Claire King

Author

Archive for the ‘Everything Love Is’ Category

Hope, Id and Climax.

Posted on: July 27th, 2016 by Claire - 12 Comments

It’s Wednesday night, 27th July 2016. My second novel comes out tomorrow. It’s a book that I have put a huge amount of thought, effort and love into. I have tried to be delicate, tried to create something that will touch people without hurting them. When I had a pre-launch signing last week, and I signed copies for people (THANK YOU PEOPLE) I felt I had to hand them back with two hands, carefully. For me this is not just a book, but a hope. My hopes are modest, but sincere.

The other thing of note is that the Booker Prize Longlist was announced today. Being long-listed is something I aspire to one day (yes really, because I want to write really amazing books), but I think it’s a few books down the line, if I’m lucky. I want Booker-listed books to truly blow me away. To challenge me and inspire me to be better. Two novels in to my writing career I think I would be disappointed if I hit this kind of aspirational standard. But I have been following some of the various predictions in advance of the announcement and to be honest I have felt uncomfortable for some of the authors touted as likely candidates. I think you must have to have a robust personality to manage someone planting that seed of hope in you, especially early on in your writing career before you have developed a thick skin of experience. A lot of the predictions and cheerleading for the longlist are, I feel, are fuelled by a buzz that feeds on itself. Or by an authentic desire to reward someone for a beautiful book you yourself loved. Or by a feeling that the author, somehow, personally deserves the honour. That it’s their time. But there are some 150 books put forward for the ManBooker, so it’s natural that most of us will not have read them all and will not be able to make an truly informed prediction. Still. Being on the receiving end of the cheerleading and hoping could be fun, right? Like sex without climax.

1993_climax

1993, The author reaches Climax

Authors are often fragile creatures, who take the risk of putting their hearts on show, to be loved or ridiculed. For most of us, that love comes very personally, from somebody who was touched by something you wrote, not in a tide of fandom. And yet something still compels us (me) to seek broader approval, even as we are also telling ourselves to run off and occupy ourselves with something else.

My friend, author Barry Walsh, quoted Virginia Woolf on twitter today: “I think the weeks when it [one’s novel] is first out are humiliating. People will talk about it, or they won’t talk about it. Which does one want? All that is miserable; and yet a necessity—one goes snuffing round after it.”

Same thing, right? But why? I blame my id. Freud used the analogy of the id as the horse, while the ego is the rider. I think we authors, no matter how skilled we are at riding, have pretty frisky horses.

Still with me? Bravo. In any case, all of this is to say that it’s a funny old feeling, launching a book out into the world. Particularly a hardback, which for most authors is a sort of prelude to the main act of a paperback. Book foreplay, if you will. It can be the kind of launch that can feel anticlimactic, if you’re not sure what’s going on or you’ve never done it before. This year I’m in the privileged position of doing it for the second time around, and based on my previous experience I plan to enjoy it, expectation-free, shape-wear free and wearing flat shoes.

In the publishing world, experience comes slowly. The process of writing and publishing a book takes years. It’s a long cycle. But if you are courageous as an author you can circumvent it. How? By actually talking honestly with other authors and learning from their experiences. This is not as easy as it may sound – we have a shiny image to project, right? Letting your guard down could be a risk. You won’t hear these kinds of conversations on twitter, unfortunately. But I think as authors we owe it to each other to have the conversation. Fortunately, in the last month I’ve been lucky enough to have a couple of amazing ‘off the radar’ author chats. Honest chats, in confidence, where we have talked about some of the (frankly ridiculous) vagaries of publishing, about the Emperors New Clothes, about advances and agents and expectations and disappointments and all the other things that are usually not said on social media or at parties. Of course I can’t tell you what was said. But I can say that these chats have left me feeling positive, good humoured and happy to be part of a community of like-minded, kind, clever, individuals. Learning as we go, sometimes disillusioned, but still hopeful.

I said earlier that my hopes are modest, but sincere. They are. I hope you will choose to read my book. I hope it will find a place in your heart. And I hope, if I’m being honest, that it sells enough copies for me to be a good bet for book three.

No Spoilers Please

Posted on: April 25th, 2016 by Claire - 4 Comments

What makes something a spoiler?

