Francesca Hornak Muses on her Journey to Seven Days of Us

Hardcover, 368 pages
Published October 17th 2017 by Berkley Books

Hey Navi Review Friends & Followers! Seven Days of Us hits the bookstores TODAY, and Francesca Hornak has stopped by to tell us more about her journey to writing and completing her debut novel, Seven Days of Us! This witty author has crossed over from article writing to offering us her first full-length novel, and this exclusive interview celebrates her journey from intern to fashion writer, contributor for The Sunday Times to debut fiction author! From parenting to wardrobe mishaps abroad, Francesca Hornak bares it all with us!

 

Question # 1

The number and caliber of publications you’ve written for is impressive! Could you tell us a little about your journey to becoming a columnist and sought-after magazine writer? How have your personal experiences affected your desire to pursue that field, if they did?

Thank you! I’ve just always adored magazines, and still find them completely compulsive. My parents didn’t really buy them, so they held this exotic allure for me. I vividly remember, aged seven, reading a copy of Vogue that a guest had left in our house and becoming obsessed with supermodels, especially Cindy Crawford. In all the photos from that summer I’m pouting and flicking my hair around. I know this is exactly why people disapprove of the media – I’m afraid I was a textbook case!

As for how I got into writing for magazines, I wrote to all my favourite titles asking for work experience and got a few internships during my university holidays. That led to a junior job at In Style when I graduated in 2005 (it was all a bit easier then, when there was still money in print journalism!). I loved the glamour and urgency of the offices – after three years of academia that was a massive relief.

Question #2

You’ve written a slew of articles for The Sunday Times and other publications. One of my favorites was your 2016 article “The Pointlessness of Parenting Guides” that appeared in Red, where you made some very convincing arguments about “ditching” the trend of parenting guides! What was the final straw in parenting that made you so compelled to write that article?

I think the final straw was a chart in a chapter on weaning, in a book called Coping With Two (yes, I was still reading these books after my second baby…) It had one column for messy foods, and one for less messy alternatives – supposedly to help you keep your house under control. It literally went ‘grated cheese’ vs ‘sliced cheese’, ‘full cup of milk’ vs ‘half full cup of water’ etc. I know the brain numbs a bit after a baby, but still!

Question #3

Your debut fiction novel, Seven Days of Us, hits the shelves in the U.S. in mid-October! What was the most difficult aspect of switching over from article writing to being a novelist? What about that process did you find more satisfying than column writing?

The hardest thing is not being able to hold every paragraph in my head, like I can with a 500 word article. The most satisfying thing for me is pacing the story – deciding to keep the reader in suspense, shocking them with a twist, giving them something funny after a sad episode and so on. With journalism, it’s just about conveying information or opinions as smoothly and entertainingly as possible.

Question #4

Where were you when the idea for Seven Days of Us came to you, and what compelled you to really sit down and bang it out at your computer?

I was staying with my parents-in-law’s house, in the week before Christmas. My best friend, who was treating Ebola in Sierra Leone, emailed me to say she was going to have to spend 30 days in quarantine at home when she got home in January. I wrote back to say it sounded like a budget modern play where the actors just sit in one room, and then I suddenly thought that a quarantine could be a neat fictional device to intensify the standard family Christmas set up.

The thing that compelled me to get it down on paper was a positive pregnancy test. I’d already had one baby, so I knew from experience that when I had another there would be no time to write. That 9 month deadline was the best incentive I’ve ever had to stop procrastinating. Unless I want a huge family I’m going to have to find something else in future, though.

Question #5

Who was the most difficult character for you to write in Seven Days of Us? Who was the most fun to write, and why?

The hardest was probably Olivia, because I don’t have much in common with her character – she’s quite reserved, and very earnest. The most fun was Andrew, because everything irritates him, so his parts were a chance to rant.

Question #6

From my time living in England, I know that there are so many stereotypes of American mores and behavior, one of which you very hilariously pointed out in Seven Days of Us:

“Guns? Guess he is American,” she said, as if it was an embarrassing medical condition.”

What has been your most memorable experience with someone from a different cultural background or nationality from yours, and how do experiences like that help you as a writer (and on a personal level)?

When I was 18 I did a teaching programme at a primary school rural Belize, and stayed with a host family. At first I followed the advice we’d been given about dressing very modestly, but after a couple of months when it became really hot I slacked off a bit and started wearing shorts and t-shirts when I wasn’t teaching. I’d noticed that other girls in the village wore the same, and I didn’t consider that as a teacher it wasn’t appropriate – or that, as a foreigner, different standards might apply to me. One day, an older woman in the village told my host mother that I dressed like a prostitute, and that I wasn’t fit to be a teacher. I came home to find my host mother at the kitchen table in tears, saying she was ashamed to have me in the house. It was absolutely mortifying, and I really realized how naïve I’d been. I wish I could say it had helped me personally, but I’m not sure it did as it was such a confidence knock! But it did teach me (the hard way) that you shouldn’t second guess at the rules when you’re away from home, and that just because people are smiling and waving doesn’t mean they actually like you! On the plus side, those kind of excruciating life experiences are helpful when you’re writing. You don’t need to be writing about the same incident – I think I had some of that pain and alienation in mind when I wrote about Jesse shaming himself as the guest, and foreigner, in Seven Days Of Us.

