Claire King


Archive for the ‘The Night Rainbow’ Category

What if you couldn’t see the words?

Posted on: October 18th, 2012 by Claire - 4 Comments

I’m delighted and proud to say that The Night Rainbow large print rights have sold today to F.A. Thorpe, meaning that my book will be published in a format accessible to visually handicapped readers (1st September 2013).

Blurred Text

F.A. Thorpe are an historic publishers having pioneered large print in the 1960’s. Frederick Thorpe also founded the Ulverscroft foundation, which receives all the profits and uses them for research into visual impairment as well as supporting libraries.

Did you know that only seven per cent of books are accessible to  the almost 2 million blind and partially sighted people in the UK (in large print, braille, talking books etc)?  Can you imagine (if you are fully sighted like me), as a reader how frustrating that must be?

And imagine the challenge for blind and partially sighted children – how to overcome the difficulties and inspire a love of literature that will last a lifetime?

For the next three days (October 18-20 2012), The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) is holding Literary Wonderland on London’s South Bank, for children and families. Events and workshops will be run by children’s authors to raise awareness of reading services for blind and partially sighted people. Please have a look at the link and share it with anyone you think might be interested.

For more information, there’s a good article on Bookbrunch today.

Photo above thanks to Quinnums via Flickr Creative Commons.


Bloomsbury Debutants 2013

Posted on: September 27th, 2012 by Claire - 15 Comments

This is where I try really hard not to gush.

This week I went to a party at Bloomsbury, held in the honour of the authors of their 11 literary debuts of 2013…and one of them was me!

The idea was to introduce us to some of the people who will be selling and hopefully talking about our books over the next year, over drinks and nibbles, and it was so much fun! I met so many lovely people who work at Bloomsbury that I’ve not had a chance to meet so far, as well as book retailers and people who work in radio, or newspapers or magazines. I talked about The Night Rainbow of course (elevator pitch, no pressure…) but also about things like the future of book covers, about the difference in reading ebooks and paper books, about the journey to publication. It didn’t matter who I found myself standing next to in the room, conversation was easy and passionate because the magic in the room was that everyone loved books. Utter, utter bliss. So much so that despite being scheduled to run until 8pm, I eventually left at 9.30, and there was still a lovely kind man that kept coming and refilling my glass of champagne. So much so that I was sad to have to go, because I still hadn’t chatted nearly enough to people, particularly my fellow authors. So much so that I didn’t tweet one single tweet, and I only took one photo. Here it is:


In this pic you can spot Ciarán Collins, Seb Emina (or is it Malcolm Eggs?) and D.W. Wilson.

At one point, Alexandra Pringle, madly glamorous doyenne of Bedford Square, declared herself to be a little woozy after having just flown back in from launching Bloomsbury India, but then promptly ditched her heels and stood on a chair to give the most thoughtful and heartfelt presentation of the authors and our books.

Surprise! As part of the evening, a booklet anthology of each of the first chapters (or so) had been put together and all the guests got to take a copy home. What fabulous reading for my flight back to France!

It is such a privilege and a huge treat to read these extracts, from novels, memoirs and non-fiction books. Honestly, 2013 is going to be a Very Good Year.


So, (ahem) I would like to introduce you.

Debutants, these are my blog readers.

Blog readers, these are my fellow debutants:


January 2013

Melissa Harrison (@m_z_harrison) whose novel Clay, we are told, whilst set in the city, has similar echoes to The Night Rainbow: a central child character, an unlikely friendship, a connection to the natural world. The first chapter is so compelling, thank goodness I only have to wait until January.

Lara Feigel‘s The Love-charm of Bombs looks intriguing. A chronicle of wartime London as experienced by five writers – driving ambulances, fighting fires and falling in love. the taster already hints at glamour, drama and fascinating insights.



Seb Emina (@sebemina) – along with Malcolm Eggs (@malcolmeggs) the editor of The London Review of Breakfasts – whose ‘The Breakfast Bible’ appears, from the extract, to be a work of culinary magnificence. Forget innaccurate and unhelpful egg timers. Now you have…SONGS TO BOIL AN EGG TO. Genius.



She Rises by Kate Worsley (@KHWorsley). What Alexandra described as a rollicking novel is vividly descriptive and has such a confident and unique voice. Can’t wait to read the whole book!

Servants by Lucy Lethbridge. An original and fascinating portrait of domestic servants in twentieth century Britain.



Ciarán Collins (@ciarancollins77) – The Gamal. I never even got to say hello properly to Ciarán, but I’ve read his first few pages and, oh boy.  Shades of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime, but in a bold, irreverent adult voice and the hint of something very dark to come. Set to be a star.



Maggie & Me by Damian Barr (@Damien_Barr). I don’t know what I was expecting from the ‘manhattan swigging, chicken loving salonnière’ but it wasn’t this. In the space of a couple of pages I am nine again, as if by magic. I now have a bit of a crush on this man.



Ballistics by D.W. Wilson. I only managed the briefest of chats with D.W.: “Do I have to call you D.W.?” “No, my friends call me Dave.” before being whisked off to meet someone else. Pity because I wanted to talk to him about his short story writing. But there’ll be another time I’m sure. Another really fresh voice, but with echoes of American classics, his opening pages grabbed me from the first sentence. June? Seriously?



