Jeff & Will discuss the new Ryan Murphy/Netflix series Hollywood. Jeff reviews The Infinite Noise, a Bright Sessions novel by Lauren Shippen.

Clare London discusses her Romancing The… series, in particular this month’s Big Gay Fiction Book Club pick Romancing The Rough Diamond. She dishes on the high-end glamour, the jewelry business and fictionalizing the real royal family.  She also talks about some of her other recent re-releases and what’s coming next.

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Show Notes

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Jump to Book Reviews

Interview Transcript – Clare London

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Jeff: Clare, welcome back to the podcast. It is so good to have you back with us.

Clare: Jeff. It’s lovely to see you again and at least, yeah. Particularly in these times when you’re not free to see and talk to people who might have been before.

Jeff: Exactly.

I’m glad that we’re getting to see each other in this time and I’m super happy that we picked “Romancing the Rough Diamond” for our Book Club pick for May.

Clare: I’m thrilled .

Jeff: Joel and Matt have delighted me so, so much as I’ve been reading it. Tell us about the ‘Romancing The…’ series in general, because this is its fourth book.

Clare: It is. It is. And it didn’t set out as such. It set out as a single book, and I thought that was a cutesy title, Romancing the Wrong Twin. And then I thought, no, because that’s summed up what I quite enjoy. I enjoy romantic comedies to watch, to read because I love that mix of wit and angst often, and romance.

But I thought, what if I take the plots, fairly standard plots, but give them that little bit of humor and that little bit of a twist because it’ll be guys instead of the traditional boy/girl. And it just grew. I thought of other setups and I thought, let’s make this a “Romancing the…” So that sums it up.

Jeff: And you always do pick interesting parallels, whether it’s a rough diamond or the, you know, the wrong twin or whatever.

That must’ve been fun to come up with those.

Clare: I very much like, just as everybody does have their favorite tropes, I love the opposites attract because I think that it gives you that spark in a romantic story that it’s not two people you’d expect to see together that they’re not two people exactly the same, with the same ideas and the same backgrounds, because that’s the spark I think of any relationship, and sometimes it doesn’t work, but sometimes in fiction of course it does. And that’s how I tried to create two guys that are quite different in attitude as well as background.

Stick them together initially, possibly against their will and go for it. See what happens, stir it up, see what happens.

Jeff: Do you have a favorite in the series thus far? Like two guys that you just kind of really like?

Clare: That’s like saying what’s your favorite child is. It probably is ‘Romancing the Ugly Duckling’, I think because, yeah, I just loved the characters.

I loved the idea of the plot. I loved the outrageousness of a celebrity family, like the Kardashians. I just liked it. But ‘Romancing the Rough Diamond’ is a very close second. What I wanted with these as well was to bring out the Britishness, it gave me a chance to do that. And that’s what I enjoined. And the British humor, that’s

Jeff: What I’ve often just loved about your books, to take a little side trip here, because you also did that a lot with, ‘With a Kick’ that was very British and hilarious. And I could see some of the small similarities between the two series.

Clare: I love that because I set that one specifically in London where I was, and there’s just so much scope in London, there’s so much going on. There’s so many different people. There’s so much fun. There’s so much drama. There can be action. There can be just a man, domesticity. I just loved that idea.

And Sue and I, Sue Brown and I thought of the series originally cause she saw an alcoholic ice cream shop. But when we went back up on our research trip, to you know research, it wasn’t there anymore. So we thought, hell, we’re going to create it. I’m not a great one for sprawling world building and, you know, extensive backgrounds. I just liked the people, I suppose, lots of people and what happens between them.

Jeff: And if you ever want to do something new once we get out of these weird times, you could always create a boozy ice cream shop.

Clare: One day. Jeff.

We thought we might this summer. We thought we might practice making some. Obviously we can’t share them with anyone. That’s a shame, but you know, watch this space.

Jeff: I look forward to hearing more about that for sure. So let’s get back to what we’re here for. Tell us about ‘Romancing the Rough Diamond’ and about Joel and Matt.

