A native of New York City, Lauren Willig has been writing romances ever since she got her hands on her first romance novel at the age of six. Three years later, she sent her first novel off to a publishing house—all three hundred hand-written pages. They sent it back. Undaunted, Lauren has continued to generate large piles of paper and walk in front of taxis while thinking about plot ideas.
After thirteen years at an all girls school (explains the romance novels, doesn’t it?), Lauren set off for Yale and co-education, where she read lots of Shakespeare, wrote sonnet sequences when she was supposed to be doing her science requirement, and lived in a Gothic fortress complete with leaded windows and gargoyles. After college, she decided she really hadn’t had enough school yet, and headed off to that crimson place in Cambridge, Massachusetts for a degree in English history. Like her modern heroine, she spent a year doing dissertation research in London, tramping back and forth between the British Library and the Public Records Office, reading lots of British chick lit, and eating far too many Sainsbury’s frozen dinners.
By a strange quirk of fate, Lauren signed her first book contract during her first month of law school. She finished writing "Pink Carnation" during her 1L year, scribbled "Black Tulip" her 2L year, and struggled through "Emerald Ring" as a weary and jaded 3L. After three years of taking useful and practical classes like “Law in Ancient Athens” and “The Globalization of the Modern Legal Consciousness”, Lauren received her J.D. magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. For a year and a half, she practiced as a litigation associate at a large New York law firm. But having attained the lofty heights of second year associate, she decided that book deadlines and doc review didn't mix and departed the law for a new adventure in full time writerdom.
With all that extra time on her hands, Lauren branched out into a few new projects, including teaching a class at Yale called "Reading the Regency Romance", an exploration of the rise and development of the Regency romance sub-genre from Austen, Heyer, and McNaught up through all the more bizarre modern permutations, including "wallpaper" historicals, Regency vampires, and Austen-inspired chick lit.
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 messy life crumbling around her. But when the family gathers for her grandmother Addie’s ninety-ninth birthday, a relative lets slip hints about a long-buried family secret, leading Clemmie on a journey into the past that could change everything. . . .
Growing up at Ashford Park in the early twentieth century, Addie has never quite belonged. When her parents passed away, she was taken into the grand English house by her aristocratic aunt and uncle, and raised side-by-side with her beautiful and outgoing cousin, Bea. Though they are as different as night and day, Addie and Bea are closer than sisters, through relationships and 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 Manhattan and the red-dirt hills of Kenya, the never-told secrets of a woman and a family unfurl.
Thanks so much for having me back! It’s great to be here again.
1) What inspired you to write "The Ashford Affair"?
Three factors collided. In the fall of 2010, I was finishing up the manuscript of the ninth Pink Carnation novel, The Garden Intrigue. I’d been on a tighter schedule than I was used to—three books in fifteen months—and had managed to get myself so revved into panic mode that I went into hyper-drive and turned that last book in early. I’d accidentally earned myself a few months of breathing time to play with other projects.
At the same time, my grandmother, who had previously been hale and hearty, went into the hospital. And back into the hospital. And into the hospital again. No one could quite figure out what was wrong—she was in pretty good shape for ninety-one—but it wasn’t getting better either. Most frightening, when I spoke to her, she sounded confused and disoriented, not at all like her usual self. As last remaining grandparent, it struck me, forcibly, that she was the last link to the family past. Any stories she hadn’t told me just wouldn’t get told. There was so much I didn’t know that I didn’t even realize I didn’t know.
And, in the midst of all this, my friend Christina sent me a copy of a book called, The Bolter, about the dramatic life of Idina Sackville etc, who spent the early twentieth century racking up and discarding husbands, serving as the lynch-pin of the hard-partying group of aristocratic expats in Kenya known as the Happy Valley set. Most striking? The author’s comment in the preface that she hadn’t known, until she was a teenager, that Idina was her great-grandmother.
Take a little extra writing time, a biography of an early twentieth century socialite, and a lot of thinking about families, and what our families mean to our own identities, and what we assume about our families rather than know… and you’ve got the beginnings of The Ashford Affair.
2) What aspect of this book did you enjoy researching the most?
Kenya in the 1920s was an absolutely fascinating place—and there are some very vivid memoirs and biographies floating around—but, strangely enough, it was the World War I memoirs that really caught me. I’d always avoided the first World War. Edwardian intrigues and scandals were catnip to me and the Roaring Twenties were great fun, but World War I sat there like a gaping hole in the middle, an era of unpleasantness that I preferred to ignore. But, as I settled in to research The Ashford Affair, I realized that the Great War wasn’t a gaping hole; it was the lynch pin around which the rest all hinged. The 1920 in general and the expat group in Kenya I was researching in particular only made sense in the context of the upheavals caused by the Great War.
All of my historical characters are shaped and changed by the war: my historical heroine, Addie, who finds a measure of freedom in it; her cousin, Bea, who discovers to her dismay that what she’s been raised to is no longer what’s expected of her; and my hero, Frederick, who comes back physically whole—no small feat—but emotionally scarred.
There are three books I would recommend to anyone who wants to know more about the effect of the war: Rupert Graves’s World War I memoir, Goodbye to All That, which encapsulates the blundering, the horrors, and the sense of disillusionment that the war brought (in an often mordantly funny way) and Juliet Nicolson’s two book-end pieces, The Perfect Summer and The Great Silence, one of which looks at England before the war, the other after, providing a strong sense of just how the war changed the people it touched.
