Q & A with Rebecca Stonehill author of The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale @bexstonehill

Goodreads|Amazon US|Amazon UK
Release date: October 29, 2017

Publisher: Sunbird Press

Genre: Historical Fiction 

A compelling page turner of a buried past resurfacing, set against a backdrop of the 1960’s youth culture and war torn Crete.

1967. Handsome but troubled, Jim is almost 18 and he lives and breathes girls, trad jazz, Eel Pie Island and his best friend, Charles. One night, he hears rumours of a community of young people living in caves in Matala, Crete. Determined to escape his odious, bully of a father and repressed mother, Jim hitchhikes through Europe down to Matala. At first, it’s the paradise he dreamt it would be. But as things start to go wrong and his very notion of self unravels, the last thing Jim expects is for this journey of hundreds of miles to set in motion a passage of healing which will lead him back to the person he hates most in the world: his father.

Taking in the counter-culture of the 1960’s, the clash of relationships between the WW2 generation and their children, the baby boomers, this is a novel about secrets from the past finally surfacing, the healing of trauma and the power of forgiveness.

A captivating story that will mesmerise fans of Lucinda Riley, Dinah Jefferies and Tracy Rees. 

Hi everyone, I’m so pleased to be the stop on the blog tour for The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale today! I have a wonderful interview with the author to share today. 

Q & A:

1. What’s a typical writing day for you look like? Describe your perfect writing environment.


The mornings are always quite fraught with three children (and various animals!) to be fed before the school run, so nothing really starts on the writing front before 9am. Armed with a strong coffee, I sit on the verandah of our wooden cottage in a Nairobi suburb and write myself into the day. I love writing outside, surrounded by trees and birds. It feels like such a privilege.



2. How did you get started writing? Was it something that you’ve always loved?


I have loved writing for as long as I can remember. As a child, I was far fonder of books than of people and lived in imaginary worlds. I would fill notebooks with snippets of stories, poems and observations about people and places and could often be found in cupboards, under beds and up trees spying on people!


3. Who are your favorite writers/inspirations?


I read so much that I feel like I am discovering favorite authors all the time! But to name a few of them: Kazuo Ishiguro, Susan Fletcher, Vikram Seth, Henry James and Maya Angelou. As for inspiration, nature has always been my greatest teacher.


4. Anything you can tell us about upcoming projects?


I am soon to embark on a six-month journey around India with my husband and three children, travelling and home schooling – very exciting! The plan is to have a short break from novel writing during this period and focus on blogging about our experiences.



5. Normally how do you develop plots/characters? Brief us on your process.


I am not a very organised writer, I must confess. But I don’t think there’s a blueprint for how these things ought to develop. People often talk about two (very general) different types of writers, the ‘planners’ and the ‘pansters’ i.e. the fly by the seat of their pants type of people. Well, I am the latter! Stories almost always end up being wildly different from how I envisaged them in the early stages.


6. Favorite character from one of your own novels?


Iris from The Girl and the Sunbird. As a woman born in 1977, I have no idea what it would be like to not be able to chose to go to school or university or to have a say in one’s husband. Of course for women of a certain period (and, indeed, for many women still today) this was/is the reality, but I feel a deep empathy for Iris which I think allowed me to develop her character effectively. She is strong-willed, intelligent and compassionate, but she is also flawed, as I believe good characters should be.


7. Preferred method for readers to contact you?


I absolutely love to hear from readers. I can be contacted through my Rebecca Stonehill Books facebook page, through twitter @bexstonehill or via the contact form on my website rebeccastonehill.com


8. On average, how long does it take you to write a book?


This is a hard question to answer as they have all been very different! But, if I have few interruptions, I need about a year to research and write a decent first draft of a book.



9. If writing wasn’t your career what would you be doing?


I have always loved the idea of being a photographer. Being behind a camera and taking photos has been a great pleasure of mine for a long time. Perhaps one day I can combine this passion with my writing.




10. What’s the best compliment that you’ve received about your work?


I’m a bit of a softie at heart, so when people tell me they have been moved to tears by my work, I feel immensely gratified. When I write, I pour my heart and soul into the stories and have been known to be sitting at the screen myself sobbing! I purposely don’t choose easy topics to write about, and sometimes I find the novel’s development painful, yet necessary. So if I have helped another person to really feel something through my work, I have achieved what I set out to do.



About the Author:


Rebecca Stonehill is from London but has lived in Nairobi since 2013 where her husband’s job as Water and Sanitation Engineer took them with their three children. She has written three novels, The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale, being the most recent and also set up Magic Pencil, an initiative to provide greater access to creative writing for young people.


Rebecca can be contacted through her website rebeccastonehill.com, on twitter @bexstonehill or via her facebook page Rebecca Stonehill Books.

You can also sign up for her newsletter here.

 As an added bonus I have a sneak peek at the book as well!



