Claire King


Archive for October, 2011

It’s the Book-Recommendation Swap Shop

Posted on: October 31st, 2011 by Claire - 20 Comments

I need a few Christmas gift ideas (sorry for mentioning the C-word so early, but when you live abroad you have to consider postage and so on). I’m hoping you can help.

So, here is my proposal. In the spirit of Swapshop, I’m going to tell you what books I’ve read and enjoyed this year and my top 5 recommendations for Christmas gifts (or your wish lists). Of course these are only my own personal tastes, I tend to read mostly in contemporary/literary fiction, with a few detours. And many of my family and friends prefer other genres – thrillers, for example. But here is where you can help! In the comments, could you please tell me your top 5 books you’ve read this year that you would recommend, and mention the genre, so we have an idea who they’d be suitable for?

This year I’ve started 27 books so far. I’ve left two unfinished (and since they’re e-books I can’t find them a better home, unfortunately), and I’m still reading a couple of short story anthologies, two paperbacks and one e-book. So I’ve finished 21. Here I’m just mentioning the 18 that I really enjoyed:


Paper books (Author A-Z): 

♥ At Home (non-fiction) – Bill Bryson

♥ Whatever you Love – Louise Doughty

♥ The Birth of Venus – Sarah Dunant

♥ The Cowards Tale – Vanessa Gebbie

♥ Chocolat – Joanne Harris

♥ How to be a Woman  – Caitlin Moran

♥ Dambusters – Robert Radcliffe

♥ What I Did – Christopher Wakling

♥ Why Willows Weep – The Wildlife Trust Joanne Harris, Maggie O’Farrell, Philip Hensher, Kate Mosse, Ali Smith & others


On my Kindle (Author A-Z)

♥ From Words to Brain (non-fiction) – Livia Blackburne

♥ Pistache – Sebastian Faulks

♥ Pigeon English – Stephen Kelman

♥ The hand that first held mine – Maggie O Farrell

♥ The Devil’s Music – Jane Rusbridge

♥ Like Bees to Honey – Caroline Smailes

♥ Change of Life – Anne Stormont

♥ Trespass – Rose Tremain

♥ The Route Book at Bedtime (short stories) – Jo Cannon, Cally Taylor & others…


Books I’m still reading

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

We need to talk about Kevin – Lionel Shriver (Kindle)

Geek Love  – Katherine Dunn

Playing Sardines (short stories) – Michèle Roberts

For Esme – with love and squalor (short stories) – JD Salinger

Other Stories and other stories (short stories) – Ali Smith


Still waiting on my ‘to read’ pile:

Nothing to Envy – Barbara Demick

The Daily Coyote – Shreve Stockton

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

The Girl who Played with Fire – Stieg Larsson

The Pile of Stuff at the bottom of the stairs – Christina Hopkinson


So, how to pick a top 5 from that lot? In the end I’m just going to go with gut feeling…


My Top 5 reads of 2011 (A-Z by author)

Whatever You Love – a hard book to read, but the tiny perfect observations in this book really made it stand out for me.

The Coward’s Tale – because it’s kind and lyrical and reads like an audio book on paper.

Pigeon English – because I don’t remember ever having been so knocked out by the ending of a book.

How to be a Woman – because it made me laugh out loud, a lot. Caitlin Moran is invited to my fantasy dinner party.

The Hand That First Held Mine – because I loved the voice.


Top 5 (so far) on my wish list for 2012:

One Thousand and One Nights – Hanan Al-Shaykh

A Visit From the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

Blueeyedboy – Joanne Harris

The Tiger’s Wife – Téa Obreht

How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog – Chad Orzel


So that’s me. What about you?

What does a pear taste like?

Posted on: October 26th, 2011 by Claire - 17 Comments

When you think of researching a novel, what do you think of?

For me, the first thing that comes to mind is the verifying of details – historical, biographical or geographical, for example. I imagine that depending on genre, there is more or less of this kind of research required. I suppose historical fiction writers to be at one end of the scale, and those who write fantasy at the other. I feel I sit somewhere in the middle. Most of what I write is imaginary and doesn’t need research as such, but there are a few elements that need to be checked to ensure they are accurate (I usually do this once the first draft is done).

But I have discovered that for me at least there is also another kind of research: the sensory immersion into the the world I am describing.