The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon (@say_shannon). You may have heard of Samantha, “suddenly” super-successful whilst still an undergraduate, ‘The next…J.K. blah blah blah”. Let us not forget that people who are “suddenly” successful have practised their writing, a lot, and written an entire novel (at least one, there’s usually a practice novel) and all of this before their “sudden” success. What’s interesting about Samantha is she’s managed to get a book published with Bloomsbury in a genre they don’t usually include in their lists. I bet a lot of fantasy fans will be deeply envious when I say “I’ve read the first chapter and it’s soooo good!” It’s a double edged sword though, as the launch isn’t until August.

See Samantha’s take on this party here.



Pig’s Foot by Carlos Acosta. As Alexandra pointed out, not only is Carlos one of the world’s greatest ballet dancers, he’s an amazing literary talent. It’s hard not to compare the feel of his narrative to Isabelle Allende or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but at the same time it’s clear that this story is going to be unique, and uniquely told. A treat coming up in a year’s time.

A huge thank you to Jude and everyone at Bloomsbury for organising this fabulous evening. This is a picture of me flying over London. No, I am not in the plane. I am flying over it. I am whizzing and soaring through the clouds.

In the clouds.

[Ed.] Tess from Bloomsbury just kindly sent me this lovely pic of me with Tram-Anh and Erica. Thank you, Tess!

Claire at the party


Win a proof copy of The Night Rainbow

Posted on: September 5th, 2012 by Claire - 32 Comments

Still 5 months until The Night Rainbow hits the book shops and it seems I’ve been talking about it for so long. I signed the contract back at the beginning of 2011, so actually the build up has been quite long. But all of a sudden the launch doesn’t seem so far away.

Recently uncorrected proof copies were sent out and here —–>

…is me holding one. It has a few typos and so on that went in with the copy edits, but it’s in the shape of a book and look, there are Margot and Pea on the cover.

These proof copies have gone out to the great and the good as Advance Reading Copies, in the hope that one or two lovely authors somewhere love the book so much that they will say something about it that we can put on the cover. I wrote about author blurbs here, by the way.

Anyway, the lovely people at Bloomsbury have a spare proof copy, and here’s the plan. I’m going to give it to one of you. I’ll even sign it.

Here’s what you have to do to win:

In The Night Rainbow, there is a lot of attention to the detail of things: the sound of a staircase, the taste of a tomato, the feel of water on your toes… When you’re a child, you have plenty of time to notice these kinds of things. They’re important. (Below you will see a quote from from the book from Margot, the narrator’s little sister, who explains things).

What I would like you to do is to notice something important in your day to day life, and post it in the comments. If you have children you are also allowed to ask them for help because sometimes they are better at this than grownups.

When there are plenty of important things I will pick out a selection of my favourites, and then I’ll post them up for people to vote on. The voting will close on 24th September, when I’ll be in the Bloomsbury offices and I can sign your book and send it to you. Voilà.

Good luck and have fun!

Thank you everyone for all you beautiful thoughtful and surprising comments. I loved how they ranged across the senses and it was so hard to choose a shortlist, but I have… You’ll find it below.

I’ve summarised the comments that are on the list, but if you look down in the original comments you can read them in full.

Please take a second to cast your vote(s) you can vote for up to three of the five and the winner when the poll closes next Tuesday morning (25th September) will get the book.

Good luck everyone!

[poll id=”2″]

The poll is now closed. Congratulations, Nettie and thanks to everyone who took part!

A canicular, French, late summer morning.

Posted on: August 22nd, 2012 by Claire - 10 Comments

There is a canicule in France at the moment – a heatwave. Municipal Lidos are full of people trying to cool off. Only the bravest, or the most determined holidaymakers take to the shadeless beaches between 11am and 4pm. Meanwhile the countryside is parched and forest fires are regularly taking hold, even in the higher mountain areas.

There are two weeks left of the summer holidays, and just as with the end of season peaches and nectarines – although we have already had our fill – we are gorging on the remainder, while it is still good, before the time has passed.

Even as dawn broke this morning the air was hot and by mid-morning it was pushing 35°.

I made pancakes (crêpes) for breakfast, to cheers of delight. We ate them with fresh lemons, syrups and jams and cold watermelon from the fridge. It’s amazing how pancakes for breakfast can make an ordinary day seem like a holiday.

Then the neighbour came round, as he does most years at this time and brought us tomatoes. They have stewed and frozen as many as they can, and still his plants keep on giving. He tours the neighbours with baskets and boxes and bags of the ripe-to bursting fruit.

My 6 year old and I took our dogs out for a walk, to let them cool off in the irrigation canal that keeps the fruit trees and fields watered on our side of the valley. We also took a bag in the hope of hunting down some blackberries. My daughter, who is enthralled by insects, spiders, lizards and in fact any kind of local flora and fauna, found this little creature on one of the bramble bushes. We think it might be a crab spider.


As we walked home the farmer was turning hay in the fields. The air was heavy with its sweetness and the warm scent of figs from the trees nearby. We dillied and dallied until we were parched with thirst, then ran home fast for cold water.

This is late summer, in the canicule, in southern France. This place is inspirational.



I’m Available to Order!

Posted on: June 16th, 2012 by Claire - No Comments

The US edition of The Night Rainbow is now *available for pre-order* on and also to be found on Barnes & Noble and The Book Depository 

Order it, forget about it and then be amazed next April when it drops through your mailbox!

