Report by Lisa Nightingale
‘You don’t need to know someone in the industry, in order to get published,’ award- winning author, Claire Fuller is keen to tell writers.
Claire is not at all bashful about having begun her writing career, aged 40, or how her first book, Our Endless Numbered Days was chosen from the ‘slush pile’ or that she was 48 before she was published.
She recalls that she was sitting in the back seat of a small car surrounded by cheese and bulging bin bags of wedding feast dregs, when she took the call from her agent with the news that Penguin had won the publishers’ auction for Our Endless Numbered Days . This debut novel was published in the UK and was sold to a further twelve countries. It was awarded the Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction 2015 and long-listed for the Dublin Literary Award.
Claire directed a marketing company for a number of years though she had gained a degree in sculpture from the Winchester School of Art. While she was developing a succession of projects, she realised that she needed to extend her knowledge. She chose creative writing.
Although she had not written fiction since leaving school, aged 16, she submitted a short story into the Hampshire Cultural Trust Short Story Slam. Eighteen months later her submission won a competition and she was rewarded with the princely sum of £9.50! ‘Entering competitions is an excellent way to become recognised as an emerging writer’.
Fascinated by the story of Robin Van Helsum, a Dutch boy, who claimed to have lived in a German forest for five years, she wrote scenes of a young girl living in a forest, which she incorporated into her dissertation for her MA in Creative Writing at the University of Winchester.
Claire readily admits to being someone who needs guidance and discipline. During the academic year’s summer break, she feared that her motivation would lapse. She loves the freedom writing brings to indulge in description and launched into a self- imposed project, turning the forest scenes into a book. She took part in live research and ‘watched an awful lot of Ray Mears programmes.’
She submitted a synopsis of 140 characters to #PitMad. The ‘likes’ that she received from agents motivated her further and she finished and revised the book. To find an agent, she submitted to a variety of agents and received the usual rejection letters.
However she did receive an invitation to tea in London from an agent.
‘We sat outdoors at a long table. She bought me the smallest cake in London,’ Claire recalls. But she was so friendly, supportive and genuinely interested in my novel. ‘I knew that she was the agent for me.’
A certain amount of luck is involved in finding the right agent. It is important to work with them, Claire advised. Although it is part of the publisher’s contractual agreement to market writers’ books, they like it when you support them.
Claire observed that when you live with your story for so long, you often don’t recognise overlong narrative scenes. Her editor has asked her to alter the placement of her scenes to improve the pace or to change of words, but they have never asked her to change her story line or her ideas.
Claire enjoys the editing process even more than the writing of the first draft. She is a member of a critiquing group, which she has found invaluable.
Because her publisher has only offered her a one book deal, she has prepared the first draft of her next book while she was waiting for her first book to be printed, in her case, a period of eighteen months.
Swimming Lessons, her second book, was published by Fig Tree/Penguin in hardback and ebook in January 2017, published by Tin House, US, in February 2017, by House of Anansi, Canada and Piper in Germany in March 2017.
Swimming Lessons has received many favourable reviews including The Guardian, who reported that ‘ Swimming Lessons reveals a writer that has all the observational touches that show Fuller to be a serious novelist with an acute awareness of the nuances and patterns of human speech and behaviour.’
Meanwhile Claire she is working on Book 3. Then her submission process begins anew.