I still remember a scene in the film City of Angels that really stuck with me. Seth asks Maggie to describe the taste of a pear:

Seth: What’s that like? What’s it taste like? Describe it like Hemingway.
Maggie: Well, it tastes like a pear. You don’t know what a pear tastes like?
Seth: I don’t know what a pear tastes like to you.
Maggie: Sweet, juicy, soft on your tongue, grainy like a sugary sand that dissolves in your mouth. How’s that?
Seth: It’s perfect

How do you describe the taste of a pear to someone if you have never tasted one before? And, more importantly, how would your characters describe it?

Although in The Night Rainbow the locations are imaginary, I spent hours and hours in the places that inspired them, soaking up the smells, the tastes, the sounds… I found the immersion in those elements vital to carrying the sense of place and the sense of character in the novel.

In the novel I’m working on at the moment, I recently found that my imagination was only taking me so far. There was something tangible missing in my understanding of my protagonist. A large part of the story is set on a peniche – a house boat – and although I’ve seen plenty, and been onboard peniches converted into restaurants, pleasure boats and so on, it’s been twenty years since I was in an actual house boat, and that was on the Thames in Oxford, not on the Canal du Midi. I couldn’t feel it, smell it, hear it… I was longing to climb into the story and actually experience it through my character’s eyes.

I was fortunate enough to find a friend of a friend who grew up on a peniche, and I recently arranged to meet her mother, to see if she could help. She took me to see her boat, and we spend a wonderful evening chatting about her experiences of life on the water. The stories and the way she recounted them details really helped bring my character to life. I began to feel him, much more intimately than before.

This kind of ‘sensory research’ doesn’t need to be exotic, remote or expensive. I have great admiration for writers who can describe familiar places or situations in a way that makes the reader feel they are discovering it for the first time. Like the smell of a bonfire, or the taste of a pear.

Can you remember a writer who has impressed you in that way? How do you balance the imaginary with ‘research’ in your writing?


A new layer of bureaucracy?

Posted on: October 22nd, 2011 by Claire - 42 Comments

I received this email today. What is it? Can any literary agents out there tell me if this is a filtering process they are looking into?

“Friday 20 October 2011

Dear Writer

Brit Writers was born with one aim… to make the publishing world accessible to everyone, regardless of age or background. As you know, Brit Writers is the UK’s largest writing project and awards for new and unpublished writers.  With our network of literary experts, agents, publishers and industry insiders growing by the day and 2 million children, their parents and teachers involved in our schools programmes, we are recognised as the champions of change. 

We are still the new kids on the block, but two years on and amidst bookshops closing down and publishers resorting to celebrity deals in order to stay afloat, Brit Writers continues to scale new heights in the world of publishing and has seen our authors successfully published and even become best selling and award winning literary stars.

During the last year, a number of partner agents have asked us to help them identify potential literary gems to save them ploughing through their slush pile. Therefore we have been asked to find potential ‘sign-ups’ for agents in the following genres:

  • ·        Novels: commercial and literary fiction
  • ·        Books for Children
  • ·        Short stories and Poetry for anthologies

How to apply:

If you feel your work is of a high enough standard and you would like to be considered for referral to an agent, please apply by emailing the following information

1.     A covering letter attached as a word document (not in an email) including: A short biography (no more than 300 words) – stating who you are, your writing genre, how long you have been writing, your aspirations and targets for getting published. Below your biography, please tell us if your work has been professionally appraised or critiqued in the past and by whom (please attach any reports etc.). Also whether you have had an agent in the past, or which agents have already seen your work, and if so who they were.

2.     A synopsis of your work (as a separate attachment) – maximum one page

3.     Depending on what you are submitting, please attach as follows:

  • ·        Novels: 3 chapters of your novel in addition to the synopsis
  • ·        Books for children: up to 5000 words in length, please send the entire story in addition to the synopsis (if you have illustrations then you should include them).
  • ·        Books for children: over 5000 words, attach 3 chapters in addition to the synopsis
  • ·        Short stories: the complete work in addition to the synopsis
  • ·        Poetry: between 3 and 5 poems of no more than 40 lines per poem in addition to the synopsis  

Format for all of the above:

Arial font, 11pt, 1.5 line spacing.

The title page should state your name, address, telephone/mobile number, email address and target audience for your book.

Please only apply if you feel your work is of a high standard.

Deadline for submissions for this initiative: 6pm Tuesday 25th October 2011


By making an application for referral to an agent you give consent to Brit Writers to share your work and contact details with our partner agents. Brit Writers does not guarantee referral of your work to agents. Brit Writers decision is final as to whether your work is referred or not. If your work is referred you are aware that agents may charge a commission of between 7% and 15% if your work is successfully published through them. A maximum of 3 submissions may be sent. Each submission must be clearly labelled and submitted in separate documents.