Clare: Well, I’m going to just quote you what I put in the blurb, which is this story of a gruff designer who prefers digging for treasure, a smooth CEO who’s too used to his own company, the glamorous Mayfair world of expensive jewelry, enemies to lovers, a gay Royal couple who are fond of mischief, and an embarrassing accident on the Buckingham palace railings.

I call it four palaces and a farm. I just let rip on, it is a glamorous world, jewels. So you’ve got Joel, who is CEO of a prestigious jewelry company in Mayfair, central of London, and gets a commission to create jewelry for a gay Royal wedding, needs just that little extra spark from his existing design team.

So he calls up this new, this young designer who’s dropped out of the industry for a while. He became disillusioned with it we find out, but they need him back in to help out. And Oh my goodness. It’s the same guy that Joel met a week before at an industry event when neither of them really exchanged personal details, but were very drawn to each other, had a passionate kiss, and then Matt had been called away because his father had an accident.

And there it is. I mean, there’s a fair amount of barriers in their way to start with. Joel isn’t sure he can trust Matt because Matt is very outspoken, doesn’t have much time for the commercial world, for capitalism in general to say nothing of the fact the company had recently taken over Matt family’s company in a hostile takeover bit.

So there’s a fair amount going on between them that you think these guys will never get on. But of course they love jewelry. They love doing what they can for the Royal couple. And slowly they find more in common than they did apart.

Jeff: Yeah. I love you really threw so much against them and that moment early on, when they’re, when they reveal in the workplace, you know, it’s like, Oh, it’s you.

Clare: I mean, you know, you have to be plausible. I always say you need to suspend disbelief a little bit, don’t you in romantic comedy? Any you have fabulous coincidences, but you know, they met at an industry ‘do. They’re both involved in the industry. It was perfectly feasible.

Jeff: I love what you’ve done with the Royal couple because you essentially just fictionalized the royals as we know it, because the Prince here is related to Harry and William. You fictionalized our times.

Clare: Hey, why not? I mean, this is quite interesting. When I saw you were going to ask this question, because I’ve had some readers saying they loved that.

Other readers have said oh no, I prefer it to be a completely fictitious Royal family, but no, I wanted it to be recognizable. I am quite a royalist at heart. I must confess, I like the Royal family and the things they get up to. I wanted them part of that.

And we’ve had it, we’ve had a gay subsidiary wedding in the Royal family already. It wasn’t one of the primary Royals I thought. Yeah.

Jeff: Yeah. And the family on the whole, I feel like every now and then I hear about Royals who I didn’t know were connected in some way, so why not?

Clare: Exactly. I intended for it always to be done with respect for the rest.

I didn’t bring other characters in too much. Of course, history moves on, doesn’t it? Cause I wrote it just after the Harry and Meghan wedding when they were the golden couple. And that’s not necessarily the case at the moment. But yeah. You don’t want to put too much into a book that dates you or causes issues later, you know, causes a reader’s enjoyment to be jarred.

Jeff: Who would’ve ever thought that Harry would have been like, okay, I’m done here. That was historic.

Clare: Because he probably gets quoted the most in the book. But no. So I kept the rest of the Royal family into the background, but I saw no reason not to put my guy in there.

Jeff: And it’s similar, I think, to what we saw with “Red, White and Royal Blue” last year.

It took a certain amount of present day and then pivoted it obviously significantly to an alternate reality, but still it gave you certain groundings along the way.

Clare: I think it helps people to connect there so that they can, when you’re, you know, like I have a dude call it four palaces cause there are four palaces in it.

But people could say, Oh, I saw that on the news. I know what the front of Buckingham palace looks like, what the gates look like. When Matt has his accident, spoiler alert, you know those things. I think it helps people ground it as well without it being so, you know, calling on so much topical issues.

But no, I enjoyed setting it with that in the background. I’m not saying it’s easy to create your whole own Royal family or your own country, but I don’t think that necessarily helps.

Jeff: Yeah. I think if you were in some other country, it would make up your own Island somewhere, but if you’re going to send it in London, I mean use what’s there.

Clare: Yeah.

Jeff: You said you were a royalist, I think was your term. Did you have to research a lot of the Royal side of it for what you were doing?

