Thursday, 7 July 2016

Guest Post: The Inspiration Behind The Starlight Diner by Helen Cox

When I featured Helen Cox in the debut spotlight back in May it seemed like we still had a while to wait until her debut novel Milkshakes & Heartbreaks at the Starlight Diner was published.  But the wait is finally over as the book was published on Monday so it's my pleasure to welcome Helen back to the blog as part of her blog tour.

A question I get asked quite frequently is: does The Starlight Diner exist? I’m mostly asked this by people who are desperate to visit next time they’re in New York City. I am sad to report that The Starlight Diner is a place that can only be visited through my stories.

Well, sort of.

Though the diner does not exist in reality, most elements of the diner are based on real-life details from various diners across the city. The location of The Starlight Diner was inspired by The Remedy Diner on East Houston Street. That’s where I was sitting when I first decided I’d quite like to set a story in a New York diner. If The Starlight Diner really did exist the two eateries would stand just a few blocks apart. The 1950s theme for The Starlight Diner was inspired by Ellen’s Stardust Diner on Broadway (if you visit the staff sing Broadway tunes and it’s really cool) and the humming refrigerator stacked with pies and cakes was inspired by The Skylight Diner on 34th Street  - although you can find such a thing in many a New York diner.

Naturally, a lot of these details could be conjured by half an hour of furious Googling, but that’s not really my style. People always laugh when I tell them I went on a ‘research trip’ in which I toured New York diners. I laugh with them of course but, and this is going to sound like the poorest excuse ever for eating more cheesecake than one should, I don’t feel I would’ve had the confidence to write about New York diners without visiting my fair share of them. 

I am well aware that people write books about places they’ve never been all the time, and this astounds me. No matter how many books I read about New York, or how many movies I watch that are set there, it wouldn’t have been enough for me. I’d have felt like a cheat with every sentence. I’d have been sure the reader would’ve known I’d never visited and had no idea what I was talking about.

And what about my characters? How would I have done justice to them if I’d never walked the same streets they’d walked? If I’d never ordered a grilled cheese at eleven o clock at night while it’s raining outside on the streets of Manhattan?

I understand how pretentious this might sound, and I’m not usually one for indulging in the airy-fairy side of writing, but I’m standing by this one indulgence. I’ll never be a real New Yorker but my experiences in the city, and its diners, inspired much of what you will read in my Starlight Diner stories. On my visit I got to see what kind of customers were hanging around eating pie at four in the afternoon; to make notes on the way the locals ordered their eggs and to find the words to describe the meaty smell that hangs around in a kitchen that’s been frying bacon sixteen hours a day for the last twenty years. Hopefully all these delicious details will serve to bring the Starlight Diner to life for you.

Next time you’re in New York, take a turn off Broadway onto East Houston Street.

There, you’ll see it: The Starlight Diner. A retro eatery curious enough to delight tourists and locals alike. Fifties tunes stream out of the jukebox long into the night, and it serves the tastiest milkshakes in the five boroughs.

Esther Knight waitresses at The Starlight Diner. She’s sharp, sarcastic, and she’s hiding something. Nobody at the diner knows why she left London for New York – or why she repeatedly resists the charms of their newest regular,
actor Jack Faber.

Esther is desperate to start a new life in the land of the free, but despite the warm welcome from the close-knit diner crowd, something from her past is holding her back. Can she ever learn to love and live again?

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