A Child’s Voice

Posted on: June 5th, 2012 by Claire - 24 Comments

Maman’s belly is at the stove, her bottom squeezed up against the table where we are colouring. Her arm is stretched forwards, stirring tomato smells out of the pan and into our socks. She isn’t singing. 

This is the voice of Pea, the five (and a half) year-old narrator of The Night Rainbow. The novel begins with the line above and is told entirely from her view point. When I was writing the book, I wasn’t aware of many contemporary novels written from a child’s point of view. Then, just as I sent it out on submission, Emma Donaghue’s ‘Room’ began to make waves, the voice of her child narrator, Jack, clearly dividing opinion in reviews. Some loved it, some hated it; it was shortlisted for the 2010 Booker.

I took great comfort in this when a couple of months later, the voice of Pea (now out on submission) was dividing publisher’s opinions too. Was it an authentic voice? Believable? They couldn’t agree. Luckily for me (and Pea) we found a home at Bloomsbury.

Meanwhile, in the last two years there have been several excellent and successful contemporary novels published, told from a child’s point of view, including:

  • Caroline Smailes – In Search of Adam
  • Stephen Kelman – Pigeon English
  • Christopher Wakling – WHAT I DID
  • John Harding – Florence and Giles

And guess what? All of those authors have agreed to talk here about why, and how, they told their stories from the viewpoint of a child narrator. I’m thrilled to welcome them, and hope you find their responses as interesting as I did…


Why did you choose to write from a child’s point of view?


Stephen Kelman: 

There’s something very liberating for a writer about putting yourself in a child’s shoes: liberating largely from the temptation to talk in your own voice, which is something I wanted to avoid in my first novel. Children have a way of expressing themselves which is purer and less prone to bullshit, and in trying to create an authentic portrayal of a world I knew something but not everything about I found that it helped to view that world without the constraints of an adult agenda.

Also, the age of my narrator – Harri is eleven – is an inherently fertile age to write about. It’s an age when we test boundaries, start to discover important things about ourselves, our own morality and how to impose it upon the world. A time of unique changes and challenges. It was fun for me to travel back in time to when I was that age to imagine how I might have reacted to some of the experiences Harri goes through. Writing him taught me a lot about myself.


John Harding: 

I first had the idea for Florence and Giles on my way home from seeing Benjamin Britten’s opera The Turn of the Screw, his version of Henry James’s novella, at the English National Opera. In both, the story, about a governess who’s given charge of two orphans in a remote country mansion, and who may or may not see ghosts, is told by the governess. It struck me how, especially in the opera, we only see things from the narrator’s point of view. The children are seen only from the outside and are somewhat otherworldly, enigmatic and possibly even demonic. I thought it would be interesting to see the story from their point of view, to switch it around.

The kitchen, where the stove is always burny hot, is jollied by fat Meg, our cook, smiley and elbowed in flour, often to be found flirted by John, the manservant, who seeks a kiss but is happy to make do with a floury smack. Florence – Florence & Giles

After thinking about it for a couple of days I realised I didn’t want to do a rewrite of James’s story. I don’t really go for those sequels to Pride and Prejudice (even with zombies!) that are ultimately unoriginal. But I did like the set-up, the governess, remote house, two children, ghosts, and just used that to write my own story. In the original the children are called Miles and Flora, hence Florence and Giles, by way of playful acknowledgement of James’s book. In his story Flora is the younger child and least regarded character, so I thought I would make the girl older and the most important person in the novel.

The other reason behind this was that I feared that if I made the boy the main character it might become too autobiographical. Changing gender distanced me from that, although long after the book was finished I realised my own life had inevitably crept in: my mother was the cleaner at my primary school and after school hours while she cleaned I would read all the books. Like Florence I always made sure to put them back in the same place because I feared that if I found out, I’d be banned.


Christopher Wakling: 

I looked after my children a lot when they were tiny – still do – and found the experience fascinating, hilarious and boring by turns. To help make sense of it all I kept notebooks. I wrote down what my kids said and did and guessed at what they might be thinking and wrote that down too.

A few years ago a voice emerged in the notebooks. It was full of energy, misunderstandings, chop-logic, run-on irrelevances and moments of clarity. I started inventing scenarios using that voice, bending reality with it, exploring its poignant and comic capabilities. But for a long while I didn’t have a story to tell with it. Then I read a newspaper article about child protection and began thinking of the shift in society’s attitude towards corporal punishment.  Before long the alchemical reaction that powers all good stories began bubbling away. It seemed obvious that the most interesting way of writing a novel about the battle-lines between the state and the family in child protection cases would be from the point of view of a child at the centre of such a case.


Caroline Smailes: 

I didn’t initially. The first section that I wrote was when Jude was eighteen, thus the primary decision to write ‘In Search of Adam’ didn’t consider a child narrator. It was the story that led to the need for an event to set Jude on a certain path, and that inciting incident opens the book when she is six years old.

I remember considering a third person narrative, worried that I’d struggle with creating a believable child’s voice, but soon dismissed that thought, knowing the writing needed emotional depth and/or reader engagement. Jude began the novel with such innocence and stepping into her mind and body allowed a view of the world that a third person narrative couldn’t quite capture.

What were the difficulties you encountered?


