Today I’m delighted to feature historical fiction author Clare Flynn. Clare is particularly inspired by the idea of geographic displacement – and is fascinated by the (often dreadful!) world of the expatriate British during the dying days of the British Empire. Her books draw on her extensive travels – location is often the start point for ideas.
Her most popular books are the three Penang novels, The Pearl of Penang, Prisoner from Penang and A Painter in Penang. Each have a different – but related – main character and starts with the run up to the second world war through to the Malayan Emergency. In addition there is a series of three set during and immediately after World War 2 encompassing wartime England, through to post war Canada. Most of her other books are standalone novels.
Clare was born, the eldest of five children, in Liverpool but they were constantly uprooted as her father got promoted and sent to a different part of the country. Reading books often helped assuage loneliness as she adapted to a succession of new schools. Clare read English Language and Literature at the University of Manchester and, after short spells as an au pair in Rome and a barmaid in East Anglia, worked in the civil service in London. She was fortunate to get a job in the Marketing department at Procter& Gamble (P&G) up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. After ten years climbing the ladder, they sent her off to Paris and then to Brussels. Other jobs with consumer marketing companies followed – including three years working in Milan. In 1999 she’d had enough of corporate life and set up her own strategy consultancy, based in London, and did that for the next seventeen years, travelling all over the world to work with an amazing array of clients – and including a short spell working in Sydney.
Clare now lives in Eastbourne on the south coast of England – and since moving there in 2016 has been a full-time writer. She’s been able to reapply the skills learnt as a Marketing Director and management consultant to market her books. Writing had been a lifelong passion, but she never envisaged that one day she’d be making a very nice living from it. She feels blessed!
Over to Clare
Which piece of music/song would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?
So hard to have boil to it down to five!
The Beatles, I Wanna Hold Your Hand – certainly not my favourite Beatles song – but it was the first record I ever bought. In the school playground I always wanted to be Paul – even though it meant having to strum my pretend guitar left-handed. I was seven and bought it with a birthday record token. I used to dance round the living room to it – and to my two other favourites at the time – Coppelia as I had the erroneous belief I had a great future as the next Margot Fonteyn – and Slaughter on Tenth Avenue as I loved the wailing American police sirens and I made up stories of murder and mayhem inspired by the music.
My Secret Love by Kathy Kirby – it was my dad’s favourite and he drove us all insane playing it when we were small.
Tough call between The Israelites by Desmond Dekker and I Heard it Through the Grapevine by Marvyn Gaye – favourites to dance to when I started going out clubbing. Still love them.
Deep Purple in Rock – Deep Purple was the first band I ever saw live (closely followed by Jethro Tull. Both gigs were at the Brighton Dome.
Go Out and Get Some (Get it Outcha System) by Millie Jackson – I used to come home and play it at full volume when I had a dreadful boss!
What (apart from family and friends) would you find it hard to live without.
Books of course! One of the worst nights of my life was when I’d forgotten to bring my book on a business trip to Germany. A very long miserable night! Pre e-books I always struggled to fit my clothes in my holiday suitcase.
My iMac and MacBook
Moleskine notebooks and fountain pens – yes I do analogue as well as digital
Flowers – I always have them in the house and since lockdown I’ve been having a weekly delivery. Can’t do without it now!
Can you offer a piece of advice for your younger self?
Ask your parents a million questions about their early lives and those of their parents and grandparents, wartime experiences etc even if you think it’s boring as hell. By the time you discover it’s fascinating they may not be around to tell you.
Be braver. Things usually turn out better than you fear.
Travel as much and as far as you can as soon as you can afford to. Use all your vacation entitlement.
Value your friendships
Stop beating yourself up all the time! Give yourself a break!
Tell us something that most people don’t know about you
I only have one kidney – long story!
I used to have a motorbike – when I was briefly a civil servant in London. I took over a storage cupboard in the office and kept a set of dry clothes there as often I’d get soaked to the skin through my highly permeable ugly orange biker’s jumpsuit. I bought the bike on a whim and had never even ridden pillion before. The man from the second-hand motorbike shop gave me a few quick instructions and then it was up to me to get on with it. When I got a new job I got rid of it – not quite the image I needed!
I was the co-founder and Chair of the Rock ‘n Roll Dance Society at university.
I came very close to a violent death in Mauritius. I was absolutely certain I was going to be killed and have never known such terror in all my life.
Over the years I managed to break my elbow, both wrists, ankle and leg – all separate incidents and two of them involving a bicycle – not the motorbike!
Tell us something you’d still like to do or achieve.
