?

[00:26:57] Patti: Um, I think they’re the same answer if I’m gonna, if I’m gonna boil it down. And that’s, and I know it sounds trite, but it’s not. It’s perseverance. Because I am telling you, there are a thousand juncture points on this journey when I had a thousand reasons to quit doing it.

I wasn’t getting published. I couldn’t find an agent. I got a bad. I entered a contest and got a terrible feedback. I had an editor who quit. I had a book that bombed. This is my 18th book. I’ve had a lot of junctures along the way that were, I give up or I don’t. And it’s the same with writing.

You sit down, You persevere, you try to find the story. I, it also helps that I’m obsessed, right? So I’m obsessed with craft and story and psychology. So every day, even if I’m not actively writing a new scene or chapter, I’m doing something that has something to do with the book and that all comes down to persevering and listen, the book that I have coming out next year, I wrote an entire manuscript.

A year and had to throw it away. And I could have easily said, that’s it. I just cannot, I’m done. This is, but you just go back the next day and do it again.

[00:28:24] Jane: Yeah, wow, that’s impressive. And I think that is I think one of the themes I asked this question every time with authors and I always and I say it when I’m asked it publishing is persistence, like on every level, because you can get knocked down a lot in this industry.

And you just get keep on going the next day.

[00:28:40] Patti: Yeah, I think, it’s really interesting, too, because I think It’s any creative endeavor, right? It is not a win lose game. It is not a zero sum game and failure is only information to do it different the next time. And it’s not, we look around us.

My, my husband’s a real estate guru guy, right? If he tries to give me advice, I’m like, zip it, zippy, because the rules out there in the world about winning and losing and succeeding and not succeeding have very little to do with a creative career.

[00:29:18] Jane: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. Yeah, I know. I’m the same way with my husband until the book is like pretty much going to the printer.

I’m like, now you can read it. Like now I’m ready. Don’t mess up the mojo. That’s right. So you just you hinted at what you’re working on now. Can you share that with everybody?

[00:29:38] Patti: Sure. Okay. I’m going to look in the chat because I’m going to let you guys give thumbs up and thumbs down for the title.

Okay. So I’m not going to tell you exactly what the book’s about because it’s still in edits and can shift, but I can, I’ll tell you a little bit about what inspired it because I think it’s really interesting. So I thought I was going to write a book about Beatrix Potter. And I decided not to, but I had done a lot of research on her and she is so fascinating.

Of course, we know she wrote Peter Rabbit. She saved the Lake District of England. She there was a movie about her, Miss Potter with Renee Zellweger. So most people know she was raised in a very oppressive Victorian home and her mother did not want her to be a And she fell in love with her publisher.

And they got secretly engaged and then her publisher died and she moved out to the Lake district as a single woman and wrote, that’s where she wrote most of her work, Tom Kitten, Jemima Puddle Duck, all the books that we read to our kids.

[00:30:40] Jane: And when

[00:30:40] Patti: she, and what, with all the money she made, She bought all these farms in the Lake District, 15 of them, thousands of acres in the Lake District of England.

And for those of you who don’t know, it’s northern England, a little to the west of Scotland. And when she died, she left all of it to the UK Land Trust.

[00:31:02] Jane: Oh, wow.

[00:31:03] Patti: That is why. We can, the Lake District looks the way it looks today because she helped save it from being developed. But I’ve learned this one little interesting fact.

Between the ages of 18 and 30, Beatrix Potter kept a journal written in a secret coded language that she made up. So the mother And a man came along and decided he was going to decode her, this little 18 year old girl’s language, and it took him like 20 years or something. And he finally did. But yeah he couldn’t decode this language that this genius 18 year old made up so that nobody could read her journals.

And that really fascinated me. And this idea that. women had to make up their own language in an inhospitable world. So my story is about a child prodigy author, the secret book of Beatrix Potter. It’s about a woman who, a band who made up her own secret language and she was a child prodigy author. And she wrote a book that became a huge bestseller and she wrote the sequel, but she wrote the sequel in her secret coded language.

So that’s the back story. When the story opens, this woman’s daughter is now 35 and her mother, who wrote the sequel in a coded language, abandoned the family 25 years ago. And she left behind an eight year old daughter. Broken hearts, a husband and a sequel that could not be translated. And now 25 years later, the daughter gets a call that the language somebody has the language.

And so the sequel can be translated and it’s the story of what she does to figure out what happened to her mother.

[00:32:59] Jane: Dietrich’s Potter, but it is not. It is not about that.

[00:33:03] Patti: We do

[00:33:03] Jane: go to the Lake

[00:33:04] Patti: District though. So we do get to go out there. Okay. So here’s the title. All right. Thumbs up or thumbs down. You guys ready?

