As I try to hammer my way through the first few chapters of my second stand alone novel, I’ve been thinking a lot about book beginnings, all the false starts that we forget about once the book has safely taken shape.
The header on all of my old files for The Ashford Affair is Ashford Redux— “redux” because the version that you all will be seeing this April was my second take on the material.
When I first started writing Ashford, back in the spring of 2011, I was focused on the character of Addie, a poor cousin who, through the upheaval of a World War and all that follows, finally finds her place in the world, coming out of the shadow of her charming, but sometimes poisonous, cousin Bea. The original narrative was begun in the first person, in Addie’s voice. (The Prologue, which you can read here, was originally written entirely in the first person.) I wrote nearly a hundred pages that way before realizing there was just something that didn’t work. It was missing something.
What it was missing was Clemmie, my modern heroine. I can remember the exact moment it hit me. I had been visiting my friend Liz in Florence (hi, Liz!), where she had spent hours talking me through the Addie and Bea relationship, trying to help me figure out just why I was so stuck. I was sitting in the airport in Florence, waiting for the connecting flight that would take me to Charles de Gaulle and from there back to New York, when the idea hit: I needed to have Addie’s story gradually discovered and filtered through her granddaughter.
Clemmie had already existed in the original version, but as a side character, seen through older Addie’s eyes. Shifting the focus of the story from Addie to Clemmie and the entire book from the first person to the third person made everything snap into focus. I sat there in that tiny waiting room in the airport, scribbling madly into my notebook. When I came home, I opened a new file on my computer: Ashford Redux.
It’s hard for me, now, to remember what that original story felt like, told in the first person by a very elderly Addie. It was a good writing exercise, a good way to get a sense of her voice, but the story really didn’t come together until Clemmie appeared and acted as the glue. (You can read the first Clemmie chapter here.)
Right now, my work in progress exists under the working title Herne Hill. I’m hoping I won’t have a Herne Redux… but with a work in progress, you never know.