The theme for this year’s BSB book festival blog tour is ‘fun’, and what the word means to us. Well, to be frank, I always approach the word ‘fun’ with the appropriate amount of cynicism and measured caution that the word deserves. This is because how I interpret the word ‘fun’ entirely depends on the […]
Looking for something to read over the Easter holidays – maybe in a beer garden with a pint or in the bath with a large glass of wine or flat out on the sofa with a cadbury creme egg?
Have a listen to me read from my new novel Love’s Portrait and see if it might be the book for you this Easter.
The Lesbian Talk Show is podcast channel for women about women.
Here’s what some lovely people have had to say so far…
Sparks fly between Molly, an art curator, and Georgina, her museum’s aloof benefactor, as they research the portrait of a 19th-century lesbian social activist and try to convince the museum’s board to display it. – Publishers Weekly
What an interesting book this has been! There is a passion that flows throughout the whole story and that surrounds you completely…it is really interesting and very, very recommendable. – Netgalley
I loved it, it’s got a bit of class and a gentle pace that curls around you. – Clare Lydon
It’s the perfect mixture of love, romance and belonging. – Kitty Kat’s Review Blog
It’s not too much of a leap to say that, if Jane Austen was writing lesbian romance fiction today, she might have come up with something akin to ‘Love’s Portrait’! – Goodreads
© 2016 All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly Spring 2019 Announcements: Love’s Portrait by Anna Larner (April 2019, ISBN 978-1-63555-057-3). Sparks fly between Molly, an art curator, and Georgina, her museum’s aloof benefactor, as they research the portrait of a 19th-century lesbian social activist and try to convince the museum’s board to display it.
Context of extract:
Museum Curator Molly Goode (central character) has just attended a museum funding meeting with her boss Evelyn Fox and the Chairman of the Trustees Mark Drew. Her suggestions that the museum should focus on more diversity and community based projects are rebuffed in favour of securing the ongoing patronage of the Wright family, headed by Georgina Wright (central character).
Molly returns to her desk defeated and dispirited.
Molly returned to her office, dropped her notes back into the bin where they belonged, and slumped onto Fran’s desk with a heavy sigh.
“You’re sitting on my sandwich.” Fran pushed at Molly’s hip, encouraging her to stand.
“I’ve sat on your lunch? Oh my God, could this day get any worse?” Molly held Fran’s baguette, squishy in her hands. It was now less buoyant baguette and more flatbread and pretty much summed up her morning.
Fran stood with a groan. “Want anything from the cafe?”
Molly looked down, crestfallen, and shook her head.
“I take it the meeting wasn’t exactly a great success.” Fran rested a motherly hand on Molly’s shoulder.
She couldn’t bring herself to mention the annex let alone that she had prompted the idea of a dedicated exhibition in the first place. “Honestly it was chilling to hear them. Everything’s about money or status to them. I thought museums were for and about the people.”
“You’re sounding more like a social historian every day,” Fran said, with an approving nod. “Although isn’t the art world, your world, all about that—status?”
“Not for me.”
“Good for you.” Fran placed her hands on her hips. “I think we need cake.”
“Have lunch in the square with me?”
“Sorry, no can do, I’ve a shopping list longer than David Attenborough’s career. But I’ll see you later. So what will it be—Victoria Sponge or, better still, eclairs?”
Molly mustered a smile. “How about both?”
“Good choice.” Fran turned back at the door. “Do you remember what I said to you when you first started at the museum? That you will always feel disheartened if your approach is to work against them?”
“The trick, if there is a trick”—Fran frowned slightly—“is somehow to find a way to achieve what you believe is right but that still delivers for the powers that be.”
“So is this how you handle Evelyn?”
“On my good days, yes. On my bad days, lots of rude words shouted at the top of my lungs in the privacy of the ladies’ loo.”
Molly giggled. “Right. Noted.”
The instant Fran closed the door, Molly was engulfed by images of the chairman with his expression of vacuous power, his mane-like hair swept back, his tie tight against his collar moving with his throat as he spoke. He was confident in a bullish way that suggested at his heart he was insecure. His insecurity made him dangerous, and if she was not mistaken, that was likely the source of his power and influence—not his knowledge, not his experience, but the fragility of his ego, charming when stroked, ferociously defensive when challenged.
Evelyn seemed to be a master at managing him, stroking to calm and cajole. She appealed to his competitive nature by presenting the museum as a place of excellence. A leading institution, indeed. She was the consummate manager of people.
Molly closed her eyes at the image of Evelyn with her pen raised to silence her. Her temper rose. She needed to find a place to shout rude words.
