Interview with Claire King

The View From Here Interview: Claire King















by Jen

Photo by Debbie Scanlan, Wolf James Photography


Claire King has lived in southern France for the last ten years and currently inhabits, in her own words, quite a shabby stone house in the middle of nowhere with her husband and two young daughters. She grew up in Mexborough, South Yorkshire. Having studied economics at Newnham College, Cambridge she then spent twenty years working in business. The Night Rainbow is her first acclaimed novel, and was launched on February 13th 2013 in the UK from Bloomsbury.
Claire has also written short fiction, which has been published online and in print and has been recognised by places such as BBC Radio 4 Opening Lines, New Scientist, The Bristol Short Story Prize, the Sean O’Faolain Short Story Competition and Metazen.

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You attended University in Cambridge and mentioned in your blog, when ..”Virginia Woolf visited Newnham to give a talk to the students on ‘Women and Fiction’. She discussed the idea that, ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’ and this talk was to become  ‘A Room of One’s Own’, an essay that has proved inspirational for many women writers ever since.”  Where do you write? 

I don’t have an actual room of my own in which to write – wherever I carve out my physical writing space in our house it eventually fills up with the children’s offerings of drawings and stories and half eaten apples. But I think Virginia Woolf would agree that I do in fact have a room of my own, because I have had a great education, I have financial independence and I have, most importantly, the freedom and the time to write and create.  I write at a table in a corner of our sitting room, which I de-clutter in the manner of a bird of paradise – by tossing stray twigs and hairclips out into the wider forest. 

As a busy mother, how do you manage to get words on paper and stay sane? 

It’s not easy. I wish there were a magic formula but there isn’t. If you’re a mum and you work and you keep your own house and you write, well it’s just not easy. I stay sane by neglecting the least important of these things. Ironing, dusting, hovering, washing the windows…it doesn’t get done.  And when I feel most overwhelmed, I give my time to my family, because those moments are the ones I’d regret later if I overlooked them.

Living in France and choosing the setting for your story - which came first and how did place influence you in the story you chose to write?  

I chose the setting after moving here. Before that I’d been half writing a story set around Lisbon. But when you’re immersed in the heat and the scents of summer here, I defy any writer to not want to pick up a pen and describe them. It does influence the story because it influences the characters. The blue skies, the heat, the countryside with its beauties and its dangers…it’s a character in itself.

Did you find local language (French / Franglais - English French words mixed as English replacements?) appearing in your work and how did you deal with them?

We mix up French and English at home. Even though English is the first language for all our family and what we speak at home, we all speak French in our day to day lives. Sometimes, in The Night Rainbow, Pea and Margot throw in some French vocabulary, which is consistent with their voices since they would have only come across certain words in a French context.

Living in France, has that challenges posed in your publication process?  

The only real problem with living in France is the physical distance (and unpredictable travel costs) between me and my publishers, and any events that might be happening in the London area where many literary things are centred. But then the same issues would apply if I lived in the Lake District or the Highlands.

You finished your novel in 2010, but when did you start and how did you know it was a better novel than your first?

I started The Night Rainbow in 2009. How did I know it was better?  As I wrote it, it sang to me. It pulled me back, it had its own energy and momentum. I could picture exactly what I wanted it to be. I didn’t have a message I wanted to get across, but a story I wanted to tell. It made me cry. I was proud of it.

For readers who have not yet bought your novel, please can you give us the elevator pitch?
 
Imagine you lived in the South of France. Imagine the relentless heat of the summer sun, the smell of the rosemary and the baking slate of the garrigue, the sound of the sea and the taste of peaches, warm and ripe fresh from the tree. Now imagine that you are so sad that you can’t feel any of this. That it’s as much as you can do to get out of bed in the morning and often you can’t even do that. You are supposed to be being a good mother, but you lost a baby, then your husband, you are heavily pregnant with his child and you have no friends. Now imagine that you’re the five year old daughter of this mother. There’s no one telling you what to do and the meadows are waiting…this is your story.

Do you have an agent and do you think it is necessary - what do they do you could not do yourself?
© Charlie King

Yes, my agent is Annette Green. If it hadn’t been for Annette I wouldn’t have been published by Bloomsbury, it’s as simple as that.

What was it, do you think convinced Helen Garnons-Williams at Bloomsbury to take you on? 

Helen has a lot of sparkle, she’s a great editor to have, I’m very lucky. She gave the most wonderful speech at my book launch party, so heartfelt and passionate. Rather than speculate, I asked Helen to answer your question about why she took me on.  She said:
“It’s always hard to put into words, but I think it's because it wouldn't let me go. It's beautiful and  it surprised me, and not just because of the plot, but because I realised I had brought my own prejudices to the story and assumed the worst. Like I said at your launch - it was a joy to find light where I have become somewhat conditioned to expect darkness. And mostly I fell in love with Pea, and I thought lots of other people would love her too, which is obviously quite key!“ Helen Garnons-Williams, Bloomsbury
The book is told from a young child’s point of view.  “Pea is a heroine you won’t forget.” Maggie O’Farrell - You have a wonderful discussion on POV on your blog from other others - what was the hardest challenge writing from the limited POV?

I never really saw writing from Pea’s point of view as a challenge, because the story was begging to be told that way. The POV was an asset. A limited and unreliable viewpoint is a great way to only release a certain amount of information to the reader at a time, and to make the adult reader work hard to deduce what is going on and where the story really lies. It’s not right for every story and certainly no good as a ‘device’ but for The Night Rainbow the narrator had to be Pea.
 
