Début The Moss House, by Angela Clare writing as Clara Barley, is a novel based on the life of Anne Lister, a 19th-century landowner who lived at Shibden Hall in Halifax. Lister recorded her life and lesbian love affairs in frank but carefully coded diaries deciphered only many years after her death. Lister is also the subject of the latest Sally Wainwright TV drama "Gentleman Jack", launching soon on BBC1 and on HBO.
Clare is a historian working for Calderdale’s museums, which include Shibden Hall. She is also an actress and has a part in the Wainwright drama. "Sally’s drama is a bit like ‘Downton Abbey’, in that there is a huge cast of characters, but my novel focuses on the relationship between Anne Lister and neighbouring heiress Ann Walker; it is told in the first person, from one to the other.
"Anne was broken-hearted after a relationship with her true love, Mariana, didn’t work out and instead Mariana married an older man. After a spell in France, Anne came back to Shibden. Not long after, she met Ann Walker and thought, ‘She’s eligible, what better person to settle down with?’ And there would have been a spark between them." In 1834, they had a private "wedding" ceremony and then went to Holy Trinity Church and had a blessing—though the vicar wouldn’t have known what relationship he was blessing. But to them it was a marriage.
"The relationship was quite tumultuous. They were two very different women. Anne was well educated, very intelligent, successful and widely travelled, and quite controlling. Ann had very little education, she was basically raised to be married, and she was always ill, with melancholia and nervousness. In my fiction, I’ve given a lot of reasons why she was fragile—her parents died when she was very young, and her wider family would have been circling, trying to get their hands on her estate.
"When she finds Anne Lister, she falls for her—it means she doesn’t have to marry a man. But Anne starts to control her and spend her money. They both had a stormy life, and then found each other—but then it started to unravel."