Thursday, January 10, 2019

A Greater World :Clare Flynn

Clare's author page on amazon
Since I first met historical novelist Clare Flynn at a conference in Oxford in 2016 and felt an instant cameraderie, her books have become bestsellers. Her fans can't wait for their next voyage in the early 20th century in the company of women who suffer and survive and I have great news for them! But what about the woman behind the books? Clare's life has been as amazing as any of her books and each year I discover more of her secret life. One constant is Clare's love of travel and awareness that she is part of a greater world so this story of love, loss and a voyage into the unknown seems an appropriate focus for the interview!

Welcome to my blog, Clare!

Tell me a bit about yourself - where do you live and what do you do when you’re not writing?
Thanks for inviting me, Jean. Home is Eastbourne on the beautiful Sussex coast, surrounded by the South Downs and with views of the grey-green chalky sea from my window. I moved here three years ago after twenty years in London, but lived here in my teens so I knew what I was I was letting myself in for. I love it!
I spent my pre-writing career firstly in Marketing where I worked for big global companies like Proctor & Gamble, then latterly working for myself as a strategy consultant. My work took me all over the world with a wide range of fabulous clients from brewers to broadcasters.
Ah, The Chalky Sea is another title I recognise and now I know the inspiration!

I know you lived in Paris for some time. Where else have you lived and what drew you there? Do you think any of these places influenced you and your writing?
I lived in Paris on the Boulevard St Germain in the late 80s for two years. It sounds romantic but not when you have to drive round for hours trying to find a parking spot after getting home late from work. It was my first experience of living abroad and it wasn’t a happy one – pity as I’d lap it up now– especially my gorgeous little apartment in the heart of the Latin Quarter.

I had a couple of years in Brussels and three in Milan. I adore Italy and speak Italian. The Alien Corn has some flashbacks to the war there. More recently my latest book, which will be published by Canelo in June 2019, has an Italian character and I very much enjoyed writing him.

My other exotic temporary home was Sydney where I worked for six months in 2006/7. I’d been to Australia a few times before and had already started work on my first novel, A Greater World, set in the Blue Mountains.

The Blue Mountains
What made you choose the different settings in your books (including Canada and India)?
Location has a huge influence on my writing. It’s often the trigger point for a story. My second novel, Kurinji Flowers, is set in South India in a fictional hill town, based on Munnar. Unable to sleep in my hotel room one night on holiday there, I lay thinking about who else might have stayed in that room back in the 1930s. By the time dawn was breaking I had mapped out the background to the book and some of the key characters. I found the whole area magical – the endless rolling tea gardens, like a huge piece of corduroy velvet across the landscape, the bright vivid colours of the statues and temples, the flowers, the wildlife, the birdsong, and the visible colonial heritage. My first visit there was to paint so I had to make my character, Ginny, a painter too – albeit a more successful one than I could ever be!
I love your descriptions of place. You have a painter's eye!

What drew you to the early 20th century as a period and how do you do your research?
I read an interview with William Boyd the other day in which he said that he didn’t see the twentieth century as history because his grandmother had lived in the nineteenth century and his great uncle fought in the first war, so it doesn’t feel so far away or alien. He said, “I feel that’s my natural range – say three generations back from my own life and time – it’s not strange.” That exactly reflects my own feelings. I can’t see me writing books set in Tudor England or eighteenth century France.

I do a variety of things as research. Ideally, I visit the location – but my recent trilogy, The Canadians, is set in eastern Canada and I couldn’t get there. Instead I used Google Earth, YouTube, books, websites, maps, films, almanacs, online weather statistics and – best of all – my own private Facebook group consisting of three retired Canadian librarians who answered all my questions, no matter how obscure, and went above and beyond the call of duty to help me.
We are so lucky these days to be able to connect through social media with experts - and, like you, I've found them so generous in response.

You write about strong women who suffer and survive, sometimes hindered by the men in their lives. How do you hope readers will react to your novels?
I hope they will see my characters as living within their own period, not ours. I get very frustrated when someone describes a character as being insufficiently empowered when, in the context of the era she lived in, she was pushing the boundaries as far as they would go. We can’t expect the world of the early twentieth century to match our own. Most married women were not even permitted to work outside the home. My character, Elizabeth, in A Greater World, has never worked in the sense we would – she took in violin pupils when her family fell on hard times and later in the book gets involved in understanding the economics of her husband’s failing coalmine. I had one reviewer very snidely remark that a mere violin teacher couldn’t possibly have done that – which is incredibly patronising. Elizabeth never actually takes over the running of the mine but asks enough questions to figure out what its future might be. So, I suppose I’m saying I’d like readers not to assume women in the past had all the same attitudes and possibilities open to them – while at the same time not patronising women because their lives were more confined than ours may be.
That's a very balanced response to the ongoing debate re women's roles in the past and one that resonates with me as writer of medieval fiction too. 

Who is your ideal reader?
Someone who appreciates a good story, with multi-faceted characters and a liking for travel to interesting places – even if it’s vicarious.

