The plot: Rachel McMillan goes to Chapters to sign copies of her latest novel.
The twist: The author, who grew up in Orillia, finds The London Restoration on the bestseller list.
“I haven’t had a chance to actually process it,” McMillan, who now lives in Toronto, told OrilliaMatters. “I have other books, but the reception to this one has been incredible.”
The London Restoration is McMillan’s 16th book, but the first to make it to the Chapters Indigo bestseller list across Canada.
“It’s only been out a week, but it’s performing more successfully than the others,” she said. “It’s really cool, but it also doesn’t change how hard you work or how long it takes to publish books or your genuine enjoyment of writing something and getting it out there. It took a lot of books to get here.”
It is also among the top 10 historical fiction titles.
“That’s a big deal because historical fiction is massive right now,” McMillan said.
The London Restoration follows Diana Foyle and Brent Somerville, who married in London, England, during the Second World War. They were apart for four years as Brent served in the war and Diana, an architectural historian, took on a top-secret assignment to help MI6 prevent another war at the hands of Communists.
When they reunite, Diana is unable to tell her husband about her efforts.
“Determined to save their marriage and rebuild the city they call home, Diana and Brent’s love is put to the ultimate test as they navigate the rubble of war and the ruins of broken trust,” a book description reads.
McMillan likes to infuse personal experiences and relationships into her work, and she did so with The London Restoration. The character Brent is partly inspired by the author’s grandfather.
Brent is a stretcher bearer with the British army, taking on that job because he didn’t want to fire a gun. McMillan’s “opa,” Thomas Bruce Cann, served with the Canadian army's 24th Field Ambulance, 5th Armoured Division. He, too, wanted to be a stretcher bearer because he didn’t want to shoot a gun, and he never did.
McMillan writes every time she comes back home to Orillia. One of her favourite spots to do so is at the Hog N' Penny.
One day, while writing at the downtown pub, she wrote a scene into The London Restoration about a pub in England and she called it the Hog N’ Penny.
“Unfortunately, it got cut,” she said, “but I will write the Hog N’ Penny into a book one day.”
Being an author during the COVID-19 pandemic has given McMillan a new appreciation for her hometown and the inspiration she draws from it while writing.
“For three months, I couldn’t leave Toronto,” she said. “That first trip to Orillia earlier in the summer made me realize that’s kind of where I recharge my batteries. Orillia became more important because I took for granted how often I could just go there.”
Although The London Restoration is on the bestseller list of a large chain store, McMillan encourages readers to remember to support independent bookstores, especially during the pandemic.
She worked for a year at Manticore Books in downtown Orillia, when it was owned by Don Ross. That was more than a decade ago, but she is still inspired by Ross and often thinks about the long chats they had about books and history.
“When I’m writing, I still think, ‘I hope Don Ross likes this,’” she said.
McMillan is one of four authors who will be taking part in HarperCollins Canada’s High Tea at Home virtual event on Sunday from 2 to 3 p.m. It is free, and more information about the event and how to register can be found here.