Every character has a backstory– and every backstory has a backstory. When I was working on The Ashford Affair, I was particularly struck by this, by all the stories, stretching back generation after generation, each shaping the next.
When we meet my historical heroine, Addie, in 1906, her parents have just died in an omnibus accident, leaving her an orphan at the age of six. She’s living in Bloomsbury, her mother a well known novelist (think a female E.M. Forster), her father a writer of controversial histories. We never meet Addie’s parents– except through her memories– and she’s quickly whisked off by her aunt and uncle to Ashford Park, but I was fascinated by that parental pre-history. Even though I knew that it was never going to come into the book itself, I spent a lot of time reading up on that Bloomsbury set, figuring out just how Addie’s parents would have met, and who their circle of literary friends might be.
Part of it was that their story was necessary to explain so much of Addie’s experience. We know her Uncle Charles, the Earl of Ashford, although undemonstrative, loved his younger brother, Addie’s father– even if he didn’t understand him. We know her Aunt Vera viewed Addie’s parents’ marriage as a misalliance and sees Addie as impossibly tainted both by her humble ancestry (her mother’s father was a country doctor) and by her Bloomsbury upbringing. Addie’s mother’s novels are the sort of social criticism that Aunt Vera, a dowager to the core, fears most. Much of Addie’s upbringing at Ashford Park is shaped and defined by Aunt Vera’s attempts to drill the Bloomsbury out of her. Of course, she can’t stop Addie from finding her mother’s books later on….
Parental backstory is equally important to my modern heroine, Clemmie, who is very much shaped by her parents’ divorce and her mother’s attempts to make up in Clemmie what she feels she messed up in her own life. What intrigued me while writing this book was how often these influences work invisibly or unconsciously, how much the lives of the younger generation are shaped by the experiences of the older without ever being aware of the causes.
More on The Ashford Affair coming up soon!