Most of the author interviews I do are with writers celebrating the release of their first books. Today I’m delighted to welcome back Nicola Cassidy, who I interviewed back in 2017 about her historical debut December Girl. This month sees the publication of her third novel, Adele. It recounts the real-life story of Adele Astaire, performer sister of a dancer called Fred. The book shines a spotlight on a fascinating life that took Adele from humble beginnings in Omaha, Nebraska, to the Broadway stage as a Vaudeville star, to becoming unlikely mistress of Lismore Castle in Co Waterford. She has been largely overlooked despite being Fred’s dance partner long before Ginger Rogers, and was a major driving force behind his Hollywood career.
Nicola talked me about her fascination with Adele, and her own continued writing journey.
Nicola, what made you want to tell Adele Astaire’s story?
I first heard about Adele while watching a documentary about Chatsworth House in the UK, and when it briefly gave an overview of her life and mentioned her time in Ireland, I knew I had to research and write about her. [Adele left showbusiness when she married Lord Charles Cavendish, son of the 9th Duke of Devonshire, owners of Chatsworth House, and the couple lived in the family’s estate, Lismore Castle. She’s pictured below left with Fred around 1921, and with Lord Charles in 1932.]
How did you go about your research?
My first step is always to read as much as I can about what I’m writing about. There weren’t many books, but I got what I could and went through them meticulously. Two books were invaluable in my research – The Astaires by Kathleen Riley and Steps in Time, Fred Astaire’s autobiography. I also trawled Irish newspaper archives for any mention of her and Fred.
I visited Lismore Castle, where she lived for quite a while, and the Astaire archives in Boston, where I could access all their family and personal material. I did some face-to-face interviews too with people who knew her or had a connection. All these sources helped build the story.
I notice from your marketing information that Adele is told from three perspectives, two fictional (I’m assuming) and Adele herself. How hard was it to get into the head of the real person?
Not very hard at all, really, when you’re so absorbed in your research. I felt like I knew her as a person and she is written in first person in the novel, something I quite enjoy as a writing technique. I studied how she spoke as much as possible from transcripts of interviews with her, and I have recordings of her voice from albums released in the 1920s [You can listen to one of Adele and Fred’s recordings from 1922, below].
Her diaries and letters were really key to her thoughts as you could find out information that wouldn’t be in the public domain. The other characters are fictional, so I felt I had more freedom with them.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about Adele?
I think how comical she was – how ahead of her time. She would do anything for a joke or laugh, and she cared not a jot what others thought of her. She was fierce. She cursed like a trooper and I love that about her – she was a lady, but an unconventional one.
This is your third novel. If you could go back in time to first-novel Nicola, what would you advise yourself to do differently?
Well I’m one of those people who thinks everything happens for a reason, or at the time it should, so I don’t have any regrets as such about what I’ve done in my writing career. If I could do it all again, I would probably advise myself to be a bit more patient, but it’s hard when you really want to be a novelist and don’t know if it will ever happen for you. I have learned patience, though – and how to rework something until it is better.
Is it a different publishing experience this time around and if so, in what way?
This is my second book with Poolbeg [the first was The Nanny at Number 43], so I know what to expect now. It was quite a big change from the first time, as December Girl was digitally published so there was no going to the publisher to see and sign your book, no airport stock, no wide stock availability across book stores. Being traditionally published is the dream, but I’m glad I experienced both methods of publishing.
I think anyone who hopes to be published traditionally should know that a lot of work goes on behind the scenes, from edits to publicity to logistics, and writing the book is only one part of being an author. I love it all, though, and am enjoying the whole experience.
I’m working on a first draft of a novel. It’s torturously slow and I can’t imagine going through the process again and again. Please tell me it gets easier!
Haha! I’m at the stage now where I cannot WAIT to get stuck into my next novel, my fourth. It does get easier. For me, the hardest book to write was my debut because it felt like an uphill battle every day – would I get it finished, would I get it published, was I good enough, was I even a writer?
I’ve learned so much from working with my editors too, so I’ve learned
to structure my books in a certain way that probably makes them easier to write. My third seemed to flow easily enough and the editing process was very straightforward compared to even book two. You learn as you go. It does get easier, promise! [Hurray! – Anne]
Adele was part of a three-book deal with Poolbeg. So what’s next for you?
Well, I’ve only delivered two books of my three-book deal, so my focus now is on book three of that deal. I have my idea and theme, and I intend to start writing in the coming weeks. I won’t think much further beyond that. I do have a great interest in script writing and other literature forms, so in the future I would like to explore those. I would still like to produce a novel a year, however, if I can. It’s just in me now… I don’t know if I can stop!
And lastly, Fred or Gene?
I feel like I know Fred as a brother figure now having done so much research into his life, so I will say Gene! But they were equally charismatic. Just like our beloved Adele!
Nicola Cassidy is a writer and blogger from Co Louth. She studied journalism at Dublin City University and worked as a political press officer before moving to marketing management. Her short stories, spoken word and plays have been shortlisted in a number of competitions and published in anthologies. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Adele is available in all good bookshops nationwide (check out the Booksellers Association website for a list of Ireland and UK bookshops where you can order deliveries online during the Covid-19 shutdown). You can also order directly from Poolbeg, who are currently offering free ROI delivery. And it can be downloaded on Kindle via Amazon here.