I had never heard about Clare Ashton until I read the following review of her novel After Mrs Hamilton at C-Spot Reviews. I added the book to my Amazon wishlist and downloaded it to my iPad a few weeks later. I was hooked right from the beginning and couldn’t put it down. After Mrs Hamilton has also been nominated for a Goldie award!
Because I had really enjoyed it, I thought I’d contact Clare Ashton about an interview for my blog. She accepted immediately and emailed her answers back within a couple of days. She was also most patient with me when I asked further questions. I hope you will enjoy the interview and that it will encourage you to read her books.
Clare Ashton, can you introduce yourself in a few words?
I’m a UK writer who writes stories with suspense, romance, intrigue and humour and an awful lot of lesbians. I also add (not always intentionally) a dash of something darker that can make readers feel uncomfortable. I grew up in mid-Wales where sheep outnumber humans, so a significant countryside setting is never far away in my writing.
As a child and teenager what were the books that made an impression on you?
I read very widely as a kid from The Hobbit and Lord of Rings, Dune and other sci-fi to (later in my teens) Jane Austen classics and Anna Karenina. I think I had a higher standard of reading back then than I do now! Nothing better than curling up with a good trashy romance these days. I also stole books from my parents’ bookshelves by Tennessee Williams (The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone) and Françoise Sagan (Bonjour Tristesse) – wonderfully different tales of love that have stayed with me over the years.
Who are your favorite authors today and do you think their writings influence your own?
As an adult, I think the books that made their greatest impression were The Secret History (Donna Tartt), Fingersmith (Sarah Waters), The Blind Assassin (Margaret Atwood) and the Tales of the City series (Armistead Maupin) – all books with a great twisting story and that has definitely influenced the kind of story I like to write.
I always seem to add a surprise or two and sometimes have a little bit of an edge and darkness too. On the other hand I still re-read Jane Austen. A review of After Mrs Hamilton has some very un-Austen like elements), I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.
Who are your favorite lesbian authors?
Sarah Waters must come top. I usually find books that revel in their descriptive passages a bore, but she just does it sublimely and her writing makes me drool. She also has real, vivid and compelling characters and my favourite novels of hers have a brilliant twisting tale too. It’s wonderful that someone of her calibre writes lesbian novels.
I’m a sucker for a good romance too. And of the books I’ve read recently Chris Paynter’s Survived by Her Longtime Companion definitely had that kick to the gut, choke-you-up element in the Eleanor and Daphne storyline. I also love Diana Simmonds’ light romances written in her expert and witty style. She makes writing look like it’s the easiest thing in the world.
Is After Mrs Hamilton your first novel?
It’s the first novel for which I completed a first draft. It’s a complex tale and that draft had several problems with it that I didn’t know how to fix back then.
I moved on to a shorter tale (Pennance) to improve my writing skills. Pennance has a much simpler plot although still with a twist and turn. It’s more dominated by the atmosphere of its wintery setting in Cornwall and it’s been described as a modern gothic romance.
After I’d published Pennance I went back to rewrite After Mrs Hamilton. I was also very lucky to work with an editor (Diana Simmonds) and that was crucial for me sorting out that early draft and making it the story that I always wanted it to be.
What inspired you to write your first book?
After Mrs Hamilton was the kind of book that I wanted to read: a page-tuner, with twists and turns, fascinating lesbian characters and a great dollop of romance and sex. All tastefully done of course!
Would you say that you write lesbian fiction or novels where lesbians are the main characters?
After Mrs Hamilton is unapologetically a lesbian book, just by the sheer number of lesbian characters in there. Pennance I think is more a mainstream book, set in a remote rural setting with a broad range of heterosexual as well as lesbian characters.
Did you know right from the start that you wanted to write this sort of novels?
No, I didn’t. It’s only been recently that someone told me that I was writing intrigue-romances. I only set out to write an interesting story.
Does it make a difference to be a British and/or a European author?
I love the fantastic differences in regional flavour that you get between continents and indeed between regions in a country. One thing I think UK writers are particularly good at is literary works which appeal to the mainstream and have lesbian main characters (novels by Sarah Waters, Jeannette Winterson, Charlotte Mendelson, etc.).
It’s a pity that there is less lesbian genre publishing in the UK though. Most lesbian writers that I know of tend to be published by US publishers, and although I love their work (Cari Hunter’s excellent and gripping – Snowbound for example), I wonder if there would be more esoteric works available if there were more lesbian publishers here. It’s great to see other indie writers doing well in the UK, such as Kiki Archer and Rachel Dax, and I hope that indie writers extend the range of work available.
(I edit the uklesfic blog with Cari Hunter and you can find a list of all current UK lesbian authors here)
How did you conceive the plot forAfter Mrs Hamilton?
It started with a character, Clo, who works as a highly paid and sympathetic escort for older women. She was a character who had been kicking around my head for a while, and I’m very fond of her, and I wanted to give her the greatest romance and love.
She had an interesting background, but then I weaved in her best friend Laura’s background too. Laura was adopted and doesn’t know who her parents are and she is also on the cusp of a life-changing relationship. Combining those really made the story very interesting. It evolved from there over several weeks of outlining and living through scenes in my imagination – my favourite part of writing (daydreaming I suppose!)
Did you draw your inspiration for the main characters (i.e.Clo, Fran, Susan) from real life? Or did you totally invent them?
Clo was initially based on a couple of people I know very well, but as with all characters, the more I outlined and wrote the more she changed into a distinct character with her own voice, mannerisms and personality, so much so that I hope the original inspirations do not recognise her.
Fran, a fantasy older love interest, was based on gorgeous French actresses like Catherine Deneuve and Fanny Ardant with a bit of Kristin Scott-Thomas thrown in. But again, to me, she is unrecognisable now and is just Fran
Do you have a favourite character in this novel? Which one?
One of Clo or Fran. They are both real, damaged, attractive and fascinating. I love those two and they have the most deeply romantic history and relationship (albeit a little unconventional).
How has the novel been welcomed so far?
People have really liked the twisting tale, and like me, have found the complex characters of Clo and Fran intriguing. Some loved Fran, as an attractive but real older (mid-fifties) heroine, others liked the damaged, quirky and loving Clo.
Readers have also found the tale of Laura very thought-provoking and made them react very emotionally to her and Susan. After Mrs Hamilton is a very charged tale. It’s a collision of several people who didn’t know they were previously connected and the outcome is emotionally explosive and dramatic.
Most importantly someone said it was just “a bloody good read”. So I’m pretty pleased with that!
I noticed that food is mentioned in both novels and plays an important role in the bonding process between the characters. Is this how you see food?
Yes, I do see food, its preparation and eating together as important for bonding in various social situations. In the books I meant it to reflect the low emotional state of the characters when they eat poorly and then to show the support and love that is introduced into their lives by the character preparing the more nourishing food. Clo in After Mrs Hamilton is a giving and loving character and her expertise with patisserie and other cuisine reflects this. Her ability to choose perfect food for people reflects her versatility as an escort – she satisfies people’s very basic needs in a rich way.
Are you currently working on a new book? Would you mind telling us a little about it?
When I was writing After Mrs Hamilton, I kept having ideas for short stories, which was very distracting. There are a couple of those ideas that are still demanding to be written. No doubt I’ll start having ideas for novels as soon as I try to write them!
Thank you Clare for your availability and your time.
NB: Both novels have Kindle editions