Today I am thrilled
to give you an interview with author Claire Fuller
Claire didn’t start writing until she was forty. Her three novels have been published by Tin House and have been translated into sixteen languages. Her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, won the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize fordebut fiction, and was a finalist in the American Booksellers Association 2016 Indies Best Books Award. Her second novel, Swimming Lessons was shortlisted for the Encore Prize. Claire also writes flash fiction and short stories. Along with being published in many journals, her stories have won the BBC Opening Lines competition, and the Royal Academy / Pin Drop Prize. Claire lives in Hampshire in England.
Claire’s third novel, Bitter Orange was released in the U.S. in October, 2018. It was the first selection for the new book club I started and I was disappointed when I wasn’t able to find compelling discussion questions online. Her author website offered an email address to reach out for discussion questions. I was fully expecting to receive a form response from an assistant or PR firm. Instead, I got a personal email from Claire herself and she was happy to hear my club had chosen her novel as our first read!
We exchanged a few emails, including her requesting a photo of our meeting!
I summoned up the courage to ask if she’d be willing to do an interview for my blog, and couldn’t believe it when she said yes!
I had a few questions lingering from reading Bitter Orange, and then I wanted to know more about Claire and her writing experiences.
Author Interview With Claire Fuller
Ramona Mead: Which character in Bitter Orange do you most relate to?
Claire Fuller: It would have to be Frances, although I hopefully have more friends than her, and my relationship with my mother is nothing like hers. But there something about how awkward she feels in social situations which I can relate to.
RM: Is the mansion/estate in the book based on an actual place?
CF: Yes, it’s based on a house called The Grange which is not too far from where I live in Hampshire in England. I’ve been visiting it long before I even thought of becoming a writer. It’s slightly smaller than Lyntons, and is managed by English Heritage, a charity that looks after old buildings. They have repaired the roof to make it water-tight, but they haven’t done any work on the interior so the walls are crumbling and some of the floors have gone – it is incredibly atmospheric.
RM: How did you settle on the title?
CF: The book had a working title of Archaeology, but when that didn’t seem right, I called it Blood Orange, and it was called this for several years while I finished it and my publishers in the UK, the US, and Canada bought it. But then there was a public announcement that another book – a thriller – was being published which was also called Blood Orange, and I had to change the title of mine. For a while I was devastated, and it was hard to think of an alternative, but in the end one of my literary agents came up with it, and actually now, I couldn’t be happier with Bitter Orange.
RM: Does writing energize or drain you?
CF: That’s such a good question. I’m energized by the thought of it, and during the brief periods when the words are flowing I’m invigorated, but that doesn’t happen often when I’m writing my first drafts – and these take a year or so. But when I’m revising and editing, and the story is all there, and I just need to get the right words, then I’m excited by it again.
RM: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it
CF: Well, I didn’t start writing until I was forty – so although I was younger, I wasn’t young exactly. But still, I would tell her that the excitement isn’t just about achieving publication – the work, and the excitement doesn’t stop there. It is a challenge to keep producing books and there are many more smaller satisfactions along the way to enjoy.
RM: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend
researching before beginning a book?
CF: I don’t do any research before beginning a book, because I don’t plan my novels, and because I don’t know what they will be about, where they will be set, and what time period they will be set in, it’s not possible to do any research before I start. Instead I research as I go along and hit a point in the book that I realise I need to know more about. Most of the simple stuff is done online: reading websites, and collecting pictures and using Pinterest to store them. But sometimes where needed, I’ll find an expert who can help me: for instance with Bitter Orange, I talked to Tim Knox who used to work for the National Trust and knows a lot about a particular kind of English landscape, and I also contacted Patricia Oliver who grows orange trees and could tell me all about them.
RM: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with positive or
CF: I do read all of my book reviews. I’ve often told myself I shouldn’t, but I can’t resist. I’m delighted with the positive ones of course, and if a blogger or someone on Instagram or Twitter has copied me in, I’ll thank them. The negative ones are harder. I don’t ever respond, but they do hurt, although only for a short time. I understand that not everyone likes every book.
RM: Do you read much, and if so who are your favorite authors?
CF: I read a great deal – a couple of books a week. Mostly fiction, but also some memoir and non-fiction for research. I have lots of favourite authors but they do change about a bit. At the moment I think my list would include Elizabeth Strout, Ian McEwan, Shirley Jackson, Anita Brookner, Barbara Comyns, David Vann, and lots more.
RM: How do you think concepts such as Kindle and e-books have changed
the present or future of reading?
CF: There are of course a lot of positive things to say about Kindle and e-books, although I don’t own a Kindle. Lots more people are reading because of them (or at least buying e-books, even if they just stack them up on their e-readers). And there is the convenience of them – readers are able to take hundreds of books with them, rather than just the half dozen that I’m able to take on holiday and which take up half my suitcase.
But I worry about readers expecting all books to be available for 99p or even free, when it takes so much effort to write a book – perhaps it has devalued them and made them even more into commodities, rather than things to be treasured. However, I don’t think the physical book is dead, all indications are that the sale of e-books is plateauing, so we’ll see.
RM: If you had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world for a year
while writing a book that took place in the same setting, where would
CF: Hmm, it would need to be somewhere warm, and with good food. Somewhere with plenty of nature, and also some opportunity for swimming outside. Australia would be nice, or Italy, or Greece, or Mexico. Could I have a year in each?
RM: Can you tell us about your current projects?
CF: I’ve just finished a draft of my fourth novel, and I’ve sent it to my UK literary agent to have a read. She’s the first person to have seen it in its entirety, and I’m busy pressing refresh on my inbox to find out what she thinks. In the meantime I’ll be doing some teaching and writing some short stories and flash fiction. Although today, I seem to have written a poem.
To find out more about Claire and her books, click here!