Clare: I did quite a lot because my whole attitude to research, as I always tell people, is do no harm. So I don’t do a tremendous amount, but I don’t want to get anything wrong or upset anyone.

I did do a fair amount of research. I live quite near Hampton Court Palace anyway, so I’ve been there a few times and the other palaces I’ve researched, there’s a scene later on in the book when they go to what is like a secret bar at the Tower of London, the secret pub. So I made sure that existed, that what it would perhaps look like.

I’d done a fair amount on jewelry making, on goldsmithing.

Jeff: Yeah. I was gonna ask about that too, because you make such a rich world out of that jewelry making in the design and what Joel and Matt are ultimately doing for the Royal family. And I was fascinated by that. And yet you didn’t put too much in either, cause it’s not, it never gets like, why are we going on here about gold? But it’s there.

Clare: You know that’s quite an art. I think that an author has to try and learn and improve on through their career or give enough information to set the scene. And I’m not just talking about description of scenery, any sort of scene.

So I, it was suggested to me that I put more into the book to pad that out, really to give that flavor of the jewelry itself, rather than just saying, Oh, here’s some pretty jewelry. So that was really interesting though. You could lose yourself in YouTube videos watching Goldsmiths at work. It’s fantastic.

But yeah. And then what else do I mean? I make reference to paintings and such. I try to make sure things exist. And you hope, don’t you, that when I read it goes into a book, they know this is a fiction book. This is not, you know, the nonfiction how to.

Jeff: Please don’t try this at home.

Clare: I think they have to realize that there will be a little bit of poetic license.

Jeff: I like your do no harm because neither take the reader out of it.

Clare: Because you can’t know everything and there’s a terrible temptation to let your research show if you do an awful lot of it.

That’s why the very best historical writers, it’s because they’ve absorbed that world. They don’t even need to tell you what people are wearing or what they can do it with a word or a dialogue choice. So that’s, I think what you have to aim for. You want to put enough in to give some enjoyments, the stories and context thing to the story.

I write mainly contemporary, so it’s just looking at other places, but at least it’s in my time. It’s not different time or planet or… I’ve done fantasy and it’s a lot of work. Yeah, it’s marvelous.

Jeff: What was your seed of inspiration for this story? Because I could see it coming from any number of places between having a Royal family getting married and the whole jewelry thing, or was it just a root of somehow Matt and Joel, characters that were like, this is this book.

Clare: Originally, because I was looking at these sorts of setups to write a book. I wanted something where, an enemies to lovers. So I wanted someone who had been betrayed, and Matt did feel his family had been betrayed because the company had been taken over against their will or so he thought and that, so that was where it started. So it’s more of my accountancy background, really. But then I thought, no, I want it to be really high end glamour. Really that the top of its game top expensiveness fashion.

So it’s going to be Mayfair. It’s going to be jewelry. Loads of money and both loads of prestige. And what would happen if you had to work with the person whose company had betrayed you as you saw it? And then off it went from there. You had to think about why, where, what both of these guys at this position of their careers at this time.

Jeff: The glamour certainly just adds to the feel between the Royals and this high end jewelry. I think if this was America, we’d think Tiffany, you know?

Clare: Yes, yes, of course.

I mean, we’re lucky we have a very glamorous Royal family that is known worldwide. However, whatever your opinion is of some people know them and they are part of British history and pageantry. I wanted to make use of that.

Jeff: And you mentioned a little bit, you know, the template that you have for these, do tell us a little bit more about that. I think we hear template and that there’s formula to a degree in romance, but there’s so much more, I think after you have the template that you pile on to make it extremely unique.

Clare: Format is almost not the right word. I think there are expectations.

So you start with the expectation. The minute you say romance, it is a capital R. It’s not a book with romance in it. A romance book has it as capital, it has an expectation of what will happen, how, what balance that will be, what structure there will be. And when I first wrote all of these really, there was a prevailing ruling as to the word count as to what should be in it as to the level of heat in the romantic scenes, in the intimacy. All of those things. And I think that in some cases, I really enjoyed that because I can just ramble and so able to meet, to be a little more structured and to think more carefully about what you want to deliver within this book to get to your HEA.

