Name Clare Flynn
Age Yikes! It’s classified information – 62 (going on 16)
Where are you from?
I was born in Liverpool and have lived all over the place – numerous locations here in England plus Paris, Brussels, Milan and Sydney. After spending the last 18 years in London I moved last March to the south coast to Eastbourne where I have a view of the sea from my kitchen and living room.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
I have a degree in English Language and Literature from Manchester University. I’m the eldest of five children – but have none of my own. I was very much caught up in my career – I was a Marketing Director – hence the foreign living locations – and did a lot of travelling with my work. Twenty years ago I left corporate life and I set my own business. I worked with big companies as clients, helping them figure out their business strategy and improving their corporate culture to become more innovative. Since my move down here to the seaside I’m now 100% focused on my writing.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I’m off on holiday next week – going on a rail trip to Switzerland up to the top of the Jungfrau – following in Sherlock Holmes footsteps to the Reichenbach Falls – but hopefully not over them!
I’m working hard to finish my next book, The Chalky Sea. It’s set in WW2 here in Eastbourne.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
As soon as I could hold a pencil in my hand. I loved making up stories and writing poems and plays. It’s always been both a compulsion and an escape for me. I can’t imagine not writing. Even when I was in the corporate world I paid a lot of attention to crafting and “wordsmithing” every business document I had to write. I love words and putting them together and since I was able to read I’ve devoured books.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Probably when I held the first paperback version of my first book in my hands, hot from the printers. There’s no feeling quite like it.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book was never published and is locked away on an ancient floppy disk somewhere – if it exists at all any more. It was a thriller set in Istanbul and not at all the kind of book I would write now.
My first published novel was not inspired by anything particular except the desire to write a book. I had no idea what was going to happen in the story until I started to write it. My inspiration to finish it came from T.E. Lawrence – my first draft was stolen along with my laptops in a burglary. I was going to give up all my writing dreams but I read that Lawrence had left the manuscript for Seven Pillars of wisdom on a train and wrote it all again, so I decided to do the same.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I find that hard to answer. That’s one to ask my readers! I guess I must do as, even though I don’t write series, people read one book and then go on to read the others. I suppose my style is built on a foundation of decades of reading widely.
If forced to think about elements that define my style, I’d say I write fast paced stories with strong and memorable characters. I try to avoid black and white characters and go for a full palette so even the baddies have some redeeming qualities and the goodies are all flawed.
I spend hours crafting the words on the page. Story alone is not enough. It has be told well. Lots of readers say my books make them forget they’re reading a book and feel as if they’re there witnessing what’s happening. One woman wrote to tell me she was unable to travel due to disability but she went to all kinds of places vicariously through my books. That was such a compliment.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Titles are always hard. A Greater World is set in the Blue Mountains of Australia and the title comes from a couple of lines in a poem by Alfred Noyes “Beyond the Blue Mountains, We’ll find a greater world” and that’s what my main character Elizabeth has to do, rebuilding her life in Australia and overcoming so many obstacles.
Kurinji Flowers is named for a plant that grows in a small area of South India and nowhere else on the planet. It only blooms once every twelve years and was seen as a symbol of love in ancient Indian poetry. It is of great significance to my main character, Ginny.
Letters from a Patchwork Quilt was not my first title choice – mine was not well received by my editor and was perhaps a bit too esoteric – so I asked a few friends who’d read an early draft for help, and one of them came up with this title which I love and is a perfect fit for the story, some of which comes to light when a present day woman finds some old letters sewn inside a quilt.
The Green Ribbons was because a pair of green ribbons feature in the story and thread their way through the narrative.
My next book has a working title of The Chalky Sea. That’s because the sea here in Eastbourne is a wonderful grey-green colour and often has a cloudy opacity due to the chalk deposits washed from the cliffs into the water.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I think all my books are to some extent about displacement. My main characters are taken out of what had been a comfortable and secure existence with everything going well and thrown into very difficult and challenging circumstances sometimes on the other side of the world. How they cope with this varies between the characters. Elizabeth and Michael in A Greater World find themselves moving from England to Australia – Michael willingly to escape a tragedy, Elizabeth very reluctantly; Ginny in Kurinji Flowers is transposed from her debutante London society life to British India, where she feels unsettled and out of place; Jack and Eliza in Letters from a Patchwork Quilt are forcibly separated and she is trapped on a voyage to America without him, while he ends up in an unfamiliar, ugly, industrial town in the North of England. In The Green Ribbons Hephzibah loses her parents in a tragic accident and has to make a new life in a new place.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
All my books are entirely fictitious and I never base any characters on real people. I stole some elements of my great-grandfather’s life for Letters from a Patchwork Quilt – just the places he had lived in and the two jobs he had – as a schoolteacher and a publican. That was all I knew about him and I couldn’t imagine why a pub landlord would want to be a teacher and vice versa, so I decided to use that to make a story up. But none of the things that happened to him, or the women he was involved with have any connection at all to my own ancestor’s life. And as to using my own experiences – no way!
