Tag Archives: Q&A

Q&A with Clare Lydon

11 Mar

Today on UK LesFic, we welcome new Indie author Clare Lydon, whose début novel London Calling shot to number one on the Amazon Lesbian fiction chart on the day of its release and has been sitting pretty there ever since. A tale of one woman’s search for love in modern-day London, London Calling is littered with ladygays, a vat of tequila and a colourful array of Converse. We put some questions to Clare about her new novel…

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london callingA warm welcome to the UK LesFic hot seat! Please tell us a bit about your novel  London Calling. What inspired the characters and the story?

London Calling is the story of Jess and her journey getting her life back on track, as well as her search for new love back in her home town of London. She’s just returned from three years in Australia heartbroken and broke, and we follow her as she reconnects with the city, her family and friends, new mates and lovers, and dodges bullets from her past.

I dreamt up the bones of the story while I was in Sydney on holiday with my partner who’s from there. I was sitting in a coffee shop on Oxford Street (gay central) and just started writing. I love cities and found Sydney inspiring too, so I knew I wanted to work it in somewhere. Most of what I wrote about it fell onto the cutting room floor though, so maybe I’ll release the Director’s Cut of the book sometime soon with all that detail back in. Now there’s an idea…

Would it be true to say that the city of London functions as one of the novel’s characters? What it is that makes London such a great place to write about?

London is the greatest city in the world – only New York comes close to it. There’s always something happening in London, which means it’s rich pickings for a writer: art, culture, architecture, scenery, cuisine, sport – you name it, it’s here. I’ve lived here for 15 years and grew up only 30 miles east, so the city’s always played a starring role in my life.

I’ve read so many lesfic novels set in America and I wanted to write one set in London, with its energy springing from the pages. My aim was to write a novel true to the world I live in, a modern world with technology and culture rippled through it and brimming with lesbians.

The synopsis for London Calling places its protagonist Jess Sharp “at a crossroads – back in London, living in her parents’ spare room, jobless and single.” Knowing a little something about the price of housing in London, is this scenario something you or your mates can relate to?

clare lydonAbsolutely. Housing prices in London are crackers and landlords have to be one of the most discussed topics across the city. It’s tricky to find a job that pays the bills and gives you enough to work and play too, as Lena Dunham so beautifully depicts in Girls.

I know a lot of people in Jess’s situation, wondering how they’re going to get on the housing ladder while paying extortionate rents. She’s lucky she gets a place so central for the price she does, as her friend Kate is happy to cover her costs and nothing more. Housing is always a hot topic of conversation for 30-somethings, and for many Londoners having stairs or a garden is a scenario that’s never going to happen.

LesFic is a genre that has been dominated by American writers, but the Brits seem to be storming up the charts at the moment. Any thoughts on why that might be?

Firstly, because we’ve got some brilliantly talented writers! Sure, the Americans have the publishing clout and the history in lesfic, but the Brits have got great things to contribute too. Secondly, seeing as there are no lesbian publishers in the UK, the rise of self-publishing has helped many UK authors get their voices heard, which is great. And lastly, I hope it’s also because the lesfic word is getting out among the UK’s lesbians, and they’re enjoying seeing their lives reflected in print.

Speaking of storming up the charts – did you do anything outrageous to celebrate when London Calling hit number one in the LesFic chart on its first day of release?

I was out having dinner with my friend who designed my cover, that night. We had dinner, went to a bar, and I was on the bus home when I got a text from two of my mates telling me I was No.1. I couldn’t believe it. I got chatting to a very gay man on the short walk from the bus stop to my house and told him – I couldn’t keep it in. His name was Gordon and he was wearing a straw trilby with flowers in it. He gave me a massive congratulatory hug and told me to remember the moment. We’re now BFFs, obviously.

You’ve said previously that London Calling took four years to complete. What gave you the kick up the bum to get it finished?

I’d had it half-written for ages but was too busy with life to finish it. However, last May I got made redundant from my job and decided to use the money to take some time off and throw myself into writing. I spent the first few weeks at my mate’s house in Spain writing in the morning, sunbathing in the afternoon – hard life – then came back to the UK and finished the first edit. It was a beautifully hot summer to have at my mercy, and the writing flowed. Then I went to LFestive last November to meet some other UK authors, and once I’d told them I was going to do it, I figured I’d better follow through.

If you could be the godchild of any two authors, whom would you choose?

