Sunday 23 April 2017

A Conversation With Claire Fuller

Claire Fuller didn’t start writing until she was 40. Her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days was published by Penguin in the UK and won the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction. Her second novel, Swimming Lessons, was also published by Penguin earlier this year. She originally trained as a sculptor, and then spent many years running a marketing company. She lives in Hampshire with her husband and has two grown up children.

Swimming Lessons tells the story of Ingrid Coleman who writes letters to her husband, Gil about the truth of their marriage, but decides not to send them. Instead she hides them within the thousands of books her husband collects. After she writes her final letter, Ingrid disappears from an English beach. 

Twelve years later, her adult daughter, Flora comes home after Gil says he has spotted Ingrid through a bookshop window. Flora, who has existed in a limbo of hope and grief, imagination and fact, wants answers, but doesn’t realise that what she’s looking for is hidden in the books that surround her.

Ingrid is a brave but floundering heroine, who puts down “all the things [she hasn’t] been able to say in person” in her letters, resulting in a portrait so intimate, you feel as if you’ve read a novel written on the secret walls of her very mind. A deeply moving read, that keeps you turning pages.”

  • Swimming Lessons was selected by the US subscription book club, Book Of The Month for one of their December 2017 picks.
  • Swimming Lessons was included on many ‘books to look out for lists’ including, Bustle, Nylon, Goodreads, and Elle. 
  • Swimming Lessons was selected by Australian national radio station ABC as their book club book for April, and by women’s fashion brand, Toast as their book club selection for March.
  • Swimming Lessons was staff pick of the month for March at Indigo (the national Canadian bookstore chain), and Powell’s (the US bookstore chain in the pacific northwest).

We would like to thank Claire for taking part in a A Conversation With...and wish her huge success with her accomplished, poignant novel and future writing.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I didn’t start doing any creative writing until I was forty, ten years ago (unless you count the little I did at school). I was looking for a challenge and I started writing short stories and entering them in a spoken word competition in my local library. I entered quite a few times before I won. I then decided to sign up for a part-time MA in Creative Writing at the University of Winchester, near where I live. I continued to write short stories as well as flash fiction, and started a novel in my first year. I finished it a year and a half or so later and submitted it to agents, and was lucky enough to have one offer to represent me. She and I worked together on some edits, and she submitted it to editors in publishing houses, and the novel, Our Endless Numbered Days went to auction, with Fig Tree, an imprint of Penguin winning. The book was published in the UK in 2015, went on to win the Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction and has since been published in a further 13 countries. My second novel, Swimming Lessons was published earlier this year. I still continue to write short stories.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I do see it as a job – one I have to be at my desk for at 9am and be disciplined about, but it’s a very creative job, and I’m very lucky that I can now write full time. I think my role has changed now that my books have been published. I do feel some commitment to readers who have read and liked my previous books, but it is really just about trying to write the best book I can, which is what I would want to do whether there were potential readers for it or not. I also believe I have a role to support other writers, whether that’s talking about other author’s books, or encouraging and supporting writers who are hoping to be published.

What I like most about writing is the feeling of having created something. It’s a bit like when I was a sculptor and I would finish a piece of work. There is a huge satisfaction in it.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

Oh yes, all the time. I empathise with all my characters. I try to write characters that are real for the reader, and I believe it should be possible to empathise with almost everyone, even the worst of people. I know a lot of people don’t like James (from Our Endless Numbered Days) or Gil (from Swimming Lessons). They are difficult people to like, but hopefully readers feel some empathy for them; I certainly do.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?
My novels have included a few diverse characters, but even added together the main character count across both novels only stretches to seven. My short stories and flash fiction however, have included many more diverse characters whether that’s different backgrounds, ethnicity, abilities or sexual orientation. But what I’m most interested in is creating a fully formed character that fits the story I’m writing.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

I’d like to be transported to the location I’m writing about at the time. Being fully immersed in the sounds, smells and sights of the place would make writing it about it easier. But the house I’m writing about now doesn’t have any central heating, and I like to be warm, so if you could fix that when you teleport me, that would be helpful.

What is the one book you wish you had written?
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I love this book. But, if I had written it that would be a shame because I don’t re-read my books when they’ve been published which would mean that I wouldn’t get to read this wonderful book again.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

Finish it! Whatever you’re writing now, whether that’s a short story or a novel, get to the end of it. Pushing on through the parts that are difficult is a slog and it can feel like what you’ve got down is rubbish and will never be read, but until you have the complete thing down on paper it’s not possible to see what needs working on. Without some words there is nothing to improve.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I’m just coming to the end of re-working my third novel. The first draft was finished just before Swimming Lessons was published, and since then I’ve been rewriting and editing it. This is the part of the process that I like the best, and so it is hard to know when to stop. It’s the story of three people (again a small group of characters) who meet in a derelict English country house in 1969, and bad things happen. Can you tell that I haven’t quite worked out my elevator pitch yet?

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

I think it would be Stig from Stig of the Dump by Clive King. The version I had as a child also had illustrations by Edward Ardizzone, whose work I love. I wanted to live where Stig lived: away from people who said what I should or shouldn’t be doing, and surviving by re-using all the things that people threw away.

Swimming Lessons is published by Penguin

You can follow Claire on Twitter: @ClaireFuller2

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