In my new book (out later this year) I have used real bombing incidents here in Eastbourne, sticking to the same locations and the same numbers of dead and injured – but all the characters are invented.
All my books are intensively researched to get the period detail right but I love writing because I love making stuff up!
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
So many books. I’d single out Thomas Hardy, the Brontes, Austen, Geroge Elliot, Henry James, but I also read lots of contemporary fiction. My favourite read last year was A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson – I love everything she writes. I often revisit the classics, including American literature – particularly John Updike, John Irving, Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton – but I also love to read books by authors I know persoanlly. The thing that surprised me most on becoming an author is how supportive it is as a community and I have met some wonderful people who will now be lifelong friends. It means I have a very long To Be Read list! There are a couple of recent posts on my blog highlighting some of my top reads of last year.
As to a mentor – all of my great English teachers at school – Miss Neely, Miss Ledger, Mrs Tillyard, Miss Wilson. Although it’s so many years ago and they are probably dead now, I owe them a huge debt – along with my late mother who died a year ago this month.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
School – as above! I was blessed with great teachers. Much more so than at university.
Nowadays it’s other authors. I’m in The Historical Novel Society, The Romantic Novelists Association, The Society of Authors and The Alliance of Independent Authors. All of these are sources of fantastic support, advice and friendship. I am also in a small critique group of 5 professional writers here in Eastbourne – we meet fortnightly to share extracts from our works in progress and offer each other constructive feedback. I recently wrote a piece for the ALLi blog about how this works and the benefits http://selfpublishingadvice.org/writing-partnerships-critique-groups/
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No. I spend a huge amount of time getting a book right, drafting, redrafting, making changes for my editor, getting feedback from a reader panel beforehand. I cut lots out. I fine-tune for ages. By the time the book is published I’m done and want to move on! If I didn’t believe it was good enough I wouldn’t put my name to it. No point in going back.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Lying at night on the bedroom floor when I was a small child in Liverpool, trying to read by the landing light under the bedroom door. Reading fueled my thirst to write. I used to make up stories and worlds to inhabit for my brothers and friends in our games. I sometimes wrote little plays for us to act out.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
My next book is about Gwen, 36, married with a husband away indefinitely on a secret mission related to the war. When we meet her, she is rather repressed, unfulfilled in life and suffering from a bad case of British stiff upper lip. It’s also the story of Jim, 25, a Canadian farmer who joins up when his fiancée dumps him for his younger brother. Jim is disenchanted with life and, along with his fellow Canadians, fed up with being held in reserve, kicking their heels as the British and other commonwealth nations fight without them.
The book is about the way war changes people and impacts their lives. It’s set in what should be a sleepy seaside town but becomes a frontline in the battle with Hitler and subject to one of the heaviest and protracted bombardments outside of London.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I’m a perfectionist – so I have to resist the temptation to keep on editing and re-drafting when I should be getting the rest of the story down first. I’m also a procrastinator – I think most authors are! I was going to write another 1500 words this afternoon but instead I’m answering your questions!
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
It depends on the book. I went back to Australia to do some fact-checking and location-hunting as I was finishing off A Greater World. The idea for Kurinji Flowers came to me during a sleepless night in a hotel room in Kerala, India when I was on holiday. But I made another trip when I was doing the final edits of the book – so I could stay on a tea plantation and walk in the steps of my character Ginny. I always take lots of photographs – and in India I also painted – that’s what Ginny did and I like to paint too (but I’m not as good as her). For Letters from a Patchwork Quilt I had been to St Louis, Missouri before I started writing the book so I used my memory of my visit there, backed up by online research – and I drove up to Middlesbrough to do a recce as I’d never been there. To be honest, I got more out of book research, studying old maps and online research, as most of Victorian Middlesbrough was demolished by developers in the sixties. The setting for The Green Ribbons was a village in Berkshire where I used to own a cottage. And The Chalky Sea is on my doorstep. Maybe my next book needs another exotic location…?
