One characteristic which I look for in a novel is integrity, as in wholeness and consistency, and if it's lacking then for me that can undermine the whole book.
The Night Rainbow by Claire King, which I read and raved about early in the year, certainly has integrity; it also has a very distinctive voice and a charm to it that truly makes it stand out. The book has just come out in paperback, and to mark that I'm delighted to welcome Claire here today to tell us a little about how and where she writes.
Claire grew up in Yorkshire and now lives in France with her husband and daughters; The Night Rainbow is her first book.
Claire, please tell us about your writing desk or table: is it a special piece of furniture or just a convenient surface? And the room in which you work - a dedicated study, or a corner you've carved out of another room in the house?
I don’t have my own writing room. I’d love to, but we haven’t anywhere that I can steal for myself, so I’m a rather peripatetic writer. I have a little blue folding table that I move around the house depending on if the children are at home and where they are playing. It also depends which room is warmest (in winter) or coolest (in summer). Today I am writing under a parasol on the terrace, which is nice. As well as writing at home, I travel a lot for ‘day job’ work, so I write often on trains or in hotel rooms or restaurants if I’m eating alone.
Do you ever purposely go to other writing locations for inspiration or improved concentration?
I walk every day, before I write. It clears my head of the conversations I’ve had with my family around the breakfast table and somehow it gets my mind in the right creative mood. I consider this to be part of writing, even if I’m not actually getting any words down as I go. I went on a writing retreat weekend once. It was an absolute treat and I got a huge amount of work done. I found it incredibly productive, being removed from the place where other life happens, and inspiring to have a fresh environment to notice. The company of other writers is also a wonderful boost.
What typically sits on your desk? Piles of books for reference/a dictionary or thesaurus? Family photographs? Special objects? Can you work with 'clutter' around you or do you need clear space?
Wherever I write I need it to be clean. My house is not clean, but I insist before I sit down to write that at least the little space around me is tidy. I do have an actual desk, but it’s covered with administration, paperwork, banking and tax and business stuff. I find having all that close by a huge distraction. On or by my writing table, as well as my laptop or the notebook/manuscript I’m working on, I have a reference thesaurus, a mug for tea or coffee, my headphones for music and the Owl of Writing, who gives me hard stares.
Do you always to listen to music while you’re working or do you sometimes prefer silence? Do you need to be shut away with a virtual 'do not disturb' sign on the door, or can you get on happily with the usual interruptions of phone, doorbell, other people in the house, and so on?
The only doors in our house are on bedrooms, the bathroom and the pantry, so I don’t actually have a door I can close. This is not a silent house, it’s a house full of activity, conversation and laughter and I wouldn’t change that for the world. So I listen to music to create my own story bubble. The headphones are my ‘do not disturb’ sign in effect, and I always announce to everyone who’s home that I’m about to go ‘into my garret’. Everyone is used to that now and respects it (usually), which is great because when I’m interrupted by any kind of conversation it takes me a while to get back into the writing ‘zone’ – pulling me out of my character’s world. It does happen though. As you say there are always phone calls, urgent questions or arguments to resolve. When that happens I make that time to put on the kettle or bung in a load of laundry (prosaic I know) and stretch my eyes. Better to use the interruption as a catalyst for a break rather than get grumpy at people.
Do you write in longhand first, or make notes/plans that way, or do you work directly on the computer? If the former, do you have a favourite notebook and pen, or does any scrap of paper serve the purpose? Do you use a pinboard or whiteboard or similar, either for displaying notes and reminders, sketching out plot points and structure, showing location photographs or other visual cues to characters or interiors, etc.?
I’m not a huge planner, so what tends to come to me first are characters, ideas, situations or even just snippets of voice, and I write them down or dictate them into my phone, wherever I am. I always carry something to catch these things because they often form the essence of the story, which comes later. I don’t have fetish pens or paper, there’s enough going on to get in the way of writing without me complicating things further! I sometimes use post-it notes, coloured pens and huge pieces of paper, when I’m wrangling something knotty, but the vast majority of my time is spent either writing on my laptop using Scrivener (where I keep visual clues electronically), or attacking a print-off with a red pen.
What tends to distract you most when you're supposed to be writing?
I distract myself. With mind-puppies. I wrote a blog post on it here.
If you could tell us a little about what's currently 'on the desk', i.e. your work-in-progress, I'd love to know, as I for one am very much looking forward to your next book.
It’s working title is Candice. It’s an existential love story, primarily narrated by a man who lives on a boat. I can’t really say much more because I’ve not handed it over to my agent yet. I’m still editing it myself (draft 8, 9, 10…not sure), but I do think it’s time to get some outside editorial advice now.
Since The Night Rainbow was published, what would you say were the best, most rewarding aspects of the writer's life, and what are the downsides, if any?
By far the most rewarding aspect has been the wonderful response of readers to The Night Rainbow. It’s enormously gratifying to know that I’ve managed to move so many people, engage them and delight them through a story. Every time I hear from someone who loved the book it makes my heart leap. I wanted this so much that I don’t really have any downsides to mention. It would feel picky. What I have noticed though is that once you’re being published there are a whole new raft of demands on your time – as well as making and approving edits, reviewing copy and artwork etc there are also PR articles to propose and write and sometimes events to prepare for and attend…and you are still expected to be cracking on with the next book. Meanwhile the day job and family life hasn’t gone away!
Finally, by spending many hours 'at the writing desk' you have launched your career - what advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I’d say don’t be an aspiring writer, be a writer. Write every day. Observe things you wouldn’t otherwise have noticed and write these things down, make stories. Don’t concentrate on publication, concentrate on practising and improving. Meet other writers, in real life or online. Enter competitions. And for goodness sake, read lots of books!
It's been a great pleasure to have Claire as my special guest and to have a glimpse of her writing desk en plein air! I have no compunction about linking again to my post on The Night Rainbow, and to pointing out that the book is currently a snip in both paperback and Kindle editions - if you don't already know it do look out for it.
Finally today, here are some other lovely authors 'at the writing desk', or in the case of the last on the list, 'at the sewing table':