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By Sasha Mills
laire Fuller is an author, shortlisted this year for the Women’s Prize for Fiction with her book Unsettled Ground, which explores the lives of twins in a secluded setting whose lives are shaken by the sudden death of their mother. Her previous books, including most recently Bitter Orange and Swimming Lessons, have been met with critical acclaim. She began writing fiction when she was 40, and before becoming a full-time writer, Claire spent 23 years in marketing.
We spoke to Claire about her writing process, the reading that she does throughout her day, and finding community once she started working alone.
The Today Programme is what wakes me up, so I take in just the news headlines rather than reading anything deeper than that then.
When I have breakfast, that’s when I read. I read the novel that I happen to be reading, and eat my toast and Marmite, reading my book at the table. I do this thing on Instagram, Claire’s books at breakfast. If I’ve finished a book I’ll take a picture of the book at my breakfast table, although it looks a lot nicer than the reality of my breakfast table, as is the way with Instagram, and then I’ll write a little review which I’ll post.
I read at breakfast, and at lunch, and before I sleep. So within the day I am reading a lot. I see it almost as a part of my job, reading fiction, just to soak up all of the words, see what other people are writing.
Since I’ve been a professional writer, it’s hard to switch off when I read a book. You start taking a book, and thinking ‘How did they make me feel this?’, or ‘Oh, that’s the structure they’re using, that really works.’ You start analysing. A book has to really grab me to have me switch off from that completely.
It’s not that I’m going to use that structure or that style, but I do feel that reading books at the same time as I’m writing actually does help me. If I think, ‘Oh, I’m not sure about this,’ then actually I’ll try not to do that in my own work. And if I read a book that’s absolutely amazing, then it just makes me want to try even harder in making my own writing better.
I know that lots of writers say that they can’t read fiction at the same time as they’re writing, but because I really have no breaks – I finish a book and I start another one often the next day – I would never actually read any fiction if I did that.
After I’ve finished breakfast, and before I start work, I have outside my house a Little Free Library. It’s a US scheme, and my husband built one for me. And maybe it’s the little frustrated librarian in me, but every morning I go outside and I see which books have been taken and if any have been put in. I keep a register of which books I have.
I love that ritual, and maybe subconsciously that is a transition between non-work and work.
In theory, I start writing at 9:00. That’s when my work day starts. I turn on my computer, or make sure that I’m at my desk (or at my sofa, depending on what time of year it is) at 9:00. Because I worked in marketing for so many years, I am set in those office hours, 9:00 to 6:00, which works very well for me, and Monday to Friday, but then I will also write a little bit at the weekends.
Even if it’s 10 minutes each day, I find that if I keep the book in my head, even just slightly on a Saturday and Sunday, Monday’s writing is so much better. It took me ages to work out why Mondays were so rubbish before.
So my plan is always to start writing at 9:00, and I never do that. Very rarely do I actually start writing, even though my intention is always to do that. I find that I work better under pressure, even if it’s my own pressure. The morning will go by, I’ll say to myself, ‘Well, I haven’t written anything yet, but I’ll have some lunch and I’ll write straight after lunch.’ And then, I know that I’m going to be stopping at 6:00, so often at 5:00 I’m writing, writing, writing. And that’s when I get my words done.
Writing full time is almost, I think, like running a small business. There’s just so many other things to do. I’ll also spend my mornings on research. The book I’m writing now has lots of medical ethics in it, and that’s something I really know nothing about. But also, when I’ve just published a book, there’s a lot more administration. There’s a lot more publicity for me to get involved in as well.
When I became a writer, I went out and very deliberately found a group that were going through the same things as me, so various writing groups. Somewhere we meet in real life and critique each other’s work, and discuss writing, and some online.
There’s one called The Prime Writers, for writers who have had their first book published when they were over the age of 40. It’s kind of an arbitrary number, but we’ve had other life experiences. Lots of us have had children or done other jobs, and then have been published late-ish in life. Finding that group replaced my colleagues. Although we can’t meet as often, we do meet for lunches, and little groups have formed.
Just finding people who are going through the same things as you was really important for me.
From morning reads to getting words on the page, Women’s Prize shortlisted author Claire Fuller walks us through her daily rituals.
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