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Fiction-Net > Author Interviews > Claire Calman Interview

Claire Calman Author InterviewClaire Calman Interview

Love Is A Four Letter Word was an emotional bullet. Lessons For A Sunday Father was a four-way emotional battlefield. With all these emotions flying about, we wanted to find out what makes Claire Calman tick.

 

Fiction-Net: Are you writing novel number three at the moment?

Claire Calman: Yes and of course, by the time you're on number three, it's all plain sailing. Um... not. I have been finding it really hard. I think when I start a book, I don't realise the full scope of what I'm trying to do - and if I did, I never would even pick up my pen in the first place. It's only as I get into it and start to understand more about the characters and why they are the way they are that it dawns on me how high the mountain is that I have to climb. It's daunting and the worst thing is, ultimately, you're all alone in it - you can get bits of help and input from other people but fundamentally all you have is blank sheets of paper and the contents of your own head. That said, it is still a thousand times better than having to do a real job. On a good day, or even a not-entirely-crap day, I can't believe how lucky I am to be able to earn a living purely from using my imagination.


 

Fiction-Net: Your novels have a strong emotional punch. Is this something you aim for?

Claire Calman: No, I aim to make them weak and woolly and uninteresting. Surely every writer wants their books to be emotionally strong? I think what makes the difference is to write only about things you really, really care about quite deeply. If something matters to you, it's easier to make it matter for the reader. I'm not a writer who plans a lot - the story stems from the characters and grows and changes as I write and I don't map it all out at the beginning. I can usually see some fragments, scenes, pictures in my mind, so I'll think 'Yes, I know Bella and her mother have a major confrontation' but I won't know how it'll happen until I write it.


 

Fiction-Net: What made you decide to use the 'he said, she said' approach for Lessons For A Sunday Father? Was it something you'd been wanting to do for some time?

Claire Calman: I think I'd always wanted to write about the subject of a fragmented family but without consciously realising it. My own parents split when I was two and I wanted to look at the unexpected positive effects it can also have. At the very beginning, I was sure I needed to tell it from husband, wife and child's view, so Lessons For A Sunday Father started as a three-hander. Then Nat, the teenage son showed up and then became absolutely crucial to the story.

I think I first became intrigued by the idea of a multiple-viewpoint tale when I read As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, written in 1930 and decades before its time. It's very interesting and challenging to write a story that way - and immensely hard to pull off.

Love Is A Four Letter Word by Claire Calman - Book Review

Fiction-Net: So how did you find writing from a man's point of view?

Claire Calman: He was my starting point and I felt completely at home in his shoes from the beginning. I checked vocabulary and male perspectives with a couple of men but mostly I just tried to use my imagination. I wanted to create a portrait of a man who is fundamentally good, kind and loving and decent but also flawed and very human, with insecurities and self-doubts and prone to making mistakes and messing things up - the way we all do and that's about being human, whether you're a man or a woman.


Fiction-Net: Do you have plans for a web presence?

Claire Calman: Only if you want to help me - I'm not exactly the world's greatest technophile. Also, to be honest, I cannot imagine anyone being remotely interested enough to want to check out a website about me or my books. I do feel there's something slightly shrine-ish about it. I love the fact that anyone would shell out real money to buy one of my books then take the time to read it. I can think of no greater accolade but is there the need for more than that? I don't think so.


 

Fiction-Net: And are you an internet addict yourself?

Claire Calman: I'm an e-addict, definitely. I resisted for ages until friends nagged at me to get hooked up. E-mailing friends, especially other writers, is the pinnacle of work avoidance and you can even feel as if you're sort of working because you're at your laptop and talking about writing. My favourite e-mail correspondent is Canadian-based writer William Kowalski, author of Eddie's Bastard, a wonderful book.

I check out Amazon quite often but I don't use the net for research. All the research I do has to involve talking to real people - and it's a great excuse to get away from my desk.

Lessons For A Sunday Father by Claire Calman - Book Review

Fiction-Net: Do you have a favourite character from Lessons For A Sunday Father?

Claire Calman: Well, it's Scott, of course. I love him because he messes up and he's so hopeless about communicating but he so wants to do things well. He tries really hard and he is a good father. I feel very tender and protective about him, even though he's also a cheating, lying bastard. In fact, when I was writing the book, I found my sympathies switching frequently. I'm very fond of Rosie because I identify strongly with a child having to grow up quickly and I also feel a lot for Nat, being a teenage boy is no picnic, I imagine, especially hard if you're suddenly pitched into a situation like the one in Lessons For A Sunday Father, poor sod.

Your review stated that you didn't like Nat and I found myself feeling quite aggrieved, as if he was actually my son. Gail was the hardest character to write and I needed to make her quite strong so she wouldn't just be a passive victim - opinion on her is divided but male readers are usually not very keen on her.


 

Fiction-Net: Were you tempted to allow Scott and Gail to get back together or were they always doomed?

Claire Calman: As I say, I don't plan much in advance. I deliberately decided not to predetermine the outcome, so I could let the story be led by the characters as they developed. The only thing I was pretty sure about was that the emotional crux would rest on the relationship between Scott and the children rather than between Scott and his wife. But, no, I never make things doomed from the start.


 

Fiction-Net: Finally, do you have any advice for would-be authors trying to get published?

Claire Calman: Don't do it, there are far too many books cluttering up the shelves already and it leaves less space for mine. Is that the kind of advice you meant? Oh, well - all right then. Main advice is to write about something you really care about. Practical advice - try to get an agent rather than sending an unsolicited manuscript to a publisher where it will languish in the 'slush pile'. When sending stuff to an agent, I advise sending only about 3 chapters plus a really strong covering letter.

Read more about Claire Calman at Fiction-Net.

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