If you could wave a magic wand and change something about your career what would it be?
That I’d started it sooner. But that said, I have no real regrets. I am very happy with what I’ve achieved so far, and I remain excited about the future. I’m also grateful that my professional life gave me the financial footing that helped me have the courage to go full time as a writer.

Congratulations on your incredible performance in Nanowrimo! In 2018, you completed a draft novel in a month for the third year running. How do you manage this in November but not the rest of the year? And what tips do you have for others in tackling Nanowrimo?
Actually, it was the fourth year! Four of my books were partly written in NanoWriMo. I’m a highly competitive individual as my siblings will testify (but then so are they!) and the pressure of hitting that goal – even though I’m only competing against myself – is a huge motivator. And having done it once it’s easier to do it again. I’m quite a fast writer anyway and I’m lucky that my first drafts are already fairly polished before I get into the rounds of editing. It wasn’t always like this – I think it has come over years of practice. Maybe not always in writing fiction but I have long had the need to express myself in words as a cornerstone of the way I made my living.

My only tips for NaNoWriMo are very simple ones. Firstly, get off to as fast a start as possible so you have some slack to cover any underperforming days. Nothing’s worse than racing to catch up if you’re behind – that’s very demoralising. Secondly, do some planning beforehand so you have a clear idea of where you are going even if, like me, you write by the seat of your pants. I think I’d struggle if I sat down on Day One and had to start from a blank page with no idea of characters, location or inciting incident.

Tell me about your working day. Do you work to a routine? Endless cups of coffee or tea? How does this change during Nanowrimo?
No routine! I try to write every day but I don’t beat myself up if I miss a few days. Yes, gallons of tea and a more limited amount of coffee, then wine at six o’clock! I always break for lunch and rarely spend the entire day writing – there’s so much else to do – not least marketing. In Nanowrimo it’s much the same as long as I hit the target for that day.

What has been the hardest thing for you to overcome in becoming a published author? What or who has helped you most in the process?
I wasted a lot of time before deciding to self-publish. I had an agent and lost months waiting for her to sell the book, which she didn’t. She wasn’t enamoured of my second book so I decided I’d nothing to lose by giving Self-Publishing a go. And by then I had some self-belief. What I never expected to happen was that it would open a whole new world of friendship and support. Nor did I expect to be so successful – especially as I write Historical with a romantic element (not straight romance) and was warned it was hard to crack. I think I took well to Self-Publishing as I was used to running my own business and hence having control. I see it as more entrepreneurial than being trad published. Although now I am enjoying having a foot in both camps.

My fellow authors have helped me the most. I have been amazed at the friendship, generosity and massive support of other writers such as you, Jean.
Right back at you! I feel the same as you re Self-Publishing (and time wasted with traditional publishers) and the support of fellow-writers is generous - and practical! - beyond belief. 

If you could pick one character in one of your books, to spend some time with, who would it be and why?
Hector from Kurinji Flowers would be great fun. The drinks would flow, the conversation would be challenging and entertaining. Just as long as we don’t end up fancying the same men!
Haha! Always a friendship spoiler :)

Tell me about your latest book and why we should all buy it?
My first book, A Greater World is now also my next book! I signed a contract with Canelo for them to relaunch it and for me to write a follow up. I’ve just finished the follow up (yay!). A Greater World is available NOW! The follow up, The Storms Between Us, comes out in June 2019. And why should you read it? I have no idea – unless you like losing out on your beauty sleep! One reader described it as Wuthering Heights meets Australia meets Titanic! Another said, “There is so much going on in this story - everything from rape, death, murder, marriage, divorce, drug taking and every human emotion from loss to joy to reconciliation.”

What’s next for Clare Flynn?
By the time you’re reading this I will be away on a four-month cruise around the world calling at numerous exotic destinations from French Polynesia to Japan. I’m not putting myself under any pressure to write while I’m away as it’s a holiday – but I know while we are at sea, I will probably end up at some point hiding away in my cabin or under a sunshade, bashing away at my laptop! I’ll be back in May in time for the publication of The Storms Between Them.

Happy Launch Day, Clare, for your book and your cruise ship!

You can connect with Clare via
her website
her publisher's website
her blog

While Clare is on her cruise, discovering a greater world, why not check out her books?

A Greater World

She crossed the world to marry a stranger.
   When Elizabeth Morton's father asks her to travel to the other side of the world to marry a man she's never met, she is stunned. It's 1920 and a woman has rights. But her choices are removed when she is raped by her brother-in-law and thrown out of her own home by her sister.
   When Michael Winterbourne wakes with a hangover after his engagement celebrations, he is about to be the cause of a terrible tragedy that will destroy his family, turn his life upside down and catapult him into leaving England.
   Elizabeth, born into a prosperous family, and Michael, a miner, come from different worlds. They would never have met but the SS Historic, bound for Sydney, is a ship with only one class.
Falling in love should have been the end to all their troubles. But fate and the mysterious Jack Kidd make sure it's only the beginning.

Photo credits: Clare Flynn and Canelo