Hannah Interviews: Rachel Le Mesurier

18th April 2024
Hannah Interviews: Rachel Le Mesurier

Library Assistant Hannah is passionate about books and reading. In the latest in her series of author interviews, Hannah chats to Guernsey author Rachel Le Mesurier.

Loosely based on her own family history, her trilogy of novels are set in Mexico in the early 1900s and centre around farm girl Esperanza. Esperanza lives a charmed life. The daughter of a wealthy landowner, her family is thrilled when she attracts the attention of the handsome and mysterious Don Raúl, opening the door to a glittering life of opulence for them all.

But her life is changed forever when she falls in love with a charming street musician, opening her eyes to the cruel mistreatment of Mexico's mine workers and compelling her to stand with them against their oppressor - the man she is marrying...


Hannah: Your series, The Musician’s Promise is loosely based on your own family history. How hard was it to find out about your Mexican ancestors?

Rachel: My Granddad was always fascinated by his family history, and he found a Mexican family line of mostly merchants and farmers. It was hard to find records for the farmers as it was mostly the rich whose lives were recorded. We did find out that there was a Le Mesurier Manor though. We lost track of the family for a while but re-discovered them when the Mexican Revolution began; a Le Mesurier was killed in battle in Mexico City. Another, who had dark hair and blue eyes like me, left Mexico with a farmhand, only to return to Mexico, married to him a few years later. My Granddad loved this and was sure it was an elopement. He told me I should turn all this into a book.


I love how the project began as something fun between yourself and your Grandad; I’m sure he’s very proud of what you’ve achieved, not to mention honoured that one of your characters is partially inspired by him. Do you find it useful to base characters on people you know?

It’s quite hard to write based on real people because I have to respect their privacy. Also, real people have flaws, but everyone wants to be seen as being good and perfect all the time, and I don’t want to offend anyone.


Your series stays away from stereotypes of damsels in distress and men who show no emotion; how important is it for you to turn these often-harmful stereotypes on their head?

I wouldn’t call myself a hardcore feminist, but I wanted to show that women can still have a traditional life, with marriage and kids, but when arse needs to be kicked, we can do that too!  For example, Esperanza in the series doesn’t want the jewels and the floaty dresses, particularly once she knows about the working conditions in the gold mines and how Arturo’s brothers are treated. I think this is also a good moral for today’s reader as well with fast fashion etc.


What were some of the challenges you faced with writing the series?

The hardest scene to write was a raunchy scene; it’s a fade to black scene with nothing too explicit, and it was essential to the plot, but the whole time I was writing it, I was thinking, “My Dad’s going to read this”. He finished the books very quickly, and when I asked him about that scene, telling him I’d meant to say he could skim it, he told me that scene didn’t bother him at all. “What bothered me more,” he said, “was that my little girl could think up such an evil villain!”

My editor was also upset with me that I killed off one of her favourite characters; she didn’t speak to me for a fortnight, but we’re good friends again now. Killing off a character is hard; it made me feel a bit sad and mopey, as though I’d actually killed someone. I feel I know my characters better than I know myself, like acting, you really have to get into the mind of the character.

I see on your website that you also edit books for other people and help prepare them for publishing, can you tell me a bit more about that?

When I’m editing, I stop working on my own stuff so that I can hyper-fixate on what the author needs. I also try to adapt my editing to their writing style. Because most of my work, and my fans are in America, my work usually starts at weird times. I have the kids in bed by 8, and then I start working. I tend to work with authors who are self-publishing, just because I prefer to deal with the author than with a publishing house. I’m actually editing a book for Nicki Harrison at the moment, she’s really lovely. We’ll be appearing on a panel together at the Guernsey Literary Festival.


How did you find the publishing process?

I was very lucky; I was only published because I saw a competition asking people to submit an action scene, and I’d just written one, which appears in the second book. I came around fifth in the world in the competition and was asked to send my work to this publisher. Unfortunately, they went out of business during Covid, but I tried a few other publishers and contacted some agents. At one point I had six publishers interested, some wanted things changed because it was so hard to fit the book into a specific genre: historical fiction, historical romance etc. Some wanted me to tone down or remove some of the action sequences and make the story lighter and fluffier, but I refused because I felt it wouldn’t do the characters justice.

Eventually Eric at 5310 picked it up. 5310 is the fastest growing publisher in North America. Eric loved the book so much; he asked me to write a trilogy. I’m so glad I went with 5310; I was delighted they allowed me so much say in the audiobooks of the series. Eric found a wonderful Mexican actress, Raquel Beattie. She’s so good, I must admit I cried at the sad stuff, even though I knew what was going to happen!


Who are some of your favourite authors?

I love Peter James’s writing style. I also love Isabel Allende; she writes really strong powerhouse women, which inspires me in my own writing. I love that her women aren’t always damsels in distress. Esperanza in my books was definitely the fighter, while Arturo didn’t have her capabilities. I also love Wilkie Collins, someone else who wrote a strong woman in The Woman in White; she wasn’t just sitting in her petticoats waiting to be saved.


Do you have a library card?

Oh gosh, yes! I have one, my husband has one, and my children have one. I used to come here with my Dad every Saturday, and he comes in regularly too; he’s a very fast reader. Now I have Lily (my assistance dog), I can come in more often and browse. It’s a fantastic resource; I’m a big supporter of libraries. The amount I read, I couldn’t afford to buy everything.


You also mention on your website that you have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS); do you mind telling me a little bit more about it?

Of course, it’s good to raise awareness of it. I’m the writer who couldn’t write; I can’t hold a pen because my joints bend the wrong way. Teachers used to think I was lazy because I wrote so little at school. One teacher eventually noticed how much pain I was in and let me use a laptop. It took a long time to be diagnosed. I have to wear knee supports because my knee can pop out when I’m walking, and I can fall quite easily. I also use a walker and I have my Assistance dog, Lily.

A comorbidity of EDS is Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) which means my heart rate and blood pressure can be very erratic. Lily picks things up for me when I drop them as bending or standing up too quickly can make me faint. Lily can also detect adrenaline and will stare at me very intently to warn me to sit down and take my medication. I keep some in my bag, and some in her coat, just in case. If I fall, she can also bring me my phone, and if I fall and can’t get to my walker, she will push it to me. I'm determined not to use a wheelchair and Lily has been a huge help.


What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a couple of things; my main project is based on my Gran’s memories of the Occupation. She used to live on the same road as the Underground Hospital, and she has lots of stories about it being haunted. It’s a sort of ghost story about a nurse working in the Underground Hospital during the Occupation.

I’m also working on a really fun Terry Pratchett style murder mystery about a girl who is killed right at the beginning, when she meets Death, he’s lost her paperwork, meaning she’s no longer living or dead. She has to go to the Library of Life Stories to find the story of a relative to prove that she exists. There she finds out her sister is going to be murdered and vows to prevent her murder. The architecture of the Library of Life Stories is based on the Guille-Alles Library.


Do you have much interaction with fans?

I have some very lovely fans, funnily enough, a lot of them are in America. An Australian fan made crochet patterns of my characters, which I love, and still need to attempt to make.


What’s your favourite book?

Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope; I have multiple copies of it; illustrated, leatherbound. I just love it and have done since childhood.


Want to read on? Find Rachel's novels ready to borrow from the Library collection here.