How Best Selling author Martha Hall Kelly is continuing the Ferriday Family saga
When Martha Hall Kelly got the idea for her first novel Lilac Girls, she had no idea the sensation it would create. Or that its heroine Caroline Ferriday and her family would inspire two more novels. And it all began with a tearsheet from Victoria Magazine.
“I read an article on Caroline Ferriday in the May 1999 issue of the magazine,” explains Kelly, “and I carried it around with me for months, not knowing it would lead to my writing a novel about her. Not only did she save this group of women from Hitler, but she also had a fascinating career and had lived in Connecticut where she and her mother had created these amazing gardens. I finally drove from Fairfield, where I was living at the time, to Bethlehem to visit Bellamy-Ferriday House.”
That visit set Kelly off on an adventure that brought her to Warsaw and Berlin where she followed the route that these amazing women had traveled. Fast forward to 2016 when Lilac Girls is published to stellar reviews and Kelly has what all first-time authors dream about: a runaway bestseller. When the paperback was published last year it, too, landed on the New York Times bestseller list.
Prior to writing the novel, Kelly and her family, who had been residing in Atlanta, moved back east. “I had spent quite a lot of time in Litchfield County and had fallen in love with the area,” says Kelly. People here are so kind and generous and we found a wonderful house on property that is a working hay farm. Caroline’s house was also a working hay farm at one time. Our house is situated so perfectly that I can look out over the hay fields and see Mohawk Mountain. It’s just incredible and very quiet. I think that is most important for a writer—the quiet.”
Lilac Girls has become synonymous with Bellamy-Ferriday House and Kelly its staunchest supporter. She has done several events there, including tours extolling the beauty of the gardens Ferriday created. Kelly is the consummate storyteller and relates facts about the property and its inhabitants that she has garnered from all her research.
In fact, that research is what prompted her to write her second novel—a prequel entitled Lost Roses. This follows Caroline’s mother Eliza, who was very involved in World War I and helped rescue Russian women from St. Petersburg.
“I had done so much research for Lilac Girls and I didn’t want to lose these characters,” says Kelly. “Readers seemed to love Eliza so I decided that she would be the main character this time. I write about how it all began, when Eliza and her husband went to Connecticut and bought The Hay, which is the original name of the house. During my research I discovered that Caroline’s aunt was a nurse on the battlefield of the Civil War. It seemed so incredible to me that these amazing women from the same family but of different generations had all been involved in major wars.”
So, fans have a pre-prequel to follow the prequel Lost Roses, which comes out in April. Meanwhile Kelly looks forward to her extensive tour and the announcement about the movie of Lilac Girls. And to think it all began with a tearsheet.