What's in a Page: Before historical fiction, The Lions of Fifth Avenue's Fiona Davis wrote about apples
In a work of escapism that's eerily prescient for these times, as we read books from the confines of the homes we've barely left in months, Fiona Davis' newest novel is set inside the New York Public Library. It time-hops between Laura Lyons, whose husband is the NPYL's superintendent in 1913 (her family lives in an apartment within the library), and her granddaughter, Sadie, who is a curator at the library in 1993.
Davis has written a host of historical fiction tomes, but this is of course the first time that one of her stories will so actively substitute for real-life experience. Below, she tells EW about what went into creating The Lions of Fifth Avenue and how she got her start writing in the first place.
What is the first thing — ever — that you remember writing?
In third grade, I wrote a report about the health benefits of the apple. I still remember this line: "There are vitamins under the skin, so you should always eat the skin." It was kind of bossy, really.
What is the last book that made you cry?
The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel. The final scene gave me the chills and left me quite weepy, in the best of ways.
Which book is at the top of your current to-read list?
Hamnet, by Maggie O'Farrell. I love reading historical fiction from surprising points of view, so telling the story of Shakespeare's family is right up my alley. And I'm very excited for Asha Lemmie's Fifty Words for Rain to come out in September. It's set in post-World War II Japan, and written from the point of view of a young girl who's half-Japanese and half-Black.
Where do you write?
I work in the home office of my apartment in New York City. There are lots of bookshelves, as well as a mirror that is slightly angled, so I can catch a sideways view of the Hudson River. When I'm stuck, it's soothing to watch the barges slice their way through the water.
Which book made you a forever reader?
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie. She broke all the rules, and as a young reader, my literary world was blown wide open.
What is a snack you couldn't write without?
This time of year, I love cherries. The mix of sweet and tart — nothing better.
If you could change one thing about any of your books, what would it be?
In every book — especially with historical fiction — there's some tiny error that gets past all of the editors, proofreaders, and beta readers. So I'd catch that before it goes out for printing.
What is your favorite part of The Lions of Fifth Avenue?
I truly enjoyed writing about what it was like to live in a seven-room apartment deep inside the New York Public Library back in the 1910s, and using that beautiful building as my playground.
What was the hardest plot point or character to write?
Getting the mystery element of the book to work in two timelines is always a challenge, so planting the clues along the way without making them too obvious was definitely the toughest part.
Write a movie poster tag line for The Lions of Fifth Avenue:
"Deep are the secrets that lie in the stacks."