It’s almost two years since lovely Clare Flynn last stayed in with me to chat about The Alien Corn in a post you can see here. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Clare in real life and so I couldn’t resist asking her back to Linda’s Book Bag once again.
Clare also featured on the blog when she wrote a fabulous guest post about the North South divide when The Green Ribbons was published. You can see that post here.
Today Clare is back to tell me all about her latest release. Not only that, Clare has generously offered to run a giveaway for her latest book. You can enter at the bottom of this blog post.
Staying in with Clare Flynn
Welcome back to Linda’s Book Bag, Clare. Thank you for agreeing to return and stay in with me again. I so enjoyed meeting you at the RNA winter party.
It’s an absolute pleasure, Linda, particularly as I’ve now met you in real life too. I’ll feel more relaxed about putting my feet up and not having to get dressed up!
Ha! I’m not sure if you feel comfortable in my company or you just think I’m scruffy! Either way, tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
I’ve brought along The Pearl of Penang, my tenth novel and just out! Apart from it being hot off the press, I’m super excited as it’s garnering some great reviews. It’s the book I’ve most enjoyed writing. I visited Penang earlier this year – just a brief stop on a round-the-world cruise and I would have liked to stay longer. Writing the book was like going back and exploring parts of the island I didn’t get to see. One reviewer said, ‘the wonderful descriptions of Penang have made me want to visit; indeed I feel I already have!’ I hesitate to confess that writing it was a bit of a vicarious journey for me too. I supplemented my memories of a my all-too-short visit with reading, YouTube videos, explorations on Google Earth and image searches.
I think many authors do the same Clare. I certainly used Google when writing my own novel! I visited Penang last year too on a cruise.
My main character, Evie, finds Malaya a hard place to fit in, despite its beauty. Her new husband is quixotic – at times hostile and then more conciliatory, so Evie is in a constant state of insecurity about where she stands. Nothing is quite what it seems and, as the outsider, it takes Evie time to find her feet and her sense of self.
The book begins in 1939 – not long before the outbreak of war in Europe. Malaya is home to numerous British expats, enjoying a carefree life in the sun, surrounded by servants and believing themselves to be immune from the trials of the coming war in Europe. Noel Coward once described British Malaya as ‘a first-rate country, for second-rate people’ and a visiting wartime army officer apparently said, ‘England shakes and you sit in the sun, tanning your hides, dicing with drinks and sucking Eskimo Pies.’
That all sounds fabulous. You’ve really intrigued me. What else can we expect from an evening in with The Pearl of Penang?
Plenty of atmosphere – steamy tropical heat, rich lush vegetation, balmy blue seas. A lot of trouble for Evie – nothing is ever as it seems and just as things appear to right themselves, there are more setbacks. I enjoyed spending time with her as a character – she may have seemed a bit unsure of herself in the beginning but she takes whatever gets thrown at her and battles on! She’s supported by a cast of characters – her new husband Douglas – handsome enigma or complete bastard? Veronica and Arthur Leighton – she presents as a first-class bitch with a tongue that drips acid, and he as a calm and steady presence. But again, nothing is quite as it seems.
I am definitely going to add The Pearl of Penang to my TBR!
Here’s what some reviewers have said–
‘Above all, a deeply romantic novel – I returned to it each evening with a sense of keen anticipation.’
‘If I were to say that I lived and breathed this book it wouldn’t be an exaggeration.’
‘The character of Veronica Leighton is particularly complex and poignant, and Evie’s struggles and her efforts to make sense of her new life are captivating.’
‘Like a bar of my favourite chocolate, I couldn’t resist The Pearl of Penang.’
You must be utterly thrilled with those responses!
So, in summary, sun, sea, sumptuous cocktails, scandals and sex – and chocolate! What more do you want?
Absolutely nothing. I can’t think of anything better…
Whilst I calm down a bit Clare, tell me what else have you brought along and why?
I’ve brought some absolutely delicious Malayan food – straight from the street food sellers in George Town. Here’s Evie’s first experience of the heady smells of the streets:
Passing the Chinese shop houses, the smell of food cooking pervaded the air, as meat was stirred into smoking hot coconut oil or mingled with sesame and soy. Evie marvelled at how the cooks were able to stand beside steaming vats of noodles and rice, rapidly stirring the food in their woks, in this oppressive heat.
I’m also going to make our evening a sensory feast by bringing some of the aromas of George Town – again here’s Evie’s first exposure to these –
It was impossible not to be intoxicated by the sweet fragrance of hibiscus, frangipani, sandalwood and ylang-ylang, the whiff of salt from the sea mingling with the smell of fish, the heady scent of incense which caught the back of her throat as she walked past the many small temples, the aroma of nutmeg and cardamon and the unspeakably foul stench of durian fruit.
And I thought I’d bring this photo to show you some of the exotic spices grown on the island.
As for drinks, it’s going to be colonial cocktails all the way, dahling! – you can choose between a stengah – basically whisky and soda, or a pahit – gin and bitters – 1½ oz oz gin and ½ oz of angostura bitters. But if you prefer, you can have a plain old G&T or a bottle of Tiger beer. And I’ll be bringing Doug’s manservant, Benny, to pour them. I know it’s so hard to get the staff these days, dahling!
I’m very partial to Tiger beer, and I’m rather glad you brought Benny along. Put up your feet and relax with your drink Clare whilst I tell everyone more about The Pearl of Penang.
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?
Flynn’s tenth novel explores love, marriage, the impact of war and the challenges of displacement – this time in a tropical paradise as the threat of the Japanese empire looms closer.
About Clare Flynn
Clare Flynn is the best-selling author of ten historical novels and a collection of short stories (you can download the latter free when you sign up for her newsletter on her website). Her books deal with complex characters facing challenging circumstances – often because of displacement to another part of the world.
Clare loves to travel whenever she has the time. She has also plenty of experience of displacement herself – having coped with a different school and home every two years as she was growing up, and having lived and worked in Newcastle, London, Paris, Brussels, Milan and Sydney. Now she lives on the beautiful Sussex coast where where she can see the sea from her windows.
Giveaway – An E-copy of The Pearl of Penang
I’m sure Clare will have whetted your appetite for The Pearl of Penang just as much as she has mine. If you’d like to enter to win an e-copy of the book, click here.
Open internationally, the giveaway closes to entries at UK midnight on Wednesday 8th January 2020.
Clare will ensure the winner, drawn at random, receives their copy of The Pearl of Penang and your details will not be retained beyond this giveaway closing date.