Clare Swatman’s first novel, Before You Go, was published by Pan Macmillan in 2017 and her new novel, The Mother’s Secret, will be out on 22 February 2018. Today we’re chatting about writing, literary heroes, and wine gums.
Hi Clare, tell us a little about your writing to date.
I’ve always been a writer, and have spent the last twenty years working as a journalist for women’s magazines. But I always wanted to write a novel – I just never knew whether I could, or whether anyone would read it. Eventually I decided to bite the bullet and write something – and a couple of years later, Before You Go was born and my dream came true. I’ve loved it, and hope to write many more.
Where did your inspiration for the character of Zoe in Before You Go come from?
She isn’t based on any one person, and she took a while to develop properly as it was the first time I’d done this before, but in the end I think she’s a mixture of lots of people I know including myself, my best friends and other people I’ve met along the way. She’s an every woman, with good traits and bad traits just like everyone.
Were there any scenes in your forthcoming novel, The Mother’s Secret, which you found difficult to write?
Yes, there was one in particular which I won’t go into too much detail about here as it will give some of the story away, but it happens to Jan, and it explains much of what happens in the rest of the story. But it’s a harrowing thing to go through and so I wanted to make sure I got the details right.
The scenes where Jan’s Alzheimer’s is getting worse in later scenes was also quite hard to write and again involved lots of research around the subject, particularly first-hand experiences.
Do you plan out an entire plot before you begin writing, or does a story evolve as you write?
Yes I do tend to plan as I find writing and not knowing where I’m going with the story really difficult to do and I end up writing myself into corners. I actually find the planning the hardest bit so once that’s out of the way it’s a relief to just get the story down. Having said that, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t change along the way – but at least I know roughly where I want my story to begin and end so I have something to work towards!
Personal writing choice: pen or keyboard?
Keyboard for writing the story – I’m a very fast typer – although I do start a fresh notebook with every story where I write notes as I go along and plot notes as well. I’m also a huge fan of the post-it note plotting, with notes scribbled and stuck all over the wall in front of my laptop.
What is the best part of being an author? And the worst?
The best part is the joy of someone having loved what you’ve written. When someone tells you they’ve enjoyed your book, whether it’s made them laugh or cry, or just think about life, it’s the best feeling in the world. The worst bit? Well there aren’t any bad bits apart from the uncertainty. There’s no guarantee you’ll get to have another book published just because you’ve had one, or two, or even ten. You just have to carry on writing the best books you can and hope people like them. Oh, and bad reviews. I can read ten great ones and one bad one and I feel terrible for a good couple of days – but I need to toughen up!
Who are your writing heroes?
Maggie O’Farrell and Margaret Atwood have always been my writing heroes. They both write so beautifully and with such ease, they make me want to be a better writer. I’ve also read a few books this year that I’ve really enjoyed and think they might become new favourite authors too, including Joanna Cannon and Ruth Hogan – I’m looking forward to reading their next books. And I have to mention my friend Rowan Coleman. She’s a fantastic writer and works so hard – she amazes me all the time with how hard she works, and often makes me feel guilty I’m not doing the same!
If you had to be stranded on a desert island with three fictional characters, who would you choose, and why?
Oooh, tough one. Hermione Granger as she could magic loads of things to help us survive and to fight the baddies. Paddington Bear as he’s hilarious and everything always ends well for him in the end so that’s got to be a good thing for getting off the island eventually. And Mark Darcy, for some romance and eye candy.
Wine gums or chocolate as your preferred snack of choice when immersed in writing?
Can’t I have both? Wine gums if I had to choose as they last longer and I like something to snack on as I write!
My second book, The Mother’s Secret, is out on 22 February, and I’m very excited and hope people like it. I’ve just finished the first draft of another novel too, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens with that. I have plenty of ideas though so hopefully this is just the beginning of a long and successful journey for me. I certainly hope so!
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions!
I’ve been a writer and journalist for more years than I’m prepared to admit (even to myself), and have written mainly for some of the amazing women’s magazines out there.
I cut my teeth in magazines at Best magazine, who took me on even with very little experience. After that the world was my oyster (well the women’s magazine world at least) and I went on to work at Bella, Woman’s Own, Woman, Real People and Take a Break at various times, but always somehow ending up at Bella, where I spent many happy years working my way up from Features Writer to Assistant Editor.
But then I made the decision to go freelance and, shortly afterwards, I had my eldest son, who’s now nine, and things changed quickly. The magazine industry increasingly turned digital and printed magazines took the hit, and I was left feeling – well, a bit useless, knowing nothing about the world of digital and blogging. I carried on freelancing, but I felt worried. After all, I didn’t have any other skills apart from writing, what else could I do?
I’d always had the urge to write a novel but never truly believed I’d be able to do it. And then one day, when my youngest son was just two, I decided to risk being laughed at, and give it a go. With very little childcare and regular work with my local magazine and Take a Break to squeeze in, it took me a long time to write what has now become Before You Go. But I did it. And, to my utter amazement, people actually liked it. And now, my first novel is out in the wild, my second is due for release soon, and I’m beyond thrilled. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed writing them.