A best-selling author has teamed up with Watford Borough Council to launch a new campaign which aims to unite the town through a love of reading.

Former Watford resident Katharine McMahon and the council have joined forces as part of the Watford Together initiative, which aims to bring the community together during the coronavirus pandemic, for the campaign named One Town, One Book.

The book selected for One Town, One Book is the author’s latest novel, The Hour of Separation.

Set in Watford and a fictional farm in Belgium during two world wars, the novel is a tale of human endurance, heroism and love and resonates strongly with the challenges currently being faced during the Covid-19 crisis.

More details of the events planned and how people can get involved are due to be released next week, but Watford Mayor Peter Taylor has outlined what these are set to involve.

He said: : “Taking part in One Town, One Book is beautifully simple – make The Hour of Separation your midsummer read and join in with the activities the council and the author have planned, including a series of virtual book club sessions with myself and Katharine McMahon and a virtual writing workshop. Residents can even use the book to kick off their own virtual book clubs.”

Ms McMahon said: “I am so happy that The Hour of Separation is Watford’s chosen book. Watford is where I wrote my books and brought up my children. Its history – and my affection for this very special town – helped shape The Hour of Separation.”

Perhaps best known as the Sunday Times best-selling author of ten critically acclaimed and and commercially successful novels including The Rose of Sebastopol and The Crimson Rooms, Ms McMahon has been a Richard & Judy Book Club choice and also ran the Guardian Masterclass on historical fiction.

She taught in local schools early in her career and tutored at the University of Hertfordshire – the campus at Aldenham gave her the setting for The Alchemist’s Daughter.

Ms McMahon also served as a magistrate in Watford, St Albans and Hemel Hempstead for 30 years, loves theatre, was a trustee at Watford Palace and ran a round-table reading group there.

She works as education projects manager at the Royal Literary Fund where her role is to help develop a wide range of projects in which writers can use their skills in all kinds of different communities.

The Hour of Separation – a synopsis

March 1939

Estelle is the headstrong daughter of Fleur, a Resistance legend who disappeared during the Great War, supposedly killed while helping Allied soldiers to escape.

Christa, an only child, daughter of a Watford printer, fantasises about the ethereal Belgian heroine who saved her father.

When Estelle comes looking for the truth about the mother she believes deserted her, an intense friendship grows between the two young women. Estelle invites Christa to De Eikenhoeve, her family’s idyllic country estate in Belgium.

There, Christa encounters Estelle’s two brothers — brooding, tempestuous Robbe and dependable, golden-haired Pieter — and during that long hot summer, passions run high. When war breaks out Christa is forced to return home, but not before she has done something she will regret for the rest of her life.

Christa arrives back in England a changed woman, while Estelle decides to follow in her mother’s footsteps and join the Resistance. Little do they dream that Fleur was betrayed by someone close to them, and that the legacy of this betrayal will have heartbreaking consequences for them all.

”An epic yet heartbreakingly intimate novel of conflict and betrayal, and of the pain of lost love.” Kate Mosse on The Hour of Separation