We look forward to receiving your submissions.

Kind regards


Hari Kumar

Brit Writers Agents Division”


Please note I do not endorse this intiative. I am simply interested in who actually does.

For previous thread on the same organisation please see Too Good to be True (about their publishing scheme)

All about the Image

Posted on: October 20th, 2011 by Claire - 23 Comments

There comes a day in a girl’s life when she needs to choose the photo that’s going on the jacket of her first novel.

For those of you who would be very blasé about this, please could you humour me here? I’m not a fan of seeing myself in photographs *at all*, in fact it’s usually my behind the camera taking pictures of my beautiful kids, so there aren’t even that many these days.

Here are some pictures I’ve been happy to put online on my Twitter profile and so on, and for my author picture in the Bristol Prize Anthology.

Claire King April 2011

Claire King April 2010

Claire King, Nov 2010




Two of these photos are just webcam pictures from my computer, and the third was taken by a photographer friend as I emerged from a 120 hour working week and could hardly keep my eyes open.

None of them, for me, deserve to sit on a lovely book jacket on a novel I loved into life. So I decided to spend part of my advance on a proper, grown up author photo. I called a proper, grown up photographer…

“What do you want, by way of a photo?” She asked.

“I want it to look like me, only better,” I said. “I want it to say ‘friendly’, but also ‘wise’. I need to to make my eyes look bigger and my face less fat, but I don’t want you to retouch it to do that. Is that OK?”

“I think you should just relax,” said Debbie.

I didn’t really relax. I went into a big and very silly panic about hair and makeup and outfits. And all the while I was wishing I was a male novelist, who could just grow a day’s stubble, put on a leather jacket and lean against a wall.

But since I’m not, I went MAC instead, for a make-over with the lovely Benjamin (artist, illustrator and fan of English literature). If you ever want to be made to feel fabulous and not at all self-conscious, I fully recommend it. It costs £25, but you can then choose cosmetics to the value of £25 when you leave. What’s not to like about that? Benjamin put a good hour into buffing me up to be camera ready. I must have needed it!

Next stop, Liverpool Street station to meet with photographer, Debbie Scanlan.

Debbie: “How are you?”

Me: “Nervous”

“Don’t be daft. Come on,” she said, “let’s go and get coffee and cakes.” So we go and find a cafe and tuck into treacle tart. We chat as though we’ve known each other years (this is what Debbie does) and then the camera comes out. I freeze up.

“It’s OK,” she said, “I’m just testing the light.”

“The best way to look good on a photo,” she said, is to tilt your chin down slightly, and then look up with your eyes. Try it.”

I do. Click, click, click, click.


Afterwards we went outdoors and sat in a small park, taking more photos, and laughing at passers by, who were clearly thinking I was famous, and also checking out Debbie’s bum as she turned herself into a bendy human tripod. We took more pictures. Lots more, in fact. Here are a couple of those. Plus (by demand) the “Freaky face” one…


So there you have it. Overall it was relatively painless, and Debbie was just lovely. Then just comes the small task of choosing which photo should go on the book.

After discussions with husband, children and best mates, there was an overwhelming concensus as to which was the most ‘Claire’ and the most suitable for a book jacket. Which do you think?

Interview with Mike French

Posted on: October 16th, 2011 by Claire - 6 Comments

This week I’m joined by Mike French*

Claire King: Mike French, who are you?

Mike French: Is that a psychological question, because if it is then I’m still working on the answer to that. On a good day I think I’m a writer and editor, don’t ask me about the bad days.

CK: Tell me about the bad days? Why have you only got half a face?

MF: Is this one of those David Frost style interviews? No, no comment.

*Author and Managing Editor of The View From Here Literary Magazine.

CK: OK (I’ll get you later). Tell us about The View From Here literary magazine then, how and why did it come about?

MF: It started with a small group of four of us and now there are over 25 on team from all across the world. I wanted to create something that was fresh, vibrant, something that looked visually strong and built around the people in it rather than squeezing them into a predefined shape.  I think that’s been one of our strengths in that who’s on the team shapes the magazine which has meant it’s grown organically, which is a bit risky but far more exciting.

CK: There are some wonderful contributors to TVFH – novelist Elizabeth Baines, literary agent Simon Trewin and publisher and author Scott Pack to name but a few. How did you manage to pull such a strong group of people together from across the world of writing and publishing?