Although my new novel isn’t out until July, it’s been available on NetGalley for a while for reviewers to get hold of, a few uncorrected proofs have been sent out and there was recently a Goodreads giveaway, so it’s now in (very modest) circulation.

A few reviews have started to pop up, and since they are so lovely – and also gratifying for an author with pre-launch wobbles (PLWs) – I thought I would add some of the comments onto my Everything Love Is book page.  You can see that here.

Image0004LOW RES

However, in order to do that I had to edit out a few lines of what I would consider to be spoilers. I don’t believe for one minute that the reviewers considered their (very kind and insightful) words that way. But some of the comments included information that, as the author, I’d prefer future readers discovered at their own pace, through the story itself. And if they learn about it before diving in, well, it could spoil the read. Not ruin it, but still make it somehow less gratifying than I had intended, and tried to achieve through the (meticulous) way I wrote it.

With The Night Rainbow there was a huge potential spoiler, and to start with I was quite obsessive about looking at reviews to see if it had slipped out, and thanking reviewers for their discretion! I knew how easily it could be mentioned when trying to summarise what the book was about.* Thankfully only a few reader reviews ever mentioned it, although one national newspaper mentioned it in the first line of their otherwise glowing review. We couldn’t do anything about the thousands of print editions, although at Bloomsbury’s request they did edit the online version.

*I know how hard it is to answer the question “What is it about?” because I am asked it often and struggle to respond in any meaningful way. With some books it’s not a problem – it’s easy to talk plot points without spoiling the story – but with the kind of books I write, it isn’t and I find it easiest to stay thematic. With The Night Rainbow I would say it was about hope, our human struggles with grief, and the tenacity of children. With Everything Love Is I am simply telling people it’s a love story. I do realise that these are not always satisfactory answers, and I’m sorry about that. This is why I need reviewers, obviously.

I am always so moved by the careful way people phrase book reviews. I think that because book reviewers are book lovers, they  are sensitive to avoiding sharing plot points that could affect someone else’s experience of the book, even when this makes writing a review much harder to do. The question is, where is the line drawn between explaining something that gives a little context to the book, and revealing a spoiler, and as an author, should we just try not to get involved? After all, once our novels are published what people say about them is out of our hands.  We cannot curate readers’ experiences of our books any more than we can govern if they like them or not.

 

 

Everything a book cover is…

Posted on: November 6th, 2015 by Claire - 20 Comments

Waiting to see what your publisher proposes as a book cover is akin to waiting for judgement.

Publishing people read your book, then sit around in closed rooms discussing design briefs. I’ve never been to one of these meetings but I like to imagine that alongside marketing and sales perspectives, they also involve intense discussions around leitmotifs, imagery and basically how to encapsulate 90,000 words of a novel in a single photo or illustration.

Which explains why it’s so nerve wracking when the email with the cover art finally comes through. Will it feel right? Will there be disappointment, horror or relief when you finally dare to click on the .jpeg? Or dare you hope for something even better?

For me, the moment my book has a cover is the moment it stops feeling like a manuscript and starts feeling like an actual book. And so I’m excited to share with you the hardback cover for Everything Love Is, designed by David Mann, art director at Bloomsbury.

What do you think? I do hope you love it visually as much as I do, and that when you’ve had a chance to read the story next year* you’ll agree it’s clear just how much thought and attention to detail has gone in to the design.

Everything

 

*Click here for more details, including places you can already pre-order it if you wish.

P.S. Fellow Bloomsbury author, Samantha Shannon, ran a Q&A with David when she revealed the stunning cover of The Bone Season back in 2013. You can read what he has to say about the process of cover design here.

The Multiverse of a Novel in Edits

Posted on: June 30th, 2015 by Claire - 6 Comments

Everything Love Is, my next novel, found its home at Bloomsbury in December of last year. Since then I’ve been working with my editor on getting it into the right shape for publication next year and I’ve just handed back my revised-redrafted manuscript just in time for the school holidays to come surfing in on the back of a heatwave.

This is my second experience of having a novel edited and it has been so different to the first time around that I thought it was time for a new post on the subject.

