Over the next few months I’ll be chatting with authors who, like me, write Family Sagas, (#familysaga) a genre that can cover many countries, years and cultures.I am thrilled that so many excellent writers have agreed to meet here with me. I’m sure you’ll find them as fascinating as I do. All I can say is watch this space. Your TBR list of books will be toppling over!!
Welcome Clare, thank you for being here today.
Good to be here, Judith
Firstly, could you tell us what made you decide to write in your genre?
It was not a conscious decision. The story of my first novel, A Greater World, came first and just happened to be set in 1920 and then I decided I liked the distance and perspective history gave to me and so stuck with the genre for the next books. I won’t guarantee that I will always stick to historical though!
What other authors of your genre are you connected/friends with, and do they help you become a better writer in any way?
I have many author friends across many genres. I’m a member of ALLi, the Historical Novel Society and The Romantic Novelists Association and I have made some wonderful supportive friendships through all of these. Since moving to the south coast from London last year I have co-founded a critique group with three other authors and an editor and we meet fortnightly to share extracts from our works in progress and give each other feedback. I have found this absolutely invaluable. I hope my editor and beta readers will agree when they get the new book shortly!
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
I think that might be quite a handicap as empathy seems to me to be a critical asset for a writer. I struggle to imagine how you would write about strong emotions of you have never experienced them. That said, you don’t need to have experienced the same emotions if you can empathise and imagine your way into them. Whether or not you feel the emotions it’s absolutely crucial that you are able to convey them vividly on the page. Fortunately I’ve not experienced some of the terrible misfortunes that befall my characters – but I hope that hasn’t prevented me bringing them to life in my books. As crime writers always say – you don’t have to commit murder to write about it.
Do you want each book to stand alone or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I like your description of creating a body of work with connections between each book. I definitely don’t write series – each of my books is a standalone with different characters, locations, periods and so on. But there are themes that connect the books – particularly the idea of displacement – many of my characters are uprooted from a comfortable life and circumstances and plunged into a new world and life – often with a big geographical shift. I also think there are connections n my style of writing and my way of telling a story that makes a book a Clare Flynn book.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Somewhere on an inaccessible floppy disc in a box in my study is a draft of the opening chapters of a thriller I started to write in 1992. I think it’s probably best that it stays there! I also have the first draft of my next book which I am polishing now, ready to get it out to my beta readers. I spend a lot of time “mulling” before I start to write and now if I start a book, I finish it!
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I don’t find it particularly difficult. I’ve always been in the company of men – especially at work. I’ll leave it to my readers to judge how well I write them!
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I do some preliminary research before I begin – but very light touch. Most of my serious research is done during the writing process. I find reading around the subject helps balance my time and interest relative to writing. I read a lot of general background – for example about the era or the setting. I also do specific fact checking – mostly online – to check for anachronisms etc, to look for added colour – e.g. a song or a movie out in the year I am writing about. Place is very important. I have visited everywhere I write about and some instances revisited many times. For my second book, Kurinji Flowers, I returned to India to work on the final draft and stayed for a fortnight on a tea plantation living in a 1930s bungalow in the location where the book is set – basically reliving the life and walking in the footsteps of my main character. She was an artist so I also did a lot of painting and sketching of the kind of things she would have drawn. I based the Club in the book on a real one and assumed I would be able to visit it and look around, and so I didn’t write to them in advance – I had to practically prostrate myself at the feet of the Club Manager in order to grovel my way inside – and he wouldn’t allow me to take any photos nor to bring my driver with me (“He must wait outside”). Snobbery didn’t die out with the departure of the British! It was well worth the grovelling as it was a time capsule and I was able to use what I saw there directly in the book.
How do you select the names of your characters?
With a lot of brain-aching! I sometimes change the names as I go along as I find they don’t fit. I like going to graveyards and poking around to find unusual names. My last book The Green Ribbons had a lot of unusual and interesting names – Hephzibah WIldman, Merritt Nightingale, Abigail Cake, Mercy Loveless… but my next book has ordinary sounding names like Roger, Brenda, Jim and Pauline. It’s “horses for courses”.
Does writing energise or exhaust you?
It definitely energises me.
What would be the advice you would give to your younger writing self?
Make the time to write. Keep at it. Just do it!
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
£75 to join the Alliance of Independent Authors – ALLi. The most brilliant source of knowledge, advice, camaraderie, encouragement and writerly friendship. I can’t imagine how I’d have got by without them.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
I’m done with work now! I had a very fulfilling career as a Marketing director – and then as a consultant. I’ve travelled widely with my work, met some amazing and interesting people, and been privileged to work with some of the greatest companies in the world.
Have you ever had reader’s block?
No. I am lost if I’m without a book. A terrible night in my life was being stuck in a German hotel the night before a business meeting without anything to read – I’d left my book on the plane!
I couldn’t begin to write if I hadn’t got decades of wonderful books behind me. I think the most important asset for a writer is to be a reader.
What do you think is the best way to market your books?
If I can get in front of people I can sell my books – especially if I do a reading. Sadly that’s not very efficient in either time or money! I’m still figuring out the best way to market my books. People think as a career marketer it must be easy for me. Well it isn’t!
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Yes I do read them. I rejoice in the good ones and move on from the bad ones. No one wants to read a bad review but every author gets them occasionally. You just have to get over it. It takes all sorts. Take a look on GoodReads at some of the one-star hammering that great authors receive!
Would you like to talk about your latest book here.?
My latest book will be coming out later this year. It’s set in WW2 in Eastbourne, the seaside town I moved to last year. The town was subject to extraordinarily heavy bombardment by the Germans – firstly to soften it up before the planned invasion that Hitler cancelled, and later as it was easy for planes to zip across the Channel and dump bombs without having to cross the radar and anti-aircraft fire – then zip straight back. The book is the story of Gwen, a buttoned-up Englishwoman and Jim a young Canadian soldier. The town was the base for thousands of Canadians during the War. I like to put people together who in normal circumstances would never have met. This is a key element of A Greater World and Kurinji Flowers and to some extent Letters from a Patchwork Quilt.
My most recently published book is The Green Ribbons (2016). It is set in a Berkshire village in 1900. Many readers have said it reminds them of Jane Eyre – the main character is orphaned and compelled to earn a living as a governess – but I think the resemblance stops there.
Please supply links to all your social media including websites.
Twitter – https://twitter.com/clarefly
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/authorclareflynn/
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/clarefly/
My website – http://www.clareflynn.co.uk/