I first met Claire King online more than 8 years ago when we were both part of a support forum for expectant mums. During our parallel pregnancies we discovered that we had a lot in common, shared many values and interests and had both grown up in Yorkshire.
Claire is one of those inspiring people who has already managed to achieve some of the goals I have only dreamt about, such as living in a beautiful house in the South of France, winning short story prizes and writing novels, the first of which, 'The Night Rainbow' was released in paperback this month.
I read The Night Rainbow during the first week of hardback publication, with a certain amount of trepidation – what if it was awful and I hated it? How could I tell her?
I needn't have worried. Taking advantage of a day trip to London from my home in Devon and a rare day of being child-free, I was quickly whisked away from my train seat and immersed in the heat, scents and sounds of a hot summer in the South of France. The narrative voice of five year old Pea was immediately refreshing and engaging. As someone who dislikes books which are 'over-written' I really loved Claire's writing style, which is clear yet poetic. I read the whole book in one day, smiled, cried, and ultimately felt uplifted. The Night Rainbow turned out to be one of the most moving and memorable books I have ever read. It deals sensitively with grief, love, and the unwavering hope and optimism of a young child. The words lifted off the page and played like a movie in my head. I would thoroughly recommend this book to everyone.
As an aspiring novelist myself, I really wanted to find out how Claire managed to combine working, running several gites, being a Mum and somehow writing a successful novel that was snapped up by Bloomsbury and is already available in several languages.
Claire, could you tell me a bit about yourself?
That's such a dangerous, open question to ask a writer, because chances are they'll launch off into some story or other. I am now allowed to call myself an author, but I do other things as well – I run my own business freelancing, helping companies collaborate internally, I run two gîtes in the South of France and, most importantly, I'm a mum to two amazing daughters. I rarely do housework (our house really is a mess, but we are all so busy...) so I wouldn't call myself a housewife, but I am a wife. I'm really happy with my lot.
Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes, always. And I always have been a writer because I have always written – essays, short stories, poetry, novels, newsletters, blogs...it's all writing. But I never had the courage to rely on writing as a profession that would earn me a living, so I went in another direction. I like to tell people that I've finally realised what I want to be when I grow up.
Is there anything about your childhood that encouraged or discouraged you?
Teachers were very encouraging. I can't praise my primary school teachers, and later my English teachers at comprehensive school enough. I come from a relatively deprived area of the UK, but my teachers always had a lot of hope for my potential and were always great cheerleaders. My parents were both encouraging of my love for reading and writing, and whilst we had few books in the house, my mum took me to the library every week.
How did you start writing fiction?
I think when you're younger you believe that you are experiencing things that no one else can possibly understand. There is (or was for me) a great desire to tell stories which were largely based on my own experience. Once I got that out of my system in my twenties, that was when I really began to write fiction. You need to be liberated of the desire to see things through your own viewpoint, then you can explore the worlds of others and that's amazing and powerful.
What helps with your writing?
Living life to the full and experiencing things. Having the time to meet and get to know new people, to hear other people's stories, visit new places, taste new things. Reading great books is also very nourishing and energising. Since I've been published, the wonderful encouragement and feedback from readers gives me a massive boost.
What hinders your writing?
Routine, not getting out enough, being too busy to write or not having the personal quiet space to write in. Sometimes life gets in the way, but you have to have perspective and priorities. Fear of failure, sometimes, but you just have to write through that.
Where do your ideas come from?
From the way crickets jump in the grass; from a memory of a gas station attendant in the USA who asked me on a date when I was 19; from the anger inside me; from the joy in my children; from the taste of a tomato warm and fresh off the vine; from the smell of burning; from loving someone; from my fevered imagination that warms up in the minutes just before I sleep...
Do you plan your writing or just let it evolve?
I wish I were a better planner. I write down all my ideas – I always have something to write on – and then I let the good ones take seed. And when something really grabs me, really thrills me, then I run with it. And then you have to make the commitment to put in the legwork, because even the really best idea is nothing without hours and hours of dedication, hair-pulling, despair, hard work and coffee. Or wine!
Do you have any routines or habits when you are writing?
When I'm writing a novel I like to find music that is evocative of the themes and the characters. I make a playlist and play it on loop while I'm writing and it helps me to focus. The only other thing really is to write every day. Every day.
Were there any key people in your life who have helped you to become a writer?
I honestly believe that becoming a writer is something you have to do for yourself. However there are three people who have helped me realise my dream of being a published writer. First my husband Charlie, who has always taken my ambition seriously and has given me the time and space to write when I've asked for it. Second my agent, Annette, who pulled The Night Rainbow out of the slush pile and fell in love with it and took me on. Third my editor at Bloomsbury, Helen, who took a chance on me and championed The Night Rainbow tirelessly. I've very grateful to all these people.
Is The Night Rainbow your first novel?
It's the my first published novel, the third I have ever tried to write and the second that I completed. I never went on a creative writing course and I didn't do an English degree. I needed to practise. Most authors have a practice novel or two in a desk drawer.
How did you feel when you got your publishing contract?
Elated! Over the moon! Like dancing and singing and crying all at once.
Why did you decide to set the novel in the South of France?
It was the place that inspired me at the time. The Night Rainbow is set in a fictional village which I created from several different areas I'm familiar with here. Some very close to home that I know intimately and others an hour or so away which I find dramatic and thought provoking. The smells, the sounds, the flavours of the South of France... they're so wonderful, who wouldn't want to capture and share them?
Your main characters are two sisters. Are they based on your own daughters?
No, not at all. My daughters were two and four when I completed The Night Rainbow. But they were an inspiration for it. Their language, their joy and their tenacity gave me so much gold to spin into the story I wanted to tell.
What do you think will happen next in your writing career?
I will finish the edits on my second book, which I've been working on now for almost 3 years. I will hand it in to my agent and Bloomsbury and cross everything that they like that one too. Then I will write the next one that is already brewing in my head. I'm also hoping to publish a short story collection. If things go well and I can earn at least part of a living as a novelist and free up some time, then I would like to do some literacy work in the UK at some point, helping people find joy in the written word and in expressing themselves. Storytelling is so important and I worry many of us are losing it.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
If you have an ambition to become a writer, then all you need is a pencil and paper and some determination. Find a network to support you – Twitter can be a huge help. Don't give up. If you are a reader and you give The Night Rainbow a try, I'd love to hear how you get on with it. After all, in the end it's you I wrote it for...
Do you want to ask Claire a question?
Feel free to add a comment below and Claire will do her best to reply. Or you can post your own mini review of The Night Rainbow.