Talk to me #5: Claire Letemendia

Mar 10, 2016 by

Talk to me #5: Claire Letemendia

Where you learned to love. I learnt about love while growing up as part of a close-knit family, with affectionate parents and three older sisters who looked after me devotedly – to the point of spoiling me. I still remember some ingenious games concocted by one of my sisters that gave us an excuse to steal and secretly consume tasty bits of food outside mealtimes. We three remain extremely close and keep in constant contact, although we’ve since become orphans and live quite far apart: two in London, England and one in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I only knew one of my grandparents: my maternal grandmother who had moved from Barbados to London in later life and was a wonderful, warm and courageous woman who taught me a great deal about love. And my Spanish-Basque aunt, now close to ninety, who came to stay with us in England every Christmas, was another loving influence in my childhood.

Your first cut – was it the deepest? Hardly a cut, in retrospect, but I was infatuated in my one brief year of Canadian high school by a James Dean look-alike who seemed to me mysteriously cool and elusive in a glamorous North American way – a change for me, coming from a girls’ school in Oxford, not that I hadn’t already managed to walk a little on the wild side. I was a Bowie devotee, and he had the pose, artistic talent and requisite vices of a rock n’ roll tragic hero. The attraction waned after I started university in a bigger town, and pursued other romantic interests. I was sad to hear from a mutual friend that time has not been kind to him; much promise unfulfilled.

Your love who got away. Sorry – can’t think of any who did, unless I wasn’t aware of them! I did have a risky passion for someone involved in the underworld of drugs that I gave up, reluctantly at the time, on the wise advice of an older sister.

Your “type” – and why. Obviously character becomes more important to attraction as most of us get older, though I am still regrettably ‘lookist’. This comes to me as the legacy of a handsome father who grew up in a culture where people commented equally on male and female appearance, and were teased often mercilessly for their defects. He did not hesitate to express his opinions to his daughters as they experimented with various fashions and romantic partners through the years.

On a superficial, physical level, I’ve always been attracted to tall, dark, lanky and exotic men – the classic blond with the gym body does nothing for me. As noted, I’ve also had a penchant for bad boys. Experience taught me to be wary of their self-destructive side, but I’m all for rebellion with a cause. I couldn’t be with someone who is seduced by power, money, fame, and/or favours ‘establishment’ politics, or who is fanatical about anything except a hatred of injustice. This matters to me far more than shared interests such as reading the same books, or watching the same programs, or having the same kind of education or profession or ‘social circles.’ Though it does help if you both enjoy watching Champions League football on TV…

My ‘type’ must be ‘bien dans sa peau’ and must not take himself too seriously. Vanity and envy are huge turn-offs. And he has to have an irreverent though not cruel sense of humour, and an ability to see the absurd in human nature. And I don’t want someone I can completely control – a bit of unpredictability is healthy now and again.

Your favourite literary romance. There are so many – but I would have to pick Wuthering Heights. It has stayed with me vividly from the first time I read it in my early teens. Although Emily Bronte was clearly influenced by the Gothic genre, Heathcliff and Cathy are unique characters, shockingly brutal in their behaviour towards each other and yet utterly inseparable. I also think that Bronte has a neglected, dry sense of humour that I only noticed in later readings. I am a big fan of rereading favourite books, and hers continues to be fresh to me.

Your thoughts on friends being lovers. I’m sure some great friendships have been ruined by introducing new emotions and physical intimacy into the mix, and vice versa. It’s trite to say, but I want my partner to be my friend: friendship to me implies trust, honour, and consideration – all vital to a good love relationship.

Your thoughts on the net amounts of pleasure and pain. More trite observations here… Beyond a certain age, who thinks life is all pleasure? I am very pleasure-loving in many respects, but without a bit of suffering I don’t think we develop as empathetic human beings. Even stupid mistakes are sometimes necessary to grow and learn, as long as they’re not fatal – see above for my youthful fascination with the rebel. And without pain, there wouldn’t be much in the way of literature, art, music, philosophy – all sources of enormous pleasure.

Your story about unrequited love. Sorry again: I can’t think of a personal one!