I know some find writing from a child’s viewpoint liberating, but I found it deeply emotive and, at times, disturbing. In writing ‘In Search of Adam’ I became that small child and to experience her fear and bewilderment left me emotionally drained.

However, the biggest challenge I faced was realisation that Jude would have a restricted viewpoint and understanding of her wider world. This was after considering the social class that she was in, events that caused the stunting of her emotional growth and the lack of care given to her. I had to consider the vocabulary available to her, the need for age appropriate thoughts, as well as her lacking understanding of what she was overhearing and seeing.

Many argue that first person narrative gives the author limited tools to work with, especially when the character also has a limited awareness, and so I relied on Jude overhearing, but not understanding. This reporting to my audience allowed the reader to learn from those around Jude, giving the reader the adult stance and (hopefully) evoking a desire to care for and protect the innocent child.


I gave Jordan a strawberry Chewit to give to the dead boy, then I showed him how to make a cross. Both the two of us made a cross. We were very quiet. It felt important. We ran all the way home. I beat Jordan easily. I can beat everybody. I’m the fastest in Year 7.  Harri – Pigeon English


I prefer to view them as challenges, and very interesting ones at that. Of course you hope that you capture a voice as authentically as possible, and this was made easier for me by the fact that at the time of writing I was still living on the estate I was writing about, so I was surrounded by these kids on a daily basis and I had some exposure to what it was that preoccupied them, what they talked about and how they talked about it.

The main thing I had to keep reminding myself was that it wasn’t me reacting to the action of the novel, it was Harri – and this very quickly became an unconscious thing. I’d say it was as much an acting job as a writing challenge, and I consider it one of the greatest privileges and pleasures of my profession that I get to spend some time looking at the world through somebody else’s eyes.



I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I didn’t really experience any. As you may know Florence has her own invented language which came to me as I was working on the first page and from this I pretty much had her character. She invented words like Shakespeare and she was obviously well read. At the same time it’s clear this is a private language and that she is a child with secrets, so I had the idea of the forbidden library right away. I’d say Florence more or less became me or I became her right from the start. Other writers will know what I mean. It was like being possessed and she was mainly dictating what happened.

There were the practical difficulties of having a child narrator, or course, in that they are restricted in what they can do and where they can go. That’s why so many children’s books are set in boarding schools, because they have more freedom to prowl about at night! But like all difficulties you encounter with a book, they can be turned to strength. Florence wandering about at night to do things she couldn’t in the day became part of the fabric of the book. An adult wouldn’t have had to do that.



Billy – the narrator in WHAT I DID – is just six. Some scenes he can’t witness; many he’s involved in but misinterprets. But the reader has to understand what’s going on for the story to work, and treading that line was a challenge. Also, I had to choose whether to leaven the novel with adult-point-of-view passages, or vary the time-scheme to give a different  perspective. In the end I did neither. I reasoned that the story would be more intense if I stuck with Billy’s present tense narration throughout.  You can’t switch off real kids either.


What advantages are there to an adult novel written from a child’s perspective?



Freshness for one, and a different angle on adult life. I think too that it taps into a more primitive human psyche. For instance in Florence and Giles I was able to use a lot of fairy tales which I think are stories that have come down to us because they are about primeval fears, an attempt to explain and rationalise them, and to warn and prepare children for the very real dangers that life offers.

Also I’ve always loved stories about children (Florence and Giles draws especially on The Secret Garden and Jane Eyre, to name but two) and I always write books that I would want to read. In both the books I’ve mentioned I loved all the bits about wandering dark corridors at night etc, but both books frustrated me because that element ended and the plot opened out into the light. I wanted to write the kind of book where it’s all like that.




In a perhaps wonky way, I see all the difficulties as advantages too. I think that a narrative from a child’s perspective allows for innocence to seep from words, for unusual voice to emerge and for naivety to shine. This can lead to both humour and tragedy and, yes, some narratives from an adult perspective can do this but the difference (and main advantage) is the starting point. With a child narrator you start the story from a place of innocence, as many people have a preconception of purity with a child and this open heart in the reader can be an advantage.

This allows the telling of a story through a different lens. If a child witnesses an act of violence (or suicide, like on the first page of ‘In Search of Adam), this amplifies the horror or the emotion of the situation. I feel that a child’s perspective can offer a quicker path into the emotional heart of the narrative.



This is the first bit and shall I tell you why? Okay I will. It is to make you read the rest. Billy – WHAT I DID


For me all fiction is about voice. I read because I’m interested in the original thinking of the head I’m in. Whether it’s a stately, omniscient 19th century head, like George Elliot’s in Middlemarch, or the deadpan, 20th century point-of-view of Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s novels, I read because I’m interested to experience the world as distilled by that narrator.

A child-narrator has fresh eyes. And children tend to have less of an axe to grind. Billy doesn’t know right from wrong in his story, and in any case readers know they cannot trust a child of six to make important judgments for them, so they’re forced to do the thinking themselves. This should make for an engaging read. Also, a young child’s viewpoint offers a huge range of emotional responses in a compressed timeframe: a six-year-old can be in a rage one minute, deliriously happy the next, then sad again: that’s fun to play with in narrative terms.



As I said earlier, I think it’s that it compels you to abandon your own agenda and be taken on a journey rather than forcing your character down a particular path.

