Where do you get your inspiration?
Anywhere and everywhere. I travel widely and have lived overseas in the past so I draw on these experiences a lot. I also read widely. Sometimes I get inspired by a place – for example the idea for The Gamekeeper’s Wife came to me while I was staying in a gamekeeper’s lodge on the Shuttleworth estate in Bedfordshire. I also visited a garden there – the Swiss Garden which had been a Victorian industrialist’s creation but had fallen into neglect after WW2 and since restored in all its splendour. I used that to create the sunken garden in the book – this time neglected as a result of the gardeners being killed in WW1.
Can you tell me a little about each book?
I have ten novels now so that would take far too long! I’ll tell you about some common themes. I write a lot about displacement – people being uprooted from their comfortable world and flung into a new and challenging one – often geographically distant.
My first novel A Greater World has the two main characters meeting on a ship to Australia from England – both forced to leave everything they have known due to sudden tragic circumstances.
Ginny in Kurinji Flowers has no future in England after being disgraced as a debutante so marries on the rebound and moves with the husband she barely knows to live on a tea plantation in India where she struggles to adapt.
My next book, The Pearl of Penang (published December 5th and now pre-ordering) is set in the beautiful island of Penang in Malaysia in the 1940s. Evie the main character ends up there after accepting a marriage proposal by post from a man she met once only when she was only fifteen, twelve years earlier.
I am fascinated by the whole idea of British colonials and the worlds they created in far flung parts of the empire. I also write about war and its after-effects (The Canadian trilogy – The Chalky Sea, The Alien Corn and The Frozen River).
What inspires you to write?
I love entering a whole new world that emerges from my head, and meeting characters who begin to assume a life of their own. I also love the way my books affect readers. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than hearing from them, reading their reviews and finding out how my stories have touched their lives. On the rare occasions I get discouraged, an email from a reader can galvanise me and send me straight back to the keyboard!
Tell me about how you got started as a writer.
I’ve always written. As a child it was poems, plays and stories. Later I had numerous attempts to write a novel (always knowing it would happen in the end) but got sidetracked by life and a demanding career.
When did you first publish? How did publishing make you feel?
It was in 2014. I’d lost a lot of time while my then agent tried to sell it. In the end I decided to self-publish and never looked back. My last book Storms Gather Between Us was traditionally published and while I have no complaints about the publisher or the process, I prefer being my own boss so I’m now reverting to being indie. I’m helped by the fact that I am an ex Marketing Director and publishing is all about marketing. I ran my own business for almost twenty years after a long slog in corporate life so I much prefer the control I have as an indie. Not that I do it myself – I use a professional editor and cover designer and invest a lot in my own development and training.
What advice can you give future authors?
Read as much and as widely as you can. Your craft improves with your exposure to and understanding of different styles, eras, genres, etc. I am blessed in that, since childhood, I have read voraciously from the classics to fast easy reads. I’d also say read your work aloud. That is an amazing tool to improving your work. And take your time to get it right. There is a big emphasis these days on pushing as many books out as possible – in some cases a book a week!! I doubt many of these will stand the test of time – and the toll on the writers will be enormous in the long run.
What was the easiest book for you to write?
The most fun was the latest one, The Pearl of Penang. It followed an unexpected writing drought when I was on a round the world cruise. I’d expected to write while I was away but it turned out I didn’t want to. After visiting Penang, an idea came to me and I set aside the book I was planning to write and started this one instead. I loved the writing and got so absorbed by the research I had to do. It was a sheer joy.
What was the hardest?
The one I am writing now! But I usually say that.
What is your biggest challenge as you’re writing?
Distraction – I have a horrible tendency to stop to fact check something and then before I know it I am down the research rabbit hole – or off on a complete tangent as one thing leads to another and before I know it I am on YouTube watching old Pathé newsreels.
What do you think of promoting your work? Do you find it easy or hard?
Very very hard. Even though my marketing background should theoretically make it easier!
How would you describe your writing style to people who have never read your work?
My readers tell me they get hooked very quickly so I am responsible for lots of missed sleep and over-salted, overcooked meals – so many people have told me they walk around the kitchen preparing supper with one of my books in their hands! I try to write evocatively about the places in the books – I’ve been told it’s like vicariously travelling there as I aim to bring the sights, sounds, and smells of the locations to life on the page. I’ve often been told I write convincing dialogue and work very hard to make my characters believable and capable of evoking emotional responses in readers – good or bad. And the goodies are always flawed in some way and the baddies mostly have either some redeeming qualities or at least a backstory that explains how they ended up so bad.
Have you ever participated in Nano? If so, did you make the goal?
This is my fifth consecutive year and every time I have hit the 50k. This year is the hardest yet!
How supportive is your family of your books?
I’m single (which probably helps!) – my siblings are generally supportive but I don’t expect them to read my books. Sometimes they do. But I think your own family can be your toughest critics.
Have you ever had anybody in your life ever try to discourage you from writing? How did you cope?
No. No one’s told me I shouldn’t do it. Not that I’d have listened anyway!
Do you have a team that helps with your writing process and promotions?
I am a member of a critique group of five published writers. We meet weekly to give each other honest feedback. I have a great team of editor, designer, proof readers, beta readers. I also have a team of advance readers who get an ARC pre-publication for review purposes – they also spot any missed errors.
How many drafts do you write before you are pleased enough to publish?
I am constantly tweaking and tuning – a real iterative process – including the ongoing feedback from my critique group. By the time I’ve finished it’s pretty close to final draft. I then read it through again and make further changes. The editor gives me a report which may require further changes (this time hardly at all!) and she does a line edit which I work through. I have a final read-through and make any further tweaks.
Are any of your books in audio? If not, is it something you eventually want?
Yes four are – A Greater World, Letters from a Patchwork Quilt, The Chalky Sea and The Alien Corn. I need to get a move on with the others! I also need to figure out how to promote them!
What are some of your favorite books and authors?
Aaaagggh! I hate that question as there are so many. I love some of the classics – Thomas Hardy in particular – life always seems better in comparison with the terrible things that happen to his characters, the Brontes, George Elliot and Austen. I love Kate Atkinson’s writing. Recently I hugely enjoyed reading Amor Towle’s A Gentleman in Moscow. Nowadays I also read books by authors I know. I particularly like Linda Gillard’s work. Her latest book, The Memory Tree has done extremely well and as soon as one of hers comes out I have to buy it. My personal fave is Emotional Geology set in the Scottish isles. Linda never shies away from tough subjects. While on my cruise I met Helen Carey, author of the WW2 Lavender Road series. I’ve since read three of them and enjoyed them immensely and must read the others. At the Literary fiction end Jane Davies stands out for me, winner of the Selfies award for her cracking novel Smash all the Windows which follows the lives of a number of people who had been caught up in a disaster on the London Underground and their search for justice and personal reconciliation with what has happened to them.
Can you tell us about some of your upcoming books?
Not yet! I am afraid to jinx them. I will say my Nano project is a novella set in WW2 in the Pacific theatre. It’s not a military story though.
Where can we find you on social media?
In too many places!! And too often.
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/authorclareflynn
Twitter – https://twitter.com/clarefly
Instagram – https://instagram.com/clarefly
And of course on my website – https://clareflynn.co.uk – if you sign up on there for my newsletter you will receive a short story collection as a thank you.