An interview with Clare Ashton
1. Tell us about a unique or quirky habit of yours.
Not writing. This is a particularly bad habit to have as a writer.
2. If we opened your browser history, what would we find?
Oh heck. “What’s that rash?” “What’s the world’s smallest dog?” I should add that I’m usually answering questions for my kids.
3. What is your favourite genre to read, and why?
It’s that difficult to define category that has a little mystery, genuine love, intrigue, drama, family, and the character development of a literary novel. Just a damned good story, preferably including queer folk. But I always have a romance on the go.
4. What are your favourite pizza toppings?
Anything, just don’t put bloody anchovies on it.
5. Sing in the rain or dance in the streets?
Sing and dance in the rain twirling around my seven-year-old daughter. We actually do this. It’s after watching a YouTube clip of Gene Kelly’s Singing in the Rain which she loved and watched on repeat as a toddler.
6. If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why?
My grandparents (all long passed) – my Nan and Grandad who lived down the road and other Nan who lived across the country on her own. I’d love to cook up a huge roast dinner for them with plenty of wine to say thank you for being bloody lovely grandparents when I was little. Then afterwards, for old times’ sake, we could all have a sherry and play Whist.
7. What is your motto in life?
Don’t forget to enjoy it.
8. Tomorrow I absolutely refuse to…
Get out of bed, but the kids will make me.
9. Tell us a funny incident/embarrassing moment in your life.
See, I started thinking about this, and now I’m just re-running a whole lifetime’s worth of embarrassing moments through my head. This question is EVIL!!!
1. How long have you been writing for and when did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
I was an imaginative kid, creating all kinds of worlds and stories to play out, though not necessarily write down, although I loved creating comic books. I started dabbling with short stories in my twenties although my tales of lesbian yearning and romance didn’t impress my housemates at the time who were all blokes. Then just over ten years ago I hit on an idea for a novel that I just had to write – the kind of story I wanted to read – and I started jotting down the first draft of After Mrs Hamilton. My wife read the first couple of chapters and said “Oh, you can actually write. This is a like a proper book.” And with that first bit of encouragement I’d ever had, I haven’t looked back.
So please, please, please, if you’re starting out writing, include readers who love the genre when getting feedback!
2. What comes first, the plot or the characters?
Either and both. For Finding Jessica Lambert it was a character. I was reading an article about popstar Rhianna which included a photo taken from inside her car. It was in Paris and she was surrounded by fans, with hands pressed against the windows all around. I thought it looked terrifying! It was the prompt for a megastar character who hated and was unsuited to the relentless pressure of recognition and fame.
Usually it’s the meeting of an idea and a character and a setting that really sparks a book for me. I had the idea for what would become The Goodmans a while ago – a middle-aged woman trying to come to terms with splitting from her husband only for her grown children to inadvertently bring her past to her front door – but it was only when formidable Maggie Goodman stormed in that the story took off a couple of years later.
3. When you’re writing an emotionally draining (or sexy, or sad, etc) scene, how do you get in the mood?
I visualise scenes quite vividly before writing, from within the head and the heart of the point-of- view character, and everything flows from being immersed in their world.
4. What is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself/or a new writer?
Remember that not everyone is going to like your book, and when you receive your first bad review (it will hurt, that’s definitely allowed, no matter what non-writers say) go and have a look at all the one-star reviews for Sarah Waters (insert fabulous author of your choice) for perspective.
5. What’s your next project?
One of three ideas…maybe four …actually I thought of a fifth this morning….
ABOUT YOUR BOOKS:
1. Tell us about your first published book? What was the journey like?
After some encouragement from my wife and friends I self-published Pennance. It was tricky getting queer books published ten years ago with no lesbian publishers in the UK and little interest from mainstream publishing.
I’m so glad I did put my book out there, despite some loud voices asking who on earth would want to read love stories between women. Of course, the answer is thousands of women world-wide! Many people have their misgivings about self-publishing, but I think it has opened the gates for WLW romance.
2. What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book(s)?
That what I like most about writing and reading stories is the full gamut of human relations and emotions. I adore an emotionally gripping rollercoaster of a novel – that’s the ride I’m there for.
I think I started off writing with narrow aims for some of my books – a suspense tale, a romcom, a twisting mystery – whereas now I love a book that ebbs and flows with humanity, full of angst one moment then hilarity to break up the tension, just like in real life. I love writing the secondary characters as much as the heroines, sometimes even an entire family or village. I think that’s why my later books – which have been the longer and more complex stories – are my favourite.
3. Do you have a favourite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special?
Oooooo…. First up would be a friendly fight between Poppy Jenkins and Maggie Goodman, two characters from separate novels who I think would actually get on very well. Poppy is a sunshine character form the eponymous novel, who likes to see the best in people, although she is not without backbone and fire. Maggie is the matriarch of The Goodmans – a huge hearted woman who rages about the injustices of the world. I adored writing both those characters – seeing the world through Poppy’s eyes certainly lifts your mood, but there is catharsis to Maggie’s rants too!
Both Poppy Jenkins and The Goodmans are set in the area I grew up so they’re both very close to my heart in many ways.
But the intimacy and tenderness of the relationship between Jess and Anna in Finding Jessica Lambert is hard to beat for me.
4. Where can readers purchase your books?
All e-books and paperbacks are available from Amazon, and all but the latest from Smashwords. Audio books will be start to be available in 2021. Look out for paperbacks if you’re ever in Gay’s The Word in London too!