Question #7

In Seven Days of Us, the father, Andrew, is a writer as well. He has several witty interactions with his editors throughout the novel that give readers a glimpse of the tug of war writers can sometimes have with their editorial teams! What is the most memorable “tug of war” you’ve ever had with one of your editors, and why was that issue so important to you?

So many! I used to be really precious, unnecessarily precious, about tiny changes. I must have been so annoying to work with (I got ridiculously stressed once because a sub-editor insisted on changing ‘his bicep’ to ‘his biceps’, which is technically correct but sounds stupid because nobody ever says ‘biceps’. I do stand by this, but my rage was disproportionate).

It wasn’t actually a style issue, but my favourite altercation with a sub editor was when I was a 25 year old fashion writer for a newspaper, and had a tiny section, literally one newsprint column wide, called ShopSpy. One day I wrote: “This week I’m loving this gigantic cocktail ring by new designer xxxx….’. But the sub-editor hyphenated ‘cocktail’, so that it in the newspaper it read like this:

SHOP SPY

This week I’m

loving this

gigantic cock-

tail ring

Haha.  It was a very awkward middle aged male sub – he went bright red when I came up to point it out to him. 

Question #8

With all of the great hype and reviews of Seven Days of Us, your readers are surely looking forward to your next works, too! Can you tell us what upcoming projects or articles you’re interested in working on?

Thanks! I’m writing a novel set around a communal garden in London. If Seven Days Of Us was about family, this is about community. 

Question #9

What is the strangest compliment you’ve ever received regarding your writing?

It’s not a strange compliment in itself, but I’m always surprised to hear people call it ‘warm’ or ‘heartfelt’ or ‘moving’ because to me my take on the world is quite critical. But I do cry easily, so maybe I’m soppier than I realise.

Question #10

Tell us one awkward/embarrassing/unique fact about yourself!

I love anything miniature. I had an amazing dollshouse when I was a child, but an adult playing with a dollshouse is creepy so I have to make do with sample toiletries and those teeny jams you get with hotel breakfasts.

 

Where the Tables Turn: Feel free to ask me any question you’d like for me to answer for my readers, and/or pose a question to your readers or the general public!

Question for you and your readers:

What one thing makes you fall for a book?

 

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Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

Hardcover, 368 pages
Expected publication: October 17th 2017 by Berkley Books

A warm, wry, sharply observed debut novel about what happens when a family is forced to spend a week together in quarantine over the holidays…

It’s Christmas, and for the first time in years the entire Birch family will be under one roof. Even Emma and Andrew’s elder daughter—who is usually off saving the world—will be joining them at Weyfield Hall, their aging country estate. But Olivia, a doctor, is only coming home because she has to. Having just returned from treating an epidemic abroad, she’s been told she must stay in quarantine for a week…and so too should her family.

For the next seven days, the Birches are locked down, cut off from the rest of humanity—and even decent Wi-Fi—and forced into each other’s orbits. Younger, unabashedly frivolous daughter Phoebe is fixated on her upcoming wedding, while Olivia deals with the culture shock of being immersed in first-world problems.

As Andrew sequesters himself in his study writing scathing restaurant reviews and remembering his glory days as a war correspondent, Emma hides a secret that will turn the whole family upside down.

In close proximity, not much can stay hidden for long, and as revelations and long-held tensions come to light, nothing is more shocking than the unexpected guest who’s about to arrive…

Seven Days of Us is the quintessential heartwarming family novel, a quick and quaint little holiday read to be devoured in one sitting. With flashes of wit, intellect and social reflection peppered in, Seven Days offers a great combination of laughter and insight, as we get to know these characters while they re-get to know each other. Imagine being stuck in your home for seven days with your family, unable to flee into the night, unable to avoid the unavoidable. To me, that sounds like the worst kind of torture! And Francesca Hornak brought that feeling to life in a meaningful way that allows the reader to identify with at least one of the characters, always a treat.