Opening section of the novel:




Chapter One

Twickenham, 1967


When I open my cupboard doors on Saturday morning, it’s immediately clear that all my trousers have disappeared.

​’Bloody hell Ma, not again,’ I mutter.

I rifle through t-shirts and underwear, pulling out pairs of folded and ironed socks and push splayed fingers through the shirts that hang neatly, accusingly, on their hangers. I blink into the dark of the wardrobe and catch sight of myself in the small mirror, running a hand through my hair. Dark woody brown and long around the ears, far longer than what my father considers respectable. Just yesterday he told me that if I didn’t get my hair cut, he’d pin me into a chair and cut it himself. Treating me, as always, like I’m seven, not bloody well seventeen.

I frown at the poster of The Who and give the wardrobe door a great kick. I can smell toast and bacon, crisp and sweet and my stomach flips, almost battering my resolve. But no, I clench my jaw, I know this trick, I know what this is all about.

Pulling on a pair of underpants and a vest and shirt over my head, I march downstairs where I find Ma at the stove in her pleated apron, breaking eggs into the frying pan, her hair in curlers. She always keeps her hair in curlers for Friday night and the whole of Saturday, the only day of the week she never leaves the house.

​Swivelling on her slippered feet, she smiles brightly.

  ‘Morning, Jimmy!’

‘Ma,’ I say firmly. ‘What have you done with all my trousers?’

She turns back to the stove, but I can see the slight tension in her shoulders.

‘Trousers, dear?’

‘Trousers, Ma,’ I say slowly. ‘Where are they?’

​She leans over to the windowsill and switches on the radio, the staid voice of a BBC reporter booming out.

​’…we can expect the temperature to reach a pleasant seventy degrees today, if not a little more. Perhaps summer has finally…’

I flip the dial off.

‘Ma!’ I say sharply. ‘Will you stop playing games and talk to me!’

​She turns to face me. I can make out a faint smudge of yesterday’s mascara under one eye and wisps of her dyed brown hair escaping from her curlers and I suddenly feel deeply irritated by her. 

‘What was it you wanted to talk about?’

‘You know very well what. It’s Saturday. I need to put some trousers on and go out, but you’ve hidden them again.’

‘They’re all in the wash, dear,’ she says blankly.

I throw my hands up in the air in exasperation as I turn from Ma and sink into a chair at the table.

‘Won’t you have some bacon?’

‘Why, Ma? Why are you trying to stop me going out again?’

 She purses her lips as she marches over to the sideboard and starts slicing through the loaf of bread with a knife, thick slices crumbling as she attacks it.

‘You know your father doesn’t like you going to that island.’

‘I forgot,’ I mutter, ‘Father doesn’t like it when I actually enjoy myself. Anyway, who says I’m going to the island?’

Ma turns, breadknife in hand and points it at me.

‘Well, aren’t you? Tell me you’re not, then.’

‘I’m eighteen, Ma, I’m an adult now.’


‘Practically eighteen. And it’s not what you think it is, it’s just a bit of music and dancing. All very…quiet really.’

She snorts as she finishes cutting the bread and thrusts it into the toaster.

‘Actually, I will have some of that bacon, it smells damn good.’

‘Language,’ Ma retorts, but her features soften as she fetches a plate and cutlery.

‘Honestly, Ma,’ I continue, ‘you should come with me some time, so you can see for yourself that it’s all very tame.’

​I have absolutely no intention of my mother coming to the island with me; I know very well that all her worst fears would be founded, but I’m also aware that my invitation may make my jaunts over there seem more innocent. Ma sighs deeply as she sits at the table opposite me and watches me eat.

‘Your father will be furious if he knows you’ve gone,’ she says wearily. 

‘I know,’ I reply. ‘God Ma, this bacon is amazing. The thing is…’ I pause as I chew. Ma gets up to butter the toast. ‘The thing is, that hiding my trousers isn’t going to stop me going. You know that really.’

‘But why? Why do you want to make your father so upset and angry?’

‘I don’t want to make him angry, I’m just living my life. I need to be my own person – ‘

‘When you leave school, then you can be your own person.’

‘You know that won’t make a blind bit of difference. You know that Father will still be on at me the whole time, to do this and be that and join the family business. I’m not the same as him; I’m not him. He’s completely forgotten what it’s like to be young – ’

‘Just do your A levels, love.’ Ma reaches over the table and pats my hand. ‘I’m sure your father will take the pressure off a little after that.’

‘Now that,’ I point my fork at her, ‘is a lie and we both know it.’

​I finish eating and walk to the back door where I pull on my boots.

‘You’re not going out like that – ‘

‘I told you, I have to.’

‘But – ‘

‘Super bacon Ma, thanks ever so much.’ I lean over, peck her on the cheek then snatch my sunglasses up from the table and with that, I slip out of the back door and break into a trot.


Huge thanks to Rebecca for joining me today!

2 thoughts on “Q & A with Rebecca Stonehill author of The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale @bexstonehill

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