MF: I gathered a dossier on each one and said look no-one needs to know about this as long as you come and help me change the culture in the publishing world.  The bigger names responded very well to that type of blackmail. Although I think the real trick is to recognise what people’s talents are then give them an opportunity to bring those gifts to the magazine, to support them and encourage them to flourish.

CK: You took the decision earlier this year to move TVFH to online only. Why?

MF: That was a tough decision. We’d been in print for three years and run out 36 issues, each one a labour of love.  However we had to end it for two reasons.  The first was that we were running on a small loss and finding it hard to break into the bricks and mortar shops. The magazine world, much like the book world, is dominated by the big players and distributors who want to deal in large orders. You’re only ever going to make it by getting an advertising agency to buy in big time into the magazine and unfortunately literary magazines are always going to struggle with that. That tied with our policy not to promote self publishing and therefore most of the advertisers who may have been interested, made it very difficult.

We did get into one Waterstones which then promptly closed down.

We also tried a distributor who got us into some stores in New York but they kept wanting us to send stock at our cost with no money coming back our way.

The other reason was the amount of my personal time it took in getting each issue to print; I was doing all the graphic design. When I got my publishing deal, moving to online-only gave me the opportunity to give some time to my writing again and finally get down to writing the second novel.

CK: What conclusions have you come to about the life of a literary magazine purely online, as opposed to print?

MF: I think online literary magazines on the whole only survive because of the passion and drive of the people creating them and that often as people move onto other things or their own careers take off they fade and die.  I’d certainly see them as transient creatures unless they’re linked to a university or publishing house or some other external support system.

CK: What is happening at TVFH now?

MF: Well I’ve just gone through the above thought process for TVFH now my own writing has taken off, in that we’ve asked the question, is it now time to call it a day?  However after much thought we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s important to foster a culture of a co-operative environment so that our creativity isn’t just channelled into promoting our own work but also helping others realise their creative potential.  It’s a check against becoming absorbed in self-promotion which whilst important is dangerous if that is where all your energy is going. So we feel it’s important to keep The View From Here alive and vibrant both as a place for aspiring novelists and those already in the business and for ourselves as a check against becoming narcissistic. We’ve new blood coming into the magazine team at the moment and I’d love to see us still around in ten years’ time, certainly I plan to keep her alive and well however well my own writing career goes.

CK: That’s great news. I certainly get very excited by the talented work I see in our submissions pile for The Front View short fiction section. So, now I know I still have a job I can  congratulate you on the publication of your debut novel! Tell us about ‘the ascent of isaac steward’?

MF: Thanks. Well she’s a strange fish full of wonder and the frailty of our minds as we seek to impose a narrative on the chaos that we call life. It follows one man in particular called Isaac Steward whose life is unravelling and his journey back to the love of his life, Rebekah.

CK: How was your journey to publication? Tell me about the bad days?

MF: It was hard, as it is for most writers, although a lot of people when I say it took six years tell me that’s nothing and I’m lucky! Fortunately I avoided all the traps that lie out there for a new writer like vanity publishing, agents wanting money etc – although each tried their hand. Overall it was emotionally exhausting. It’s like standing out in a storm trying to make yourself heard to someone standing ten miles away or asking someone to hit you in the face with a large stick all day. The hardest moment, when I finally thought I’d done it a few years ago, was when a publisher was interested.  They asked for the full ms and then wanted to meet me at The London Book Fair – I think understandingly I took that to be a very good sign and that a possible contract was on the table but it never happened and I read too much into the meeting.  That was very hard to come back from, but I’m glad I picked myself up and kept going as here I am today all published and grinning like an idiot!

CK: And what is it like finally being published? Is it as you expected?

MF: It’s wonderful. When you’ve created something you really want to see it out there and not sitting in some drawer starving to death, so I was so excited to see it published. When I found out it was such a relief. When you want something for so long it’s like being surrounded by it – like the possibility forms a bubble around you – you hope it will burst and you’ll see it come to life but over time the bubble just gets bigger and you feel smaller and smaller within it until you’re not sure you can even see the bubble anymore.  And yes it’s pretty much as I expected having seen many others walk the same path from my vantage point of magazine editor although there have been some nice surprises that I hadn’t expected.

CK: Such as?

MF: Being nominated for the Galaxy Book awards for New Writer of the Year and the old fashioned type of relationship I’m currently enjoying with my publisher.

CK: What next?

