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New York Times Bestselling Author

Teaser Tuesday: ASHFORD Origins

The Ashford Affair, my 1920s book, arose out of the confluence of three things:

1) A friend gave me Frances Osborne’s book, The Bolter, about the life of Idina Sackville, the much-married socialite who bounced back and forth between husbands and between London and Kenya.

What really struck me about the book was the foreword, in which the author admitted she hadn’t known that Idina was her great-grandmother until a chance media mention had brought the topic up. The family had papered over the scandal, presenting the second wife in guise of great-grandmother. At the time, my own ninety-one year old grandmother, who had been, up until then, very spry and entirely compos mentis, entered a sharp decline involving a number of disturbing hospital stays and entirely uncharacteristic mental confusion. (There’s a happy ending to that one: she got better, and she’ll be dancing at my wedding next week.) But the confluence of the foreward of The Bolter and my grandmother’s sickness got me thinking about how little we really know about our families and how much we– often groundlessly– assume we know. What if you took a busy modern woman who abruptly discovers, when her grandmother starts ailing, that her family is nothing like what she believed? What would that journey do to someone?

My modern heroine, Clemmie, is about to learn that there’s far more to her grandmother’s past than meets the eye– especially when it comes to her time in Kenya….

2) Nancy Mitford’s Wigs on the Green came out in print.

Wigs on the Green, suppressed by order of the authoress, was the only Mitford book I hadn’t read. A friend of mine had a bootleg copy, but refused to loan it out for fear of its not making its way back. Naturally, I pounced on it the second I saw it in the bookstore. This launched me on a massive orgy of Mitford-reading: all the Nancy Mitford novels, Jessica Mitford’s Hons and Rebels, with side journeys into Evelyn Waugh. I started speaking in 1930s slang, entirely unintentionally.

3) My little sister persuaded me to watch Downton Abbey.

This is a very topsy turvy list, isn’t it? But this was the order in which these things happened. Backwards. I was given The Bolter in late summer, went on my Mitford rampage in the fall, and watched Downton in January. I started writing what I then called Ashford Park in March, assembling the pieces the other way around: my book starts in an estate not unlike Downton Abbey, to which my heroine, Addie, has been shuttled after the death of her bohemian parents.

Addie’s childhood owes a great deal to my Mitford glom. Like the narrator of The Pursuit of Love, Addie is the outsider, the visitor to the household, admiring and relying on her dazzling cousin Bea. When I picture Bea, I picture the classic photographs of Diana Mitford, with that same sort of icy beauty. In character, however, Bea owes a lot more to Idina Sackville Wallace Gordon Hay etc, restless, troubled, and irresistible to all men– except the ones to whom she’s married.

Then, of course, there’s Clemmie, my modern heroine, who knows her Granny Addie only as an imposing old dowager and has no idea of the storms and upheavals she went through along the way– and is entirely unprepared for the biggest family secret of all.

The Ashford Affair comes out April 2, 2013. More soon!

12 Comments

  1. Julie H on June 12, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    Ashford sounds -really- good, Lauren! Family secret novels are always so intriguing. I just hate that we have to wait another year!

    Congrats on the upcoming wedding, by the way!

  2. Céline on June 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    First things first, I wanted to wish you a very beautiful wedding last and I’m really glad your gramma is better!

    Then, just like Julie, The Ashford Affair sounds good, very very good! April is so far away!!! I can’t wait to see what you did with Addie, and I wish to meet Clemmie, and learn more about Val, and Bea!

  3. Céline on June 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    First things first, I wanted to wish you a very beautiful wedding next week and I’m really glad your gramma is better!

    Then, just like Julie, The Ashford Affair sounds good, very very good! April is so far away!!! I can’t wait to see what you did with Addie, and I wish to meet Clemmie, and learn more about Val, and Bea!

  4. Céline on June 12, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    Ooops, sorry for the double post! The first one had a mistake and I had hope it had not gone through! :S

  5. Ashley on June 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    How will we ever wait until 2013? I got goosebumps reading this- I can’t wait! And let me join Celine and Julie in wishing you a beautiful and happy wedding.

  6. Sheila on June 12, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    I am very glad your grandmother is going to be dancing, that’s wonderful. My husband and I are getting into genealogy and finding out all sorts of juicy tidbits. This book sounds wonderful.

  7. Joey B. on June 12, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    I’m looking forward to The Ashford Affair but it will be difficult to wait for almost a whole year!

    So happy to hear that your grandmother is better and can enjoy your wedding. I hope that you’ll post photos so we can see the lovely bride! Best wishes!

  8. Alexa J on June 12, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    Chiming in to add to the wedding wishes! I hope that you have a wonderful celebration.

    Thanks for all of the time you put in to your books and this website. I can’t wait to see what direction your writing takes with The Ashford Affair!

  9. Gina on June 12, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    Exciting news on all fronts. I can’t wait to read it. And congratulations on your upcoming wedding!

  10. Am7 on June 12, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    Congratulations on your upcoming wedding! That’s amazing about your grandmother. Mine is 93 non compos mentos, and not going to anyone’s wedding. I am so happy for you.
    This books sounds like fun. What made you decide to use a modern heroine again?

  11. anievan on June 12, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    Congratulations on your wedding! That’s a wonderful story about your grandmother, too!

  12. Jessica C on June 13, 2012 at 8:13 am

    Wow reading about the genesis of the story made me even more excited to read The Ashford Affair – I didn’t think that was possible! More importantly, best wishes for your wedding!

    I understand what you mean about not really knowing the full story about relatives’ lives. My grandfather (93, dementia stricken for 5 years) died last month, and I was asked to write the eulogy. I found out so many interesting things about his life doing research for the eulogy – and even managed to surprise my grandmother by telling her something that she didn’t know about her husband. At the wake I also got to meet lots of distant relatives for the first time – it was a bit awkward, since I’ve heard so many (some scandalous!) stories about them!

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