Stay alive through this pandemic
See my Penang novels (well any of my novels!) serialised on Netflix or the BBC
Stay healthy and keep writing until I eventually die!
As soon as a) the pandemic is over and b) I get my Irish EU passport I plan to buy a second home in either France, Italy or Ireland so I can spend at least some of the year in a Brexit-free world – and of course it will be my perfect writing retreat
To be honest I think I’ve achieved most of what I set out to do in my life! I’m pretty content – as long as I can write!
Thanks so much for sharing with us today, I enjoyed your early music choices – they took me back. I was a Beatles fan – I loved Paul! I haven’t heard the Kathy Kirby song for a long time, that’s a real belt it out song. I chose to include Desmond Dekker as I love that song and it makes me think of my mother because for some unfathomable reason she thought for years it was called ‘Dead or Alive’! As someone dabbling in my family history I agree with asking questions, I never had access to grandparents beyond my early teens so my detailed family knowledge is virtually non-existent. Travel, however near or far is always beneficial and I’m thankful I’ve been to some amazing places, including Malaysia which drew me to your Penang series. Your Mauritius experience sounds dreadful – more reason to appreciate all the positives in life though. I’m sure we’ll all get through the pandemic (hopefully without incident) so that travel and life can get back on track. Hope that passport isn’t too far away.
The Penang Trilogy
The Pearl of Penang
“Following the death of my wife, I am in need of support and companionship. I am prepared to make you an offer of marriage.”
Evie Fraser, paid companion to a crotchety spinster, seems destined for a lonely life. Then out of the blue, a marriage proposal arrives by post. She met the handsome Douglas Barrington just once – at his wedding – but never forgot him. Now widowed, plantation-owner Douglas offers her a new life on the lush, exotic island of Penang. How can Evie resist?
But what are Barrington’s motives in marrying Evie when he barely knows her, and why is he so hostile and moody?
Evie soon finds herself pitched against Douglas on the one hand and the shallow, often spiteful world of the expatriate British on the other. Has she made the biggest mistake of her life?
Prisoner from Penang
After Penang is attacked by the Japanese at the end of 1941, Mary Helston believes Singapore will be a safe haven. But within weeks the supposedly invincible British stronghold is on the brink of collapse to the advancing enemy.
Mary and her mother are captured at sea as they try to escape and are interned on the islands of Sumatra. Imprisoned with them is Veronica Leighton, the one person on the planet Mary has reason to loathe with a passion.
As the motley band of women struggle to adapt to captivity, relationships and friendships are tested. When starvation, lack of medication and the spread of disease worsen, each woman must draw on every ounce of strength in their battle for survival.
A Painter in Penang
Sixteen-year-old Jasmine Barrington hates everything about living in Kenya and longs to return to the island of Penang in British colonial Malaya where she was born. Expulsion from her Nairobi convent school offers a welcome escape – the chance to stay with her parents’ friends, Mary and Reggie Hyde-Underwood on their Penang rubber estate.
But this is 1948 and communist insurgents are embarking on a reign of terror in what becomes the Malayan Emergency. Jasmine unearths a shocking secret as her own life is put in danger. Throughout the turmoil, her one constant is her passion for painting.
Across the Seas Trilogy
A Greater World (Book 1)
The journey is just the beginning…
Elizabeth Morton, born into a prosperous family, and Michael Winterbourne, a miner, come from different worlds but when they each suffer unspeakable and life-changing tragedy they’re set on a path that intertwines on the deck of the SS Historic, bound for Sydney, Australia.
Falling in love should have been the end to all their troubles. But fate and the mysterious Jack Kidd make sure it’s only the beginning.
Storms Gather Between Us (Book 2)
Life can change in a single moment…
Living under the watchful eye of her controlling and abusive father, Hannah Dawson’s hopes for freedom and happiness seem a distant dream. Her mother, passive and ashamed of her self-preservation, refuses to challenge her husband. It is the mysterious circumstances of her long-lost Aunt Lizzie’s disappearance in the 1920s that inspires Hannah to seek a better life.
Since escaping his family’s notoriety in Australia Will Kidd has spent a decade sailing the seas, never looking back. Content to live the life of a wanderer, everything changes in a single moment when he comes face to face with a ghost from his past on a cloudy beach in Liverpool.
Hannah and Will are thrown together by fate and bonded by secrets from long ago. Now, they discover a love like no other. But with Hannah’s father determined to see her wed to a man of his choosing they must fight against a tyrant who has ruined many lives. Even if they succeed, can they escape the chains of their histories? And will their plans for a future be possible when the whole world is changing forever…?
The Canadians Trilogy
The Chalky Sea (Book 1)
Two troubled people in a turbulent world.
