Stella and Connie live completely different lives thousands of miles apart, but they share a poignant, and totally unexpected, common destiny.
That is the intriguing plotline to local author Sonia Velton’s latest novel, which has just been published by Quercus Books.
Sonia, a qualified solicitor, turned to writing full-time a few years ago when she moved to Tunbridge Wells with her husband to bring up their three children after having lived in Dubai for eight years.
The Image of Her is Sonia’s second book but unlike her historical debut it falls under the fiction category, yet interestingly its roots are in something that happened in real life.
“I kept thinking about these women and their impossible connection”
“A few years ago I heard something that made me stop what I was doing and listen,” explains Sonia.
“It was a story on the news about two women whose lives had intersected in the most astonishing of ways.
“You may have heard it, too – perhaps you even found it a little disturbing to listen to – but you probably soon forgot all about it and got on with whatever it was you were doing.
“But I couldn’t forget it. I kept thinking about these women and their impossible connection.”
Sonia goes on to tell me that when she heard this fascinating news item her first book, Blackberry and Wild Rose, had just been published.
“It was about a household of master silk weavers in 18th-century Spitalfields, and I was busy planning my next historical fiction novel.
“I really tried to focus on corsets and chamber pots, but every time I sat down to write another story entirely kept coming into my mind based on what I had heard on the news.”
Sonia says she instinctively knew then that she wanted to write a book about two women, unknown to each other and living completely separate lives, who were destined to come together in the same heartbreaking yet awe-inspiring way.
“The usual advice to writers contemplating their second book is to ‘write the same but different’, so even though the idea was really compelling to me, I still hesitated to actually write it. Did I want to risk changing genres and possibly sabotaging my writing career when it had only just begun?”
Sonia admits that like many people it took her years to get published. She wrote as a hobby, first around her job as a solicitor and then later around caring for her three children, but she reveals she was crippled by self-doubt and struggled to justify taking time away from her family to spend it on what might turn out to be ‘just a pipe dream’.
But it wasn’t until she returned to the UK, after eight years living in Dubai, that she really began to focus on writing.
“The children were growing up and were now all at school. We were finally settled somewhere lovely – a leafy part of beautiful Tunbridge Wells with good schools nearby and surrounded by the elegant Georgian architecture that I love so much – and I really didn’t have any excuses left.
“I entered the first 20,000 words of my first novel into the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize and was both shocked and thrilled when I was shortlisted. This gave me the confidence that I’d been lacking.
“I finished the book, took a deep breath, and submitted it to my ‘dream agent’, Juliet Mushens, who has published Richard Osman and Abigail Dean. A few weeks later, on Valentine’s Day, Juliet offered me representation, and then a book deal with Quercus Books followed.
“It really was the stuff of dreams. Looking back, I wish I’d believed in myself more from the beginning.”
So, when it came to the idea for her second book, Sonia says that’s exactly what she did.
“I trusted that I had a good idea, even though it was in a different genre, and even though the subject matter was a little bit challenging, a little bit outré, even. I’m glad I did; I don’t think we ever really regret following our dreams or having the courage to tell the story that’s in our hearts, asking to be told.”
Photo of Sonia Velton: © Karen Bengall Photography