The story she left behind.

[00:33:17] Jane: Oh, I like it.

[00:33:18] Patti: You like it.

[00:33:18] Jane: I really like it. Yeah. I think that’s a good one. I see some thumbs up. Apparently if I do this, my thumb, like it shows on the camera sometimes on zoom. What’s that all about? I just did it. I don’t know.

[00:33:31] Patti: Okay, I’m getting a lot of them.

Oh, good. I’m glad you guys love it. The other the other title was The Forgotten Lake, and I just felt like it didn’t say enough. Yeah no. I, yeah, I like this one much better. Excellent. Yeah, I’m really excited about because it has such a double entendre to it comes out next year.

Not only did she leave behind a story. Oh, I love you guys saying love the title of the title. Thank you. Yeah, like language barriers. That’s a good one. But yes, so it’s not only the sequel she left behind, which is the story, but also the story of what happened to her. Exactly. Nobody knows what happened to her.

Love it. Love the premise. And they know she left, but they don’t know where she went, what she did, who she became. So it’s a mystery in many ways.

[00:34:17] Jane: Excellent. I’m going to jump to questions cause we’re getting, getting on in the hour. I could chat with you. I have 15 other questions here, but I’m going to take questions from the audience instead.

Sharon says, Oh, and actually Sharon, this was one of my questions. Perfect. Do you enjoy writing historical fiction more than contemporary fiction? You’re so passionate about the research. I bet it’s hard to switch.

[00:34:37] Patti: Do I like writing historical fiction better than contemporary fiction? Is that the question?

Yeah, that’s the question. Yeah. Do you have a preference? Sorry, you went out for a second. I loved writing contemporary fiction when I was writing it, and I love historical fiction while I’m writing it. I don’t see going back to contemporary fiction, but I can tell you that if a story came to me that I was obsessed with, I would.

So it’s all about what I’m curious about. And right now I’m curious about stories that are usually a little bit lost to time or set in a time period that I’m fascinated with.

[00:35:16] Jane: Remember, if you have questions, you can put them in the chat or in the Q& A. Let me see if I missed any here. Nope. I actually, one of the questions I was going to ask, you mentioned the Beatrix Potter books.

I like remember my original copies. I love them so much. There’s, those are so beautiful. Did you have particular books that were like so special to you growing up? I’m sure you did. What were some of

[00:35:36] Patti: those? Oh my gosh. Of course I was obsessed with Narnia. But I loved Little House on the Prairie books.

I read and reread them. I was obsessed with Pippi Longstocking. I don’t know. I just wanted to climb trees and be wild and live out in nature. I loved Nancy Drew who didn’t. I was obsessed with Charlotte’s Web. I think I read it a thousand times. All the books, everybody else, all the classics.

Yeah. The ones we were formed by in the

[00:36:03] Jane: seventies. Yeah. Totally. Mindy Elric asks, what are you, what are the two lovely ladies reading? What are you reading right now?

[00:36:11] Patti: What am I reading right now? I keep suggesting I finished it a little bit ago, but the frozen river. Oh,

[00:36:17] Jane: excellent. I read that.

[00:36:18] Patti: That’s been a book I’ve been an evangelist for. Yes. I just think it’s absolutely incredible. Yes. I just finished Lisa Wingate’s new one, shelter Wood, and it is. Drop dead amazing.

[00:36:29] Jane: Oh, nice.

[00:36:30] Patti: I love that one. It’s so funny. I’m looking over. I think, our friends in fiction, ladies summers at the saint comes out this week.

[00:36:38] Jane: That’s right.

[00:36:38] Patti: Yeah. We’re all going to be in Florida. And so it’s amazing. And Christie’s new one, a happier life, Christie Woodson, Harvey, it’s so good. And it has all the good stuff about the the Southern dinner parties and entertaining, but there’s a really big mystery at the heart of the story.

And a house that’s been abandoned. It’s got all the good stuff in it. Oh gosh, I read a book that came out about a year and a half ago because everybody kept talking about it and I just loved it. It was called Go as a River by Shelley Reed. Oh, I heard that was

[00:37:11] Jane: excellent. I have not read it. It is so good.

I’m going to write that down. Yeah. I really loved it. Yeah. I’m reading, I’m about to start The Goddess of Warsaw by Lisa Barr. Cause she’s coming up. I can’t wait

[00:37:23] Patti: to read that. Yeah. And for all of you out there, I’m always putting on my Instagram, what I’m reading, even what I’m looking forward to reading, even if I haven’t read it yet.

I actually did a post today, like the pile of what I’m looking forward to. I know Erica Roebuck has a new one out. Lisa Barr has a new one out. Mark Sullivan has a new one out, under the Scarlet sty. He has a brand new one out on the glimmering under the glimmering star. Oh, it’s right there, but I don’t want to get up.