3) If you could be any character from any of your books which would it be?
You have to ask the tough questions, don’t you? I’m tempted to say Lord Vaughn from The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, just so I’d get to speak in quadruple entendres—but I have a feeling that would get old very quickly. Or Miss Gwen, for her sword parasol wielding exploits.
But if I were going to be serious about it, I’d pick Addie from The Ashford Affair. She doesn’t always have an easy row to hoe (and when we’re talking coffee farm in Kenya, the hoeing is sometimes literal), but she’s someone who really learns how to conquer her own insecurities, discover her own strengths, and make the best of the situations life tosses at her. She has a talent for learning from her mistakes and moving on. Not everyone may love her, and she certainly has her flaws, but she’s a survivor, and loyal to the core, and I admire both of those things about her.
4) If your book were to have a theme song, what would it be?
For some reason, when I saw that, “You’re so vain, I bet you think this book is about you…” popped into my head. I have no idea why, although it certainly fits the bill for some of the characters in The Ashford Affair, in particular, my anti-heroine, Bea, who is used to that sort of attention and adulation and gets very cross when it goes away. But this isn’t really Bea’s book, so she doesn’t get to pick the theme song.
When I got really stuck on Ashford, the song I listened to over and over, again and again, was Toad the Wet Sprocket’s Something’s Always Wrong. I didn’t really think it through at the time (it was the haunting sound of the melody that drew me), but something must have subconsciously resonated about the lyrics: “Again (again we fail)/ It seems we meet (make amends)/ In the spaces (wend our way)/ In between ('tween intent)”. If you look at the words, they really mirror the book, which is all about circling back and second chances and the spaces in between. Thank you, Toad the Wet Sprocket!
5) What is coming next for Lauren Willig?
The tenth book in the Pink Carnation series is coming out on August 6th!
The Passion of the Purple Plumeria follows the exploits of the sword-parasol wielding chaperone, Miss Gwendolyn Meadows, as she’s called back from France to track down the Pink Carnation’s little sister, who has gone missing from her Bath boarding school along with a friend. Miss Gwen is forced to team up with the other girl’s father, the all-too-charming Colonel William Reid, as they set out on the trail of the missing girls. Forget French spies; Colonel Reid may be Miss Gwen’s greatest challenge yet….
(You can learn more about The Passion of the Purple Plumeria on my website: http://www.laurenwillig.com/books/plumeria.php)
A little bit farther out, I have another modern/historical stand-alone novel coming out next year. My second stand alone novel goes back and forth between 1849 and 2009, as my modern heroine inherits a house in the suburbs of London from an unknown great aunt—and discovers a Preraphaelite painting wrapped in crumbling paper hidden in the false back of an old wardrobe. Who painted it? And why was it hidden away? Julia’s search for the painting’s history takes us back and forth between the same house in 2009 and the early days of the Preraphaelite movement in 1849 as Julia learns about her ancestors, the artist, and a forbidden love affair that has remained secret for over a century.
I don’t have a title or a release date yet for the second stand alone, but expect to see it in stores in spring or summer of 2014. I’ll post more info on my website as soon as I have it!
Quick & Easy:
Book or E-book?
Book. I still don’t own an e-reader! I love the feel and the smell of real books—and I get very attached to specific editions and covers. (Like all my old Mary Stewart novels from the 80s.)
Day or Night?
Night. I am absolutely a night owl—although I’ve been warned an impending small person will probably be doing her best to change that.
Coffee or Tea?
Both. Tea for leisure and coffee for work. Some evil elf put a coffee curse on me, so that, no matter what kind of coffee-making device I try, I cannot make a decent cup of coffee. So it’s coffee at work time at Starbucks and tea at home….
Plotter or Panster?
Pantser—although I always outline at least a few chapters ahead, and then re-outline as the plot shifts and changes on me.
Dark or Milk Chocolate?
I’m really something of a chocolate agnostic, although a slight leaning towards dark.
Wallflower or Belle of the Ball?
It depends on the day and my mood. If I’m on, I’m really on, and when I’m off, I’m really off. Like the girl with the little curl right in the middle of her forehead, who when she was good, she was really, really good, and when she was bad, she was horrid. (Or am I the only one who grew up on that nursery rhyme?)
Laptop or Desktop?
A laptop, but I treat it like a desktop. It lives on my desk and I get very testy about shifting it even a few inches, much less unplugging it and taking it places. I have a little Netbook that goes to Starbucks with me, but my main laptop stays in situ.
Love at first sight or Second chances?
Second chances. I first met my—now—husband at eighteen, but it took me until thirty-two for the lightbulb to go off. What can I say? Sometimes, we’re slow.
Angel or Demon?
Apparently, I was an absolute demon as a small child, hidden in an angelic-looking Shirley Temple façade. I like to think that I’ve learned my lesson since then….
Reality or Fiction?
That’s tough. I tend to wallow in fiction, but there are definitely times when historical fact can be even richer, stranger, and quirkier….
Author’s Choice - what do you want to ask the readers?
What’s the book that you’ve read over the past few months that you’ve been the most excited about?
As always Lauren it’s been great having you by to visit me at Stitch Read Cook! Looking forward to the newest in the Pink Carnation series!