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Days of Grace Hardcover – 27 May 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 294 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Books; 1 edition (27 May 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670021768
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670021765
  • Product Dimensions: 21.7 x 15.5 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (146 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,594,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description

From the Author

Q&A with Catherine Hall

Can you sum up Days of Grace for our customers in just one sentence?

It's a story about an intense wartime friendship, a suppressed passion, a jealous crime, and a corrosive secret kept for decades...

Nora, from whose point of view Days of Grace is told, leads an eventful and largely tragic life, and is not the most likeable character(!) How easy was she to write – did you have any specific inspirations when developing her?

It's funny, when I sent the first version of the book to my agent, one of the first comments she made was that Nora might be too unlikeable, and I was surprised, because I'd always loved her. I'd shared many of her feelings - albeit to a less dramatic degree! - and I could see how the wrong circumstances could easily lead to the point where they might spiral out of control. But my agent was right, and we then spent a long time making her more sympathetic. So Nora in her first incarnation was much more lonely, isolated, strange than she is now, and whilst I didn't find her hard to write, the real work came later, with the re-writing and editing.

Although there was no single person who was the inspiration for Nora, I've known a lot of old women with stories to tell but no-one to tell them to. Many of them couldn't follow their desires because of society or family, especially if they had feelings for other women. They told me about unrequited love, guilt, love that couldn't ever be properly expressed and about shame. I wanted to write about the effects of this shame, and how it limits people, stops them doing what could make them happy and – yes – sometimes makes them difficult or unlikeable. My job was, if not to make my readers like Nora, to try to make them understand why she is as she is.

What was the significance of the wartime setting for the story?

The Second World War seemed like a logical setting, when someone from Nora's poor East End background could be thrown into another life. War creates situations and circumstances that would never occur in peacetime. Anything can happen. So it was helpful for the purposes of plot. I also wanted to explore the psychological impact of evacuation. Many evacuees suffered terrible damage after being forced to leave their parents and found it very hard to form proper attachments to other people later on. That gave me some background for Nora, who spends the rest of her life trying and failing to build up some kind of family around herself, making up for the separation from her mother when she's evacuated. Her disappointment when these attempts fail is what makes her reactions so intense.

Do you agree with the old adage that writers should 'write what they know'?

I think there's probably always an element of writing what you know, whether you're conscious of it or not. It might be a character, a theme, a setting or something more elusive like an atmosphere. You can't help it. But then there's the joy of using your imagination, and the challenge of finding out what you don't know, of putting yourself in someone else's shoes and circumstances. I wouldn't want to give that up. So I think writers should write what sparks their interest, and what they know will inevitably wriggle into the story somehow.

What are you currently working on?

I'm trying to decide on an idea for my next novel. It's hard because I know I'm going to be spending the next couple of years with the characters, so I'd better get it right!

Can you tell us a few of your favourite books/the books that have influenced you?

I grew up somewhere very remote and so spent every night of my childhood reading whatever I could get my hands on. At first it was books like the Swallows and Amazons stories, because they were about what children do when there are no adults around. Then I became obsessed with Enid Blyton's boarding school romps at Malory Towers. As a teenager I came across Virago paperbacks and went off in a completely different direction. I discovered magical realism through Angela Carter's Wise Children, and loved the psychological depth of Doris Lessing's writing, especially in The Golden Notebook and The Fifth Child. Jeanette Winterson's The Passion changed the way I thought about how you could use words. At university I became interested in modernist women writers and their experiments in style. My favourite is Jean Rhys, who's probably influenced me more than anyone. She's best known for Wide Sargasso Sea but I love her books set in Paris in the 1920s, like Good Morning, Midnight; deceptively simple writing about undistinguished women. Lately I've been rediscovering H.E. Bates' short stories, which beautifully describe a disappearing rural England in the 1950s. To cheer myself up, I go back to Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais, because it's so over the top, or to John Cleland's Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, which I don't think is meant to be funny, but always makes me giggle with his overestimation of men's sexual prowess.

Do you have any tips you would offer to anyone looking to write their first book?

I'm not an expert, but the most important thing for me was just to keep going. I found a place where I could be alone to write, then spent as much time as I could there. It takes a lot of practice. Another thing I found helpful was to stop in the middle of a paragraph or an idea so when I came back to it then next day I could start again without panicking. The worst thing is sitting there waiting for inspiration.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

CATHERINE HALL was born in the Lake District in 1973. She worked in documentary film production before becoming a freelance writer and editor for a range of charities specialising in human rights and development. This is her first novel. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Brida TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 5 Feb 2009
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
DAYS OF GRACE is a fantastic novel, but do not be deceived by the innocent-looking image on the front cover - this book packs a punch, and a very good one at that.

