My First Time...with Clare Empson
Clare Empson spent the first half of her career working on national newspapers, covering everything from fashion to finance, and she had tea with the romantic novelist Barbara Cartland shortly before she died (everything was pink including the cakes). When she moved to the country she founded a lifestyle and culture blog Country Calling and started writing her novel debut novel, HIM.
Clare will be reading and dispensing advice at The Riff Raff on Thursday 8th November and we would love for you to join us...
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Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book? It happened when we moved from South London to Wiltshire ten years ago. We were renting on an almost absurdly bucolic country estate to begin with, day old lambs gambolling in the drive, a pond brimming with tiny tadpoles and a park full of deer. I thought it would be interesting to turn the idyll on its head and create something really dark!
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before starting to write it? How long it was going to take – nine years. But then again if I’d known beforehand I probably have given up. In a funny way I’m glad it took so long, not to say I don’t still have moments of feeling like an imposter, but I do feel like maybe I earned it!
What did you enjoy most about writing it?
Perhaps because I took so long over it I knew my characters so well they were almost like friends. I honestly looked forward to spending time with them. Catherine and Lucian in particular were just in my head for so many years and when each new edit came back from the agent or publisher I felt a sense of relief that I could get back to them. It was such a wrench when I finished the final edit and had to let them go!
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And the worst part? I guess it’s the self doubt which never goes away for very long. You think you’re going to be over it once you get a book deal but then you start worrying that book two is absolute pants. I formed a writers group with two other writers ten years ago and that’s the best thing I ever did because we talk each other down when the doubt hits.
What’s your go-to procrastination method? I read an interview with Lisa Jewell recently where she said working from home is like being in the middle of a department store. I so agree, I can start window
shopping for the most bizarre items to avoid writing. Recently I’ve taken the drastic step of renting an office with no WiFi.
Go-to writing snacks? See above – my other go to procrastination method is making snacks. Toast with marmite, toast with avocado, toast with pretty much anything.
The book that changed you? The Secret History by Donna Tartt blew me away when I first read it 25 years ago and it still does. It really influenced HIM in a sense because I wanted to create a similarly claustrophobic friendship circle that is powered by secrets. I think she redefined the crime novel by making it cross genres – literary, love story and psychological suspense all in one.
Your pump up song? Not so much pump up but a critical song to the storyline of HIM is Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones. It’s the song that Catherine and Lucian fall in love to and it features several times in the novel like a motif. I can never hear it without thinking about them and at my book launch a couple of musicians played their own live version of it which was really moving.
If you could share a bottle of wine with one writer, who would it be? Scott Fitzgerald definitely although maybe it should be a martini or three. For me The Great Gatsby is the most magnificent novel of all time, I’d like to ask him where the idea came from. He is the master of that pared down, almost casual emotion that really punches you in the heart. I was definitely influenced by his interpretation of the careless rich when I was creating Lucian’s friends.
One piece of advice you’d give first time writers hoping to get published? Tempting as it is don’t ditch the manuscript you’re working on and start something new. I’ve done that so many times. The reason HIM took so long was because I stuck with it and worked through all the problems and I eventually got there in the end. I still get drawn to the shiny new idea though. Recently I wanted to abandon book two in favour of book three. Luckily my agent talked me out of it!
Why do you write? I once asked myself this in the middle of the night around eight years into book one. I was feeling low about all the writing weekends spent away from my family and all those horrible 5 am starts and I asked myself if I could not do it. I thought about it for a long time and I realised no, even if I never got published, I’d still have to write for myself. I guess it’s my form of self expression and I’d feel pretty lost without it.