In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing
victim author and they choose their own interview by choosing which questions, and how many questions, they want to answer! Claire King’s novel, The Night Rainbow is set in the glorious South of France and features a youthful narrator, grappling with grief and carrying the world on small shoulders. Here is what Claire had to say about reading, writing, and using the best books she can find as inspirational tools.
Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?
I’m an English woman, living in France. I’m a mum to two girls. As well as writing I have a ‘day job’ that involves helping people collaborate, and I also run two gîtes – holiday lets – here in the Pyrenees. Like many writers, my love of – and need to – write began at school, with encouraging teachers and inspiring books. I’ve never stopped writing, but it wasn’t until recently that I made it a more serious pursuit. I like to write hopeful books, not shying away from dark issues, but always looking for the best in the human character. Anti-cynical novels, that’s me. I’m particularly interested in first person, unreliable narrators. Where are the truths in the stories we tell others, and the stories we tell ourselves? Trying to understand a human being is complex and sometimes mystifying. In a novel, I like how a first person narrative implicates the reader in trying to solve that mystery.
I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?
Walking is important to me. I need to get out into nature and move. It clears my mind, makes me feel physically good and puts me in the calm place I need to sit down and write on my return. When I’m writing I always listen to music on headphones. Even if I’m alone in the room, which I’m often not, I like the bubble effect of the music right by my ears. I do vary what I listen to, and often create a play list of music that captures the mood of a character or a place, but Philip Glass, Ludovic Einaudi and Michael Nyman are my regular writing favourites. They don’t intrude, but they seem to focus my thoughts.
Write the question you would most like to answer in an interview, and then answer it.
Q: What reaction are you hoping for when I read The Night Rainbow? A: I hope that you will feel immersed in the countryside of southern France, because that’s where I want to take you. I hope you feel the sun on your skin and smell the peaches ripening. I hope you feel as though you have climbed inside the mind of a young girl, and seen things through her eyes. I hope you feel the tenacity and the optimism of childhood again. And then at some point I hope you are seized by your adult reasoning and taken somewhere else again, where you can experience two stories in parallel, through Pea’s eyes, and through your own. I want you to feel the kind of sad you feel when you are sad, and the kind of sad you feel when you are happy. And when you finish I hope you will want to read the book a second time.
Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?
When I’m writing I have to read in a similar genre to that in which I’m working, so contemporary/literary fiction, either novels or short stories. I read the *best* books I can, that make me feel nourished and inspired by the language and the storytelling. When I’m editing my work I can’t read at all, because I need to be totally immersed in the story that I’m writing in order to keep a hold of it and work with it.
What types of books would some of your characters have if they were readers? Given their issues what book(s) would you suggest for them to read? Although they live in France, Pea and Margot have an English mother and a French father. They definitely have The Tiger that Came to Tea, Le Petit Prince and The Velveteen Rabbit. Maman should read Christiane Singer’s book, Ou Cours-Tu? Ne Sais-Tu Pas Que Le Ciel Est En Toi? for some spiritual nourishment. I can’t find an English translation of the book but the title means ‘Where are you running to? Don’t you know that heaven is within you?’ and includes such breathtaking wisdom as “The landscape is so vast inside a single person that all contradictions must live there and have their place.” She also needs some Maya Angelou for courage and hope. She should start with the poetry collection And Still I Rise.
In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people. What does a typical day look like for you and how do you manage a busy schedule?
I honestly don’t have a typical day. My days and weeks and months are a great patchwork or different responsibilities and activities. When I read about writers who rise early, and write for hours before getting on with the rest of their day I feel envious I must admit. When I’m away at a client with my day job I write on trains and in hotel rooms. When I’m at home, my mornings are full of the bustle of young school-aged children, of snatching some exercise with the dogs, doing a few of the daily chores and setting things straight. I usually write over lunchtime, and again at night when they’re in bed. But I also need to spend some time with my husband too…Everything somehow finds its place because I keep my eye on my priorities – family, health, and writing.
Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be? How involved were in choosing the name of the book?
I chose the title The Night Rainbow and no-one ever questioned it. The title is both a metaphor, and a character reference, but you’ll have to work out the rest for yourself.
What were your experiences with reading when you were growing up? Was there a pivotal moment in discovering literature when you knew that you wanted to be a writer?
I read very early, by 3 or so. My mum spent a lot of time with me and a pack of flashcards. And I generally read holding books upside down because I had spent so much time peering over at my father’s newspaper. Although we didn’t own many books at home, my mum took me to the library once a week and I was allowed two books. It was never enough! I spent all my pocket money (allowance?) on books. As soon as I was asked to write stories and poems at school I realised I loved it. Taking the words and making them dance, creating something that evokes a response in not only yourself but others – it’s quite amazing. I don’t think I ever thought that I wanted to be a writer, I just realised that I am one.
How many works in progress do you have going at any one time? How do you know when one has potential and when one just needs to be scrapped?
It really depends. But if a big idea comes to me I have to discipline myself. As in love, if you chase every new seduction rather than working on what you’re already committed to, you end up with nothing.
Are there other books you love or writers you admire that are from your local area?
I live in the Languedoc-Roussillon, which is the part of southern France that has the Mediterranean sea to the east and the Pyrenees mountains to the west. The Spanish border, and Barcelona, are very close. Victoria Hislop, an author I admire greatly, has written about the coastal area near here in her novel about the Spanish Civil War, The Return. Kate Mosse has her wonderful, historical Languedoc trilogy – Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel as well as The Winter Ghosts. From a more contemporary point of view, Joanne Harris of course set Chocolat north-west of here, and returns with her latest novel, Peaches for Father Francis. Rose Tremain’s Trespass was also set in the area. There’s a lot to be inspired by in this region!
Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?
It was Pea. This child almost grew to be a real person for me in a way that no other character I’ve created ever has before. Looking through her eyes and empathising with her thoughts, whilst at the same time being acutely aware of my adult perspective on what was happening in her world – it was quite magical and emotional. My own children were younger than Pea when I created her, but she was nourished by the wonderful things they would say and do. I still don’t think I’ve shaken off Pea’s presence in my mind or in my heart.