Of course, there’s always an HEA, happily ever after. But it can prickle your skin. You can want to break free, do something different. I would have taken some characters a different direction. I would have had more going on those sorts of things. But it enabled, I think it enabled me in all that series.

I wrote them all on that basis, and they would. Just right for me that they were coming out in that format with that plot, with that aim, whatever.

Jeff: And really, if you’re like me, you’d like to play with the tropes cause the tropes are fun.

Clare: They are. And you know, like we’ve said, it doesn’t mean that it’s the same as any other book.

All of them will always be different. And people like the familiarity of, Oh, this is a so and so book. This is a mistaken identity. It’s an opposites attract. It’s, you know, those things attract as best. I’m a terrible one clicker for certain tropes, but we won’t go there. And

Jeff: I think you have to tell us now, what are your favorite tropes.

Clare: It’s terrible. Rent boys. I’m dreadful. Redeem, rent boys. Terrible. I’m awful for it immediately. I want to see that happy ever after. I read very much by author. Actually, so whatever they write, I would like certain people’s work, but I think it’s a lovely mix of familiarity and, Oh, what will the author do with it this time? This will be great. What will the guys be like? What will they be? What ages will they be? What backgrounds? What? How will they talk to each other? That’s the fun.

Jeff: Well, you’ve done that in the “Romancing the…” series because it’s always vastly different guys coming together somehow.

Clare: I hope so. Yes. Yeah. You just, it just needs to be very different.

I just loved that contrast and conflict. But yeah, you have to, and you like when you hear all authors say, Oh, they, they’re just talking to me. Well, my guys don’t talk to me because they are only characters. But they do, when you start to write, they do create a voice. And I think that’s really important to get that voice.

And that is their character. That’s how you illustrate their character to your reader. And that’s your only tool really. And that’s the fun.

Jeff: Do we get more in this series?

Clare: Well, I haven’t planned to, I’ve got two or three. Brief outlines before I settled on ‘Rough Diamond’ actually, that I would have, but none of them went further.

I don’t know.

Jeff: Never say never. I guess.

Clare: Never say never… send me ideas. You never know what I might think of might be when, you know, when this awkward virus stricken period is over, my muse perks up again.

Jeff: Do you have anything that you’re working on right now or more stuff coming out?

Clare: I’ve got a short story coming out next month at JMS books called Timeslip, which is again, contemporary romance, but with a little paranormal time-travel twist to it.

I’m serializing, I hope starting next week. You heard it here first… serializing an old book that I’m revamping in my Facebook group. So that will be happening during April, end of April. I’d like to go back to the Accidental Baker series.

Which I got started on planned for more stories on that. And also I got a twinkling of an idea about a thief and an accountant. That started, but not quite got there yet, but it’s on its way. The voices are coming,

Jeff: Not autobiographical. I hope that you haven’t been mixing in with thieves, have you?

Clare: I’m just on an eternal quest to make accountants exciting and worthy of romance. I know that’s an uphill struggle. Well, God, but one day I will write my accountant vampire. It’s coming, one day. I’ve got the outline. You know, I’d just like to break, not break the expectations, break the, what would you say?

Not clichés, but just to twist a little bit, just to give all those sorts of corny old set ups. I just like to give just a little bit of a twist.

Jeff: You’ve played with accountants before, because I remember the accountant from “With a Kick.”

Clare: Brian. I know he’s secretly at home. He’s a bold one.

So yeah, you know, we’re out there in the world and I think they deserve all that. It’s. Someone once told me, you look at all the heroes in our books and they all either run a coffee shop or a professional sport, personal or something glamorous. You know, it’s an awful lot of people just doing normal office jobs who I think deserve a little more glamour and that place in a romance book.

Jeff: I was thinking as we were watching a Hallmark movie, it’s like there’s a lot of people who work at magazines here just struck me.

Clare: Each of them to come home to them. You know, there’s an awful lot of people doing very boring stuff cause the job doesn’t matter. Really.

Jeff: Yeah, exactly. Tell us more about this book coming from JMS, “Timeslip.”

