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Monday, July 1, 2013

Interview with Lauren Willig! "The Ashford Affair"


From Lauren Willig, author of the New York Times bestselling Pink Carnation series, comes a richly detailed historical saga, spanning from WWI England to colonial Kenya to present-day New York, as one woman discovers the truth about her family’s hidden past and her own present.

As a lawyer in a large Manhattan firm, just shy of making partner, Clementine Evans has finally achieved almost everything she’s been working towards—but now she’s not sure it’s enough. Her long hours have led to a broken engagement and, suddenly single at thirty-four, she feels her life crumbling around her.
When the family gathers for her grandmother Addie’s ninety-ninth birthday, a relative lets slip hints about a long-buried family secret. Clemmie is stunned. Addie was the woman who seemed to have it all: a perfect marriage, three children, and a successful career in an era when most women didn’t have one. As Clemmie unravels the story, scandalous family secrets that are decades old begin to come back to life, leading her on a journey into the past that could change everything.

Growing up at Ashford Park in the heyday of Edwardian society, Addie has never quite belonged. When her parents passed away, she was taken in by her aristocratic aunt and uncle who raised her in the grand English house, side-by-side with her beautiful and outgoing cousin, Bea. Though they are as different as night and day, Addie and Bea remain closer than sisters through relationships, challenges, and a war that changes the face of Europe irrevocably. But what happens when something finally comes along that can’t be shared? When the love of sisterhood is tested by a bond that’s even stronger?

From the inner circles of British society to the skyscrapers of modern-day Manhattan, the never-told secrets of a woman and a family unfurl in this epic yet intimate story. 
ISBN-13: 9781250014498
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 4/9/2013
  • Pages: 368
  • Genre:  Historical Fiction
    Author:  Lauren Willig
    Website:  Lauren Willig


    LAUREN WILLIG is also the author of the New York Times bestselling Pink Carnation series and a RITA Award-winner for Best Regency Historical for The Mischief of Mistletoe. She graduated from Yale University, and has a graduate degree in English history from Harvard and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. She lives in New York City, where she now writes full time.
    Please click on her website link http://wwwlaurenwillig.com to find out more fascinating information about her fleet of books and her!


    We are delighted to bring you an interview today with Ms Willig!  She's an absolute favorite of mine in her genre.  Smart and snappy, she brings to life her characters in their every adventure.  I love reading her books and just devour them like chocolates.  Can't wait to share this interview with you....

