Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit it is via membership or an invite to the tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation with all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers. Over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, I shall be chatting with my guest about their work in progress, or latest book release.
Today I’m chatting to Clare. Hello and welcome to the clubhouse tearoom.
Thank you for the invite to the tearoom, Paula. It’s lovely here and the landscape is amazing, but I mustn’t say too much about it, must I?
No, you mustn’t, Clare. Mum’s the word. Now we have our drinks let’s start by asking you when you first began your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre?
I started writing as a child and stuck with that genre. I switched to writing for adults in my twenties, but continued to keep children’s projects on the go. I love writing for children because it gives you the ability to make new things out of old. Children’s curiosity opens up so many possibilities, and I’ve never quite lost my child’s mind. There’s a useful discipline about it too, because you can’t hang around or get bogged down. And this is a happy accident, but many people have told me how lovely those who work in children’s publishing are, and so far, it’s true.
In my work for adults I write both long and short-form, and for the past eight years I’ve also done a lot of flash fiction. My genre here is literary, for want of a better box, but as I’m a scientist, my themes will often be biological, ecological or concerned with physiology.
What writing elements do you think are your strongest points, and what would you like to do better?
Every project goes back to ground zero. I always flounder with how to write it, as if I’ve never written before. Wheels have to be reinvented, which is irritating. This is a common problem, but I’d like to get over it faster, if possible! I’d also like to learn how to find the tone that works for each particular project with more certainty, less messing about.
I think my strongest point is a page-turning quality. I’m often quite good at pacing, and I don’t give up.
Tell us a little about your latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?
My dreams came true last July (2019) when my fantastic agents (The Good Literary Agency) got me a 2-book deal with Bloomsbury Children’s! Book 1 is called The Lightning Catcher and it’s out in May 2021. I’m now working on Book 2, which is something I’ve been mulling over for about two years. It started life as a short story, but it quickly became clear that the themes and characters were crying out to get into a children’s book. It’s about a London girl who has always spent the summer holidays with her grandparents by the sea, but now finds she has to live there full-time, and is traumatised to have lost her family home via eviction. There are compensations on the horizon, though. She sees somebody in the sea – in the shallows right by the shore – who looks very much at home there. Too much at home. When he disappears, it isn’t to come ashore.
How many unfinished projects do you have on your computer?
Over thirty, and this is intentional. It means that any ideas that come into my head have a fitting home to go to, and won’t just be shoe-horned into my main work-in-progress. My writing took off when I had this brainwave! Before that I was working on one big novel, which limped on for years and didn’t have a very good structure because it kept getting side-tracked down various rabbit holes. Lots of my other projects are short stories, two are adult novels and six are children’s books. It means I’m never stuck or blocked, because if my main work-in-progress hits a problem I can skive off into one of my side projects! My brain often fixes the original problem for me once I stop looking at it directly. (And I’d agree with many others who have found that going for a walk works well for this, too.)
Do you write a synopsis first or write the first chapter, or let the characters lead you?
I write as much as I have in my head, which is usually characters, setting and main plot points in rough notes first. As soon as I have a page or two I begin writing opening chapters, and use those rough notes to write an outline. I carry on like that, adding to the three main areas as I go along: Chapters, Outline, Notes. In those early months my brain gives me things fairly randomly, so I just go with it. I might come away from my desk after a writing day with scenes for a chapter or character notes or plot points – it takes a while for things to settle down. Once I have clear problems or inconsistencies to solve, I’ll sit down and work out a formal outline, or a character arc. So the answer is that I write the outline and the first chapter at the same time. I write a short synopsis when the book is finished. The outline is a working one that grows and changes with the book. The formal synopsis is tighter and more final.
Choosing only five of your favourite authors. Can you list them in order 1 begin the top of your list and say how have they influenced your writing?
1) John Gordon wrote The Giant Under the Snow, which I read as a child. He taught me how to show personality through dialogue, and how to pace a breath-taking adventure so that you get quieter moments interspersed with high tension. His plot is fantastic, but so believable on the page because of the ordinary setting and characters you relate to. He doesn’t dumb his prose down at all. His characters speak and act intelligently, yet match their ages perfectly.
2) David Almond’s Skellig taught me so much – it’s hard to know where to begin! I think the best takeaway from this book is how to take a simple premise – finding a strange man holed up in a shed – and store within it whole new possibilities for evolutionary biology. It’s influenced me enormously.
3) I’ve been reading Rachel Cusk since the start of her career – we’re a similar age – and she often seems to articulate what’s in my head. I think her main influence on my writing has been the joy of watching her weave some pretty erudite and philosophical themes and characters’ thoughts into novels that stay pacey and never get bogged down.
4) Philippa Pearce’s beautiful book A Dog so Small, which I also read as a child, probably influenced me in life as much as in my writing. The theme – to make the most of what you have in front of you – has stayed with me. I’m sure the story came before the theme when she was writing it, but it’s taught me how to work with love and strong emotions in my books without letting things get mushy. It’s a very clever book.
5) Malorie Blackman, especially her Noughts & Crosses novels. She taught me to run with an amazing theme and build a world around it. I admire her tenacity.
What did you learn when writing your book? In writing it, how much research did you do?
I researched a lot around weather, thunderstorms, electricity, the solar wind, things that happen around the outskirts of the sun, and between the sun and Earth. Magnetic portals link Earth to the sun, which is something I didn’t know before writing The Lightning Catcher.
Do you set yourself a daily word count?
No – I’ve never understood why people do this. It might take a whole day to perfect a couple of paragraphs, but if they work, that’s time well spent. On the other hand, you can flow through and push out a couple of thousand happy words only to delete them all in an edit a month later. That edit was vital, but it puts your word count into negative equity. So I find it more useful to think of hours spent writing, editing or thinking about plot/character. If I’ve done more of that than anything else in a day, I’m happy.
What was your hardest scene to write?
One of the opening scenes in The Lightning Catcher took a lot of drafting. It involves a huge argument between two adults, which is fascinating and deliciously naughty for my child protagonists to listen in to, but there was far too much of it. I had to pare back drastically, because I’d enjoyed myself too much and got carried away. Choosing which sections to keep was tough.
Many thanks, Paula for the invite.
You’re very welcome. Congratulation on your debut novel The Lightning Catcher.
For more information about Clare’s writing and books check out her blog: clareweze.com Article in The Bookseller about Bloomsbury Scoops Clare Weze’s Middle-grade debut novel. The Lightning Catcher
If you want to find out more about Clubhouse Member’s Books don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops