1873, Florence. Claire Clairmont, the last survivor of the ‘haunted summer of 1816’ Byron/Shelley circle, lives in genteel poverty. When William Michael Rossetti appears, his presence heralds a cycle of events that links the summer of 1816 to a tragic death. Can Claire discover the identity of her old enemy?
It’s the fiction novel she’s always wanted to write, but CLAIRE’S LAST SECRET started as more of a nightmare than a dream for Marty Ambrose . . .
Byron once said, “I awoke to find myself famous.” Truly, it is every writer’s dream to be thrust into a world of sudden, unfolding adoration for one’s work. But the inspiration for Claire’s Last Secret was more of a nightmare: I “awoke” during my summer teaching hiatus to find myself with a back injury that left me practically housebound on an island with nothing to do but watch the History channel and read. New books. Old books. Any books.
I happened to pick up Daisy Hay’s biography, The Young Romantics, and learned that she had found a fragment of Claire Clairmont’s (Mary Shelley’s stepsister) journal saying that the famous Byron/Shelley summer of “free love” in 1816 had created a “perfect hell” for her. Of course, Claire wrote those words when she was almost eighty, impoverished, living in Florence, Italy, having outlived the two great poets and Mary by many decades. Intrigued, I wondered what it would feel like to outlive everyone who had been part of one’s youth.
As I delved into Claire’s life, pieces came together in my thoughts: her illicit love for Byron, her rocky relationship with Mary and Shelley, and her later years in Italy – and I knew I had to tell her story from two perspectives: the young, reckless Claire and the older-but-wiser Claire. Then, there was the mystery of her lost daughter with Byron. Her lovers. Her passion for life. It all coalesced into the kind of genre-bending fiction novel that I’ve always wanted to create.
CLAIRE’S LAST SECRET is available now in the UK and 1 September in the US. Find out more here.