Claire King


Posts Tagged ‘Books’

Why we all need a First Follower

Posted on: June 4th, 2015 by Claire - 4 Comments

I was recently reminded of this short (3 mins) TED talk on starting a movement, and it occurred to me how it’s a great analogy for the word of mouth that grows around a book.

So, when you publish a book, you are basically the dancing man. Out there on your own, enjoying the contents of your own head, wanting to share it with others, taking a risk.

But as Derek Sivers says, The First Follower is what transforms you from being a lone nut. You put it out there and then wait for that first person to stand up and dance with you. Maybe it’s a reviewer, maybe it’s a retailer, but more often than not it’s a reader who really loves your book and wants to tell the world about it. What’s important is they are also taking a risk, letting the world know that they’re part of your movement before they know if it’s going to take off or not. And *thank you* they start trying to get all their friends to join in too.

And you, the dancer, are hoping and praying that they will come and join in, but you can’t make them. You’ve done all you can with your funky dance. All you can do is welcome these people to the party graciously and with gratitude. And keep on dancing.

And very soon it’s not about you any more. You are just one more person in the crowd.

The perfect time to sneak off and write a new book.


Book News, or How my Writing Process is like Monty Python.

Posted on: January 1st, 2015 by Claire - 9 Comments

Back in February last year, Science Fiction author Una McCormack tagged me in a blog chain for writers about our current projects. Here’s her post, so do head over there to find out more about her and her new Star Trek novel which will be published this month. Yes that’s right. Star Trek!

In accepting her tag I had four questions to answer: What am I working on?  How does my work differ from others in its genre? (I’m not going to answer that one, by the way) Why do I write what I do? and How does my writing process work?

I didn’t want to reply immediately because I wasn’t ready to talk about the novel I’ve been working on. In fact I’ve discovered in the last three years that in fact being asked about a book I’m writing, especially if it’s tough going, makes me pretty grumpy and defensive.

Effectively, in 2014 I was silenced by this book. I wrote just 9 blog posts in 2014 and only one of them was about writing or editing, the one from January: The Order of Things. Even that was a post about not actually being able to write because, well, life. When I posted that blog I thought I was close to finished. In fact I didn’t finish until nine months later. So many times I thought I was ready to submit it, but then I’d fall into a pothole of confidence and set off again on ‘just one last edit’. So I guess this is the part where I talk about how my writing “process” works:

I spent 2014 wrestling with my own editing process. The more I edited, the further I seemed to be getting from the end. And then suddenly, in autumn, it finally came together. A bit like this:

With hindsight I think a lot of this was to do with the fact that I had no experience at what stage a first draft was good enough to show to an agent or editor. I wanted it to be clear exactly what I was trying to do with the book and for the writing to shine, at least in parts. With your first book you are always told to polish your novel as much as you can before you send it to agents. But with a second one? When is it good enough to share?

Times are still tricky in publishing. Just as getting an agent doesn’t mean the novel she took you on for will get published, so getting that first book published doesn’t automatically mean your publisher will want your second (unless you are contracted for it). And the novel I had chosen to write was pretty ambitious. I felt a huge pressure to get it right.

Funnily enough, by the time I thought it was good to go and finally sent my agent my manuscript in October, I was so drained by the effort of getting to that place that I was starting to wonder if anyone would ever actually love this book that had caused me so much heartache…

But they did (joy!), and because they did I now feel positive and confident about it again myself. Oh the roller-coastering of it all. Now I am really looking forward to (my editor) Helen’s edits this month. I’m convinced that she will be able to illuminate things I can work on that will turn this book into what I want it to be for readers.

Meanwhile, in the last two months I’ve been having a writing break, I needed to read, spend some time with my neglected family and get my writing groove back again. I’m starting 2015 feeling refreshed and raring to go.


So what is it I’m are working on?

Firstly, it’s my second novel, Everything Love Is, which is now scheduled for publication in 2016. I’m delighted that it’s no longer just me that’s working on it, but me the team at Bloomsbury too. It’s set in France on the Canal du Midi, and is a love story wrapped up in a mystery, about memory and the happy endings we conceive for ourselves.

I’m also starting the first draft of my next novel. My plan is to use the very early mornings for this, before the rest of the family get up for breakfast, as I find that’s when my brain is at its least polluted and most uninhibited. I’ll save the editing work for later in the day when I’m more analytical.

I also plan to try and squeeze in at least one short story in January/February. It’s a form I’ve neglected lately and I do get a lot out of writing short stories, both creatively and from a satisfaction point of view. And I’ve promised my daughters I will write them a children’s book we’ve been talking about, which is a great fun thing to pick up on difficult days.

It looks as though in January I won’t have much day job work on, which is just as well really, given all the above.


Why do I write what I do?

I always seem to struggle to describe my novels in terms that don’t make them sound bleak. The Night Rainbow, I would tell people, is about a little girl whose pregnant mother is too depressed, following the deaths of her husband and a previous baby, to look after her. How gloomy does that sound?!

And Everything Love Is, well it’s about a man who discovers he has early onset dementia just as he meets the love of his life. It doesn’t sound like an uplifting read, put like that (but I promise it will be).

And if I told you about the new book I’m working on (which I won’t, sorry!), the elevator pitch would be similarly jolly.

But the thing is that none of these books are dismal books. For me the common thread in the novels I choose to write is the resilience of the human spirit. The challenges that I throw at my characters are not burning buildings, but burning hearts. I am convinced of our extraordinary capacity for strength of character and hope in the face of struggles and that’s what I want to write about. Those are the stories I want to tell.


Who next?

I’m also allowed to tag one or two other writers to write a similar blog post. I am going to tag Alison Wells, a writer who leaps across genres with great skill and tenacity, who writes some of the most beautiful prose, both in her novels and short fiction, and who I hope will soon be snapped up by an agent and a publisher.  No hurry, Alison, obviously!



Books that make you cry

Posted on: January 13th, 2013 by Claire - 6 Comments

I was sitting on a packed train looking at my smart phone and weeping copiously. I couldn’t help it. I had sunglasses on, but it had gone beyond that and people were staring. It being London, though I was left alone with my pocket tissues and my apparent grief.

But the grief wasn’t real, it had been conjured up in me by the author of the book I was reading. I was slightly embarrassed about the tears, but I couldn’t stop reading, because I had to know what happened next, and because on some level, it felt good to be crying.

Yes really.

Woman reading on train platform.

Sometimes day-to-day life can be routine: Going from one place to the next, dealing with chores and work and the mundane necessities of running a household. Finding time to be interested in and kind to the ones we love. Of course on one level this is great. How lucky I am to be living a life without hunger, suffering or tragedy. And yet it feels good to be reminded of the breadth of feelings that makes me human, and the possible lives that I am not living. It can make me feel more alive to experience something – joy, fear, sadness, anger, the tumultuous experience of falling in love – even if only on behalf of a fictional character. And when I leave the character behind, everything looks a little different. And I count my blessings.

I love books that make me cry. Or laugh, or in fact feel any kind of strong empathetic reaction to the characters. It means I’ve suspended disbelief, it means I care, it means I can have the rush of emotions – and the cocktail of chemicals that accompany them – without any drama in my own actual life.

Ten novels that made me cry (there are many, many more):

1) The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
2) Whatever you love by Louise Doughty
3) The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
4) The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
5) Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
6) Love Story by Erich Segal
7) Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières
8) To kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
9) Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
10) The Help by Kathryn Stockett

And it’s not limited to adult fiction. Since the startling hormonal uprising that is childbirth I’m now floored at their bedtime by:

– The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
– The Ugly Duckling (yes, really)

And in the future we can all look forward to tears over Watership Down and The Little Prince… oh yes.


Photo (c) Moriza via Flickr creative commons

Monkey see, monkey do.

Posted on: October 29th, 2012 by Claire - 8 Comments

If you have children, or nieces, nephews etc, you’ll have seen their capacity and inclination for imitation. They don’t just copy the gestures and words others use, but the way we behave with other people, the activities we engage in and the tools we use. It’s one of the things that makes us human.

Since they were very young, my daughters have been used to me going away regularly for work. I was writing, but it happened on trains, or at night when they were asleep. But the Christmas when they were 5 and 3 I got a book deal. “Why are you so happy?” they asked. “Mummy is a writer,” I told them.

Within weeks, their games had changed. Previously, playing at being Mummy involved putting on shoes with heels, packing a case and sweeping out of the house, calling back, “I’m off to work. I’ll  be back on Friday, try and be good for Daddy.”

Now, aged 7 and 5, they get out pens and paper and they write stories, poems, anything and bring them to me like offerings. “I am a writer,” they say.

They way they engage with books is different too. They notice when a book is published by Bloomsbury. They are interested in the authors and illustrators of books, make connections, write fan letters even.

And recently, I’ve noticed something else. If I read on my Kindle, computer or phone, they go for computer games (or else choose a different activity altogether). But if I sit and read a paper book, within minutes they are rifling through their books for something to read themselves. In the parenting game of teaching by example we have hit a stumbling block:

My children don’t think reading on an electronic device is the same as reading a book.

Photo (c) Jer Kunz via Flickr Creative Commons


Ode to books

Posted on: September 27th, 2011 by Claire - 20 Comments

My name is Claire and I like books made of paper.

It is becoming increasingly unfashionable to admit this, a little like saying I prefer…well, what is it like?

  • LPs to CDs?
  • Telephone boxes to mobile phones?
  • Horse drawn carriages to modern day cars?

No, none of these analogies fit because books are not being antiquated by technology. There are elements of improvement and technological advance – digital books have huge potential for interactivity, portability, etc. But there are also elements of paper books that are not improved by rendering them electronic.