Unlike when I was submitting The Night Rainbow, I knew when I submitted this book at the end of last year that I wasn’t entirely happy with it, but after literally years of editing it myself and getting it to the point where it was clear what it was GOING to be, what I needed was an editor. So I plucked up the courage, hoping I hadn’t gone off half-cocked, hoping that everyone would see through the not-right bits to the heart of the story, and hit send. This story has a happy ending.

fistbump

Then…

In the new year, my editor re-read the novel, this time with an editor’s eye rather than a reader’s eye and subsequently spent a long time trying to put her finger on the elements that weren’t working for her and find a way of articulating that*. I got her (7 pages of) notes back in mid-February and we chatted through them. I was SO happy to have this input. I think sometimes when you are so deep in writing a book it becomes impossible to drag yourself back out of it to look at it objectively. Beta readers can be a great help, but even if asked for useful feedback they are still reading as readers, primarily, and if you’re hoping for publication I think at some stage you do need the professional eye of a good editor.

The kinds of things we were looking at in this stage were fundamental to the shape of the book, like the way of introducing the two narrative voices in a way that best helps the reader get to know them and understand where the two perspectives are coming from; plot elements that needed moving around, scenes that needed bringing to life more, and scenes where I’d relied on excessive exposition unnecessarily.

Helen asked all the difficult questions – difficult for me to answer because they really challenged my understanding of the characters, forcing me to think deeply and question myself , but also the flow of the storytelling – the timing of foreshadowing and the placing of clues in the narrative at just the right moment to keep a reader engaged without giving too much away.

* I think it’s an amazing skill to be able to read a novel draft and be able to pull out the questions you need to ask the author in order to help them improve and strengthen their book.

The complexities of writing this particular book had started to feel overwhelming to me and all this input was exactly what I needed to get it to the next level. I spent the next two months working on this, looking at different ways of responding to the challenges that Helen had thrown down. I redrafted the whole thing, handing it back in in mid-May, but not before I tweeted this:

A month later, Helen came back to me with her feedback on the changes I’d made. Most of them were received very positively, but there were some new changes I’d made that she wasn’t sure about, and on top of that she had now gone on to comment on the manuscript in a much greater level of granularity –  73 specific comments and queries throughout the novel. To deal with these we had switched to commenting and tracking changes in Word. By the time we had both done with it it was a very colourful document. I’d love to show you an example page, but I can’t, because SPOILERS! Thankfully wherever Helen suggested I made a change she had also highlighted the other parts of the story that would need revising if I did (as the implications of the change cascaded throughout the rest of the book).

As I said above, I’ve just handed back my reworking on all these comments so we’ll see what Helen makes of this newest iteration. I have to say that I am feeling really positive now about the way the novel has taken shape. I think with Helen’s help and guidance I’ve got to a stage (copy-edits and last minute changes not withstanding) where I feel happy releasing this story out to the world. So thank heavens for editors, three cheers and more.

fistbump2

One extraordinary realisation I had when I was going through this rigorous process was the overwhelming number of choices we face as authors: the decisions we have to take for the story that turn it into what it will ultimately, irrevocably, become.

It reminded me of the theory in physics that says not only is it possible, but that it makes sense that there are multiple universes like our own, each one just a tiny bit different. So we live in an infinite number of parallel universes, essentially in which all the variations that could have happened in our lives are being played out. Best to let someone like Professor Brian Cox explain this scientifically, but I do think that parallels (no pun intended) can be drawn with writing a novel.

In a 90,000 word novel, there are so many potentially different novels, and all of them could be good. How do you choose your story? How do you know which one is the right one? How do you know which is the best one?

Star cluster Omega Centauri by the Hubble Space Telescope

Star cluster Omega Centauri by the Hubble Space Telescope

 

Footnote 1

For more of my archived posts on revising/rewriting/editing pre and post submission, see these:

 

Footnote 2

Please do also have a look at Susan’s blog below, as she charts the process of revising her third novel, and do let me know if there are others I should link to here as well:

Susan Elliot Wright: “Yes, fellow writers and esteemed readers, it was crap with a capital ‘C’. Thing is, there were those ‘not entirely hopeless’ bits, and there was five per cent gold (potentially gold, anyway.)  I knew that somewhere in that draft was a story I definitely wanted to tell, so I virtually started again.”

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Posted on: May 28th, 2015 by Claire - 14 Comments

You have 250 words (the length of this blog post) to describe your novel in the way that describes it accurately, and in the most appealing way. Go.