Harri very much led me, every decision I took was based not on what point I might be trying to make but purely on what felt natural for him. The result, I hope, is a book which reveals issues without being an issue-driven book.

Does a child-narrators voice have to be ‘authentic’?


What I Did


A child-narrator’s voice must be convincing, but that’s not quite the same thing as authentic. All fictional voices are constructs in the end. Has a real whaler ever thought quite like Ishmael in Moby Dick? Are teenagers ever as unwittingly funny as Adrian Mole? Who knows whether a serial killer ever noticed what Patrick Bateman tells us in American Psycho?

These voices are sustained and consistent inventions. They feel ‘real’ while we’re reading them, but they’re not the result of real whalers, teenagers or psychopaths dictating their stories. (They’d be duller and less coherent if they were.) A child-narrator has to stand up to the same benchmark of authenticity. I hope Billy passes the test.



There were one hundred and twenty steps to climb down. One hundred and twenty steps before touching the grey sand. The sand was unhappy. It looked poorly sick all the time. A green handrail wove next to the steps. I never had the courage to touch it. The paint was covered in carved initials, decorated with lumps of hardened chewing gum and topped with seagull droppings. Yackety yack. Hundreds and thousands of lumps. Hacky yack yack. Paul Hodgson (Number 2) told me that his uncle caught an incurable disease from touching that handrail. He said that his uncle’s hand had dropped clean off. I wasn’t going to risk it. Jude – In Search of Adam


Personally, I think that the moment a child-narrator’s voice does not register as believable, then the reader will disengage.

The reader has to believe that the narrator is a child and whether or not that voice is ‘authentic’ will be subject to personal debate and life experience.



I think you have to be able to believe it was written by a child, which is what is so good about Chris’s and Stephen’s books (I haven’t got round to Caroline’s yet although it’s on my Kindle), they have the language and mindset of their children off absolutely convincingly.

Florence is actually a really exceptional child, an auto didact who has read an incredible amount, but I think the reader readily accepts that because once you begin reading a first person book you merge with the psyche of the narrator, even if they’re completely unlike you.

If the narrator is a serial killer you find yourself wanting him or her to get away with it because you see the world from their point of view, the inside, everyone else is outside. I think over the years there have been some pretty precocious children narrating books, but the reader will usually give the writer a lot of slack on the possibility of that as long as he or she can identify with the character.

What you want is a strong, original character, whether child or adult, that’s what makes for authenticity.


Well I think it has to be authentic to that child. Harri is a product of his upbringing and his environment, but he is also his own individual person, and of course part of that is informed by my own sensibilities and values, my own experience of being that age.

There are certain values that I share in common with Harri, but there is plenty about him that I find strange and confounding too! He surprises me all the time – and that’s because writing a character should be I think an organic process, as much an exercise of the imagination as a forensic attempt to represent another person.

In writing my characters I’m more concerned with being true to them than to myself, but you will always see parts of yourself reflected in them along the way. As long as a character feels right, instinctively, I’m happy, and then it’s up to readers to determine whether they’re ‘authentic’ to them. Everybody’s reading experience is personal to them, and that’s one of the great powers of literature.



Many, many thanks to Stephen, Chris, Caroline and John for their time and thoughtful answers. I’d encourage you all to read their brilliant books. If you’d like to find out more:

Caroline Smailes: Back in 2005, two weeks before she was due to start a PhD in Linguistics, Caroline watched an interview on Richard & Judy where they referred to someone as a ‘nearly woman’. Caroline identified with that label and faced her ‘now or never’ moment. She didn’t want to be someone who talked of ‘nearly’ having done something, she wanted to see if she could write novels.Within that same week, Caroline gave up her funding and her PhD place, enrolled on an MA in Creative Writing and over the next year she wrote ‘In Search of Adam’. Three novels, a novella and a short story collection later, Caroline is still loving writing. She can be found online at

Christopher Wakling’s six acclaimed novels include WHAT I DID ‘Warm, hilarious, and eye-wateringly moving, with the cleverest use of point-of-view since Jane Austen …  the novel that should have won the Booker Prize.’ (Daily Mail).

Stephen Kelman was born in Luton in 1976. After finishing his degree he worked variously as a warehouse operative, a careworker, and in marketing and local government administration. He decided to pursue his writing seriously in 2005, and has completed several feature screenplays since then. Pigeon English, published by Bloomsbury in March 2011 and in paperback in January 2012, is his first novel.

*I ran a longer interview with Stephen all about Pigeon English and his next novel – you can read it here.

John Harding is one of Britain’s most versatile contemporary novelists. He is the author of four novels, all very different from one another. He was born in and grew up in a small Fenland village in the Isle of Ely, Cambridgeshire. He was educated at the village school and local grammar school and read English at St Catherine’s College, Oxford. Apart from a short period working on newspapers and magazines as a reporter and editor, he has been a freelance writer and novelist all his working life. His latest novel is Florence and Giles 


For further reading on naïve narrators try Leo Benedictus’ excellent article in Prospect Magazine on the current trend towards ‘Hindered Narrators’, or Elizabeth Baines and Charles Lambert talking about child narrators here.

Potato, Potato, Tomato, Tomato, Book Covers.

Posted on: April 29th, 2012 by Claire - 21 Comments

Today we’re talking about that Special Relationship….