Your favourite author/artist on love. Ah, I can think of too many. Just about everything E.M. Forster wrote – he had such an acute grasp of human strengths and frailties, and such compassion even for his less likeable characters. Only connect, is his famous line – and that is the essence of love. I really admire Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day as a study of love thwarted by circumstance and mores; and Collette’s portrait of a relationship in Chéri and The Last of Chéri; and the sheer sensual delight of Dona Flor and her Two Husbands. I would also include Tennessee Williams, in particular his incredible violent yet tender short story, Desire and the Black Masseur.

Songs about love: I still get shivers from David Bowie’s version of Wild is the Wind, Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On, and Bryan Ferry’s fabulous rendition of Jealous Guy. Loved and mourned Amy… But a huge favourite has to be the album The Chimes, by a Scottish soul band called The Chimes fronted by the amazing Jamaican-born Pauline Henry – her version of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For says it all.

Your reconciliation of the domestic and the erotic. Don’t worry, be happy – the routines of daily life, such as sharing conversation over a well-made gin and tonic at cocktail hour, can give me as much pleasure as great sex. The more one stresses about the erotic, the more difficult it is to find a rhythm – pun intended. And sometimes the more intentional the erotic, to me, the more it becomes fifty shades of laughable.  

Your thoughts on marriage. I used to horripilate at the words ‘wife’ and ‘husband’, and still do a bit – they sound so dreary and boxed-in, as does ‘the institution of marriage’. I have never dreamt of a big wedding with all the bells and whistles, nor have I ever had one. Marriage can be anything you make of it. If it’s going to define your relationship for you in some conventional way that you don’t like, don’t get married.

Love changes when you have children. I can only imagine – I don’t have any!  But I do believe that animal companions are a marvellous influence on human relationships and can teach us a lot about love.

Your thoughts on resisting temptation. If I had resisted the temptation of an instant attraction, I would never have come to know and love my partner. As for temptation within a relationship of trust, little things can happen but they have unintended consequences. If temptation becomes overwhelming, you might have to ask: what’s missing in the person you’re with or in the relationship itself; and how important it is to you to wander. Otherwise, respect is the rule. Would you want it done to you? 

Your advice on breaking up. Don’t delay the pain – makes it even harder to do! 

The influence of Love in your work. Love, of various kinds, is a major theme in my novels. The main love affair is, of course, a star-crossed one between my protagonist and an ‘unsuitable’ woman. But the love between male friends is as important, as is parental love. I’m writing about England in the mid-seventeenth century Civil War, when female lives were highly circumscribed, with the exception of certain privileged women who were active in politics and Court or those who took on new roles in a time of social upheaval. Perhaps because my main interest is in political intrigue – of both historical and fictional characters – I find it much easier and far more fun to write from a male perspective. These men’s relationships fascinate me: they are struggling with questions of power, loyalty, and betrayal. There is also the forbidden love of one man for another; certainly a love that dared not speak its name back in those days, and leads the frustrated lover to try and destroy what he cannot possess.

Your lessons from love. Be generous, have fun, prepare to be humbled, but don’t accept to be humiliated. The best love should bring out the best in you – if not, it may be toxic.

Your greatest regret in love. I stayed too long in one very toxic relationship – an error of youth that could have turned out horribly wrong.

Your thoughts on infidelity – one night stand, fling, or affair. As above: what are you missing, if you’re tempted to stray? Is it really worthwhile? If it happens, beware of the unforeseen consequences.

Your feelings about the existence of a soulmate. I wouldn’t have believed in such a thing, but now I do. It is just luck to have found and to be with one.

Your ideal love: madness or redemption? I don’t really understand the either/or to this, nor does ‘ideal’ make much sense to me – we’re human, all too human. But a little madness is essential in the first hot and passionate stages – and shouldn’t get entirely lost as a relationship deepens. It’s good to have a few surprises to shake up the scene.  

Your advice on making love last. Respect and honour the other person. Keep an open mind and listen hardest to what you may not want to hear from them about yourself. While loving criticism can be unconstructive, some home truths may bring you to re-examine what you took for granted and to change, as I have changed in my understanding of the world.   Share new and challenging adventures. Never let a quarrel drag on, and show them that you love them as often as you can. And be silly together.


Learn more about Claire on her website here.

 Claire Letemendia’s first two published novels, The Best of Men (2009) and The Licence of War (2014), are part of a trilogy set during the mid-seventeenth century English Civil War, and she is presently working on the final volume, The Wounds of Fortune. 

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