JoJo Moyes and Jeanette Winterson. JoJo’s books are always heart-breakingly beautiful and Jeanette’s work speaks for itself. Oranges is probably one of the best debuts ever and her recent memoir about her mother was so raw it bled off the page. I’d also like Armistead Maupin and Nick Alexander as my godfathers – both fantastic writers and I’m particularly pleased that Nick Alexander is finally getting the acclaim he deserves.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve completed the first draft of my second book, and now I just need to knock it into shape. It’s a completely different book to London Calling, dealing with a slightly older age group and based in the country – but I’ll probably return to London for the next one. I’ve learnt so much over this past year doing my first book, so I hope editing and publishing the second will be a breeze. Time will tell!

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Cheers very much, Clare!

London Calling is out on Kindle now, with other digital versions following soon. The paperback version will be out at the end of April. Find out more about Clare and her writing here at Clare’s website.

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Q and A with Stella Duffy

11 Feb

Stella Duffy, writer, actorStella Duffy was born in London but grew up in New Zealand (which is responsible for that flavour in her lovely voice). She later returned to London and still lives there with her partner.

She has written eight literary novels, five crime novels (featuring the wonderfully flawed lesbian detective, Saz Martin) and numerous plays. She is also an actress, director and commentator, regularly heard on BBC Radio 4. Her books have been listed for the Orange prize and she’s won Stonewall Writer of the year twice.

So we’re a bit chuffed that she agreed to answer some questions for us and our readers here at UKLesfic!

JF asks: I loved Saz Martin and I’ve noticed that the books are now available on Kindle. Are you ever tempted to write just one more adventure?

SD: Tempted yes, but likely, no. In some ways I feel as if I went as far as I was prepared to go with Saz as a detective in novels, I’d need to develop her in a different way if I were to look at writing more crime stories for her. I think too, that crime fiction readers tend to like their books a bit more gory than I’m prepared to write. That said, the one part of the books I’ve always been interested in is Saz and Molly’s relationship, so there would be space in my thoughts for a book about the two of them and their family. I’m not sure there’s much market for happy ever after love stories though, is there …?

Clare asks: I love Parallel Lies. The main characters are fascinating and have some very unlikeable characteristics. Do you prefer to write likeable or unlikeable characters?

SD: Thank you, I loved writing it. I far prefer the more complicated characters. It doesn’t matter if they’re ‘good’ or ‘bad’, as long as they’re not one-dimensional. Even the small characters need to have a bit of light and shade.

Mags Dixon asks: Did you ever finish or subsequently borrow aspects from the Mills & Boon novel that you put together for the documentary on BBC? (P.S. the funniest scene was the preparation for writing the “scorching” love scene :D)

No, I didn’t. I might, and I think the idea is good for an unusual rom-com perhaps, but it simply wasn’t worth it to me to take time out from my own writing to write for a genre/form that isn’t really me – and even though they were very kind about the three chapters I did do, there’s no guarantee they’d have published the finished thing and I can’t afford to write on spec like that – ie, I’m always happy to write on spec and often do for new projects, but only for something I care hugely about. There’s no point in writing anything you don’t care about, it’s too hard as it is, without making it unimportant to your heart/spirit as well. I think that was the most useful point of the whole doc really, the part that says write what you want to write, not what you’re second-guessing the market wants. And yes, I like the martini bit too.

theodoraKath Murray asks: Kudos to Stella Duffy for doing this Q&A and supporting this blog. I’m just starting Theodora. I hadn’t heard of Theodora before and she sounds really interesting. How did you come across her? And how much time does the research take writing a book like this?

SD: I was in Ravenna for a book festival, saw the mosaics, and was blown away by them. I read a little about Theodora and was stunned when I came home to find that there were no recent books about her (none published in the UK anyway), and so I embarked on what became a much bigger project that I’d ever envisaged – and two books! The research took about six months. I was editing The Room of Lost Things at the same time, doing my reading for Theodora in the morning and my editing in the afternoons. I read about thirty different books on the period and the specific time, and then – taking the advice of friend and lovely historical writer Manda Scott – I just started. Manda was quite right, there comes a point, no matter how much research is useful, where you have to start making it up. (And going back to the books for the bits you don’t know when you get to them – after all, you can’t know what you don’t know until you get to that point.)

Theodora must have taken a lot of planning, but by nature are you a “plotter” or a “pantser”, i.e. do you write a detailed outline of your story or fly by the seat of your pants and see what happens?

