Claire King


Archive for May, 2010

Pimp my blog

Posted on: May 29th, 2010 by Claire - 7 Comments

Thank you to my one-woman writing group, Martha Williams, for passing this Beautiful Blogger nomination my way. If you don’t already know Martha, hop to her homepage here where you will find links to her fabulous fiction and her blog.

So, this award comes with conditions! First, I have to tell you seven things about me. Presumably things you would want to know, but nothing incriminating that will come back and bite me in all those 2012 interviews when I’m on the Times best seller list, right? Here goes:

1. I can summarise my novel succinctly, but after eight years I still can’t do the same for my day job. One of the reasons I have to be a writer is because my inability to articulate my day job to my daughter led to her saying “When I grow up I want to be a Nothing, just like you, Mummy.”

2. The first time I did a parachute jump, the guy in plane thought I’d fainted, because I didn’t finish shouting my ‘One thousand, two thousand, three thousand, CHECK CANOPY!’ In fact I was rendered speechless with awe halfway through. It is the only time in my life I have been rendered speechless. Truly. I landed safely shortly afterwards, perfectly centred on the cross where I was supposed to, to everyone’s relief.

3. When I was 21 I drove to Climax, Colorado. This was a very long drive. The only reason I did this was so that I could legitimately say things like ‘It took me a long time to reach Climax’  and  ‘When we did finally reach Climax it was so disappointing that I wasn’t even sure that was it.’ Sad but true. But I still say those things and people still laugh.

4. I once hijacked a fire engine in Kiev, at gunpoint.

5. Clothes hangers without hooks in hotel rooms drive me insane. Not only are they annoying and impractical but they show cheapness and distrust.

6. As a result of conflicting financial priorities there is a big hole in my bedroom wall. Lots of things use this hole as a convenient way of entering our house. This includes pottery wasps, rats, scorpions, sparrows and, in winter, snow. The children’s rooms, by contrast, are perfect.

7. At the moment I am perpetually crossed.

This is because, for the first time in twenty years, I have started entering writing competitions again and the results are all due. Plus I will be querying this summer with my new novel, which I am utterly in love with. It’s an exciting time. I am trying not to obsess.

8. I am extremely bad at following instructions. I feel hardwired to try and bend the rules just to see what happens. This is now coming back to haunt me in the shape of my two year old daughter, who applies the same philosophy to stairs, fireplaces, me…

Now, I get to pass the award on. So if you have a moment and want to meet some great new women, please check out these beautiful literary bloggers!

Diane Becker – Not Designed to Juggle. A writer with mind maps. I love mind maps.

Marisa Birns – Out of Order Alice. Short stories and flash fiction.

Sarah Salway – A quiet sit down. A Sister blog to Sarah’s writing journal. This one is all about benches!

Beate Sigriddaughter – The Glass Woman Prize for fiction and much more

Caroline Smailes – In Search of Me. An inspirational author. And her latest book ‘Like Bees to Honey’ has just launched.

Anna J. Grace-Smith – Flying, Not Falling. Beautiful poetry and fiction.

Alison Wells – Head Above Water. Finding the space to write (successfully!) while mothering four young children.

Babelfish for character voice – the next big thing?

Posted on: May 26th, 2010 by Claire - 2 Comments

I love to write in different voices: different class, different age ranges, but until now my voices have all been familiar – primarily female and primarily European. I recently tried my hand at writing in a totally new voice. You can read it here.

This exercise made me think about how we craft our characters’ voices. After all, we create these guys – so where do their voices come from?

I have two children under five; British, but raised in France. You should hear how they imitate voices. They can do upper-class British, working-class British, adult French, children’s French… Without being spoken to directly or even seeming to listen, they pick up a voice, put it on and test it out. They learn through trial and error and they are not bashful about how they sound along the way.

But parents will have noticed that children don’t just learn by imitation: they form a rule system which they then apply broadly to other situations. That’s how we end up with children who have ‘getted off the bus’. Children take a sample and infer the rules. Now, isn’t that exactly what we do as writers, when we create a character?

Lost in translation?

Adult brains appear to be wired differently to children’s. Whilst children process language subconsciously, adults have to think it through and translate as we go. As writers, does that mean we put ourselves in the skin of our character and then try to put our words into their voice? That sounds clumsy, but somehow great writers pull it off with panache and carry readers along for the ride. How is it done?

When we are creating our characters’ voices, how do we move from inspiration to appropriation, now we are all grown up?

If it isn’t David it has to go.

Posted on: May 19th, 2010 by Claire - 9 Comments

I can see it. Crystal clear, in full colour. It is perfect, precise, evocative. It will take the reader by the heart and suck them in.
People will say ‘I couldn’t put it down’ and ‘I cried for her’ and ‘You MUST read it’. Truly, it’s a masterpiece, I wish I could share it with you.
But it’s not there yet.

Yep, I’m editing.


Michelangelo said it well:
“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”

So here I am, hewing.