Leaving the frustrations of her meeting behind, she headed to her sanctuary, a small public garden next to the museum. Aptly named Museum Square, the simply designed square patch of civic ground was bordered on two sides by parked cars. A collection of benches placed around the inside edge of the square separated the grass from wide borders. A diagonal path, broken up by tree roots, stretched across, splitting halfway along to encircle a large horse chestnut tree. This tree marked the seasons, signalling the changing patterns of the year. In winter, bare and stark against white skies, the tree seemed to shrink, huddled with those brave or crazy enough to stop awhile and sit. In spring, tentative buds relaxed in the welcome return of the first rays of sunshine. In summer, students rested against its weathered waist reading their books, cool in the shade of branches laden with the soft flutter of green leaves. And in autumn, the debris of crushed conkers bashed free from its branches, littering the ground with evidence of battles won and lost and of time passing as the empty husks curled and browned.
She cherished those moments spent sitting on her favourite bench eating her sandwiches, with her lunchbox at her side and with the sprawling horse chestnut her faithful companion.
Basking in the calm stillness of the beautiful September day, she took off her shoes and let the grass brush against the soles of her feet. She lifted her chin to the cloudless sky. The air was changing from the dry sandy notes of summer to the sweet musk of autumn. The leaves above her were fading, and their greens had softened to mossy shades from vibrant lime. Even the midday light beaming through the canopy seemed weaker now, less luminous, its strongest rays falling on another person sitting on another bench, in another square, in another land.
*Now available to buy at the Bold Strokes Books webstore*
*Now available to pre-order at Amazon*
ISBN-13 978-1-63555-058-0 ebook
ISBN-13 978-1-63555-057-3 paperback
© 2016 All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.
Finding the way in is at the heart of everything isn’t it?
Be it finding the way in to a confusing car park or a poorly signposted building. Or indeed finding your way in to establishing the common ground of a friendship or perhaps most importantly to the heart of the one you love.
Finding the way in is not only at the heart of life, it is at the heart of writing. It is that moment when a writer’s creativity sparks, igniting an imagined scene or character or dialogue. It is where the story begins.
I remember reading an interview with author Nancy Garden explaining how she found her way in to writing Annie on My Mind with a single line of dialogue.
“One rainy day…the words ‘It’s raining, Annie’ popped into my head. I know it sounds weird, but something told me that at last this might be the beginning of the book, although I didn’t know who was saying ‘It’s raining’ or who Annie was. But nonetheless that was how Annie on My Mind was born.” 1
Nancy’s explanation resonated with me as my debut novel Highland Fling began as much with a line of dialogue as with the setting of the Scottish Highlands. I could hear my main character Eve saying tenderly to her lover Moira, “You can touch me if you want”. These few words began a paragraph of writing, which then became a page, which eventually developed into a novel.
In a similar way my short story “Hooper Street“ in the anthology Girls Next Door: Lesbian Romance became the destined home for a phrase that had loitered in my head, potent yet aimless: “It was a Tuesday when…” The line now continues “I first met Abbie.” “Hooper Street“ had already been loosely drafted before those homeless words gave the story the purpose and orientation it needed. It peculiarly felt like those five words were fated to belong in the story, but that at some point they had been separated from it, like a dream half forgotten and then suddenly fully remembered.
For sometimes ideas, words, and images conjured by the imagination are so fleeting, that the writer is left chasing the memory of something, constantly editing and refining, working to get as close as possible to the perfect creative form just out of reach.
Despite the writer’s efforts to capture their imagination onto a page and to craft the perfect story, the ultimate meaning of a work lies with the reader. After all, the words and images that connected the story to the writer will not be the same words and images that connect the story to the reader.
All a writer can do is guide the reader in the direction we hope they will travel. But in the end, as it should be, the joy is the discoveries you make for yourself, the satisfaction of finding your own way in.
You will find me, should you wish, reading from Highland Fling and “Hooper Street“ and chatting more about writing at Gay’s The Word Bookshop, London, on 13th July, and at L Fest, Loughborough on 22nd July.
I look forward to seeing you then.
- p254, A Conversation with Nancy Garden, interview with Kathleen Horning, Annie on My Mind, 2007 Edition, FSG
© 2016 All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.
Congratulations on your new book, Anna!
What made you decide to become a writer?
It wasn’t so much a decision, more “Oh, so that’s who I am.”
The clues were there:
Clue 1- A daydreamer with an overactive imagination.
Clue 2- A degree in English Literature.
Clue 3- A heartfelt passion for all things LGBT.
Let’s just say I eventually joined the dots.
Where do you get your ideas?
Inspiration comes from the world around me—people, places, events—captured by my senses, tucked away in my memory.
I then form ideas by reimagining these memories through the lens of Me—who I am, my sensibilities, my sexuality, the stuff I find hard, the stuff I find fun, that kind of thing.
