Clare Ashton, award-winning author of After Mrs. Hamilton and Pennance, cannot be categorized. Unless you can categorize her works as Gothic-sexy-romantic-suspenseful-edgy-heartbreaking-complex-literate-literary-just plain amazing. Which I do. To hell with categories. If you like good reads, then I think you should move up to GREAT reads. Which fall in the above category. That I will simplify into one particular category: FABULOUS FICTION: Clare Ashton.
Something a Little Bit Different – a Guest Post by Clare Ashton
Publishers like genre. They know how to sell and market a lesbian romance or mystery. But what if you don’t want to write to a formula? What if you love writing that something only you could have written, and it’s not quite like anything else.
I think this is where indie publishing really excels.
Whereas a publisher must sell thousands to cover costs of a publishing house, indie publishing allows an author to publish their own work at low cost and risk. And sometimes you find that there was a market for that legal secretary werewolf who finds a wormhole in the neighbour’s outdoor loo after all.
When I start writing, I set out to write a good story. For my first novel, Pennance, I wanted to write an atmospheric tale set in Cornwall in winter. The southwest tip of England has a rugged coastline battered by the Atlantic Ocean and fog lingers on the high moors. It’s a creepy wonderful place, and I wanted to spend some time there.
I wanted the novel to have suspense, moments of uneasiness, a poignant love story and a twist or two. It features the main character of Lucy, a woman in her twenties, who lives as a recluse on the coast. She is incapacitated by guilt about the death of her lover whose clinging presence haunts her, and, paranoid, she dreads his death being avenged. She escapes her own torture through meeting a local woman and young family, but she gradually realises her life is in danger after all.
I wrote the story to be vivid and brutally realistic, with ordinary people as the main characters who behave awkwardly at times because of the experiences they’ve had. And readers have found it an engrossing read. But what is it? The closest description I’ve heard for it is a modern gothic romance (lesbian) – but that category doesn’t exist.
And, as my own publisher, this is where I do have some sympathy with publishers. Not falling into a clean-cut genre did make it more difficult to market my book. Online discussion groups fall into genres and with a book that doesn’t fulfil the expectations of a genre novel you risk upsetting some readers who might not be enamoured with your differences.
Fortunately, Pennance fell in the hands of some readers who did relish those differences, found it very well written, and it garnered good reviews and sold well.
So what about a second book? A publisher or agent might want more of the same from an author (just a bit different of course, but still broadly the same). There’s a good reason for this – they can sell to the same readership. But while readers might want more of the same, an author is likely to want to spread their wings and try something new. Again, you can do this as an indie writer at low risk.
After Mrs Hamilton was the book I always wanted to read on holiday. A page-turner with lots of sex, a love of a lifetime with the perfect older woman, a loveable but flawed heroine, twists to shock the reader, and moments of ecstasy and despair, hopefully well-written enough not to feel guilty about reading such a melodrama.
It’s been described as literary erotica wrapped up in a mystery, so it worked for one person at least, but again try finding that category on Amazon.
In the novel, a young woman works as an escort who specialises in older women. One autumn evening in London, she meets a client who simply talks to her and their encounter is unexpectedly tender. The meeting causes both the escort and client to question their sterile existences, and the meeting triggers the unravelling of family secrets, friendships and marriages with erotic and emotionally charged scenes to full-on violent encounters.
Some readers found it a surprising departure from Pennance, a more introverted and restrained novel, but fortunately again, it has sold well and it has just won a Golden Crown Literary Society award.
I wonder what I should write next. Should I follow up Pennance’s literary tale, or After Mrs Hamilton’s page-turner of breath-taking twists?
Well I’m writing a comic short story, just to be bloody minded, and as an indie, because I can.