September 10, 2012 by benmblackman
‘The Night Rainbow is what gives you hope when it is so dark you’re not sure the morning will ever come.’
Claire King, Author
Claire King grew up in Yorkshire before moving to the Langeudoc region of Southern France where she wrote her debut novel, The Night Rainbow (Bloomsbury – February 2013).
I caught up with Claire, who was kind enough to let me interview her about her life, The Night Rainbow and writing.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambled round the shire,
And took me to the Pyrénées by way of dreaming spires.
A merry road, a mazy road, especially in the dark,
That night I went to Kiev by way of Richmond Park.
I knew I was on to a good thing when the prose above were delivered to describe how Claire happened to end up in Langeudoc from Yorkshire. She proffered ‘rip off’ but I say modern day mash up of GK Chesterton’s Rolling English Road along with her own story and words no less. An original and exclusive Claire King for us all.
‘The major benefit in the South of France is, of course, the glorious weather,’ she continued. ‘We have such wonderful seasons here and the fresh fruit and vegetables are superb. We live by the seasons. The surroundings here in the Pyrénees are glorious: mountains, lakes, the Mediterranean.’ Claire has two young children and is happy to be able to raise them in such an environment but she doesn’t believe a place necessarily makes you happy. ‘Wherever you choose to live there are pros and cons. I miss friends and family mostly, rather than places or things in England.’ She returns a few times a year to visit and looks forward to that being more frequent next year when The Night Rainbow is launched.
Having studied Economics at Newnham College, Cambridge, she spent 20 years working in business before finally realising what she wanted to do when she grew up. ‘It’s funny, I always loved writing and reading. I adored English at school and I did a lot of reading and writing in my spare time. But I never believed that someone ‘like me’ could ever make a living from it. At school I was discouraged from taking English A level because it didn’t fit with the Maths A level that was more likely to get me a good university place and a good job. And, to be honest security, an opportunity to fly the nest, become independent, that was important to me, especially in my twenties.’
Luckily for her, and for us, she continued to write regardless with her short fiction being published widely online and in print as well as being longlisted by BBC Radio 4 for their Opening Lines programme. Her short story Wine at Breakfast was a runner up in the Bristol Short Story Prize 2010 before she received the news that The Night Rainbow would be published. In bed at her parent in-laws house just before Christmas 2010 the news arrived via her agent forwarding on an email titled simply, ‘a Christmas present for you.’ How did she feel? ‘Elated, amazed, emotional.’
So what’s taken her so long? ‘Once my husband and I decided to ‘settle down’ and move to France I started working part time. I hoped that I could find more time to write and submit, and it did help. But it was once I had children I realised that the time I needed had been there all along. I just hadn’t had the perspective to realise it or the discipline to exploit it.’
As if being a successful author is not enough, like so many others, Claire still has a day job to pay the bills. She helps big companies ‘collaborate internally to solve complicated problems or goals’ through her own company. ‘It’s more fun than it sounds, but I have to travel to do it. I work a lot in Toulouse at the moment on aerospace projects. We’ll see what happens next year as to how much I am able to scale that down to concentrate more on writing. I would love to write full time.’
Does she find it difficult juggling all the balls I wonder? ‘When I wrote The Night Rainbow I was doing my ‘business job’, raising two small children and running two gîtes as well. I’m not lucky enough to have been given a year or two ‘off’ to write a novel and frankly I’m not sure it would have helped. I’m still doing all those things, writing the next novel and preparing The Night Rainbow launch. Luckily I have a fantastic and helpful husband!’ I reckon he’s got a pretty exceptional wife too!
Being an aspiring author I am always interested in successful authors experiences so here are a few questions for us all to learn from:
Describe The Night Rainbow in one sentence.
The Night Rainbow is what gives you hope when it is so dark you’re not sure the morning will ever come.
[Wow, that one sentence beats this whole blog for me – Ben].
When did you first have the idea for The Night Rainbow?
It grew so organically I can’t really answer this, but the story was triggered by an incident that turns up in a fictionalised form towards the end of the book. That’s all I’ll say on that.
How long did it take to write?
It took about a year to write, including editing, but it was fermenting for a year or two before that. It’s easy to underestimate that time where ideas are born and take shape before you even put pen to paper. The one I’m writing now has taken a lot longer because I’m finding the themes I’m tackling are tougher.
Where do you write?
Do you write as and when it feels good or set times?
It used to be more in the evenings but now my girls are at school it tends to be afternoons. I don’t wait until it feels good because some days it’s never going to feel good. I need the discipline of sitting down and writing, every day if at all possible. If you’re a writer, you write, right?
What do you find hardest – writing or editing?
I find the first draft hardest, but to be honest none of it is easy. I have pretty high ideals of what I want to achieve, and it’s a long and iterative process. For me the ‘easiest’ parts of writing are the times when I’m out walking and turning ideas over in my head, and the final stages of writing where words and phrases are tweaked to perfection. I suspect that’s the same for many people, which is why writers get stuck on ideas, or real time self-editing, and avoid the grunt work in the middle.
How much do you write before editing? Chapter by chapter or do you just get the lot down and then edit?
I write the whole thing, although not necessarily in order. When all the major components seem to be there, then I edit. And edit. And edit.
How did you get an agent? How long did that take?
Probably not a very interesting story. But The Writers and Artists Handbook. It didn’t take long at all (but please note that this was not the first novel I ever submitted and the first time round was long and frustrating and also fruitless)! A fuller explaination can be found here: http://www.claire-king.com/2011/06/29/literary-agent-responses-how-long-is-normal/
From news your book would be published to the publish date – how long?
2 years, 1 month, 1 week and 6 days.
If you could only send your book to one person – who?
What should be the next book I buy?
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Beautifully written without being self conscious, intelligent, enthralling novel.
Are you working on new material yet or having a rest?
Any tips for aspiring writers?
Sit down and write. You need the practice. And don’t submit your novel too early. Make it perfect. Talk to other writers. Follow me on Twitter!
And you should do too @ckingwriter You will learn a lot from this inspirational author, mother, businesswoman, editor…but perhaps rest is not one of them! ‘People are always welcome to contact me via twitter or my website. I love to hear from readers and really believe that writers should ‘pay it forward’. That’s what makes the community so fabulous.’ This blog is testament to Claire’s commitment to that principal so I thank her wholeheartedly and urge you all to pre-order your copy of The Night Rainbow from Amazon by clicking here
It is truly beautiful.
If you would like to hear from Claire when the book is launched, please do send her an email: email@example.com