The Unlikely Adventures of Claudia Faraday is about sex. Worse, it’s about sex and the older woman.
It arose out of a short story I wrote some time ago about a woman in her fifties, grown-up children gone, rattling around in a big empty house with her husband absent overseas, who as a result of an unlikely encounter with a young stranger begins to realise, for the first time in her life, that sex can be fun.
I have no idea where this all came from but having written it, and enjoyed writing it, I thought I’d turn it into a full-length novel
First of all I had to decide first when it was set. The fifties perhaps? Or maybe the twenties? They were a fun time I believe, though I knew very little about them other than the Charleston, and the Bloomsbury set, and short skirts and cigarette holders and all that jazz. Oh, and Marie Stopes. So I began my research. I read Virginia Woolf, DH Lawrence, Evelyn Waugh and others, genned up on Noel Coward – who is featured in the book – watched all the films set in that period that I could find.
That was a lot of fun, and I embedded bits of all of it into my book. The title itself is a reference to Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway
It was also a fun book to write, even though I had no idea where it was going from one moment to the next. My only other book (other than one that was published many years ago under a pseudonym) had been non-fiction, with an already-existing plot. But in this case I was as the saying goes writing by the seat of my pants, no storyline mapped out, just that blank screen at the beginning of the day and as often as not a blank mind. I find since then it is really the only way I can write.
Claudia is not erotica. It is about a well-brought up, respectable woman who has always regarded sex – marital sex only that is – as, to quote from the book, ‘more of a duty than a pleasure: a little like homework, satisfying when over, and done well, but never exactly enjoyable. But then nobody had ever suggested it could be otherwise.’ Having discovered, unexpectedly, that it was an activity that could be enjoyed for its own sake and not just for the purpose of procreation, Claudia’s life is transformed.
I self published Claudia. I’d self published my previous book The Worst Country in the World, based on my family history, so I knew what I was in for. I wrote the sequel, featuring Claudia’s best friend Prue and titled The Improbable Memoirs of Prudence Allbright as part of NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. This is now an annual event, organised online every November, where authors are invited to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. It sounds gimmicky and I pooh-poohed it for years before finally deciding to give it a go.
And it was revelatory. Knowing you are expected to produce nearly 2,000 words a day really concentrates the mind
There are no excuses, no distractions, and especially – in my case – no going over and over and over that first chapter till you’ve got it right. Prudence was another seat-of-the-pants endeavour, I didn’t quite achieve the requisite 50,000 words but I wrote more than I thought I was capable of writing, and I surprised myself.
There comes a time in every novel – sometimes towards the beginning, if you’re lucky, but more often when you’re well into it – when your characters take over. They don’t always go where you want them to go, and when Prudence decided, quite without my approval, that she had to find out how her spy husband had been killed in WW1, she forced me to break away from my desk and head off to the Imperial War Museum and gen up on yet another topic I knew very little about.