Kristin Hannah has written 20 novels and her 2009 release “Firefly Lane” sold more than 1.2 million copies. Her bestselling “Home Front” is currently being developed by filmmaker Chris Columbus into a major motion picture. Yet the Seattle-based author said this month’s release of “The Nightingale” is still “cause for celebration.”
According to Hannah’s website, her latest story revolves around “two ordinary French women living in a city under siege and in a country at war, where surviving can sometimes mean doing the unthinkable.”
Hannah said “The Nightingale” is also garnering movie interest, adding that women’s roles in film have been powerful in recent years and the storyline is relevant today. “The Nightingale” also could benefit from women in Hollywood, who are finding stories like this one and producing movie versions that are used as a vehicle for their own acting careers. “It’s nice when you can see female characters explore the whole range of emotion and morality and make all kinds of choices,” Hannah said.
I was reading that you were doing research on World War II when you came across the story of a Belgian woman. What led to the initial research before you found her and then some of the other ladies?
I wrote a book several years ago called “Winter Garden” that was set in World War II Russia, so that’s how I came to be doing research on the women of World War II. I came across this story of a Belgian woman who had created an escape route for downed airmen across the Pyrenees (Mountains). I filed it away as a really fascinating piece of history, but I couldn’t use it in my Russia book and, so years later, when I was looking for another idea, I remembered this woman. It had just stayed with me for years.
How long of a process is that? Even after you conducted all the research, you still need to come up with your own plot points for the novel.
It’s a huge amount of research to understand the life, the scope, the issues and everything that was going on, but then, as you say, you have to create the characters and the plot and the storyline that does what you want to say — that has a message that you want to get across. And, I think, creating the characters who feel absolutely real and genuine against this extraordinary backdrop of danger, intrigue and oppression. That was really the biggest challenge.
Your story has a plot point that is often overlooked. Not that it’s right, but when you think of war, especially World War II, you think of men going off to Europe.
This is the third time I’ve written about women in a war setting and I find that I’m fascinated with all of these women, who were heroes and faced incredible odds and put their lives at risk and then were largely forgotten. They came home to no parades, very few medals. They just sort of came home and went on with their ordinary lives and, I think, it’s important to remember their stories.
I read a quote where you said, “When would I as a wife and a mother risk my life and, more importantly, my child’s life to save a stranger?” You asked yourself this as you were working on the book and I’m curious, have you ever been able to answer the question?
That was the question that sort of started me on the journey of this whole book. You start reading about these women, who were so heroic, and a huge number of them were mothers. … That question really haunted me.
What I came down with personally, and this is how it worked for my character Vianne, who is the mother in the novel, I felt like I was confident enough that I would risk my life for a stranger when the world got to a point where I would truly rather die than to have my child and I grow up in the world as it was becoming.