    1)  How would your friends describe you?
    The word “effervescent” may have been used a time or two.  I tend to bounce a lot when I get excited.  There may also be some enthusiastic gesticulation.  Which can turn dangerous when I’m holding a drink in one hand, particularly if it’s one of those low-rimmed martini glasses.  There’s a reason I’ve learned to only drink clear booze at cocktail parties; it’s much easier on the dry cleaner afterwards.  This is also why I tend to go through my book tours in a haze of eau de coffee….
    2)  Where did the idea for this novel germinate?
     This novel popped up out of the blue and walloped me over the head.  It was the fall of 2010, and I wasn’t meant to be thinking about flappers or disillusioned World War I veterans or Kenyan coffee farms; I was meant to be writing about Napoleonic spies and their dashing deeds.  But a friend of mine, knowing that I like to vacation in the 1920s, gave me a copy of Frances Osborne’s The Bolter, about the dramatic life of Idina Sackville, who racketed back and forth between London and Kenya in the period after World War I, acquiring and discarding husbands along the way.  I was incredibly intrigued not just by her dramatic life (which was pretty dramatic), but also by the author’s comment in the preface that she hadn’t realized that Idina was her own great-grandmother until a chance TV program forced the revelation.
    At the time, my own grandmother—my last remaining grandparent—was very ill, and it struck me forcibly just how little we know about our families and how much we assume.  What if a modern woman were to discover that nothing about her grandmother and her family was as it seemed?  What would it do to her?
    Once the idea hit, it wouldn’t let go.  (See “walloped me over the head”, above.)  I put the next book in my Pink Carnation series on hold, read up on Edwardian England, World War I, and 1920s Kenya, and plunged into the novel that would become The Ashford Affair.
    3)  Who was the first person who encouraged you to write, or told you that you could write well?
     I was one of those annoying children who decided, at the ripe old age of six or so, that I was going to be a novelist when I grew up.  At six, grown-up is a relative term: I was determined to have a novel in print by the time I hit double digits (because by the time I was ten, I would obviously be over the hill) and was deeply crushed at the age of nine when Simon & Schuster sent back my first full length manuscript, all three hundred hand written pages, with a form rejection letter.
    That being said, the first time I recall getting public recognition for my writing was when I was in third grade.  We’d been given the assignment of interviewing our headmistress and then writing a fictionalized account of her day.  Mine was chosen for the school newsletter—which was exciting enough in itself, but the real kicker was when a letter arrived, several weeks later, from a Columbia journalism professor, saying he had photocopied the story and handed it out to his class as an example of the clarity of prose and economy of writing he wished them to achieve.  I still have that letter tucked away somewhere.  It boggles my mind to this day that, back in 1985, my third grade essay was being used as a How To in a Columbia Journalism School class!
    4)  Who are your favorite classical authors?
    I was a Renaissance Studies major back in the day (no, seriously, it was a real major, I swear), so I tend to gravitate back to Shakespeare and Donne, particularly certain favorites.  Like everyone else, I adore Much Ado About Nothing, but I also have a strange fascination with Measure for Measure, problem play that it is. 
    Leaving iambs behind, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Austen, whose sly wit and sharp insights into human nature are a constant inspiration to me.  I also have a weakness for the social satirists of the 1920s and 30s: Nancy Mitford, Evelyn Waugh, Angela Thirkell (who I view as a kinder, gentler version of the previous two).  And, of course, no bookshelf would be complete without the madcap antics of P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster.
    5)  Read any good books lately?
    I’ve been on a gothic kick recently—eking out my beloved collection of Barbara Michaels and Elsie Lee from the 80s, there have been some excellent new variants on the genre that have come out over the past few years.  I particularly love Simone St. James 1920s-set ghost stories, The Haunting of Maddy Clare and An Inquiry into Love and Death, which manage to provide that hair prickling on the back of your neck feeling that the very best ghost stories do, and I’ve just stumbled onto Wendy Webb’s The Fate of Mercy Alban, which contains two of my favorite tropes: an old house and a family secret.
    I’m constantly on the hunt for new books, so if you ever have any recommendations, please stop by my website or Facebook page and share them with me.  I run a weekly feature on my website, Weekly Reading Round-Up, where everyone discusses what they’ve been reading that week.  I’ve found several of my new favorites that way—including the three books mentioned above!
    You, yourself are a character and so extraordinary, Lauren, as we might have expected from the wonderful humor in your books!  Thank you for stopping by to share with us.  I'm looking forward to reading "The Ashford Affair!"

    Although she may not have realized it at the time, Lauren Willig had her life pretty clearly mapped out when she was a mere nine-year-old. That's when she completed her first "novel" -- 300 handwritten pages of a Nancy Drew-inspired mystery titled The Night the Clock Struck Death featuring not one, but two teenage sleuths. (Twin detectives, if you please!) She sent it off to Simon & Schuster -- who promptly sent it back. "I was utterly crushed for at least a week," the young author admits.
    Crushed, perhaps, but apparently the pull of becoming a writer was considerably stronger than the sting of rejection. Several years later, while she was in grad school, Willig began work on another novel -- although she wasn't sure which novel it would be. "There were three contenders: one, the Pink Carnation; another, a mystery novel set at Yale; and the third, a historical novel set around a group of Luddites in 1812. The Yalie mystery novel nearly won out... but the image of a masked spy on a rope tipped the balance the other way, and The Pink Carnation was born."
    A witty melding of espionage thriller, swashbuckler, and the kind of classic "bodice-ripping" romance novels she first discovered at the tender age of six, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation was published in 2005. The premise is irresistible: A modern grad student researching her dissertation in London stumbles on the identity of a mysterious English spy from the Napoleonic Wars. With its clever book-within-a-book format, Willig's novel was an instant sensation. Almost immediately, she penned the sequel, The Masque of the Black Tulip. Willig was off and running with a hot and sexy – not to mention bestselling -- series.
    Although the Pink Carnation books build on one another, each story focuses on a different pair of lovers and can be read as a stand-alone. Willig tries to weave in any information from previous installments that might be key to understanding the characters or plot. All her books have become Romantic Times Top Picks. In 2006 Lauren was nominated for a Quill Award.

