Margaret Leroy
Photo: Nikki Gibbs
Margaret Leroy's eerily lovely novel Yes, My Darling Daughter is the kind of story you gulp down in one sitting and still can't stop wondering about days later. O caught up with Margaret in England ("Sweltering!" she says, over the phone), and discovered how a British documentary, strangers nostalgic for the West Coast of Ireland, and Mr. Lord of the Rings himself influenced this haunting book.
O: One of our readers, Andrea Rubinstein in West Hollywood, saw a 2006, UK Channel 5 documentary, The Boy Who Lived Before, that brought to light the phenomenon you tackle in Yes, My Darling Daughter—children remembering a previous life. She's asks: Did that film inspire your book?

Margaret: Yes, the documentary planted this little seed in my mind. I thought the idea was so rich in story possibilities—it's a very exciting moment when you suddenly think, "Yes, that's the book I'm going to write," a moment of certainty—but it was actually in my mind for quite a long time. One day, years later, I decided it was finally the time to start.

O: Did you then have to do a lot of research on the topic?

Margaret: First, I read books like Tom Schroder's Old Souls: The Scientific Evidence for Past Lives, which is fascinating. But some of the best ideas often come when you're just talking about a book you're working on and people tell you stories. In this case, I met one parent while I was writing who described how his little boy, when he was 3, used to wake him in the night and sob and say he wanted to go home. He and his wife would tell their son, "No, you are home, you live here," and the little boy would go on sobbing and say, "No, I want to go home." That story was a gift for the book; it became a building block for Sophie's character [the child in the novel].

O: Having heard stories like that, do you believe in reincarnation now?

Margaret: The research certainly opened my mind to the possibility. The process was a journey: I started out just thinking, "Wonderful story idea—wonderful for fiction." Ultimately, I've been left with is this tremendous sense of mystery because I've always believed in the spiritual world—that our existence isn't just what we see, or just what's around us—but reincarnation is a very strange phenomenon. Hearing children say they've lived before now, reading the accounts where they recognize places they've never been and people they've never met—it's actually very hard to refute.

O: There's a focus on independent women in this book, especially Sophie's mother, Grace. Why did you make the decision to have such intrepid females?

Margaret: I like to write strong female characters. The strength in women isn't always shown in fiction. With Grace, I wanted to write about someone who doesn't come from a very privileged background. She's quite lonely, quite unsupported. That sort of character makes a very good protagonist because [you can give her] direction in an extreme situation.

O: At the turning point of the book, when Grace and Sophie travel to Coldharbour, Ireland, the pacing changes. What is it about the location that required this kind of narrative shift?

Margaret: The first part, when Grace is in London, is meant to be claustrophobic and enclosed and domestic and difficult. There's a sense of struggle. And then when she arrives in Coldharbour with Adam, she can breathe more freely. She's surrounded by this very beguiling landscape, which actually, of course, is full of dangers that she doesn't realize. From the very early conception of the book, I knew that Grace was going to have this journey that would take her out of her known world into a different, special world. And I thought of the West Coast of Ireland—even though I'd never been there—partly because I had seen this very wistful look in people's faces when they talked about it. In Great Britain, there's something about the extreme west: It's a place where magic could happen, kind of a Celtic fringe. I actually went to Ireland once I had written the first draft of the book.

O : Did it live up to your expectations?

Margaret: Well, it was squally and rainy as we drove from Shannon Airport through the mountains. When we finally arrived in [the town of] Roundstone, this beautiful village on the sea, the light and the sea became bright. Stepping out of the car into this world that I'd imagined—it was a magical moment. So yes, it is indeed a very enchanting place.

O : This novel contains elements of fantasy. Have you ever thought of writing a pure fantasy novel?

Margaret: Yes, it remains an ambition of mine because I love fantasy. As a little girl, I absolutely adored The Lord of the Rings . That idea of creating an entire world appeals to me very much.

O : Would you do it from a female point-of-view?

Margaret: Absolutely! One of the things I hated when I was going through my addiction to The Lord of the Rings is that all the great characters are male. It's quite a struggle in The Lord of the Rings to find anything for the women to do.

O : This question comes from member Elaine Clark in Canada: Are you working on anything new?

Margaret: Yes. The project I'm writing at the moment is a bit of a departure for me. It's a period book about the occupation of the Channel Islands during the second World War. It's something that has always fascinated me because it was this tiny bit of British territory that was occupied by the Nazis. It's about a woman bringing up her children under the occupation.

O : Where is your favorite place to work?

Margaret: The confession is that actually, I generally write in bed now! I know it sounds eccentric, if not downright lazy. But I had the flu and started writing in bed because I wasn't quite fit enough to get up. There was a kind of freedom to the way I was writing as though my imagination could flow more freely because I was so relaxed, not sitting at a desk. So I've gone on doing that. I'm in bed with papers streaming in all directions.

See who's answering your questions next.

Beach read Yes, My Darling Daughter is one of the 25 Books of Summer —get the list!


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