MF: I’ve just finished my second novel, Blue Friday.  It’s set in a dystopian society in the future where working hours are strictly controlled by the government and follows Leviticus, the leader of the Underground Overtime Network who fights for the right for people to choose when they can work.  I’ve really enjoyed getting back into writing again and after pouring so much into the first novel wondered what I had left for the second.  It’s quite different from my first and quite short at just over 30 thousand – although Julian Barnes latest is short so I’m not too worried about the length.

I think people are obsessed with labelling things as novels, novellas, etc which I find a little strange.  Is Animal Farm a novel or a novella or a novelette?

I think people who worry themselves about such things probably would feel at home in some middle management somewhere going to meetings about how long a piece of string should be.

CK: Thanks for coming over to my blog. Good luck with your novel, and indeed with your second.

MF: A pleasure! Thank you.

Mike blogs here, and you can buy his book in ‘all good bookstores’ and also online, here.

The View From Here is a wealth of resources for writers online, and short fiction is currently being published every Friday at The Front View.


Pumpkins and such.

Posted on: October 2nd, 2011 by Claire - 7 Comments

I’ve just landed back in France after a short trip to London.

If this time last year, when I was still waiting to hear from my first batch of agent submissions on my novel, you’d told me that you had the power to see into the future and that in September 2011 I’d be invited to Bloomsbury’s 25th birthday party as part of a star studded guest list…well it would have made me giggle.

But strange things do happen. And the invitation came.

I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it. It clashed with a week when my husband was away earning our daily bread and I was supposed to be at home feeding and bathing the children, walking the dogs, helping with homework and so on. But how could I NOT go? Cinderella needed a fairy godmother*. Or at least a cunning plan.

“I know, I shall take my children to London”, I reasoned!  We will stay with good friends who won’t mind a night babysitting. Upon investigation, cheap flights were available. “It’s a plan,” I thought. And to make up for a couple of days missed school I will make sure the girls experience things like the science museum, the botanical gardens at Kew, and their cultural heritage in general.

Anyway, yes, so.

The party was held on a beautiful indian summer evening in Bedford Square. There were lots of delicious things to eat and drink, but most of all there were lots of lovely people. There were some rather famous people there of course, and I had been terribly worried about meeting them. What would I say, for example, if I hadn’t read their books? There are so many books I haven’t read…

Special thanks to Vanessa Gebbie, for understanding my angst, standing me a G&T at the New Cavendish Club before we went, and walking in alongside me. Thanks also to author Stephen May who took this and other photos on demand, despite having only just met me!

In the event, I met one *famous* person – Grayson Perry. I didn’t know who Grayson Perry was. I had never heard of Grayson Perry. I blame this on living in France and never reading newspapers and seldom watching the TV. So the first I knew of Grayson Perry was a man dressed like a babydoll wandering in my direction at the Bloomsbury party. How could I not smile at him? Vanessa got chatting and I came to the conclusion I liked him. He was chatty and interesting and just generally rather groovy. He’s a groovy guy. And his exhibition is opening this week and I’m sad I can’t go. But click here to see a pic of Vanessa and Grayson/Claire and click here for information on The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman at the British Museum.

The highlight of the night for me (the author who still has dreams that one day I’ll get a call saying that it’s all been a big misunderstanding) was meeting my future paperback editor Tram-Anh. The conversation went like this:

Me: I’m Claire King, my book is out in 2013

Tram-Anh: Oh, which book was that? I read so many…

Me (a bit sheepishly): The Night Rainbow.

Tram-Anh: OMG! I love that book! (Cue long and expressive pointing out of all the bits of my book she particularly liked, even though she read it almost a year ago).

Me: *Hugs Tram-Anh* Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou.

Did I mention there was also wine?

There were around 1000 of us altogether, including Bloomsbury staff, authors, agents, press, reviewers and many others. It was lovely to finally meet up in person with lovely author tweeters Marika Cobbold, Jane Rusbridge and Precious Williams and I have to thank you all, along with VG, for being friendly islands in the sea of Big Mingle, and for introducing me to lots of Bloomsbury authors like Georgina Harding, Louise Levene, Roshi Fernando, William Sutcliffe, Tim Kevan, Andrew Marshall, Selma Dabbagh…can everyone see my to-read list expanding as I type?

Thanks also to my lovely editor Helen who spent most of her night rushing around making sure all her authors were having a good time. I think I can safely say that we were.

*By the way, I had to run to catch a cab at the end of the evening, and I lost a shoe in the process. If anyone found a glass slipper in Bedford Square, could you let me know?