I’m in the amazing position of having The Night Rainbow being published in several countries, including the U.K. and the U.S.A., where the cover designs have now been developed (I had input into both). I’m delighted with both of them, but they are markedly different (U.K. on the left, U.S.A. on the right):

I’ve asked some very kind booksellers in both countries, and my editor from Bloomsbury U.S.A., to talk about the importance of a book cover, and to try and define what defines the differences in our tastes. Here are some of the first responses:

First, Robert Gray, who from 1992-2005 was a bookseller and buyer for the Northshire Bookstore, Manchester Center, Vermont.

He has also been a contributing editor and columnist at Shelf Awareness since 2006. As a writer, his work has appeared in numerous publications, ranging from Tin House to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine toPublishers Weekly. He has an MFA in Writing and Literature from Bennington College. Rob tweets as @Fresheyesnow

Rob says:

The cover was always a factor for us when buying in stock, though not the deciding factor (excepting, of course those counter books that could be sold as gift items on strength of their covers or titles alone). If a book with a lousy cover was still something I loved and knew I could handsell, content always trumped art. But if a book wasn’t so great and the cover was irresistible, then the decision came down to a question: “Is this a book I know there are readers for, even if I’m not crazy about it?” Another factor I don’t see discussed often: When booksellers are building displays, a great cover always has a better chance of being showcased.

I do think customers instinctively reach for a book with a great cover if it’s on a display or face-out on the shelves. If it’s spine-out, then the game is over before it starts. Ideally, what a great cover does is get the potential reader to pick up the book, maybe scan blurbs on the back cover, open the book and flip through the first few pages.

Anything that inspires a customer to initiate that ceremony is critical.

Looking at your covers, I do think the U.S. cover will appeal more to American readers. I’m not sure I can be more specific than that. It’s an instinctive reaction for me, since I’m not a graphics or even a particularly visually-oriented person. I’ve just watched thousands of books being sold over the years. 


Anna J G-Smith has worked at Stroud Bookshop for the last 15 years.
Stroud Bookshop is an independent book shop, keeping books on the High Street and part of Stroud’s cultural heart. Anna is passionate about her job – even more so since she started writing, and rarely seems to have her bookselling hat off these days. Her writers blog is here and she tweets as @eryth
Anna says:
When ordering a new title in for stock, the most important thing is the write-up, and any advance reviews. Also if we like the premise, and feel it fits with the zeitgeist of the moment in which it is published. BUT, once the new titles arrive, then we can assess how best to display them, depending on jacket design (and heft!). I tend to be the one mostly responsible for the displays, as I am acknowledged to have a good eye for overall balance of colour/design. If I think a book looks particularly beautiful, then I will display it as prominently as possible, and especially if it is a hardback. With paperbacks it is slightly easier, in that the bestsellers tend to be displayed depending on how many we have in stock, and what the prevailing colours/designs in paperbacks are at the time. For example, Julian Barnes and Graham Swift look well next to each other at the moment:
Design is important to customers. Hardback design in particular: if they’re going to shell out on a new title they might not otherwise buy (unless they’re die-hard author-addicts who can’t help themselves!) then they like the idea that they are buying something beautiful. Smaller hardbacks in particular fit this niche, (Julian Barnes – again – was an example last year), as do books that they might like for themselves, but can only justify if buying a gift for someone else. Paperbacks are where the most committed browsing takes place. For backlist/classics it helps to have either a smart and recognisable livery (Oxford, Penguin, faber etc) or something beautiful and striking. Joanne Harris’s Chocolat still stands out years later, because of the rich purple; David Mitchell’s Thousand Autumns Of Jacob de Zoet is another good example.
When a title is new, and selling well, then it is more likely to be displayed face-out. This is where good design comes to the fore.
A good cover helps a book more than a bad cover hinders it. If a customer really wants to read a particular title, then a poorly designed cover will not put them off – though it does cause comment. This does happen a lot, and especially if the design is changed between hardback and paperback, or between trade paperback and A-format. Stephen Kelman’s Pigeon English is a good example here. The original design was very striking in red and yellow. The A-format paperback is less memorable, and especially when there are so many other blue covers around.
Now to your covers. They are BOTH beautiful. I much prefer the English cover for the hardback  – and it will look lovely stacked high in the middle of my hardback display, and in the window! – the U.S. edition is too much like other jackets I have seen, but will look very strong as a paperback cover, whereas I think – lovely though it is – the striking detail on the UK cover will be diminished once it is scaled down. And I’d be very surprised if my customers don’t greatly admire the hardback cover. It is unlike anything I have seen in a very long time, so will stand out well. Bloomsbury do have a knack for GOOD covers that buck the mass market; Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell being another example.

Rachel Mannheimer is my editor at Bloomsbury in the USA

Rachel says:

It’s difficult to pinpoint how important is the cover design for a novel. With the closing of so many bookshops, and the rise of online shopping – for print books and especially for e-books – I think there are fewer face-to-face encounters, as it were, with the book cover. There are new ways to find books, which are great, but it’s rarer for readers to discover books based solely on an eye-catching image. Still, when I’m in a bookshop, it’s definitely still my eyes leading me. (Then I read the blurbs or reviews on the back). And a memorable image still makes an impression if you see it online, in an advertisement, wherever. The cover conveys something about the style of the book before you know anything else.