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Jane Dixon-Smith of JD Smith Designs. She is fabulous to work with. I wanted to ensure we created a family of books with consistent branding. It’s an evolutionary process and I love my covers.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Writing is a joy. But there are still days when I get distracted by other things – especially social media.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
IN order to write The Chalky Sea I’ve had to learn so much about Eastbourne and its history. I lived here in my teenage years but knew nothing of the dramatic wartime events that took place here. I’ve also learned a lot about the terrible things people went through during the war, living constantly on the edge of death. My mother was evacuated as a child and liked talking about the war and her memories of the bombings in Liverpool – sadly we kids didn’t like listening… My Dad was a pilot in Coastal Command in the RAF and was trained in Canada – as all the British and commonwealth airmen were. I so wish I were able to ask them both questions now.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead
I’ve cast all my books! The Green Ribbons is the most recent but the main characters are very young and I envisage unknowns playing the roles (and getting their big breakthoroughs!). So let’s go for Letters from a Patchwork Quilt – I would have James Norton as Jack, Carey Mulligan as Eliza, Ruth Wilson as Mary Ellen and Gabriel Byrne as Dr Feigenbaum. But then I’d be prepared to reshape any of my characters in order to have Ryan Gosling play one. His choice!
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Read as much as you can and as widely as you can – not just within your chosen genre.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
What I have to say, I say in my books and I hope you enjoy reading them. And if you do, please spare a minute to leave a review when you’ve finished. It really does make a difference to writers. I also love to hear from readers, so do get in touch. You can contact me on my website or by signing up to my list – and I’ll send you a short story as a thank you. You’ll only hear from me when I have special offers or a new book – unless you write to me – in which case I always reply personally. Readers are the most important people to me.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I’m reading four! East of Eden by John Steinbeck for book club; The Secret History of the Blitz and Bravely into Battle as background reading for my next book; and I have Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End as an audiobook to listen when I’m walking, doing the ironing or in the car for a long time.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Janet and John. When I was very small my Dad was a teacher and he taught me to read before I started school. I’m pretty sure he used Janet and John.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
I laugh all the time. Anything can set me off. But OMG I don’t know whether it’s my age but lately I cry ALL THE TIME – watching the news, watching movies, anything sets me off – especially people doing things they have worked hard for – or where they show great attainment like playing an instrument or a sporting performance – I just start blubbing. Yesterday it was watching a video of a flash-mob performing Carmina Burana on a German station concourse. I don’t know what gets into me.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
Napoleon Bonaparte. I’ve always found him fascinating. I think he would be great company with loads of stories to tell. If it’s somebody living, probably Michelle Obama – well she can bring Barrack along as well. There’s so much I’d want to ask them both. Oh and David Bowie please.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
I don’t want a headstone – even though I LOVE graveyards. I use headstones to find character names and I don’t want someone one day stealing mine for their novel!
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
I paint – water-colours mostly but I’ve started on oils. I’ll be painting in the sunshine (I hope) in March in the Canaries. I also love to quilt – mostly by hand. But I never seem to have enough time for either hobby at the moment as I’m racing to get The Chalky Sea finished. In the evenings I relax with a glass of wine and a box-set or a movie.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Breaking Bad, Parks and Recreation, all the Scandi noirs, Happy Valley, documentaries. And most evenings I knock off writing at 7pm so I’m in time for Channel 4 News.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
I’ll eat anything – I love food, but having lived for 3 years in Italy that’s my favourite cuisine. And I’m a cheese addict.
Colour – duck egg blue
Music – very catholic tastes. I grew up with all the influence of Motown and rock music and never ever missed Top of the Pops. I can still remember where I was and what I was wearing when I first heard certain records. I also love classical music and the odd bit of country. I’m still reeling from all the legends who died last year. I don’t often have music playing when I’m writing – particularly if there’s lyrics – too distracting. But it’s still a huge influence.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I’d like to have been a foreign correspondent (or a rock star)
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Authors Amazon page UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/Clare-Flynn/e/B008O4T2LC/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_1
Authors Amazon page USA https://www.amazon.com/Clare-Flynn/e/B008O4T2LC/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1484426219&sr=1-2-ent
A Greater World http://mybook.to/agreaterworl
Kurinji Flowers http://mybook.to/kurinjiflowers
Letters from a Patchwork Quilt http://mybook.to/patchwork
The Green Ribbons http://mybook.to/greenribbons