At the age of 12, Nora leaves war-torn London for the Kent countryside. Upon her arrival she is chosen by Grace Rivers, a girl the same age as herself, and so she goes to her new home. Nora and Grace quickly develop a bond like that of sisterhood, but Nora slowly develops other feelings for Grace, feelings which confuse her and torment her. It is then not long that her seemingly idyllic life begins to crumble, as she learns that not all is as it seems within the household - everyone seems to have their secrets.
But these secrets are only revealed to others as Nora is an old lady, dying of cancer. It is only because she knows she is on her way out of life that she feels comfortable to tell the truth of her past.

That is a brief synopsis. The novel flits from Nora's past, growing up with Grace, to the present, as she is dying from the disease. It is through these two narratives that we are able to witness history repeating itself and the terrible effects this may have for all concerned.
What I loved about this book was how the characters were so well realised. I felt that I knew all of them intimately, not just Nora. Hall's study of love and how it can consume you and very nearly destroy you was expertly done. Setting it against the backdrop of the Second World War, added to the effect of the book - at one point Nora can hear a nearby building being destroyed by a bomb; as she talks about this, you cannot help but think about how her world is slowly crumbling on the inside too.
I loved this book. I would highly recommend it to others.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By SW book worm on 7 April 2009
Format: Paperback
I bought Days of Grace having read reviews in various newspapers and I am delighted to say it exceeded all my expectations! The friendship between Nora and Grace catapulted me onto a roller coaster of emotion and it was only when I finished the last wonderful page that was I able to realise fully how moved I was by the depth of their relationship, the corrosive nature of Nora's secret that ate away at her for all those years and how Catherine Hall managed to keep me in suspense until the bitter end. I am not surprised to read that she has been deeply influenced by Jeanette Winterson and Jean Rhys. Catherine Hall has all the hallmarks of a great writer and I am waiting with baited breath for her next offering!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A. Rose TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 13 Oct 2009
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is one of the most enjoyable books I've recently read. It's well written, well thought out and told with such elegance, feeling and sophistication. The story is of Nora at two times of her life - when she was a frightened twelve year old evacuee, and then later when she is just weeks from her own death. At both stages of her life, and probably for most of the in between too, she was obsessed with Grace - Grace as a young beautiful teenager and later for the love and beautiful friendship that she lost. Grace was the sister she never had, the friend she so desperately needed and the love she dared not act upon.

There is a great deal of sadness, reality and danger which is matched by such a lot of passion, gentleness and subtlety. I found the book totally engrossing and couldn't wait to get to the end - a very surprising end - and look forward to reading it all again soon, but more slowly to really savour this excellent moving story. I would thoroughly recommend.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By E. Heckingbottom TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 19 April 2009
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A real page turner
A few nights before the start of the Easter break, I picked this book up in the mistaken belief that it would help me to fall asleep. Grave error! Five chapters in, and I was totally engrossed! I had to force myself to put it down, as I had to teach the following morning. Not only was the plot engrossing, but also the descriptions were incredibly vivid - particularly the description of Nora's first Sunday lunch at the rectory, which honestly made my mouth water as I read it!

Two plots and two different time periods run concurrently in this intriguing book, as we meet its heroine, Nora, at two very different periods in her life; one near the beginning and the other, close to the end.

The first plot focuses on her as she enters her teens and follows her through the next five years of her life. As a 12 year old, she is evacuated from London to Kent to escape the bombings; where she is adopted by a vicarage family, becoming a sister to their daughter, Grace, who is only five days younger than her. Secrets and mysteries surround the quiet vicarage where the girls grow up together, exploring the hidden pool and the rest of the area around where they live.

The second plot features Nora at the end of her life. Dying of cancer, she `adopts' a young 18/19 year old, Rose, and her newborn daughter after acting as a midwife during the birth of the child when Rose was living in a bedsit in the house opposite. Given the opportunity to name the child, Nora calls her `Grace' after her childhood friend.

Why the urge to do all this? All becomes clear as we reach the end of this extremely gripping novel.

Another great book for the beach during your summer holidays! Enjoy it! I did!
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