In July 1940, Gwen Collingwood drops her husband at the railway station, knowing she may never see him again. Two days later her humdrum world is torn apart when the sleepy English seaside town where she lives is subjected to the first of many heavy bombing attacks.
In Ontario, Canada, Jim Armstrong is debating whether to volunteer. His decision becomes clear when he uncovers the secret his fiancée has been keeping from him. A few weeks later he is on a ship bound for England.
Gwen is forced to confront the truth she has concealed about her past and her own feelings. Jim battles with a bewildering and hostile world far removed from the cosy life of his Canadian farm. War brings horror and loss to each of them – can it also bring change and salvation?
The Alien Corn (Book 2)
They faced up to the challenges of war – but can they deal with the troubles of peace?
Canadian, Jim Armstrong, married in haste during the second world war, after a one-night stand. When his wife and their small son join him in Canada it’s four years since they’ve seen each other.
War bride, Joan discovers Jim has no intention of the family returning to England. She struggles to adapt to life on a remote farm in Ontario, far from her family and cold-shouldered by Jim’s mother.
Jim, haunted by his wartime experiences in Italy, Iingering feelings for a former lover, and the demands of the farm, begins to doubt his love for Joan.
From the rolling farmland of Ontario to the ravaged landscapes of war-torn Italy, this sweeping love story is the sequel to The Chalky Sea.
The Frozen River (Book 3)
Three strong women make their way in 1950s Canada
English hairdresser, Ethel, alone after the deaths of her family and her wartime fiancé. Widow and single mother, Alice, bringing up two daughters, receives an unexpected inheritance that will transform her life. War bride, Joan, now mother to four small children. All brought together in a rural Canadian town where they each try to build a future – often in spite of the men in their lives.
Each woman has a different idea of happiness. Will any or all of them achieve it?
Marriage to a man she barely knows. Exile to a country she doesn’t know at all
After an abusive relationship with a predatory older man, debutante Ginny Dunbar is publicly disgraced when her artist lover exhibits a nude painting of her in a smart London gallery. All her mother’s hopes for a society wedding are dashed until she lowers her sights and pushes Ginny into a hasty marriage with a tea planter from South India.
Colonial life doesn’t sit well with Ginny. She finds the world of the expatriate community shallow and empty. Caught between fear of and fascination for India and its people, her world is shaken when she meets Jag Mistry, who opens her eyes and her heart. But just as she thinks she has found happiness, World War 2 intervenes.
Letters from a Patchwork Quilt
In 1875, 18-year-old would-be poet, Jack Brennan, runs away from home to avoid being pushed into the priesthood. Life soon looks rosy for Jack when he lands the teaching job he’s always dreamed of and meets the love of his life, Eliza Hewlett. But his world is shattered when Mary Ellen, his landlord’s daughter, falsely accuses him of fathering the child she is expecting.
Jack and Eliza decide to escape to America. As they are about to sail, Jack is arrested and dragged from the ship, leaving Eliza alone en route to New York with only a few shillings in her pocket. Desperate and helpless, Jack is forced into marrying the woman he despises.
How will Eliza cope alone and penniless in New York? Can Jack make a new life amid the ruins of his hopes and dreams? Will the lovers meet again?
The Green Ribbons
“Two men will love you. Both will pay the price for it”
Hephzibah Wildman’s life is dramatically changed when her parents die in a tragic accident. Homeless and penniless, she must now face the challenge of finding her way alone in the world.
Working as a governess in a country house, Ingleton Hall, Hephzibah begins to rebuild her life. Drawn to the handsome and elusive Thomas Egdon, she must avoid the unwanted attentions of his father, her employer Sir Richard, the squire of Ingelton Hall.
Who is the mysterious woman who steals the green velvet ribbons from Hephzibah’s bedroom in the middle of the night and what is the secret Thomas Egdon is concealing from her?
An impulsive decision by Hephzibah unleashes a chain of events that lead to dangerous consequences.
The Gamekeeper’s Wife
A gripping tale of love, duty, sacrifice and determination in the aftermath of the First World War.
Martha Walters is the widow of an abusive man. Martha has nothing and is about to lose her home.
Christopher Shipley is the reluctant heir to a substantial family fortune. He has more money than he needs or wants, and responsibilities he cannot shirk.
They were never meant to fall in love, but sometimes the wrong person is the right one. Then a terrible secret is revealed, which could force them apart.
From an English country house to the jungles of Borneo, The Gamekeeper’s Wife, is sure to keep you up reading all night. Buy a copy now or read on Kindle Unlimited.