Wednesday 8 June 2022

A Slice of Cake With... Clare Flynn

Today I am delighted to have a slice of cake with Clare Flynn.

Clare lives in England on the Sussex coast, where she can see the sea from her windows. She lived there during her teenage years and returned to be close to the sea and the South Downs after twenty years living in London. Born in Liverpool, the eldest of five children, Clare read English Language and Literature at Manchester where she spent most of her time studying sex, drugs and rock and roll at the expense of Beowulf and Chomsky.

Clare’s business career was in consumer marketing, with big global companies, promoting products from Fairy Liquid and Flash to chocolate biscuits and tinned tuna. This included stints in Paris, Brussels, Sydney and Milan. She then became her own boss and travelled the world helping companies with their strategies and their corporate culture.

A Greater World was begun in 1998 after Clare’s second visit to Australia. Having written eighty thousand words of the first draft, her home was burgled, and the thieves ran off with the laptop she’d written it on as well as the backup. Needless to say that was a bit of a blow. Reading that T E Lawrence left the manuscript of Seven Pillars of Wisdom on a train and went on to recreate all 700 pages of it, gave Clare the impetus to sit down and start all over again. It was finished in July 2011 and finally published in 2014.

When she’s not busy writing, Clare loves to travel – often as part of the research for her books. Kurinji Flowers started out with a sleepless night in a hotel room in India while on holiday. She returned to Kerala and spent two weeks living on a tea plantation while she finished the book off. 

She always travels with sketchbook and paints and loves nothing more than spending a week in a beautiful location painting. She also loves to quilt. The cover of Letters from a Patchwork Quilt features her very first hand-made quilt

Clare has taken inspiration from her surroundings in Eastbourne to write her fifth novel, The Chalky Sea. It is set in World War II – the town’s history during the war is a little-known secret.

What kind of books do you write?

I write books set mostly during the 20th century – frequently in exotic faraway places and often during periods of unrest and war. There’s always a romantic relationship – although not necessarily a happy ending every time. I like to write about conflict, about people adapting to difficult and unexpected circumstances. Strong women often feature – women who don’t see themselves as mere adjuncts to a man – women who are prepared to push the boundaries – although always recognising the constraints imposed by the times they lived in.

People who read my books tell me that I bring places to life so that it feels as though the reader is there. In fact, to some extent, the location is like another character.

But most of all I believe in telling stories that engage people and have them staying up reading all night! 

Can you describe your writing why?

I love words. I love stories. But as time has gone on it’s my readers that motivate me the most. They tell me how much my books have made a difference to them. They constantly push me to write the next book. I can’t imagine what I’d do if I didn’t write. I’d probably die!

Share with us your favourite passage from the book you enjoyed writing the most

This is an extract from my latest book, Jasmine in Paris. I always say the last book is the one I enjoyed writing the most – I can’t believe I actually earn a living from something that I love so much!

France, July 1949

When the ship docked in Marseille three weeks later, Jasmine felt a surge of excitement mixed with fear. It was finally happening. As she went down the gangway and set foot for the first time on French soil, her skin tingled with anticipation. 

It was odd hearing voices everywhere speaking French. She breathed deeply, savouring the sensations – salt-soaked air, strong coffee, the sharp powerful smell of fish, the sweet pungency of garlic – all undercut with the stink of rotting vegetables and rubbish. She looked about her at the people. Men wearing cloth caps or berets, many scruffily dressed, stevedores pushing carts weighed down with sacks unloaded from ships, sailors in uniform, street vendors. Above the city the Cathedral of Notre Dame de la Garde rose on a craggy outcrop, with a tall statue-topped tower and a dome presiding over the buildings below.

Jasmine took a taxi from the port to the Gare Saint Charles to join the train to Paris. Drinking in the sights, she saw Marseille was nothing like London. Yes, there were smoke-blackened buildings and the buzz of commerce, but the atmosphere was very different. She remembered London as gloomy, battered, and smog-filled. Marseille offered an interesting dichotomy: near the port were narrow alleys with barefoot children in evident poverty but in the city centre, wide boulevards with elegantly-dressed people. The narrow side-streets were dark, monochromatic with washing hanging between the buildings and litter strewn on the ground. Yet she sensed an energy, a joie de vivre in the atmosphere. On the affluent boulevards, there were colourful signs above the shops, tabacs and bars advertising the acclaimed savon de Marseille. She asked the driver to stop so she could buy a few bars of lavender-scented soap as a gift for her hosts in Paris. Stepping onto the street, she felt the sunshine warm her skin. That differed from London too. She was going to enjoy being in France.

Tell us about your latest project

Jasmine in Paris (subtitle Far from Penang) is a standalone novel although it follows on from my three Penang books. It is mostly set in Paris but opens in Kenya and jumps to Penang every now and then. It’s set in 1949-50. Here’s the blurb:

Desperate to make her mark as an artist and prove herself as an independent woman, Jasmine Barrington heads for Paris and a place at the prestigious Beaux Arts school. Following in the footsteps of former students like Renoir and Degas, she immerses herself in her studies by day and discovers the caf├ęs and bars of the left bank by night.

But life in the City of Light is far from easy. Will the challenges and discipline of the classical training regime crush Jasmine’s creative spirit, and will her charismatic teacher, Lachlan, break her heart?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Howard, the man to whom she owes her life, faces the daily dangers of the Malayan Emergency without so much as a postcard to fuel his fading hope that Jasmine might one day return to Penang.

I loved writing this book – it allowed me to remember my two years living in Paris in the late 80s – when like Jasmine I lived in the Quartier Latin.

What is your favourite cake?

I love them all! But I’ll go for the absolutely yummy very dark and moist ginger cake my mother used to make.

You can connect with Clare here:

Join me next week when I will be having a slice of cake with Peter D'Hollander. 

If you would like to take part in A Slice of Cake With... please fill in the form found here. I'd be delighted to have you.

You can also support my writing endeavours and buy me tea & cake on KoFi - it's what makes the world go round!

Claire Buss is a multi-genre author and poet, completely addicted to cake. Find out more about her books on her website Join the discussion in her Facebook group Buss's Book Stop. Never miss out on future posts by following me

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