Hello hello and welcome or welcome back to my little bookish corner of the internet. Today I’m sharing my interview with debut author Lucy Ashe, to talk about her recent release, Clara and Olivia, and all things bookish.
“Surely you would like to be immortalised in art, fixed forever in perfection?”
Sadler’s Wells, 1933.
I would kill to dance like her.
Disciplined and dedicated, Olivia is the perfect ballerina. But no matter how hard she works, she can never match identical twin Clara’s charm.
I would kill to be with her.
As rehearsals intensify for the ballet Coppélia, the girls feel increasingly like they are being watched. And, as infatuation turns to obsession, everything begins to unravel.
What drove you to write this book?
The first spark of an idea for Clara & Olivia appeared many years ago, but I think I needed some distance and time after I had stopped dancing to be able to write this story. When I was training at the Royal Ballet School, I was fascinated by our lessons on the history of ballet: I loved learning about the stories behind the ballets and the context of their creations. Clara & Olivia is rooted in ballet history, the early years of what we now know as the Royal Ballet, and I loved researching the productions, the people, the costumes, the life for a dancer in the early 1930s.
What has your journey been like, from dancer to writer?
This is a difficult question, because I think when you train as a dancer there is an intensity to your time that makes it hard to imagine yourself as anything but a dancer. The journey away from ballet was hard and I found it difficult to re-define myself. When I left the Royal Ballet School, I did my A Levels and then got a place at Oxford University to study English Literature, but I couldn’t leave ballet behind. I did a dance teaching diploma at the British Ballet Organisation and I danced and taught regularly while at Oxford. Perhaps this novel, with its ballet setting, has given me a path back to ballet, but in a way that suits me and my life now.
What do you most hope people take away from Clara and Olivia?
I hope people will enjoy becoming immersed in the setting – 1930s London, Sadler’s Wells theatre, the Regent’s canal, the dressing rooms and ballet studios where the dancers prepare and rehearse. Even if readers don’t know much about ballet beforehand, I hope people will be gripped by the story of Clara and Olivia, twin sisters who have a strong bond, a bond that is tested by the obsessions and threats surrounding them.
Who was your favourite character to write about?
A really tricky question! The novel moves between the voices of Clara, Olivia, and also two men: Samuel and Nathan. I found myself drawn to each of them in turn as I was writing each chapter. It sometimes felt like a betrayal to end each chapter and move on to another character!
What do you tend to read personally, and do you feel that has an impact on your writing?
I read a huge variety of books and genres, but I guess my favourite novels are historical fiction. I love stories with a strong sense of place, especially if I find myself learning about a particular historical time period and the lives of people at that time. Recently I loved The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell – a stunning Italian setting with a gripping and exciting narrative. I love all novels by Tracy Chevalier for a similar reason, and I will devour anything by Sarah Waters. Fingersmith is one of the best novels I’ve ever read: beautifully written historical setting, a charismatic central character, and one of the best twists in literature.
Finally, how would you describe Clara and Olivia in three words?
Atmospheric, immersive, dark
Thanks for joining me for this interview today, and of course a huge thank you to Lucy for her time. Clara and Olivia is out now, and my review is upcoming!