This read is not one that will bog you down, nor is it one that will stay with me, personally, for very long. Seven Days of Us is a novel that stays in its lane; it doesn’t try to masquerade as something it’s not, and I can respect that. I don’t know that it was “sharply” anything, as the blurb implied, and the ending did hurry to a close like an urgent hand at your back. BUT, it is a read for the lovers of the quaint and cozy literary experience, a novel for anyone who loved the movie The Family Stone (2005), and a delightful treat for those on holiday to pass the time and enjoy a chuckle. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’ve found a home and a warm mug of Earl Grey within the pages of Hornak’s Seven Days. 3*

**Thank you so much to Berkley Publishing who reached out to me and sent me a physical ARC of this book!

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Francesca Hornak Francesca Hornak is a British author, journalist and former columnist for the Sunday Times. Her debut novel Seven Days Of Us will be published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House, in October 2017. Little Island Productions has pre-empted TV rights to the book.

Francesca’s work has appeared in newspapers and magazines including The Sunday Times, The Guardian, Metro, Elle, Grazia, Stylist, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and Red. She is the author of two nonfiction books, History of the World in 100 Modern Objects: Middle Class Stuff (and Nonsense) and Worry with Mother: 101 Neuroses for the Modern Mama.

The Child by Fiona Barton

Hardcover, 336 pages
Expected publication: June 27th 2017 by Berkley Books

As an old house is demolished in a gentrifying section of London, a workman discovers a tiny skeleton, buried for years. For journalist Kate Waters, it’s a story that deserves attention. She cobbles together a piece for her newspaper, but at a loss for answers, she can only pose a question: Who is the Building Site Baby?

As Kate investigates, she unearths connections to a crime that rocked the city decades earlier: A newborn baby was stolen from the maternity ward in a local hospital and was never found. Her heartbroken parents were left devastated by the loss.

But there is more to the story, and Kate is drawn—house by house—into the pasts of the people who once lived in this neighborhood that has given up its greatest mystery. And she soon finds herself the keeper of unexpected secrets that erupt in the lives of three women—and torn between what she can and cannot tell…

 

I absolutely adored Fiona Barton’s debut novel, The Widow, so I was all-too eager to get my little hands on this one when I heard about The Child. Of course, that’s the problem with not reading blindly, isn’t it–with already being familiar with an author’s previous works: you go in with expectations, undoubtedly heightening your expectations on the author, and it doesn’t always pan out. When that happens, those reads seem to fall harder than if you’d never met their predecessors in the first place. But that didn’t happen here! This follow-up was awesome! Unfortunately, that’s what happened here.

Not too far into Fiona Barton’s sophomore novel, The Child, I realized that this one wasn’t nearly as clever as her debut, The Widow, and wasn’t nearly as captivating either. Read as a “rush job,” without the finesse and nuance of her previous novel. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of the follow-up to a blockbuster movie–you know, the ones where you can tell the studio was just rushing to churn the next one out to capitalize on the fanfare of the last one.

Have you ever read a novel and just knew you could pick out the characters on the street if you saw them? Their mannerisms are so real, their dialogue so witty, so poignant, so enthralling, that you recall a whole slew of their quotes from memory. These characters come alive on the page and delight you, make you want to be them—or at least kidnap them and keep them as your new bestie. Well, you won’t find that here, people. These characters didn’t saunter around, exuding their very essence across the page like in the previous novel.

Though, to be fair, it’s not all cons in this one. One of the better aspects of this novel is that Barton uses the format of short chapters to swiftly draw her reader in and keep them turning pages. It’s a style that I now recognize her for. That technique makes the read seem shorter, faster, and is a true hallmark of the modern-day thriller, which was once again used brilliantly here. Well, to an extent. Of all things, The Child was chalked full of filler. I could almost palpably feel myself ripping at the cotton-like filler to get down to the meat, the core of the novel. Some of the chapters were completely useless to the plot as a whole and slowed the read down to a near-screeching halt, contradictory to the goals of the short chapters, placing The Child very squarely into the “cozy thriller” category and loosening the tauntness that readers look for in a good mystery thriller.

All I needed for complete this novel was a cuppa Earl Grey and a biscuit. For some, this’ll work brilliantly, but I can see the flatly written characters turning off character piece buffs, while the added family drama will turn off mystery thrill seekers, stripping away its well-roundedness and landing this one in a category for a very specific kind of reader. It’s not that the characters here were unlikeable, more like they were just silly. Crying at the slightest stimulus. Sighing and huffing and wedge-driving over men who, for the majority of the read, weren’t much more than cliché sketches of cheaters and adulterers themselves. There were moments where I actually imagined them fawning and fanning themselves at the thought of these men, swooning in their own misery, and that made the read feel long, like I was trudging through used Kleenex the entire time.

Let’s go ahead and address this here, shall we?

There’s so much chatter in the book world about (female) characters who are unlikeable for being shallow or crass—The Girl on the Train immediately comes to mind—but these characters in The Child were equally unlikeable for a completely different reason: because they were so spineless, weak and lacking of any motivation that I could get behind for the vast majority of the novel.