Clare: ”Timeslip.” Thank you for the plug. It’s an old story that I’ve had for a while I have slightly re-edited. It’s one I always really enjoyed because again, it’s a bit of a, it’s a guy who works in an office, little bit of a sassy character, big crush on his boss. The boss absolutely cuts him dead, has no interest in any. But somehow, I mean, I don’t think it’s a surprise. I think it comes out in the blurb.

One night our hero is going to bed in his sleep socks and his ratty old t-shirt, and this fantastically gorgeous boss appears and starts chatting to him as if they’d been going out for years and starts to get into bed and it’s, what’s happening? What’s happening here? And it’s just about that little twist as he tries to find an into the office the next day the guy’s as cold as anything.

So what is going on?

Jeff: And time travel, you say?

Clare: God, all of my family will tell you I struggle with time travel. They just laugh. If a movie comes on that’s got time travel in it, but just a little twist, twisting, I think we call it.

Jeff: What are your issues with time travel? Do tell.

Clare: Just can’t keep up, Jeff. Can’t keep up. You know, I’m sitting there thinking, well, wait a minute.

If he’s there, would not have changed that. And how come he’s here now and they know him then, but didn’t know him now and I lose it. I’m trying to think of anything we’ve watched recently. I just, okay really grim German series called “Dark.” I don’t know if you’ve watched that one, but that has three different generations, so there’s a generational gap.

None of them of course look like the same person because they’re at different stages of their lives. Nightmare. Wonderful. I’d love to, but I didn’t know what the hell was going on.

Jeff: How did you solve for that in your own time travel book?

Clare: It’s like you think, I think, I always think, I suspect a lot of authors do a set up a scene and then you think, well, how did that happen and why?

And I like to write a little bit of paranormal now and then a little bit of something a bit different.

I just had “The Right Choice” has been out at JMS as well. So there’s a few of my older short stories to the longer short stories that I’ve been pleased to see the light of day again.

Jeff: Tell us a little bit about “Right Choice” since that one has just come out also.

Clare: Yeah, it’s another little twist, but it is totally contemporary where a guy’s getting ready for his wedding and his sister comes up to say, Oh my God, Nikki is at the door. And you think, what does this mean? It’s as if Nikki is not, it shouldn’t be there. And then we go back through Patrick’s memories of how Nikki was, how he first came out, how you first realized he didn’t want to date girls.

He wanted to date boys and he wanted to date Nikki and how they still fought. Patrick, still keeping it quiet or the download. They argued they were passionate. They were. What will happen, Jeff? I don’t know.

Jeff: Well, I suspect since it’s romance with a capital R, there might be an HEA in there somewhere.

Clare: I know I just, I had a review this week. It’s a lovely review, but she said, my God, I was biting my nails. But you know, at the end, obviously things come clear, but I did write it a little bit like that. A little what is happening? You’re not quite sure, but I don’t keep people waiting for too long to find out.

Jeff: Well, you know, that’s one of my favorite things cause I mean, I read all these books. I know how this works, right? And yet, if an author can make me go, how is this going to actually work itself out? Oh my God, this can’t work out. I’m very into that. If I can get tense in a romance. Even though I know it has to come out right.

There’s still that. I like what I’m sucked in enough to feel that tension of, will this really work.

Clare: That challenge, that little bit of insecurity. I don’t think people, I mean, there is a huge market for angst books and I very often want to read terrible angsty where they go through the most awful obstacles to get to true love, if you like, but that in the same way I quite often don’t, like contrivances. I don’t like things that are hung on for too long or that’s too huge a leap of disbelief. You know, you, it’s just what suits the reader. But I do like that you say to think, my God, how is this going to, otherwise you need to, you need something to support a book, don’t you?

A novel length. You can see something happening as opposed to an aircraft falling from the sky or something awful like that.

Jeff: And I don’t mind books that are, are truly, you know, totally sweet and things happen. But those moments where it’s like, Oh, can they walk back from that? I don’t know.

Clare: Well, that’s terrible. I didn’t see that coming, but Oh no, that’s it then, and then you look down and you think, Oh, it’s only 60% I’ve got time to catch up.

That’s the things to go right at the end. I hope you know I, yeah, I love it. I love reading. I think most of us love reading anyway, isn’t it? It’s an adventure every time.