No, not the dreaded synopsis, but the short description that readers will see alongside Everything Love Is on Bloomsbury’s website, on Amazon and copy-pasted into the beginning of many reviews after publication next year. It sets the readers expectations and hopefully whets their appetite.

My editor has just given me her first draft to review. As the one other person who has read this book several times and put a huge amount of effort into making it as good as it can be, she is brilliantly placed to do this and you can see that in the way she managed to encapsulate the novel in so few words. As with The Night Rainbow, Everything Love Is is not a book that is easy to describe. It’s not “The next” anything. As I joked on twitter – No Girls, No Trains and Nothing Tiny: You Will NOT Believe What Happens Next.

As I ponder how to get this description just right there’s a lot to consider. There’s a temptation to use superlatives (flipped into an actual book title by Dave Eggers – as pinched for the title of this post), or to second-guess what readers might feel as they read it. An option to hint at twists. A need to avoid clichés. What makes a description both believable and enticing? What do you think?

child's drawing

*I wasn’t sure what image to use for this blog post, so this is my 7yo’s drawing of me singing in the shower.

 

A writing retreat with the whole family?

Posted on: June 26th, 2012 by Claire - 15 Comments

Jung

Our travelling companion  – Jung.

So, I’ve been working away from home a lot for the first six months of this year. It’s my job, it’s a good job, maybe one day it will give way to actual income from writing but for now that’s how it is.

Summer, though, is about spending lots of time with my family. That’s the payback. And summer is here and we are all very happy about that. We never go away on holiday, because summers here are very smashing, so we do things in the region instead: visit places, have day-trips, that kind of thing.

But…summer is also the time when I can really get into the zone with writing. And this year that means editing the manuscript of my second novel which I want to have with my agent by autumn.

(Update 2016 – I did NOT have it with her by autumn 2012, it took a further TWO YEARS) 

The Canal du Midi and a houseboat upon it feature prominently in this novel, and whilst I had done plenty of research I had not actually set foot on a houseboat in over 20 years. And never one in the south of France. I was missing something – the smells, the textures, the sounds, the sensations, the peculiarities that an author needs to know about if you are really to transport someone into that world.

So, somehow I had to combine my need to get myself away onto a canal boat for a couple of days (and be inspired and make notes) with my need to spend time with my family (and just having them in proximity while my husband babysits doesn’t count)…

I needed to organise a writing retreat with the whole family.

Cue the Magical Mystery Surprise Family Weekend Away.

List of things required:

  • Internet to find suitable boat owner willing to accommodate leggy, exuberant family of four.
  • Own chequebook and email account for secret booking of smashing weekend on the canal.
  • Teasing build up to surprise trip, including maddening hints and knowing smiles.
  • Something for everyone to do:
  • Claire – Pencil, Paper, 5 senses.
  • Husband – Camera.
  • Small daughters – pencils, paper, puzzle books, reading books, travel board games (draughts, chess, back-gammon, cards etc)

And off we go.

It was brilliant! We had an absolutely wonderful and relaxing weekend, taking the boat down the Midi and onto the étangs (salt-water lakes) of the Mediterranean where we moored in a little port for the night, and back again. We spent much more time with the children than we would on a normal weekend, and yet I got much more writing done too. Our hosts were friendly and laid on wonderful food and good conversation. We all came home inspired, zen and somehow exhausted. I declare a success!

What are you writing about now, and how do you fit in research with your other commitments?

Want to see our photo album?

canal

5km an hour is fast enough. You have to imagine the cicadas and the smell of the pine.


window

Yes, I am writing.

Like_mother_like_daughter

Like mother, like daughter.

Lock

Fresh water on one side, salty water on the other!

Etang

Arriving at the étangs.

Aperitif

Moored in a port for the night, playing hangman and drinking aperitifs on deck.

Oysterbeds

15km of oyster beds on the étangs.

Clouds-drift-by

Nothing to see here.

Beatrix

Captain Jean-François allowing a 4 year old to take the wheel.

CaptainAmelie

And the 6 year old!

(In fact, the forty-somethings also got to drive, but we’re not quite so picturesque)…

Mister

Thanks to the photographer!

Note: If you’ve come across these photos through a search and would like to use any of them, please ask us via the contact page. Thanks.

 

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