SD: A bit of both, I tend not to start writing until I have a pretty good idea of what has to happen in the book, the three or four main plot points perhaps, but that’s not the same as fully plotting the whole thing. I’ve found that when I have tried to plot a book before I start, the writing tends to take it away from where the plot suggested anyway, so it becomes a bit of a pointless exercise. I sometimes find, a third or two thirds into the first draft, that I need to take a good long look and work out what needs to come next (as opposed to what I feel like writing next) and that can help too. I usually write quite a few drafts of a book, so the first draft is about making it all up, the subsequent drafts are to find the real story – which is not always what I thought it was before I start writing – and to bring that out in the book, through editing and rewriting. The Theodora novels were a little different in that there was already a ‘plot’ (ie, her lifeline), so the real work was in deciding what facts had to be there and enjoying finding way to bring them together with the sections I made up.

Which book has stayed with you, and which characters won’t leave you alone even though you’ve politely asked them to leave now they’re published?

SD: All of them to some extent, though Robert and Akeel from The Room of Lost Things are very special to me. And Theodora will always matter I think, because she’s been with me for so long and – generously – brought me a whole new readership, which is always welcome.

calendar-girl-stella-duffy-paperback-cover-artThe UK has several writers, like you, who unapologetically write lesbian stories but who appeal to the mainstream. What about your writing do you think attracts a non-lesbian readership?

SD: I hope that’s true, and if it is, I’d say it’s because I have never written lesbian (or any LGBT characters) as if we’re special or different or otherwise outside. Yes, the world may make us feel like that sometimes, and it can be true that we are outside – especially in countries where the laws are less on our side than they are here (I know it’s not ‘fixed’ here yet, but it’s good to remember there are many places where life is harder as LGBT and we need to do our best for those people too), but all people feel, all people love, all people fear, all people desire. And lesbian characters are all people too. I’ve also made a real effort to include non-white characters in my work. I know I may get it wrong sometimes, of course I must, any writer can only ever write from their own experience and their own life, but I’d rather write a work peopled by LGBT, straight, black, white, asian, young, old, able, disabled … and everything in between, than write (yet another) book about white middle class people having white middle class dramas. Those dramas are very real too, I don’t mean they don’t count, but there are plenty of books about them already, I like a bit of a mix of characters in my writing – just as there are a mix of people in my real life.

What are you working on at the moment?

SD: A new novel set in the early twentieth century, in south London, in the years before WW1. It’s not a family story, but it does include some of the family stories I know about my grandmother’s years in service, my grandfather’s childhood of severe poverty in Deptford – and the good bits of those lives too. Downton Abbey is giving the world plenty of posh people looking lovely in nice frocks, I’m a bit more interested in how it was for those living in a less glamorous world.

Stella-DuffyUKLesfic has loved your readings and performances at the (much missed) YLAF. Where can readers catch you now?

SD: I miss YLAF too, though I had a lovely time at LFest last year. I do readings all over the place, whenever I’m asked, and am very happy to do so if I can fit it in with my other work (theatre directing as well as always having a new book on the go). They’re usually listed on my blog.

Lastly, which book do you most re-read / what’s your comfort read?

SD: I don’t re-read that often, as I always have a massive pile of new books to read, but Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker is the book I’ve given to other people most often, and JD Salinger’s Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenters and Seymour, An Introduction are among my other favourites. As are Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion, Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, Mary McCarthy’s The Group, Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman. And Shakespeare, I always like a bit – a lot – of Shakespeare.

Thanks Stella! Keep up with Stella’s work and appearances at her blog: stelladuffy.wordpress.com.

Q&A with Stella Duffy

3 Feb

Stella Duffy, writer, actorThe wonderful Stella Duffy is a performer, commentator and prolific writer. She has won Stonewall Writer of the Year twice and her book The Room of Lost Things was listed for the Orange Prize.

I gobbled up her early lesbian crime novels when they came out: Saz Martin was an adorable UK heroine, and they had great writing and appealing stories, what was there not to love? The later Parallel Lies, a gripping literary work about a glamorous actress, is one of my favourite novels. She has recently turned to historic fiction and the fascinating character of Theodora.

We are therefore over the moon that she has agreed to do a Q&A for uklesfic! We’ve got our own questions, but we would love to pass on whatever you’d like to ask too!

Comment on this post or email us at uklesfic at gmail.com and we’ll send them for Stella to answer.