When you consider the difference between what readers in the U.S.A. like in a cover, compared to the U.K., I think it’s a matter of a slightly different visual language, and just what the customer is accustomed to seeing – what connotations different visual cues have. Successful British book covers look like other successful British book covers, and successful American covers tend to look like other American covers. And I would say, to be supremely reductive, that British covers can look a bit schmaltzy to American eyes, while American covers can look stiff and boring. But sometimes something works perfectly in both markets! It just depends.

I love the cover we came up with for The Night Rainbow; it’s evocative and stylish. There was discussion early on about how difficult it would be to match the title literally (though the UK cover does come close). But it’s also such an interesting phrase, “night rainbow.” The designer had to work with both its sweetness and its mystery. Also, you had been clear about not wanting a straight representation of Pea; you wanted the reader to have space to imagine. This image the designer found, I love that it shows a little girl, but it’s a bit disorienting; you’re not quite sure what you’re looking at. You want to read and learn more.


Many thanks to Rachel, Anna and Robert for taking the time to comment.

For more discussion on UK versus US covers:

Here’s a link to a brilliant talk by Chip Kidd on Book Design on Seth Godin’s blog.

Some very interesting comparisons of the last year’s novels on The Millions.

Not just a wildly different cover, but a different title too, from Morag Joss

For more information/to see other work by the designers of my covers:

UK: Holly Macdonald

USA: Jennifer Heuer

The Night Rainbow – Hardback Jacket

Posted on: March 19th, 2012 by Claire - 54 Comments

It’s something I’ve waited over a year for. Wondering what, having read my novel, will the designer come up with? Will it capture the spirit of the story? If the characters are represented, will they be as I imagined them? I tried not to engage in picturing what I would do for the cover art, so as not to be disappointed. I’ve seen many of the beautiful jackets Bloomsbury design, and I put my trust in them that they’d ‘get it.’

Still, when I the jacket proposal was emailed to me it made me cry. In a good way.

Since then, in the last two weeks, we’ve bounced ideas backwards on forwards with my editor, my agent and the designer on possible teaks or changes, but in the end we’ve ended up very close to the original proposal. Here is the final jacket, and huge thanks to Holly Macdonald, for taking good care of Margot & Pea:

The Night Rainbow. Hardback jacket

Publication has come forward slightly, so The Night Rainbow will be out in hardback next February. I may have to go and have a lie down now.


The Novel Edits (Part 2)

Posted on: January 25th, 2012 by Claire - 24 Comments

In September I met my editor, Helen, to go through the structural edits for The Night Rainbow. If you missed it, you can read about that here. The next part of the editing process, which happened in quite a whirl last week, was the copyedits.

I thought that the copyeditor was there to ‘correct my mistakes’. I was really looking forward to what she would find, because before submitting I’d already done many passes of edits for typos, punctuation, and grammatical errors. I’d also paid attention to ‘continuity’, drawing up detailed maps of locations and timelines with character clothing, mealtimes etc. I didn’t go so far as a style sheet, but I’d thought about it.

Last week was quite an education…

My copyeditor got in touch and she said my book was ‘astonishing’. I loved her immediately. She said she was sending over the queries, and that there ‘weren’t many’. There were, in fact, 10 pages of them. 175 in total. And these were just the queries – obvious typos and missing punctuation had already been corrected without bothering me.

The copyedit was much more than ‘just’ about correcting mistakes. Yes there were some, but attention was also paid to to smoothing out inconsistencies in style, for example where I had used ‘grownup’ vs ‘grown up’. My editor also checked facts, questioning things as odd as ‘are puffballs safe to eat?’ and the correct references made to music. Despite my best efforts there were still ‘continuity’ queries – one minute a door was closed, the next it was open…

Responding to the queries took hours and hours. Agreeing that I should change from one kind of punctuation to another was an easy one. But where the suggestion was to choose a different word or re-phrase something it was much harder. Even though I could agree that it was necessary, working within the vocabulary limits of the narrator took a lot of thought and deliberation.

By the time I reached the end of the query list I was feeling quite anxious. Had I managed to get back into the ‘voice’ of the book seamlessly? Had I made the ‘right’ changes? And what about all the mistakes? As soon as a query drew my attention to something I then spotted the same mistake over and over in the text. Even though my editor had told me that she only queried something once and then it would apply throughout, it was very unnerving to see the repeated mistakes and inconsistencies cropping up again and again.

But the biggest revelation for me last week was that my copyeditor not only understood the rules of spelling, grammar and punctuation (of course), she also understood where I had intentionally broken the rules to use punctuation or rythym creatively. She understood my intention.

Then she worked with that intention, with my rules, to make the writing more elegant, so the words didn’t get in the way of the story.

The whole experience was really impressive, and I found myself enormously grateful that such painstaking attention is being lavished on my book.

Once the queries were dealt with and the TS returned to Bloomsbury,  I asked my lovely copyeditor, Sarah-Jane Forder, if she wouldn’t mind answering a few questions:

1) I edited The Night Rainbow many times before I submitted it. I would have said I went through it with a fine toothed comb. And yet I had 175 queries in total, which you described as ‘very few’! If we imagine I’m towards one end of the spectrum, what does the other end look like?

