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New Release feature 4-9 The Ashford Affair interview w/Lauren Willig

The Ashford Affair

 

If you’re in the Scottsdale AZ area you’re invited to the Ashford Launch Party tonight- click this link for details

 

Here’s what’s being said about this highly anticipated novel;

 Library Journal
"[A] nuanced story teeming with ambiance and detail that unfolds like African cloth, with its dips and furls and textures, woven by a master storyteller."
» Kirkus Reviews
"With sharp, scintillating dialogue and expert scene-craft…Willig’s crossover into mainstream fiction heralds riches to come."
» RT Book Reviews
"This lushly detailed novel is rich with romance, mystery, memorable characters, and lessons in family, friendship, and – most important of all – understanding who you are and carving your place in the world.  This is a novel that will transfix readers... Willig reaches deep into her characters' souls to depict tragedy, triumph and the depth of love."

» Kate Alcott, author of The Dressmaker
"The Ashford Affair is a reader's treat, an artfully-woven saga that sweeps us into the lives of three generations of a family entangled in life-changing secrets.  Lauren Willig spins a web of lust, power and loss, taking us from England to Kenya to New York, from World War I to today’s modern world, posing a timeless question: what in our own family stories might surprise or shock – or change our lives - if we had access to the whispers from the past?"
» Beatriz Williams, author of Overseas
"Rich with detail and historical imagination, The Ashford Affair evokes the lives and passions of the interwar era with harrowing precision. The enthralling mystery kept me up late into the night, and the characters will remain with me forever. Lauren Willig has delivered a stunning masterpiece."
»Michelle Moran, bestselling author of Madame Tussaud
"There are few authors who make you want to take a day off from life to devour their latest book, but Lauren Willig is one of them. The Ashford Affair is absolutely impossible to put down!"
» Deanna Raybourn, New York Times bestselling author of The Dark Enquiry
"With The Ashford Affair, Lauren Willig crafts a lavishly detailed saga readers will devour." 

 

Lauren Willig Interview:

 

New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig presents her newest release, The Ashford Affair.

Lauren welcome-Can you tell a bit about the novel?

The Ashford Affair is my Downton Abbey meets Out of Africa novel.  The story sweeps back and forth between 1999 New York, Edwardian England, World War I London, and 1920s Kenya as a modern woman stumbles onto a family secret that challenges everything she thought she knew about both her family and herself.

 

The story jumped out at me back in the fall of 2010.  A friend had given me a copy of Frances Osborne’s The Bolter, about the chequered life of Idina Sackville, who racketed back and forth between London and Kenya picking up and discarding husbands along the way.  What really caught me, though, was a comment from Osborne in the introduction to the effect that she hadn’t realized that Idina was her great-grandmother until a chance television program precipitated the revelation; the relationship had effectively been swept under the carpet all those years.  Around the same time, my own grandmother became very ill.  The confluence of the two brought home to me how much we assume and how little we know about our own families. 

 

I was meant to be writing something else at the time (details, details), but the idea grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.  I was haunted by the image of two best friends—a privileged debutante and a poor relation—stumbling through all the chaos and upheaval of the early twentieth century, and the impact that their tangled story would have on their descendants two generations and a continent away….

 

On your website it says that The Ashford Affair is your first stand-alone novel.
What’s the biggest difference between writing a series and stand alone?

Wide open spaces!  If you’ll forgive the comparison, writing a series is a bit like writing classical seventeenth century French drama, which was governed by very specific rules regarding setting, timing, and so on.  The series inevitably creates its own constraints.  In the case of my Napoleonic spy series, my readers have come to expect a certain pattern, format, tone, and cast of characters.  I’m bound by the time period I chose (in that case, 1803-1805), the characters I created, and the rules I set up for that particular world.  There’s a deep satisfaction to that, to maneuvering within those limits, to revisiting a familiar and well-beloved world.  There’s also a certain measure of security: I know what my editor and readers expect and can push the boundaries within those well-defined precincts.

 

On the other end of the spectrum, with a stand alone, the sky’s the limit.  It took me several months to write my way into The Ashford Affair as I played around with different ways of telling the story.   In one very early draft of the first few chapters, the story was narrated entirely in the first person by Addie, my historical heroine (the poor cousin).  I quickly realized that this didn’t allow for a wide enough scope for the story I wanted to tell and switched to the third person.  I knew who my characters were; I knew what had happened to them; but how I chose to tell that story was entirely up to me.  Unlike working within a series, I could take this story in any direction I liked: hop time periods and continents, explore different character types, play with different writing styles.  It was incredibly freeing.  It was also frequently nerve-wracking: first person or third?  Multiple viewpoints or one?  A single narrative arc or multiple narrative arcs?  It was all a process of trial and error.

 

When I sat down to write my second stand alone, I found that the same principle held true: writing one sets no pattern for another.  That blank page was an open opportunity. 

 

It is both terrifying and exhilarating.

 

This novel and the next one you’re working on for St. Martin’s goes between past and present.
 Does this type of book pose any particular writing problems?

I love writing in multiple time periods, using the one as foil for the other, raising questions about cause and effect and unintended consequences.  As a lapsed historian, I’m fascinated by the way our perceptions and interpretations of the past often differ dramatically from the intentions and experiences of those who actually lived through it.  Placing the two in counterpoise highlights that disconnect.

 

But, yes, writing in dual time periods definitely poses its own problems!  The first major issue is making sure that the characters in both periods are equally well fleshed out.  It’s easy to fall into the temptation of using one group of characters as a mere foil and echo for the other set, so I try very hard to make sure both plotlines and sets of characters could exist independently.  The second problem is maintaining interest through scene shifts.  On the one hand, switching time periods can be a great tool for creating tension; on the other, you don’t want the reader bewildered or bored by the move back and forth.  It’s a delicate balance.