    Also Good To Know:

    Even before she committed her stories to paper, Willig was amusing herself with her very own fiction in the privacy of her head. "I remember lying in bed, staring up at the underside of my canopy, composing complicated narratives complete with dialogue, generally based on whatever movie I had just seen," she told The Readers Place.com. "Star Wars spawned weeks' worth of bedtime dramas in which I starred as Princess Lea's best friend. Who would, of course, wind up with Luke Skywalker as co-ruler of the Universe -- you know what they say, if you're going to dream, dream big."
    According to Willig's official biography, she is a Native New Yorker. However, she admits that this isn't entirely true being that she was actually born in Philadelphia -- a fact that her "real" Native New Yorker siblings aren't quick to let Lauren forget.  Some fun and fascinating outtakes from our interview with Willig: "Like my modern heroine, Eloise, I spent a year in England doing research for my dissertation (mine is about Royalist conspiracies during the English Civil Wars in the 1640s), and living in a little basement flat in Bayswater. Unlike Eloise, on my very first week in London, I ate a bad kebab, and got so sick that I wound up briefly back in the States, on the same medicine they give people who have anthrax poisoning. Not exactly an auspicious beginning...."  "I still don't have a driver's license. Having grown up in Manhattan, there was never any need of it -- other than as a means of getting into bars, and learning to drive seemed a bit extreme just to get a drink. Of course, that was before I moved to Cambridge for grad school and realized that in other parts of the world, you can't just walk into the middle of the street, stick your arm up into the air, and, lo!, immediate transportation appears. Since I really don't want to have to learn how to drive, I've decided the only remedy is just to live in Manhattan for the rest of my life."  "Many years ago, at my Yale college interview, the interviewer took one look at my resume, and announced, ‘You can't be a writer.' Getting a little panicky -- since no one takes kindly to having their life's dream flung in their face -- I blurted out, ‘Why not?' ‘Writers,' he said firmly, ‘are introverts. You,' he indicated the long list of clubs on my resume, Drama Club, Choral Club, Forensics, interschool plays and public speaking competitions, ‘are not.'"
    "It is true; I've never been able to resist a stage. There are embarassing videos (which may have to be confiscated and burnt at some point) from various family weddings, where I, as a wee child, coopted the microphone to serenade the wedding guests with off-key renderings of "Memory" (from Cats). It's a wonder I lived past the age of ten without being murdered by a bride wielding a sharpened cake knife. Point me to a podium, and I can talk indefinitely (and usually do, as anyone who was with me in the Yale Political Union can verify). I simpered through Gilbert & Sullivan Society productions, taught drama to small tots through Yale Drama Hands-On Theatre Workshop, and was chairman of a debating society in college. And those were only the official performances. Recently, I appeared in a toga and bare feet (well, really a chiton, but why be picky?) in front of a hundred-odd people at the law school to argue a mock Athenian trial. And, yes, those pictures will also be confiscated and burnt -- as soon as I find out where my camera-happy friends hid them."
    "I've always had trouble with the ‘writer as introvert' trope. I argued then, and still believe now, that the performative arts and creative writing have a great deal in common. After all, music, drama, public speaking, writing... all involve words! My interviewer wasn't too impressed by that argument, but there is a bit more to it than that. Singing and public speaking create an enhanced awareness for the rhythm of language. As for drama, how better to get inside one's characters' heads than to walk in their footsteps? Frequently, while writing, I'll tumble out of my chair (literally -- my chair isn't all that sturdy) and act out bits of a scene for a more concrete grasp of a character's movements. Most of all, acting, singing, and writing all involve the desire to get out there and share a story, a desire that can't be balked by the threat of rotton tomatoes, or even bad reviews."

    Readers can find a copy of the book here:  Barnes & Noble  or Amazon
    Don't forget to read more about her books and her on http://www.laurenwillig.com


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