It was obvious to me when I first read your TS that I was dealing with a very meticulous author. Yes, there were odd things you’d missed in however many edits but that is always the way. I missed things too, which you picked up: remember? My point about the relatively few number of queries, and the absolute ease of my job, was that they were minor things: the odd bit of punctuation here, a tiny bit of garbled text there. Nothing major whatsoever. Many authors, believe me, have neither your eye nor your ear. When you answered my queries you did so with confidence, saying no when you knew absolutely what you wanted. Which is a wordy way of saying that the other end of the spectrum might have multiple typing errors and inconsistencies as well as careless repetition, holes in the plot and characters whose eyes change from blue to brown according to the weather.

2) Many of your queries represented changes that needed applying several times through the book and after you’d mentioned something once I came across dozens of subsequent errors that I’d made (consistency of spellings etc.) Do authors get ‘better’ at noticing these, the more books they write? So fewer slip through to copyedit stage?
I think, the more they write, authors do become aware of certain tics in their writing: words and phrases they perhaps rely on; that sort of thing. It’s great if an author can get it near on 100 per cent accurate (Anita Brookner, whom I copyedited at Cape, was one), but they are rare.
I have to say that I don’t regard picking up spelling mistakes or typos necessarily as part of writing: you can be dyslexic and still express yourself fluently and vividly and with originality, which is the really important thing. If writers made no errors whatsoever, what about us poor copyeditors? You’d be doing us out of a job!

3) In terms of your process – do you read the book first as a ‘reader’, or immediately with an editor’s eye?

I always do a first read as a reader, or as near as I can get to a reader when I’m working (you’ve sussed that in my leisure time I read in an entirely different way), with an eye out for plot, pacing, characterisation and so on. I will also at that point make a note of any inconsistencies of style (‘girl-nest’!) and make a ‘style chart’ to follow for the edit proper. The edit proper is slower, and usually said out loud in my head. I find it helps to hear the words – you yourself mentioned rhythm and I think that’s really important.

4) How did you become a copyeditor? What do you like about the job?

I fell into copyediting! I graduated in English with a vague idea of going into publishing: no more than that. I was lucky enough to be appointed at Jonathan Cape as an editorial assistant working with Liz Calder, one of the top literary fiction editors at that time. Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes, Martin Amis, John Fowles, Anita Brookner, Ian McEwan: they were all Cape authors. Later, when Liz went to set up Bloomsbury, I followed her. 

I’ll be honest: the job can be extremely tedious (depends what you’re working on!) but it’s always fascinating to work one to one with authors; it can feel like a real privilege, in fact. There’s the satisfaction of making a difference, however small. The devil’s in the detail! Having been freelance now for about 15 years, one of the things I love about my job is being able to work from home, at no one’s beck and call. I like the freedom, I like the quiet! The money sucks: you don’t go into it expecting to become rich. But I specialise in editing literary fiction, and how can you put a price on the pleasure of being paid to read wonderful writing?


Huge thanks to Sarah-Jane for taking the time to answer these questions in her busy schedule. I hope you find them as illuminating as I did.

Next steps for The Night Rainbow? First Pages for proofreading in a few weeks, and the cover! It’s also off for translation. Still a year to go until publication, but we’re well on our way!

The Novel Edits (Part 1)

Posted on: September 23rd, 2011 by Claire - 30 Comments

It’s starting at last. The Night Rainbow is on the move, on its way to becoming a book. And the first step is…edits.

I met my editor, Helen last week to talk through her suggestions for changes to The Night Rainbow before it goes for copy editing and translation.

I’ve never been edited before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Well, here is my manuscript, returned to me over lunch and marked up with edits:


The yellow post it notes mark pages where Helen has suggested changes. There aren’t as many as I had expected.

Or should that be ‘feared’? After all this is my baby, my beautiful first novel.

Or should that be ‘hoped’? Because that way, the more edits come from someone other than myself, the more accountability I can pass over to others if people don’t like what they read.

Well, enough of that. You’re all going to love this book, despite the panic in my heart that tries to convince me otherwise.

Helen had told me there wouldn’t be many edits, but as a newbie to all this I didn’t really have an idea of scale. I think I was expecting to be asked to rewrite whole chunks of narrative, delete or move scenes, fill in missing details in a few thousand extra words…and apparently that does happen. It can be the case, but it wasn’t for me. So what were my edits like?

Helen has now read the book three times, and the main thing that she is focusing on is voice. My book has a five year-old narrator. The credibility of the novel rests on her voice being spot on. She doesn’t have to sound like child narrators in other books (and she won’t), but she does have to be believable, allowing the reader to be immersed in her story. To this end, Helen has gone through meticulously and pulled me up on a few words that she feels don’t sit well with the voice of my narrator. And guess what, she’s right.

I have spent the last few days going through these changes, using my eldest daughter as a sounding board – she is now conveniently just turned 6, so is very helpful for vocabulary cross-checks – how would you describe the smell of pastry? What sound does the rain make?

What has been very interesting for me as I do this is that Helen’s suggestions are sparking off ideas in my own mind about how to improve the narrative. The suggestion of one change of word has a cascade effect on the way whole paragraphs are written. The process seems very organic.

I now find myself criticising the entire manuscript yet again (and believe me I did that many times before submitting it to my agent). These words are going to be printed on beautiful paper, bound and covered and marked with my name. I want it to be perfect.

Can it be perfect? I doubt it could ever be, and readers probably are more forgiving than an editor, but we are making it as perfect as we can.

Next step, the copyedits!