Rules, rules, rules. You reference some on your blog. Some authors seem to suggest there are many, and others none. Which do you feel matter? 

Ha! I don’t believe in rules for writing. That post was me having a tongue in cheek rant about all the contradictory and over-simplified rules people would have you read. Not only on writing, but also on actually being an author (Build your social media platform! Turn off the internet and write!). The only rule for writing, and being a writer, is that you write.

It is a lovely title Where did you conjure up such a magical image?

The Night Rainbow is, to a large degree, about hope. It’s about the things that – even in the darkest moments – keep us going, and tell us that there are brighter times ahead. A night rainbow is just that. It’s something magical and unexpected that appears out of the darkness. We can’t touch it, we’re not even sure if it’s really there, but it gives us hope to carry on.

What kind of input did you have on your captivating and gorgeous cover? (You have some wonderful advice from various sources on your blog I enjoyed reading too.)  

Before my agent and I got sight of the cover a selection of possibilities had already been worked on at Bloomsbury, and one chosen to unanimous approval. Annette and I then had the opportunity to give our opinions and to request changes. Although I loved the cover, we still had quite a lot of discussion around it, and in the end I asked for a few slight changes to the silhouettes of the girls and to the background colour. Holly Macdonald, the designer, then tweaked it until we were happy. It was a very satisfying and collaborative process.

“An original and beguiling debut.” Marie-Claire and Stylist magazine tipped you as one of their 4 soon to be bestsellers (alongside Maya Angelou and Dan Brown!)- how do you folllow that? What’s next for you and is it already completed?

That’s fabulous isn’t it? Such wonderful reviews! It does rather put the pressure on to deliver something even better in the next novel, which is why although I’ve been writing it for twice as long now as The Night Rainbow I’m not ready to call it finished yet. The edits continue. I’ve chosen quite an ambitious story to tell, sad in some ways, but hopeful too. I love to find stories that let the strength of human character shine. So, the next novel has an adult narrator, is set on the Canal-du-Midi near Toulouse, and is, let’s say, an existential love story.

It seems as though a dream has come true for you, published by Bloomsbury, alongside other ‘debutants’ this year. Do you have another non-writing dream you are currently pursuing?

A non-writing dream? My marriage. Which is wonderful. But I take a lot out of it as a writer, it makes me demand a lot of space, and behave in some funny ways. So the pursuit of happiness as a couple is always ongoing.

How do you edit your work - in pieces and join it up, or all in one go sequentially?

I edit my work in layers. First for completeness, then by character, then by plot, then voice, then for darlings to murder, then continuity again…I read the whole thing over and over and over again. It’s probably not the most efficient way. Don’t take my advice!

“The trouble with a lot of people, says Margot, is that they don’t notice the important things.” What to you, are the important things?

That’s a very difficult question. Margot would have found it much easier to answer.  Clean water. Kindness. Knowing your place in the Universe.

What role do words play in your children’s lives and what are their favourite stories?

My children are extremely loquacious, which is not really surprising given their parents. They have an absolute delight in words – both in French and English - they always ask if they hear one they don’t understand, and they try out new ones to see how they work. They love to read and write and have very little patience for badly written stories or dull vocabulary. They love the Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. My older daughter who is now seven also loves to draw and is currently interested in making cartoon strip stories. She is enjoying historical stories and legends on audio CD, and writes a blog about books she’s enjoyed. My younger daughter is five, which in France is early to read, so she has found acclaim at nursery school reading books to her classmates. At home she loves the rhyme, and the tongue-twisting silliness of Dr Seuss.

Living where you do, do you like to cook, eat and drink? If so, what are your favourite local dishes and accompaniments?

Oh yes. We are great foodies. We cook pretty much everything from scratch, sharing the cooking between my husband and myself and now, particularly when baking, with the girls. We eat according to the seasons, which is the cheapest and most delicious way to eat here. In spring it’s roast asparagus with goat’s cheese, local samphire when it’s available and  piles of cherries. In summer fresh ripe tomatoes with basil, chillies and sweet red onions, barbecues, and peaches and apricots and lemons in everything. In autumn salads of apples and pears and walnuts,  or roast chestnut soup, and in winter we make lots of tajines and curries. We do eat meat, always local, and mussels and fish from the Mediterranean. Favourite accompaniment? Wine.

What’s currently at the top of your To Be Read pile?

Oh my TBR pile is high and tottery. I’m hoping to read a lot of books in the next few months. I had a long hiatus during the deepest parts of editing my new novel and I have a lot of catching up to do. I’m reading Rook at the moment by Jane Rusbridge. Then I will read Kate Worsley’s ‘She Rises’ as well as the full manuscript of a wonderful agented novel of a friend of mine that I’m certain is going to do brilliantly.  And any day now Maggie O’Farrell’s latest novel will be landing on the doormat and I am looking forward to it the way you look forward to a cold glass of water on a hot summers day…

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Thank you Claire (and Helen Garnons-Williams), and we wish you continued success with The Night Rainbow and the future.

Claire's beguiling book trailer is worth a look and Claire’s website will take you to all sorts of helpful, fun and fascinating insights on writing. Details of The Night Rainbow along with a sample chapter are found there too. (For anyone who reads ebooks, check out the book in hardback too. Having just bought it from Waterstone's in Bedford Street the stars and cover are worth a look in colour.)

She tweets at: https://twitter.com/ckingwriter and is found on Facebook too.

Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (14 Feb 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1408824671
ISBN-13: 978-1408824672


2 comments:

Jessica said...

Great interview!

the Amateur Book Blogger said...

Thanks Jess, glad you liked it!