And then yeah, there’s so many, there’s so many good books. And of course, who hasn’t read the women if you haven’t. Oh, so drop everything you’re doing and go get it.

[00:38:02] Jane: Yeah, so heartbreaking, but so so good. Yeah. Oh there here’s a question. Where would it go? Oh, what do you when you read for enjoyment?

What and who do you read? Do you read outside of historical fiction? Because I do. Yeah, all the time. Yeah. Wait,

[00:38:18] Patti: you didn’t answer what you were reading. Oh, yeah.

[00:38:21] Jane: Goddess of Warsaw by Lisa Burr, but also and I’m gonna, I can’t remember the name of it. I’m a huge ton of French fan. She’s double.

Yeah. So I’m gonna it’s on my pile, man. She I love her. She’s so good. Yeah, she’s so good. And I’m, yeah I’m a huge mis, like I love a good mystery, like Good Lisa Jewel. Love Lisa Jewel. Yeah. Oh, she’s amazing. Yeah. Yeah. She’s

[00:38:42] Patti: I love listening

[00:38:43] Jane: to her talk. Oh, I know. Yeah. So good. Let me see. I think, oh, people have raised hands.

Can you answer in the chat instead? I haven’t, we haven’t done the raised hands thing before. Let me see. Wait, someone said, I

[00:38:56] Patti: found you in the paddock of a racetrack. That is hilarious. Oh

[00:39:01] Jane: my God, that’s amazing. Oh, Patricia,

[00:39:04] Patti: that is the best story I’ve heard all day. I am loving that. You have to share that on Friends in Fiction.

I do, and not only that, but losing the moon is hilarious. It’s 22 years old. Oh, wow. It’s my very first novel. I should go back and read it. I haven’t read it in 20 years. I bet there’s so much I would change.

[00:39:24] Jane: Oh, I yeah, I know my first one came out eight years ago and it would be a very different book today.

It’s hard to look at now, but, it’s like your baby

[00:39:32] Patti: book, what are you gonna do?

[00:39:33] Jane: Oh my gosh,

[00:39:34] Patti: that’s great. And Patricia, you said you live in old Greenwich. My sister lives in old Greenwich.

[00:39:38] Jane: Oh, yeah. Patricia. Hello. Hello. All these lovely people. You had so many lovely compliments too, and I’ll, so I’ll send you the text messages of all of these.

Oh, I’d love to see it. Yeah.

[00:39:49] Patti: And Sharon, you’re right, Joy Calloway’s book was amazing.

[00:39:52] Jane: Oh yeah. Oh, I wanted to, before we leave, what is the best, what is the way you prefer readers keep in touch with you? What’s the best way? Besides Friends in Fiction podcast, which everyone should follow and listen to.

Oh gosh,

[00:40:03] Patti: I’m really active on Instagram. I try and answer all my DMs and that there’s no way, Jane, and you know this, there’s no way to do all the social media platforms. We’d never write another book. No, so the advice is always given pick the one you’re the most comfortable with and do and I am.

I love Instagram. I love anything visual. Now that said, I am really loving Substack. It’s for me, it is, So much fun. I don’t charge for my newsletter. Some people, but Substack is so much fun. And I’m having so much fun writing longer form content over there. So my newsletters coming from there are much more chatty.

They’re not just news. They’re about what I’m doing, what I’m reading. I always do a list of the things that are inspiring me right now. And And I do everything from books to podcasts, to movies, to TV shows, and music. So I’m loving Substack. So if you want to meet me over there, it’s a really great place, I think, for readers.

Yeah. Oh, excellent.

[00:41:05] Jane: Excellent. It was so lovely to meet you, Patty. Thank you so much for doing this tonight. Yeah. And thank you everyone for coming on. Next up is Lisa Barr. The registration is on janeHealey. com. If you want to attend the next one, I believe it’s June 5th or 6th right around my daughter’s 21st birthday.

So it’s going to be a busy week. But okay. My

[00:41:24] Patti: son is getting married in 10 days.

[00:41:26] Jane: Oh my gosh. So thank you.

[00:41:28] Patti: You must be crazy. Thank you so much for being on today. I’m . Oh, I’m so happy to be here and all of you in the chat. I wish I could answer everything. Thank you so much for coming and spending time with us.

This has been really fun, Jane. Thank you for having me. So fun.

[00:41:42] Jane: Thank you again. Have a great night everyone. Thank you Patty. Take care. Good night.


Hosted by Jane Healey, Historical Happy Hour is a live interview and podcast featuring premiere historical fiction authors and their latest novels.

Jane Healey

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