**SPOILER** You can’t toss in driving motivation in the last quarter of the novel and expect me to suddenly care; no, I’ve already been too turned off by the past 300 pages to care at this point: Writer 101. **END SPOILER**

There were a lot of tears in this book, even moments of rushing out of a grocery store, abandoning their grocery cart, because the noise was too unbearable. These characters all needed a swift kick in the ass if you ask me.

Hmm, and the ending. I won’t give anything away, but I will definitely say that I’m not sure how I feel about it. It could’ve been a phenomenal ending, but it was executed poorly and via unlikeable characters, so, in the end, it just felt like a hastily done soap opera ending. There were loads of other sections that could have been scrapped in favor of perfecting the ending, believe me—and the fact that the ending was held up by sappy, weak-willed characters just ruined it, like spilling liquid on a watercolor painting. **MILD SPOILER** I get the feeling that it was meant to be a tear-jerker ending but came off as vaguely melodramatic the way that it was handled, **END SPOILER** which, all in all, landed The Child with a average score of 3 stars ***

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Fiona BartonMy career has taken some surprising twists and turns over the years. I have been a journalist – senior writer at the Daily Mail, news editor at the Daily Telegraph, and chief reporter at The Mail on Sunday, where I won Reporter of the Year at the National Press Awards, gave up my job to volunteer in Sri Lanka and since 2008, have trained and worked with exiled and threatened journalists all over the world.
But through it all, a story was cooking in my head.

The worm of this book infected me long ago when, as a national newspaper journalist covering notorious crimes and trials, I found myself wondering what the wives of those accused really knew – or allowed themselves to know. It took the liberation of my career change to turn that fascination into a tale of a missing child, narrated by the wife of the man suspected of the crime, the detective leading the hunt, the journalist covering the case and the mother of the victim.

Much to my astonishment and delight, The Widow is available now in the UK, and around the world in the coming months. However, the sudden silence of my characters feels like a reproach and I am currently working on a second book. My husband and I are living the good life in south-west France, where I am writing in bed, early in the morning when the only distraction is our cockerel, Sparky, crowing.

Brothers and Sisters by Bebe Moore Campbell

Paperback, 480 pages
Published January 6th 2009 by Berkley (first published 1994)

Bebe Moore Campbell’s Brothers and Sisters, originally published by Putnam in 1994* in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating, is a true testament to what I wish we could see more of on bestseller lists today. Published during an era of growing racial tensions (though what era doesn’t have that?) and political outspokenness through hip-hop music, this novel brought to life the realities of being an educated and successful modern-day African American woman. Stereotypes were debunked and explored, and here Campbell helped to set new standards in literature for femininity and “blackness,” while also probing such sensitive topics as the church, the pros and troubles of racial solidarity and reaching across the racial line to find friendship. The characters that the late Campbell portrayed here were realistic and 3-dimensional; the tension that she painted in the air was palpable with the turn of every page, like a heartbeat pulsing throughout the chapters.

Brothers and Sisters was a read that featured relatable dialogue that easily flowed off the tip of the tongue; Campbell’s use of vernacular outside of the workplace and in the “mean streets” of LA beautifully contrasted with dialogue that went on within the walls of the workplace to create a masterful portrayal of what it is like to live in two worlds at the same time, from dealing with stress from the professional expectations of peers in a racist and sexist environment to simultaneously surviving in a world equally hostile outside of the workplace doors. Deceit, mistrust, racism, sexism, accusations of rape, love, dating, social and corporate ladders, competition and banding together to survive in hostile waters all play a role in this novel.

The trouble that many novels have in this genre is that they do not come off as authentic. The dialogue is stilted or unfittingly formal in areas where authenticity is needed or ragged in situations where a sophisticated touch is being attempted by the author. There is a finesse to portraying this double consciousness (for those W.E.B. DuBois followers), this world of African Americanism that is honestly a world within itself, and it is difficult to find an author who depicts this lifestyle—this social setting—accurately and with the tautness and stress that it carries with in real, everyday life. The beauty in which Campbell offered that to her readers here is to be applauded. Following Esther Jackson through a day in her world will bring you out the other side more conscious of societal pressures at play if you weren’t already, deeply entertained and honestly tickled by the thoughts that these characters think but don’t always say. This one is a read for anyone, because there’s something for everyone here if your mind is open.

Make no mistake: I love a good thriller, a thought-provoking character piece or the occasional humor-filled antics of chick lit with a verve and vigor that you can see in this blog, but it’s novels like this that I wish we could see more of in the spotlight today.  5 stars *****

 

*The cover used here is from the 2009 reprint publication of this novel by Berkley.