 

How did a multiple degreed lawyer became an author of fiction?

As discussed at greater length below, the fiction writing preceded the lawyering by a fair bit.  I’d initially gone straight off to grad school after college, with the loudly expressed intention of using a PhD in History as a springboard for writing historically accurate historical fiction.  Everyone thought I was joking.  Including my advisor.

 

Several years down that road, I realized that academic history, while it certainly has its own joys and rewards, wasn’t necessarily the best training for writing compelling fiction—and, also, that the job market was rather bleak.  Since, by that point, I took a realistic (read: negative) view of my chances of publication, I decided to do what all frustrated humanities majors come to in the end: I applied to law school. 

 

Fate works in strange ways.  I signed my first book contract my first month at Harvard Law.  One law degree and three published books later, I graduated from HLS, took a job at a large New York law firm—and signed another book contract.  (I’m not sure whether to call that “optimism” or “temporary insanity”.)  I juggled the two careers for another year and a half before deciding that book deadlines and doc review don’t mix.   

 

I’m very grateful that I had that time at the firm.  In addition to the wonderful friends I made there (and an intimate knowledge of just how much coffee you can consume before going from productive to jittery), it provided me with the background and the inspiration for Clementine, the modern heroine of The Ashford Affair.

 

Who was your biggest inspiration in becoming an author?

I have to lay the blame at the door of E.L. Konigsburg.  When I was six, my parents gave me a copy of A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, her novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine.  That was my first taste of historical fiction.  I was hooked.  Since there wasn’t a sequel, I promptly set about writing one myself (from the point of view of Eleanor’s beloved—and fictional—horse, Beau Noir), and that was that.  I’ve been dabbling in various genres of fiction ever since.

 

There are many years between your first attempt at fiction and when you became published. 
Did you write in the in-between time?

Incessantly!  My first attempt at publication occurred when I was nine years old, when I optimistically mailed off my three hundred page, hand-written oeuvre, “The Night the Clock Struck Death”, a mystery novel featuring twin girl detectives.  Like Nancy Drew, but double the fun!  Sadly, Simon & Schuster failed to see its innate brilliance (or, possibly, had trouble with my loopy third grade script) and sent it back.  Undaunted, I went right back to my Apple IIGS and continued to rattle out reams of manuscripts on my rickety dot matrix printer. 

 

In the years that followed, I did all the usual young writer things: I attended the UVA Young Writers’ Workshop and the Middlebury Writers’ Workshop at Breadloaf, published pretentious poetry in The Apprentice Writer, and piled up manuscripts in an old green trunk I had stolen from my grandmother’s attic.  (No one will see any of those.  Ever.)  When I was eighteen, I took another stab at publication with a historical novel about Napoleon’s stepdaughter, Hortense de Beauharnais—and was terribly offended when I got a very nice note back telling me what a sweet young adult novel it was, and to keep on trying.

 

Eight years later, at the ripe old age of twenty-six, I finally got the call I had been waiting for all those years: my novel, “The Secret History of the Pink Carnation”, was to be published by a subsidiary of Penguin.

 

That was ten years ago, and I’m still learning more about my craft each and every day.

 

What’s your funniest book tour story?

How long have you got?  Book tour always has an element of slapstick comedy to it: I’ve changed clothes in the back of a cab—with a very chatty cabdriver—on the way to an event, with only my pea coat as screen; been lost in a snowstorm with Tasha Alexander while a frantic bookseller called in directions to us; and had a flight delayed for three hours because the lock was broken on the baggage hold and—coincidentally?—they were almost sure they had caught that snake.  (To this day, I don’t know whether they were talking garter snake or boa constrictor.)

 

Does your love for historical fiction make you wish you lived in the era you write about?

As my best friend pointed out back when we were teenagers, if I lived when I wanted to live, I’d be bat-blind, and, given my proclivity for cavities, probably toothless.  So I’m content to journey via the page. 

 

What I really would want is less an actual trip and more of a large window on the past, equipped with high quality audio.  After years in archives, attempting to piece together from limited sources what various people said and did, it would be fascinating to be able to see what actually happened.  Although, of course, even then, their emotions and motivations would be open to interpretation….

 

Who are your favorite authors?

That’s always a tough question!  There are so many authors whose works I love, and I’m constantly adding on new discoveries.  Among my long-time favorites are Nancy Mitford, whose tongue in cheek portrayal of life among the English interwar upper crust did so much to set the tone for The Ashford Affair, P.G. Wodehouse, and Angela Thirkell (whose work I’ve always viewed as a gentle medium between the sharp satire of Mitford and Waugh, and the joyous slapstick of Wodehouse).  On my keeper shelf, you can find Dodie Smith’s “I Capture the Castle”, Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey novels, the complete oeuvre of Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels, classic romantic suspense by Mary Stewart, and the sweeping historical epics of M.M. Kaye.  Moving on to more recent authors, I’ve very much admired the work of Susanna Kearsley, Kate Morton, and Simone St. James.

 

Lauren, thank you for chatting with me today. You have a lengthy list of tour stops on your website, I hope many viewers here will be able to meet you in person.

Thanks so much for having me here, Debbie!  If anyone wants to know more about The Ashford Affair or my other books, please come visit me at my website, www.laurenwillig.com, or my Facebook author page, http://www.facebook.com/LaurenWillig.  I’m always looking for new ways to procrastinate!

 

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