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Anna Hope Book and Novel

Anna Hope - Author


Anna Hope was born in Manchester and educated at Oxford University and RADA. She is the author of the acclaimed debut Wake. The Ballroom is her second novel, and is inspired by the true story of her great grand-father.

Author photo © Jonathan Greet, 2014

Below is a Q & A with this author

Your author’s note states that The Ballroom was inspired by your great-great-grandfather. Would you tell us a little about how you came to know of his story?

I was doing some digging into my family history and came across the census of 1911, where a tiny, crossed out note stated that my great-great-grandfather was a patient in Menston Asylum. I had never heard of the place and immediately searched on the internet, and found a fantastic archive dedicated to the building that had opened in the Victorian era as West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum, and only closed its doors in 2003.

The archive held many old photographs and as I looked further I came across a picture of the ruined, spectacular ballroom at the asylum’s heart, and knew I had to write about the place.

The details of my great-great-grandfather’s life emerged gradually in the course of my research; he was admitted to the asylum as a ‘melancholic’ who hardly spoke, and died there, having never recovered bodily or mental health in 1918. I really wanted to honour a little of his memory in writing the book.

The natural world almost becomes a character in the novel as the 1911 heatwave summer progresses. How important was it to you to evoke the atmosphere of the Yorkshire moors?

Incredibly important! I grew up not far from where the book takes place, over the Pennines in Lancashire, and throughout my childhood I was struck by how industrial towns lay cheek-by-jowl with such wild and open country. I was always fascinated by that contrast between the relative claustrophobia of working lives spent in factories and mills and what the moors beyond their walls might represent. So it seemed natural to explore those themes of freedom and confinement in The Ballroom. Ella is in the asylum for breaking a window, simply because she wants to see the sky. John is brought back to himself after a devastating depression by his contact with working the land. It is his guilt that he is outside, experiencing this beautiful summer that leads to him writing to Ella, and them falling in love. So landscape, love and language are all intimately connected in the novel.

The three main characters are very different, was it ever hard to make their voices distinct?

Well, I wrote a whole first draft of the book in first person, hoping to capture their voices on the page. Ultimately it was the wrong approach for the book, but I think it really helped me to think my way into the characters. Many writers talk about seeing their characters, but I have a hard time with that; instead I feel them, like a pulse, and hear them. In terms of dialogue, it was fairly easy with Charles, he’s such a talky character, even if only his internal chatter, but it was harder with Ella and John, because both are very private, internal characters who don’t speak much.

The theme of eugenics become very important as the novel progresses. Were you shocked to discover of the extent of the belief in eugenics in Britain at the time?

Very shocked. Especially seeing Churchill’s language as Home Secretary for instance; so much of it, in its concerns over race hygiene and purity seemed to echo that of his great enemy twenty years later. It’s as though the Nazis were so extreme and horrifying, that we’ve forgotten our own role in the eugenics movement, which was significant. It’s easy to demonise Churchill though, the fact was that there were many, many people across the political spectrum who were supporters of the theory, from the Fabians Sidney and Beatrice Webb, to George Bernard Shaw. It’s a fascinating, troubling time to read about.

If you like Anna Hope you might also like to read books by Judith Allnatt, Helen Dunmore and Nigel Farndale.

Featured Books, with extracts, by Anna Hope

The Ballroom by Anna Hope
The Ballroom
Anna Hope
A striking, eloquent and desperately beautiful novel, set during 1911 in a Yorkshire asylum. John, Ella and Charles find themselves at the edge of an impossible future, each decision they make, sets connecting wheels in motion. This is a fictional...
Format: Paperback - Released: 01/09/2016
The Ballroom by Anna Hope
The Ballroom
Anna Hope
A striking, eloquent and desperately beautiful novel, set during 1911 in a Yorkshire asylum. John, Ella and Charles find themselves at the edge of an impossible future, each decision they make, sets connecting wheels in motion. This is a fictional...
Format: Hardback - Released: 11/02/2016
Wake by Anna Hope
Wake
Anna Hope
A story set just after the First World War and revolving around half a dozen people, the choosing of the body that became ‘the unknown soldier’, its journey to London and the memorial service for its burial. There are no...
Format: Paperback - Released: 01/01/2015
Wake by Anna Hope
Wake
Anna Hope
A story set just after the First World War and revolving around half a dozen people, the choosing of the body that became ‘the unknown soldier’, its journey to London and the memorial service for its burial. There are no...
Format: Hardback - Released: 01/01/1970

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Author Info

Author's Website

annehope.com/
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