Jeff: So tell folks how they can keep up with you online so that they can keep up with new releases. Let’s tell them about your Facebook group so they can go check out the serial, which will still be there when this comes out.

Clare: Yeah. Do please go and see that, because I went into hiatus for a while, my Group, because I had a profile. I had a page. I’m also on Twitter. I’ve got a website. So it had gone on hiatus, but I have rejuvenated it recently. It’s called Clare London Calling. You’ll find it on Facebook. I’m hoping now to bring some things into it that are a little bit exciting, a little bit different, just for a smaller group of people who are interested in my fiction and where I would let people know immediately what’s going on.

It’s been upheaval with my publisher over the last year. And so my website is not particularly up to date, but it will be, and a lot of people are re-finding their way, I think, with their backlist. But I really do like to be everywhere. I’m on Instagram, I’m on BookBub. Always very happy for people to get in touch as well and ask any questions.

Jeff: We will link up to all that good stuff so people can find you. And thank you for coming to talk to us a little bit about “Romancing the Rough Diamond.”

Clare: I’m just so thrilled that you enjoyed it. It’s lovely. That is the ultimate for an author that somebody says we enjoyed it Thank you for inviting me. It’s been great.

Book Reviews

Here’s the text of this week’s review:

The Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippen. Reviewed by Jeff.
Podcast fiction is a genre that continues to grow. We’ve reviewed a couple on the show with Love and Luck and Gay Future. Podcast fiction can also lead to spin off novels, which is the case with The Bright Sessions. Lauren Shippen created The Bright Sessions back in 2015. It’s a science fiction podcast that follows a group of therapy patients who all have unique supernatural abilities. The show documents their struggles and discoveries as well as the motivations of their mysterious therapist, Dr. Bright.

The Infinite Noise, which came out last year, centers on Caleb, first featured in the podcast in episode two, as he navigates the empathy he has, which makes him among the Atypical. Caleb, a junior in high school, has a lot of trouble managing his power in the chaos of high school where so many feelings blast out everywhere.

When he intervenes between a bully and a victim, he connects with Adam. While Caleb rages against the bully taking in all of his feelings–and ends up getting suspended. He also discovers that Adam’s feelings can balance him out–a sort of anchor in all of the noise of his classmates. However, that’s not always true because Adam suffers from depression and sometimes his feelings can pull Caleb under. They make for an interesting pair…and even more there are feelings there that spark a potential relationship.

Besides trying working with Dr. Bright to understand his empathy and more importantly how to control it so he’s not constantly overwhelmed by the emotions swirling around him, Caleb is exploring the boy he’s got feelings for. But are they his feelings or coming from somewhere else? He’s pretty sure they’re his and that he wants Adam.

Adam meanwhile is handling what can be crippling depression. His parents are worried about him and he’s worried about him. He’s intrigued by Caleb though because he usually feels better around him.

There’s a vibe of suspense through this as well. There are lots of Atypicals and maybe an organization that means them harm. We get a small glimpse into other Atypicals who also made their first appearance in the podcast. Lauren has a perfect vibe of danger that swirls around the couple from a few angles and I liked how that played against Adam and Caleb’s growing relationship. I’m going to need to take a deep dive in the podcast to get even more on the Atypicals because I’m quite hooked on this story.

What this book excels at though is the emotions showed between Adam and Caleb, and not just around their growing love for each other. Lauren paints in depth pictures of how Caleb’s power affects him–and not always in the best way. Her descriptions of the waves, the colors, the light and dark and the tendrils that pull on Caleb down or lift him up. For Adams, his highs and lows are similarly documented. I’ve also never read anything quite like the descriptions of how Adam and Caleb’s emotions mix together and how they can help and hurt them both. As much as it does anything else, The Infinite Noise is quite a look at mental health, especially how it can be as a teen.

I’m glad I got into The Bright Sessions universe and look forward to exploring it more. There’s another novel coming out in September. A Neon Darkness focuses on Damien, who Adam and Caleb have an interesting and more than a little scary encounter. I’m also excited that Lauren and I will discuss The Bright Sessions podcast and books in a few weeks.