One of the great things about being a published author is how many other authors I get to “meet.” We all hear about the big, flashy books by big-name authors, but there are a host of gems that may never cross our paths. (So many books… so little time!) I get to see some of those books these days as I help other authors, and I thought I’d use my little platform to feature some stories I’ve really enjoyed.
Today, please welcome Brianne Moore, author of “A Bright Young Thing,” which releases on September 7!
About the book:
In early 1930s England, a young firebrand finds herself on a fraught and dangerous road to independence.
In 1931 England, Astra Davies defies all the conventions. Clever, witty, and determined, Astra smokes, drinks, plays a mean piano, and gallivants around London with her beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. But Astra finds herself in a tight spot when her parents die suddenly, leaving her with a raft of debts. With few marketable skills and a closet full of family secrets, Astra has two choices: find a rich husband or make her own way.
A fiercely driven woman like Astra is not about to cast her lot in with a man, especially out of desperation. And since the only man she fancies–Jeremy Harris, the Earl of Dunreaven–is as hard up as she is, her way forward is clear. But the path to independence is a bumpy one fraught with hazards and heartbreaking choices. A blackmailing socialite threatens to derail Astra’s reputation. A brainless business partner just might drive her even further into debt. And a series of bruising scandals dogs her every step of the way.
From the bustle of London to the country estates of the aristocracy, Astra embarks on a journey that tests her brains, wit, and mettle as never before. But one way or another, Astra Davies is dead set on proving she’s no ordinary Bright Young Thing.
Brianne, let me just start by saying how much I LOVED this book. I’ve enjoyed both of your books, actually, but this one really hit all my favorites. Tell us about the origin of “A Bright Young Thing.”
I started writing A Bright Young Thing way back in my senior year of college. So, we’re talking almost 20 years ago. I was initially inspired by Robert Altman’s film Gosford Park, which, like my book, is set in 1931. I loved the mood, the fashion (I must admit!) and was particularly intrigued by the side plot involving an ‘upstairs’ couple that seems to be struggling with money. I started to wonder what one would do, in that world, if you fell on hard times. And what would you do if you were a single woman, who had probably received very little in the way of a useful education?
Something that struck me was how Astra’s struggle to bring her inheritance into the modern world paralleled that of the Crawley women in Downton Abbey. That’s earlier than your book is set, but it really felt parallel. Am I right?
I watched the heck out of Downton Abbey! And you’re right, there is a parallel there. The inter-war period was a fascinating but also, I think, a really frustrating time for women. On the one hand, a lot of social constraints loosened up during and after World War I and women had greater opportunities to vote, socialise, work, and receive an education. But, just as we saw after World War II, there was also a lot of strong messaging telling women they belonged in the home after they married. So, on the one hand you have all these freedoms, but then you marry and a lot of it gets taken away. Unsurprisingly, there were many women who weren’t happy with that, and so they pushed back. But there were definitely struggles for women like Astra and the Crawleys, who found themselves caught in this push-pull between freedom and conventionality, between the lives they perceived they could be living and the lives they’d been prepared for by parents who were of a very, very different generation.
That generational divide is part of what makes Downton—and A Bright Young Thing!–so universally compelling. You’d think these were aimed directly at women, yet I know lots of men who watched Downton just as avidly. These days, when I’m re-watching, my husband will walk through the room and can’t seem to leave. The Dowager Countess always has him cracking up. Maybe she’s a modern construct, but I suspect there were plenty of Cousin Violets behind the younger women as they navigated this time.
Oh, there were definitely a lot of Violets throughout history! It’s important to remember that the social changes we saw in the inter-war period didn’t happen out of nowhere: they were the result of centuries and centuries of built-up frustrations of women like Violet who knew they were as smart and capable as any man but were prevented from fully and independently engaging with the greater world simply because they were women. Eventually, that frustration goes somewhere, and in a lot of ways the first World War was a major catalyst for change. It was a complicated time, but you definitely saw some truly amazing women come into their own, and although there was some shock and pearl clutching over their ascendency, it was accepted by enough people that we finally saw women really enter spheres that had previously been open only to men. Politics, for example. We saw the first female cabinet members on both sides of the Atlantic in the early 1930s (both secretaries of labor, interestingly enough).
So where did this passion for all things British come from?
I grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which I like to call ‘George Washington slept here country.’ There’s a LOT of history around there, and I was a big history lover from an early age. Being an only child, I played on my own quite a bit, and most days I’d drag my assorted Barbies out to the backyard and make up history stories for them.
My father is English, so I grew up watching British dramas. The ones I was particularly attracted to were those set in the 1930s–the super-stylish Poirot mysteries with David Suchet, and the Jeeves and Wooster series. From a stylistic standpoint, it’s an era I’m particularly drawn to.
Thanks to that same British dad, almost all of our family holidays involved visiting the south of England, where his mother lived. Talk about history! I was in my element, exploring castles and charming towns that had been there for centuries longer than the US had existed.
What a cool family background—and how nicely it dovetails with your interests! But back to the book—if you started it twenty years ago, why did it take so long to get it published?
Well, to be fair, I didn’t work on it constantly in all that time! I finished an initial draft, edited it, and sent it out to some agents. Sadly, they all passed. I put it aside and worked on some other things while also embarking on a career. But Astra just didn’t leave me alone. I’d periodically pick up the story again, do a little tinkering, and put it back down. Eventually, I sat down and started really re-reading it. And almost immediately said, ‘Yeah, this writing’s rubbish. There are a couple of good lines here and there which I can salvage, but I’m better off just rewriting this entire thing.’ And I did. I found I’d grown a lot as a writer since I wrote that first draft. Writing, like anything else, is a skill you have to work on, and a great way to help sharpen and shape that skill is by reading writers whose work you really admire. (For me, one of those writers is Hilary Mantel. I feel like I changed and grew quite a lot as a writer after reading Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.)
I wrote and played with the book (and took a lot of breaks) over the next few years. When my eldest son was a little more than a year old, I told my husband I needed to get serious about this, finish the book, and really try to find an agent to see if I could make this whole writing thing work. I worked away at it for another few months and finished the draft, then edited like crazy. I started querying and finally managed to land one!
While this was being shopped around, I wrote another book, which became All Stirred Up, my debut novel. That book caught the eye of Faith Black Ross, an editor at Alcove Press, who loved it enough to really go to bat for it with her publisher. Turns out, she’s a big fan of British historical dramas as well, so my agent sent her A Bright Young Thing and she enthusiastically accepted that one as well. So, after almost two decades of tinkering, my beloved Astra will be unleashed on the world!
It was a hard experience, but a good one, in a lot of ways. It made me tougher (you have to be tough to handle all the rejection!), it made me better at accepting constructive criticism and revisiting my work (I did several rewrites–major ones–while this was being shopped around), and taught me that getting published is just as much luck as it is talent. Sometimes it takes a while, and then you just happen to find that right person at the right time who’s willing to take a gamble on you!
There you are, folks: A Bright Young Thing. Mark it, request it at your library, get it however you can!