Having discovered Gill Paul’s excellent writing and wonderful storytelling last year with The Secret Wife, I was so looking forward to reading her latest, Another Woman’s Husband, to be published in hardback and for kindle by Headline on 17th August. When I reviewed Gill’s last book (you’ll find that review here), I told everyone how enthralled I always am by any stories focused on the Romanovs. But if Gill had then sat me down and asked me “so what would you most like me to write about next?”, she really couldn’t have done any better than this…
Two women who challenged the Crown.
Divided by time. Bound by a secret…
At the age of fifteen, carefree Mary Kirk and indomitable Wallis Warfield meet at summer camp. Their friendship will survive heartbreaks, separation and the demands of the British Crown until it is shattered by one unforgivable betrayal.
Rachel’s romantic break in Paris with her fiancé ends in tragedy when the car ahead crashes. Inside was Princess Diana. Back in Brighton, Rachel is haunted by the accident, and intrigued to learn the princess had visited the last home of Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, only hours before the crash. Soon, the discovery of a long-forgotten link to Wallis Simpson leads Rachel to the truth behind a scandal that shook the world…
Richly imagined and beautifully written, Another Woman’s Husband is a gripping, moving novel about two women thrust into the spotlight, followed by scandal, touched by loss.
I’ve always been totally fascinated by the story of Wallis Simpson and the constitutional crisis in which she found herself caught up – but I think I’ve always had a slightly rose-tinted view of her involvement, of a king turning down his destiny for love. I knew little about her early life, and very little about the German connection or what happened to the couple when the furore was over. Through meticulous research and the most fluent of story telling, Gill Paul brings her vividly to life in this book – her family and personal life, aspects of her personality and behaviour I’d never been aware of. I very much liked the way she handled it – rather than focusing squarely on Wallis, she filters her through the eyes of lifelong friend, Mary Kirk. I loved Mary’s story – always in the shadows, the support for Wallis’ larger-than-life presence, then moving centre-stage with her own moving story.
The Diana story is also looked at obliquely, through the eyes of chance observers – and Rachel’s well-developed fictional story works so well to reveal parts of the story, to look at the Diana obsession that followed her death, the speculation around the cause of her death. I loved the whole story around trying to save her vintage clothing business, the sourcing of the rare pieces, the fashion detail, while her partner obsessively pursues the truth around Diana’s death for a TV documentary to the detriment of their relationship. And the links between the two stories, other than the obvious royal one, were totally inspired, and so well done.
I adored this book – a tremendous story, really several stories imaginatively and cleverly woven together, with a seamless fusing of fact and fiction. And it’s all underpinned by the most meticulous research of the historical detail – I found the book’s postscripts providing the detail and sources almost as fascinating as the book itself.
So I’m particularly delighted that my guest post from Gill is about some of that research – and collecting experts:
In Another Woman’s Husband, I have Rachel discover a 1930s Mainbocher dress in a trunk at a client’s home. I wanted her to be able to establish that it had been Wallis Simpson’s dress so I emailed Mainbocher in New York to ask how many copies had been made of that particular garment and what information they kept on their customers. No reply. A friend then put me in touch with John Peacock, a BBC costume designer who has written dozens of books on fashion, and he explained that Mainbocher would have made a dummy of Wallis’s measurements and would almost certainly still have it. Exactly what I wanted to hear – and I was delighted to add another name to my eclectic ‘phone-a-friend’ list.
I might play fast and loose with some aspects of history in my novels but I try to get the details accurate, so my address book contains an ever-expanding list of people who are experts in their field. I met a wildlife chap at a party, who was able to tell me all the creatures Kitty Fisher in The Secret Wife would have heard as she sat by Lake Akanabee in the evenings (frogs would have been the loudest). I’ve got a friend who lectures on photography and is an expert on the technicalities of old cameras, which has been invaluable for several novels. I was once emailed by a couple who run the Royal Signals Museum and they have become my go-to experts for anything to do with ranks and uniforms. Fab crime writer Marnie Riches is my top person if I have a question like: “If a body has been dug up after thirty years in the ground, what will it look like?” And I must mention Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books who gave me a quick master-class in bread-making with minimal ingredients for No Place for a Lady.
I’ll usually try and get a historian with an interest in the area to be one of my early readers, hoping they will pick up my worst howlers before they get into print. Having the wrong king on the throne during the sinking of the Titanic; confusing my Russian Orthodox ceremonies; making London hospitals in the 1850s a bit too safe and sanitised – these are all mistakes I’ve made in the past that my experts have corrected. (Unfortunately no one spotted that I have Diana in The Affair wear tights rather than stockings a year before tights were introduced in the UK. Gah!)
So if you are an expert in some obscure area, please do get in touch. You never know when I might need you…
Thank you Gill – and thank you for writing one of my favourite books of the year. My thanks too to Phoebe Swinburn at Headline for her support, and to both of you for inviting me to be part of the tour. My advance reading e-copy was provided by the publishers via netgalley. And you will follow the other stops on the tour, won’t you?
About the author
Gill Paul is an author of historical fiction, specialising in recent history. Her other novels include Women and Children First, about a young steward who works on the Titanic; The Affair, set in Rome in 1961–62 as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton fall in love while making Cleopatra; and No Place for a Lady, about two Victorian sisters who travel out to the Crimean War of 1854–56 and face challenges beyond anything they could have imagined.
Gill also writes historical non-fiction, including A History of Medicine in 50 Objects (to be published 1st October 2016) and a series of Love Stories, each containing fourteen tales of real-life couples: how they met, why they fell for each other, and what happened in the end. Published around the world, this series includes Royal Love Stories, World War I Love Stories and Titanic Love Stories.
Gill was born in Glasgow and grew up there, apart from an eventful year at school in the US when she was ten. She studied Medicine at Glasgow University, then English Literature and History (she was a student for a long time), before moving to London to work in publishing. She started her own company producing books for publishers, along the way editing such luminaries as Griff Rhys Jones, John Suchet, and Eartha Kitt. She also writes on health, nutrition and relationships.
Gill swims year-round in an open-air pond – “It’s good for you so long as it doesn’t kill you”– and is a devotee of Pilates. She also particularly enjoys travelling on what she calls “research trips” and attempting to match-make for friends.