An interview with the author.
Q: So – sex and the older woman, is that what Claudia Faraday is about?
A: Partly, yes.
Q: And is this her?
A: No, this is my great grandmother. She’s of an era, you could say.
Q: So the book is taken from Claudia’s diary, is that right? How did it come about?
A: Through Claudia’s great granddaughter, who I met through a mutual friend. She arrived on my doorstep one day with this diary she’d discovered in the attic of the family home she was clearing. It was her idea I look through it and see if I thought it might be publishable. Once I’d got the hang of the tiny writing and the weird and wonderful way Claudia skirted round the more intimately personal stuff I couldn’t put it down.
Q: Claudia Faraday is not her real name. Why did you change it?
A: On request, to protect her reputation.
Q: So the contents of the diary were pretty salacious.
A: Slightly scandalous, is how I’d put it. It’s about a middle-aged mother of three discovering the joys of sex for the first time, and how that changes her view of the world.
Q: Would you describe it as erotica?
A: If people are looking for erotica they will be disappointed. It isn’t Fifty Shades of Grey, it isn’t even Fifteen. But it is a bit naughty, yes.
This is a woman who was brought up in Victorian times – long skirts, corsets, tidy hair and impeccable behaviour – when sex was considered a duty rather than a pleasure, and only for married women, of course. There were plenty of women like Claudia, who never discovered that sex could be fun, and joyful, and fulfilling. Who’d never heard of the clitoris let alone known what it could do. Marie Stopes was just emerging onto the scene with her book Married Love where she made the shocking assertion that there was nothing wrong with indulging in sex for pleasure, not just for procreation. That is what is so intriguing about Claudia’s story.
But what’s equally if not more fascinating is having experienced her first sexual orgasm and discovered, in a rather unlikely way, that sex was not just lying back and thinking of England, Claudia’s life takes on a whole new meaning. Not only does she see things more clearly – literally – but it jolts her out of the semi-torpor that her life has become now her daughters have left home and she’s on her own with a husband working overseas. So she discovers things about herself, and her friends, she was unaware of.
Q: So if Claudia’s husband is overseas that implies her sexual awakening is not at his hands, so to speak. Does that mean her marriage is over?
A: You’ll have to read the book to find out.
Q: You make references to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway – why is that?
A: For fun. As I was reading the diary I kept thinking of Mrs Dalloway, who was of a similar age to Claudia. I had to do a certain amount of background research into the 1920s while I was writing the book, so I embedded references to some of the books and films of that period such as Mrs Dalloway and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies, etc. etc.
Q: What about Noel Coward? Did he appear in the diary?
A: No, I made that up.
Q: How much of it did you make up?
A: As I said a lot of Claudia’s writing was elliptical, she referred to events and people in a roundabout way which made me wonder whether, even if she wasn’t deliberately writing for publication, she was aware people mind find her diary and at least read it, if not publish it. For example, the ‘inciting episode’ that sets the whole thing off: the surprise visit by a stranger – I could show you what she actually wrote, and you’d be hard-pressed to really know what happened. It’s only as the rest of her story unravels that I was able to figure out what went on between the two of them.
Q: I’m curious to know more about Gabriel, the ‘messenger’. Is that why you called him Gabriel?
A: Absolutely. Because that is what he is. The stranger who arrives out of the blue, delivers his dynamic message and goes again, never to reappear. Just as Gabriel did with the Virgin Mary. A lofty comparison, I realise, but it fits. Except he doesn’t make Claudia pregnant. That would be a miracle too far.
Q: But who is he exactly? Is he really a colleague of her husband’s? In which case, did he send him? Or is he a kind of mythical figure?
A: That is a very good question: who exactly is Gabriel and why would he do to Claudia what he did? The best answer I can come up with is he’s whoever you think he is. He is the catalyst, the instigator, the one who turns Claudia’s life around without becoming a part of that life. The basic plot is a familiar one: the stranger who arrives out of the blue and changes people’s lives. He’s the Inspector in An Inspector Calls – did he really exist? Or did he emerge from the family’s conscience?
Q: How easy is it to write about over-age sex?
A: ‘Over-age sex’, I like that! It’s no different to writing about any-age sex. If a woman – and a man – still have a sex drive in their fifties, or older, then what’s wrong with writing about it? I’ve used a wee bit of irony, because it’s taken Claudia so long to discover the fun in it. The whole book is a light-hearted take on sex in the 1920s, you could say.