A huge thank you to Elizabeth for inviting me to contribute to the wonderful Readers Magnet, Author’s Lounge.
I’m S.D. Mayes and Letters to the Pianist is a standalone historical suspense novel set in war-torn London, 1941, and inspired by real historical events. And I would describe it as very much a father and daughter story – about the separate paths of Joe and Ruth Goldberg – how they are pulled apart through the devastation of war and throughout various obstacles and dark secrets, try to find their way back to each other again.
Writing has always been in my blood. I’m a former journalist for mainstream newspapers and magazines, now turned editor and author, and live in a small village near Reading in the UK. I always wanted to write since being at school, but it was only in my mid-twenties that I dared to dip my toe into the fast-paced life of journalism. Writing human interest stories for national newspapers and magazines taught me a lot, enabling me to understand the need for in-depth research and the crucial SHOW not TELL that us writers need to apply to our storytelling.
I was inspired to write Letters to the Pianist seven years ago when the complex plot just dropped into my consciousness and kept coming back to haunt me as if it were saying ‘write me, write me’. I literally couldn’t get the story out of my mind. Then after my mother’s death, I read her diary where she reminisced about her family home being bombed in the war, and I immediately got a window into the trauma of living through WWII.
I knew writing the book would be a challenge because all the characters are flawed in some way, and they all had their secrets as well as a storyline full of twists and turns – so it took me three years – adjusting the plot, tying up loose ends, along with around eight beta readers and endless editing – but I became very attached to the Goldberg family and the devastating turns that their lives take.
The story begins with rebellious Fourteen-year-old Ruth Goldberg and her two younger siblings, Gabi and Hannah, surviving the terrifying bombing of their family home. Parcelled out to relatives, they believe their parents are dead, their bodies buried underneath the burnt remains—but unbeknownst to them, their father, Joe, survives and is taken to hospital with amnesia.
Four years on, Ruth stumbles across a newspaper photo of a celebrated pianist called Edward Chopard and is struck by the resemblance to her father. Desperate for evidence she sends him a letter, and as the pianist’s dormant memories emerge, his past unravels, revealing his true identity—as her beloved father, Joe. Ruth then sets out to meet him, only to find herself plunged into an aristocratic world of sinister dark secrets.
The story illustrates the huge chasm between the wealthy elite and the poor, and it also reveals the real-life truth of Hitler’s obsession with rituals and the supernatural, and how the Goldberg’s walk into that terrifying scenario. But I can’t say more without giving away plot spoilers.
This book is for anyone of any age who loves WWII history, drama, suspense and lots of twists and turns. There’s a lot of everything within the pages: intrigue, mystery, secrets, betrayal and a good dose of romance – because after all, love makes the world go round.
In terms of the future, I’d love Letters to the Pianist to be made into a film. Michael Fassbender would make a wonderful Joe Goldberg; Alicia Vikander would be perfect as Connie Douglas-Scott, the complex debutante he marries as a renowned pianist; Charles Dance would make a brilliant Henry Douglas-Scott, his powerful, terrifying, but generous father-in-law.
I would love to think that a reader would take away the hope that is always in the heart of my main protagonists, Joe and Ruth, that whatever happens, whatever pain we go through, we can always draw on the strength within and find a way forward.