Alex Reeve and Marlene Hauser talk to Suzi Feay, Sun 7th April
Interviewed by brilliant literary journalist Suzi Feay, Alex Reeve and Marlene Hauser are both debut novelists, but, on the surface at least, appear to have little else in common.Despite this, Feay got right into how their very different novels have at least one point of contact; the controversial and intricate subject of abortion. While Hauser’s story is based around the emotional isolation of the decision to have an abortion, Reeve touches on the more gristly ‘back-street’ side of the subject.
Reeve’s debut novel is the first in a series of crime novels set in Victorian era London (specifically, and importantly 1880). The House on Half Moon Street introduces the reader to protagonist Leo Stanhope, a young medical assistant who helps with the processing of post-mortems at Westminster Hospital. When asked why he chose to set his novel in 1880 Reeve explained that it was because it provided such a rich and interesting time in history. The capital was on the cusp of becoming the “London” we know today, even though various districts did not yet exist.Detectives were a new part of policing and there were fewer rules and regulations, making it easier, perhaps for a member of the general public (enter Leo) to do some sleuthing of his own, in his desperation to track down his true love’s killer. With an added twist (and this is not a spoiler, as it’s mentioned on the back cover), Leo has his own secret to hide.He was born Charlotte, 'daughter of a respectable reverend' who left his family home at 15 to live as the man he was meant to be. Transgenderism in Victorian London? I can quite imagine what a fascinating subject that would have been to research, if quite difficult.
Another connection between the books is the evocation of a sense of time and place. While Reeve delves uncensored into the stench-ridden underworld of brothels and murder, Hauser moves her spirited main character, Krista Bourne, from the city (New York) to the haven of a summer home at Martha’s Vineyard, escaping everything in order to try and process the huge decision she must make.
The authors openly discussed how their respective novels came into being from research (detailed, painstakingly accurate research by Reeve’s own admission), to finding an agent, right through to the complex world of publishing.Both have had very different experiences; with Reeve’s wife being an author he had access to contacts within the industry (alas, her agent didn’t want a husband/wife on her books but was generous enough to recommend some other agents he might get in touch with). Hauser wrote Off-Island upon graduating from Colombia University, back in the early 1980s. She received various rejection letters, unfortunately, but it was one from St. Martin’s Press that ultimately made her re-think her future as an author and made her consider alternate career options. So, it is only now, with self-publishing providing a more cost-effective, realistic alternative to approaching behemoth publishers, Hauser has finally got her book out there, with help from various copy-editors (over the intervening years), a cover design team and a social media expert, showing that writing a novel isn’t as lonely a sport as one might imagine.
While Reeve stated that he had a much simpler journey to publication, with star editor Alison Hennessy (Bloomsbury) providing suggestions (“I love this paragraph, but do you really need it?”), he also blithely wondered whether this might have been quite different had he not been so laid-back and agreeable to such suggestions.