“It’s nice that people will be thinking about Nell when they read my book,” Clover Stroud says, pausing before she adds wistfully: “Nell was such a diva so she would love this actually.”
“And life does go on, which is awful, awful because it means going on without the person you love, and evolutionary because you must. You want to resist it but you have to move forward because you have to keep going.”
Clover lost her beloved sister Nell Gifford, founder of Giffords Circus, three months before lockdown in December 2019, to cancer. Nell was just 46.
Which means Clover had to grieve during the pandemic while looking after, and home schooling, her five children, and then write the resulting book amongst the domestic chaos.
“Life will never go back to the way it was before. It’s different now,” Clover says to me while chopping vegetables from her Oxfordshire home near Faringdon, “so no I don’t mind sharing.”
Appearing at two local literary festivals in the next few months Wit and Words at White Hart Wytham on Monday March 21 (https://whitehartwytham.com/wit-and-words/) and ChipLit Fest on Saturday 23 April (https://www.chiplitfest.com/author/cloverstroud) won’t reliving it over and over again be tiring?
“Not at all. I’m not ashamed. We are so bad at dealing with grief in this country. We just suppress it, and I really want to be part of opening up that conversation. If The Red Of My Blood helps people navigate through their own grief then it’s been worthwhile,” she says.
It’s book launch day when we catch up, and Clover is both excited and exhausted at the same time, having attended the London launch of her new novel the night before.
“I’ve forgotten all my social skills, so it was really fun but slightly bewildering,” she says.
Not that she needs to worry because The Red Of My Blood – her no-holds barred, raw, visceral, unabated, intimate look at how grief really feels and how it affects us, is already creating massive waves in literary circles.
“it does get better. It’s really important to let people know that, because at the time you feel like your life is over too.”
“It has been really wonderful to see how powerfully people have reacted to the book. It makes me feel that something really beautiful has come out of this and Nell would have loved that too,” she says.
So was the book a compulsion, a need for Clover, a well known journalist and author, to write it down and make sense of it all?
“People keep asking me if writing this was cathartic, but anyone who’s read my books will know that to express myself properly I almost have to relive, refuel and recreate, that’s how I write so openly, and when you are writing about someone you love you have really epic feelings inside you,” she says.
THE RED OF MY BLOOD IS A NO-HOLDS BARRED, RAW, VISCERAL, UNABATED, INTIMATE LOOK AT HOW GRIEF REALLY FEELS AND HOW IT AFFECTS US
“But they also kept saying ‘I can’t imagine what you are going through’ and I wanted to explain it to them – the unrelenting darkness, the solemnity, the confusion and that it does get better. It’s really important to let people know that, because at the time you feel like your life is over too.”
Those acquainted with Clover’s brilliant, honest and revealing novels The Wild Other and My Wild and Sleepless Nights, know that she never never holds back, and yet The Red Of My Blood is different, a gift, an atlas to navigate a trauma and loss we daren’t even contemplate.
Clover leads by example, revealing the extreme emotions, the black holes, the abject despair and the lack of joy that represent grieving in its truest sense, to give gravitas to living with loss and finding a balance in that.
“I wanted to take all this sorrow and turn it into something positive, something creative, to make sense of being alive, so yes it was an extraordinary time. It changes your life,” she confesses, “because grief is very tiring and it changes you.”
Clover and Nell were unfeasibly close – their childhood fused together after their mother suffered from a horse-riding accident which changed their lives forever. (Read about it here) https://www.oxinabox.co.uk/i-just-miss-her-clover-stroud-on-motherhood-grief-her-new-book-and-life-after-nell/
“PEOPLE KEPT SAYING ‘I CAN’T IMAGINE WHAT YOU ARE GOING THROUGH’ AND I WANTED TO EXPLAIN IT TO THEM “
That Nell was also such a famous and wonderfully eccentric and colourful character, who made the world a better place, is almost by-the-by, except that her notoriety ensured that her funeral was held at Gloucester Cathedral, made all the nationals, and was given a suitably bohemian circus spin.
Was that hard? “No, sharing this story and hearing other peoples stories has been really helpful. It means you don’t feel so alone in the trenches of grief,” Clover says.
“And there is a beauty that can come out of loss, so I’m really proud of this book, because if it is about profound loss it’s also about life and love.”
The Red of My Blood by Clover Stroud is available to buy at all good bookshops. Published by Transworld Publishers Ltd.
Clover Stroud is appearing at Wit and Words at White Hart Wytham on March 21. Book here https://whitehartwytham.com/wit-and-words/
Clover Stroud is also appearing at ChipLit Fest on Saturday 23 April https://www.chiplitfest.com/author/cloverstroud