Writing The Secret Hours by Santa Montefiore
The Secret Hours was originally called The Forgotten Deverill, and I’d had the idea for some time, ever since book two of the trilogy, Daughters of Castle Deverill. I was going to weave Arethusa Deverill’s story into the narrative, but just didn’t have the space. The book was too long already. So, I held onto her tale and planned to write it one day in the future. I never expected to write it so soon. The thing was, I just missed Castle Deverill and all my characters there so much! I wrote The Temptation of Gracie, which is based in Italy and gave me a good break from Ireland, and then decided I’d return to Ballinakelly. But it had to be written in such a way as to stand alone. I didn’t want people who hadn’t read the trilogy to be put off. Therefore, The Secret Hours begins in the 1960s, almost ten years after the trilogy ends, and flashes back to the mid 1890s, which is over ten years before the trilogy starts.
I had a lot of fun researching the late 1800s. Anne de Courcy’s book, The Husband Hunters, was one of my favourites. I gleaned everything I needed to know about the London Season at a time when all these rich and beautiful young American women were coming over to England to bag an aristocrat. Some of the stories are really entertaining. Who knew that women couldn’t ride down St James’s in an open carriage because of the men’s clubs there? And that the Burlington Arcade was a no-go area in the afternoons because of street walkers? She painted such a vivid picture of London at that time that I was easily able to bring Arethusa’s Season to life in my book.
Writing a prequel to the Deverill trilogy was an interesting and challenging project for me. Every action has a consequence, therefore, everything that happens in the Deverill’s past will have an impact on their future. Relationships like Adeline’s and her daughter Arethusa’s needed to fit in with what came later, because that future was already written. At times it boggled my mind. But it was fun too. It allowed me to add layers to the stories that already existed, making them more interesting for my readers, and more complex for me. For example, I explored Adeline and Kitty’s relationship, why grandmother and granddaughter had such a special bond. In the trilogy, one sees their relationship from Kitty’s perspective. She’s close to her grandmother because of the lack of love she receives from her mother. But in The Secret Hours I was able to look at it from Adeline’s point of view. The fact that her daughter left Ireland never to return left a terrible void. It also taught her valuable lessons which makes her become the admirable person she is in the trilogy. Kitty took the place, as far as she could, of the daughter Adeline had lost.
However, The Secret Hours is not just Arethusa Deverill’s story, but her daughter Faye’s. It was important to add a totally new thread in order for the book to stand alone, rather than it being simply a prequel to the trilogy. Also, by writing two timelines I was able to reveal Arethusa’s story little by little, allowing the reader and Faye to discover together the truth about why she left Ireland, never to return; why she never spoke of her past; why she cut all ties with her family.
There’s nothing like a good mystery to inspire me. What is it about human nature that we crave to know what is hidden from us? If there’s a dark corner, we want to shine a light to see what’s there. Whether it’s yearning to know the truth about the world’s greatest mysteries like Stonehenge, the pyramids and the sphynx or to uncover the deep mysteries of life and death, we cannot avoid being intrigued. When I create my plots, I work out each character’s motivation. What makes them tick. Arethusa rebels against convention, Faye rebels against her passive nature. Arethusa’s secret, long buried in the past, comes to light, and Faye creates a secret of her own. Those secrets were a joy to dream up.
So, what’s next? I am in the finishing stages of the novel which will be published next year. It’s based in England, in a small village, and is a contemporary story that takes place over the course of a year. With every book I write I try to challenge myself and give my readers something a little different. I love what I do and as long as I have new plots up my sleeve and the enthusiasm to put them onto the page, I will continue to write. I read today that Danielle Steel has written 179 books! I thought my 20 were pretty staggering. Clearly, I have a long way to go!