I was reminded of this on my recent visit to Tilton House. It was such a joy to find books all over the house, like a treasure hunt. You could find them, of course, in the library – novels, autobiographies, some I have read, many I have not. All of them waiting to entice you in a spare moment and have you browse their pages.

In the sitting room and the conservatory there were coffee table books – biographies, textbooks, and some rather strange and unusual tomes.

I even found inspiration in the books found in the bathroom – if you’re a writer and have never seen a copy of the Collins Guide to Roses by Bertram Park then check it out. You’ll never be stuck for a character name again.

I was lucky enough to visit the neighbouring Charleston, home to the Bloomsbury set. There J.M. Keynes (as a regular visitor) had been awarded his own bedroom. As someone who has spent a lot of time studying Keynes, the opportunity for me to nose around his bookshelves was the chance to peer into the mind of the man, not just the economist. On his shelves was Punch – lots of Punch, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the manifesto of the communist party and many other books that allowed my imagination to fly. Thank goodness Keynes didn’t have a Kindle.

I do have a Kindle. It’s very practical for travelling, and for buying books that I suspect I will only read once. But I do still buy paper books. I love the covers, I love the tactile nature of the pages that transform the book under the weight of your fingertips.

Last week I spend an hour browsing in a bookshop to buy two children’s books. It would have taken me ten minutes on Amazon, but the whole process is so much less fun.

Perhaps the best analogy I can come up with is the love letter. It’s very nice to recieve a romantic email or a cute text message. It costs nothing to send, it’s fast and no trees are killed. But there is something about receiving those words hand written on paper: something physical, something sensual, something that can be held to the heart today, and left for those who follow to find.

Double Standards Recycling Angst

Posted on: March 30th, 2011 by Claire - 20 Comments

I am having a clear out. I am recycling many things.

This is a good thing. Good because I am lightening the accumulation of stuff which loafs around my house getting dusty and looking reproachfully at me as I fail to dust it in favour of doing some writing. Good because recycling is not the same as tossing things into landfills. So far so good.

My problem is with the books – I have Oh So Many books that, sadly, have come to the end of their days. I have given as many to the local library as they would accept, and am now left with several large boxes of dusty paperbacks, some of these are more than 25 years old. I will never read them again. I will never recommend them to visitors. I have no room to put them on book shelves. And yet I feel very twitchy at the idea of recycling them along with cereal packets, junk mail, envelopes and magazines.

And there’s the thing – why do I feel OK recycling piles of monthly magazines (costs £3 – £4 each) and yet vacillate over each novel (cost £5 – £8)?

Why does disposing of a book feel so personal?

Books given and received

Posted on: December 26th, 2010 by Claire - 3 Comments

Santa has been kind in 2010. Amongst a truly treasure filled Christmas I was lucky enough to be given lots of lovely literature. Choosing books as gifts takes a lot of thought, so I thought I would share with you what my relatives think of me. Here are the books that I received this year:

The Finkler Question – Howard Jacobson

Whatever You Love – Louise Doughty

At Home – Bill Bryson

Chocolat – Joanne Harris

The Daily Coyote – Shreve Stockton

Nothing To Envy – Barbara Demick

Thoughts on The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco

Real Fast Food – Nigel Slater

Ice Cream & Sadness (Cyanide & Happiness Volume 2)

‘Keep Calm and Carry on’  (Also noting that my husband received ‘Now Freak Out and Panic’)

It’s very interesting to see my friends’ and relatives’ impressions of me reflected back in their choice of books. This lovely little pile of books hits the nail on the head for me. All these novels are perfectly to my taste and It was hard to decide which one to open first. I’ve plumped for Howard Jacobson, a new discovery.

Mustn’t forget the Metazen Christmas e-book, a charity publication from Metazen featuring amazing festive writing from Marcus Speh, xTx, Roxane Gay, Kirsty Logan, Susan Tepper and many, many more, and including a rare poem from myself.

I now wish I’d written a ‘Books Given’ post. Here are some of those I can remember (and I may update the blog post when there are fewer demands to build lego helicopters):

  • The Flavour Thesaurus – Niki Segnit (2 copies given)
  • Across The Blood Red Skies, Under an English Heaven &  Upon Dark Waters – Robert Radcliffe (all three given as one gift)
  • The White Road and Other Stories – Tania Hershman
  • The Angel’s Game – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • How To Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog – Chad Orzel
  • Calm Down Boris
  • Rapunzel

What books have you given and received this year? Any you’re particularly delighted with?

PS: I have also been given a Kindle, which I’m very excited about. Although I am very much a paper girl, I read recently that many of those who use e-readers to read books are extremely loyal to this format and, if a particular book is not available for an e-reader, will choose a different book rather than buy the paper version. So I’m going to be asking for e-books for my upcoming birthday and blogging about the Kindle in the near future.