Grace and I share more than a publisher – I am also a huge fan of Highgate Cemetery; Diana in Skin Deep grew up in a house bordering the West Cemetery. But less of me, let’s find out all about Grace’s latest novel – Before We Fall and the inspiration behind it. Over to you, Grace.
The Inspiration for Before We Fall
I once, briefly, visited a strip club. It was unlike anywhere else I’d been – sort of artificially flirty and fun but with a serious business-like undertone – and that experience came in useful when writing Before We Fall. But I have never practised ballet and my main inspiration for Cally’s character actually came from a brief moment in my childhood that has always haunted me…
I was about ten years old, couldn’t sleep, and crept downstairs to where the end of a film was playing on the television. It involved an aspiring young ballet dancer (about my age at the time) who suddenly collapsed and died on a subway train on her way home. The shock of the little girl’s sudden and painful death was made worse for me by seeing her mother’s helpless inability to save her, while the other passengers on the train simply looked on. Needless to say as soon as my mum caught me watching it, she sent me back to bed, but the traumatic scene was already imprinted on my mind. I’ve only recently discovered that the film was ‘Six Weeks’ from 1982 and that the young ballerina’s death was caused by leukaemia (rather than by riding an underground train as I’d wrongly assumed at the time), but it was – and still is – an important reminder that life is short.
I wanted to set Before We Fall in some of my favourite London locations – the city’s oldest restaurant, Rules, for example – but there were also places I wanted to use that I’d never experienced first-hand, and writing this book gave me the perfect excuse to visit and research them. Highgate Cemetery, for example, seemed a fitting locale for a story with a mortality theme. The resting place of thousands of people (including some of my favourite writers; George Eliot, Christina Rossetti and Douglas Adams) is steeped in history and romance. By going there myself I could mentally conjure up my characters in situ – imagine what they might think or say, and picture how their body language might betray their feelings. My visit was nowhere near as illicit as Cally and Bay’s ended up being, but my hope is that some of the unique atmosphere of the place has seeped into my writing.
Having said all that Before We Fall is primarily a romance novel full of love, lust, friendship and humour… just watch out for that dark edge.
When Cally, an amateur ballet dancer, is suddenly diagnosed with cancer she runs away from her boyfriend, her job in a call centre and her safe life in Wildham in order to experience ‘real’ life in London. Taking a job as a stripper and flat-sitting in the top of an office tower she meets her obnoxious neighbour Bay; a tattooed, drug-taking, suicidal artist, haunted by the death of those close to him.
Despite their differences, the two strike up a friendship – Bay pushes Cally to try new things while Cally provides Bay with a muse – and they fall in love. But their secrets threaten to tear them apart and time is running out…
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Having worked as a collage artist, sculptor, prop maker and garden designer, Grace has always been creative, but she is a romantic introvert at heart and writing was, and is, her first love.
A lover of rock music, art nouveau design, blue cheese and grumpy ginger tomcats, Grace is also an avid reader of fiction – preferring coffee and a sinister undercurrent, over tea and chick lit. When not making prop costumes or hanging out with her favourite nephews, she continues to write stories from her Hertfordshire home.