What is your writing process like? Do you plan everything or just let the story unfold naturally?
I know this is common to many writers, but I get the sense that I’m writing a story that is waiting to be written. That doesn’t mean I automatically know the story, or that it is easy to bring it out.
Highland Fling was written in a free-flowing way, without a plan. In retrospect not the most efficient way of working, as it took three substantive edits to finalize the work but it was a necessary and invaluable experience, and I learned an awful lot about writing along the way.
My second novel Love’s Portrait has a detailed plot summary in place which is helping me write more efficiently. But I wouldn’t be able to write in this way without the experience I gained writing Highland Fling.
A large part of your book Highland Fling takes place in Scotland—one of the most beautiful places in the world, but I might be a bit biased. What inspired you to set it there?
The Highlands of Scotland is one of my favorite places to visit. It is such an awe-inspiring place. The fauna, the flora, the mountains that go on forever, it is a feast for the senses, and the stuff of dreams and imagination.
On one particular visit, during a hike, I met a local forestry woman and I began to imagine her life and that planted the seeds for the story. Before I knew it I had given her a holiday romance and a complicated past!
How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?
I wrote Highland Fling from my heart; therefore there is a lot of me in it, and without intending a few traits from my family and friends.
In particular, the main character Eve feels everything I felt at twenty-six. How awkward I was when I fancied someone, how difficult I found it to read someone’s sexuality, how impulsive I could be when smitten. Eve’s best friend Roxanne definitely has traits from my best mate who used to listen with amusement to my tales of hapless crushes.
The inspiration for Moira came, not so much from anyone in particular, but from an understanding that your life experience, your choices shape you. Moira embodies the many pressures, both internal and external, of being a lesbian growing up within a small community and in a less accepting era.
It was important to me that Highland Fling reflected real people, overcoming real struggles and finding real hope.
What’s your favorite and worst part of the writing process?
My favorite part is when I find my groove and the writing flows. The worst part is the natural process of doubting yourself, whether that’s during writing or waiting to find out what people think!
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Commit and open your heart, and you’ll hear your characters, you will see the setting, and then write with unashamed gusto. Edit later and never stop wanting to improve.
Who are your literary heroes? Who inspires you the most?
Nancy Garden is definitely one of my top literary heroes. She wrote the first lesbian romance I read called Annie On My Mind. I was in my teens and it was such a consoling read.
Funnily enough, I’ve blogged about my literary crushes as I have so many! They include E. M. Forster, Ali Smith, Carol Ann Duffy, W. H. Auden, and Virginia Woolf. Take a look if you fancy: www.annalarner.com
What are you writing next?
The novel I’m working on is a contemporary lesbian romance called Love’s Portrait.
The essence of the story is that a museum curator and museum benefactor fall in love as they discover a painting’s tragic past.
My aim is to deliver a heartfelt romance with depth and poignancy, with beautiful descriptions, packed with tension and scenes of breathless attraction.
To finish, a very serious two-part question. Tea or Coffee? What’s your favorite biscuit?
Wow. This is a revealing question. Still, this is no time for biscuit coyness, so I might as well confess—I’m a dunker. So chocolate is problematic and any crumbly biscuit is far too stressful. For me it’s a malted milk or a ginger nut.
Now, on to the second part—I drink tea first thing in the morning, usually two cups straight after each other. Then about eleven thirty I have a cup of coffee. Not just any coffee—it has to be Lavazza and made in a stovetop coffeemaker. I’m a creature of habit.
Fantastic Debut Novel by Anna Larner
Eve Eddison describes her ideal woman to her best friend, Roxanne, over pints in their local pub a few days before she travels to the Scottish Highlands. There she falls head over heels for an enigmatic local, Moira Burns, and the usually reticent Eve wants more than a holiday romance. Forestry officer Moira Burns has no intention of letting go—either of past pain or for present pleasure. If that means she misses out on her chance at happiness, so be it. Convinced Eve is headed for heartbreak, Roxanne advises her to let Moira go…but has Eve found her ideal woman at last?
From the breathtaking Highlands of Scotland to the buzz of a Leicester gay bar, family and friendship are tested to breaking point, as letting go proves painfully hard.
Firstly I’m Scottish so a Lesbian Romance set in the highlands…
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Come say hello and maybe buy a book. Hot off the press copies of Highland Fling will be available (£10) before general release!
Bold Strokes Books authors Robyn Nyx and Brey Willows will also be attending with their books too!
The eighth States of Independence will take place on Saturday 11 March 2017 at Clephan Building, De Montfort University, Leicester. 10.30am – 4.30pm.
If you can’t make it but would like to purchase a copy of Highland Fling let me know (postage and packing will apply).
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