As an aside, today my hewing is encouraged enormously by my short story ‘Wine At Breakfast’ making the Bristol Prize long list. It’s true! You can see my name and 39 other short story clever clogs right [ here ]


This photo via Flickr Creative Commons, taken from a German advertisement.

Where’s your garret?

Posted on: May 16th, 2010 by Claire - 14 Comments

It turns out I’m profoundly influenced by where I write.

I know there are those of you who can take your laptop into the toilet and edit a whole chapter while your children bang on the door asking for their pencils to be sharpened. I am utterly is awe of those writers. You amaze me. But I can’t do that. I write unspeakable nonsense and I snap pencils.

I had noticed that I write better on trains. There is something about the solitude and the scrolling scenery that sends me into the trippy autopilot of free writing. But I still thought I was doing pretty well at home. I only realised my need for a clean, bright bubble to write in while on holiday recently at my parents’ house. They live on a Scottish Island, up on a cliff top, looking out over the sea. I had set myself a holiday writing target, so once a day I took my laptop up into my ‘garret’ and wrote. The silence had a sea view. Without fail, after 45 minutes I’d hit my 1000 words, and those words were good! Sometimes I’d round off to an hour and get another 500 in the last 15 minutes. For some of you that might be standard productivity but that would normally take me up to 3 hours at home.

It turns out that I need to be alone. Even having my husband quietly working a few feet away at his own desk vastly reduces my concentration and creative process. Plus I’m not the tidiest of people. Clutter is not my friend, but certainly a close neighbour. So, I built myself a garret. OK, that’s rather a grand way of saying I put a small wooden table and chair at the far end of the room, by the terrace doors:

My garret

This is my place for writing. No paying bills, no emails, no Twitter, zero distractions.  It’s not the most comfortable chair in the house, but all the more reason to work fast. Our office/den is already up in the attic, sloping roof and all and my new garret is only 5m from my desk, but for me and my writing it’s like being in another world.

Where do you write?

You can’t get there from here…

Posted on: May 13th, 2010 by Claire - 4 Comments

One of the axioms I use frequently in my day job (helping people collaborate to achieve their goals) is this:

“You can’t get there from here, but you can get here from there.”

What it suggests is that if you want the future to be a certain way, you have to picture yourself already there, and then work out how you got there from where you are now. Until you have that vision crystallised, until you can feel and smell and touch and taste your future…your path is foggy and directionless. Until you have anticipated the obstacles that lie between you and what you want, and have thought of a plan to overcome them, then you risk getting derailed at the first sign of trouble.

I fell off horses a lot when I was a child, because I was planning on being an olympic show-jumper one day. These days it’s a fabulous book deal I’m picturing in my future… OK, so I don’t have a crystal ball, and we all know the odds are slim, but trying is fun (if sometimes painful) and even if you don’t quite hit the exact goal you’d pictured*, I think you manage to get much further towards it than if you’d never built that beautiful future vision.

For me it’s the same with my writing. I almost always have to start by writing the end. I need to know and feel where I’m going with the story. It’s the feet touching moondust, looking back at a tiny earth. It’s the point to which everything leads. And I can’t get there from here. I have to get here from there.

Of course other writers do it completely differently. Many start at the very beginning and write in a linear way, seeing where it takes them.

Are you for visions, serendipity or a bit of both?

(*I did pretty well in riding competitions but never became an olympic show-jumper)

It’s wrangly.

Posted on: May 12th, 2010 by Claire - 8 Comments

You’re reading this blog, but chances are you have hundreds of other things competing for your time. So first of all, thanks for coming.

I’m a greedy person. I have filled my life up with tasty morsels – an interesting career; a husband; some children; a big crumbly house in France (regrettably far from our parents, siblings and best friends); a gîte to renovate and run. Cooking, lots of home cooking.  And, of course, writing. I just keep adding things to my plate because they look so good. And then there is life, serving me up side-dishes. Eat your greens (taxes, accounting, chores…you know the drill). And of course hygiene. Even mothers need to make time for showers. And sleep. No, really. So, how to wrangle all of this? I have two key strategies for keeping my sanity:

1 : Macro-Wrangling, or “Fill your plate”
What is it you really want on your plate? Put the big, important things on first. Make room for them. Don’t start with aperitifs. Skip the hors d’oeuvres. Get right to the main course. There’ll be room afterwards for the bread, the sauces and the condiments. You can have the cheese course later. See, I told you I was greedy. I start with family, earning a crust and writing. How about you?

2 : Micro-Wrangling, or “Taste your food”
Don’t put everything in your mouth at once. Don’t think fish and chips, think wine and cheese. You want to taste both, one at a time. For example, when I’m looking after the kids, there really is no point sitting down to write. Personally I need to get into my writing groove to produce anything worthwhile. A dedicated hour of writing solitude yields much more than a frazzled three hours broken into five minute slots, punctuated by toilet trips, looking at drawings (‘beautiful, Sweetheart’) etc. And it feels bad from a motherhood point of view too. The children deserve real focused attention. So separate it out.

What are your wrangling strategies?

P.S. If you are an agent or a publisher reading this, please note: I am not too busy for book tours. My plate may look full, but I still have room for dessert.