Claire Adam was born in Port of Spain in Trinidad & Tobago. She left at the age of 18 to study science at Brown University in the US. Later, Claire completed an MA in Creative & Life Writing at Goldsmiths in London. Golden Child is her first novel.
Claire is speaking at The Riff Raff on March 7th.
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Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book?
Hard to pick one moment! I've been scribbling stuff down since I was a kid. Each time, I'd read back what I'd written and think, “Hmm, that's not very good, let me try again...” and each time I “tried again”, it got a little better. There was always something small in amongst all the rubbish I produced that was worth keeping. So I kept going, over many years, and eventually ended up with Golden Child.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before starting to write it?
I wish I'd known that it is not as easy as people make it look. I would characterise writing fiction as something which is really not easy.
What did you enjoy most about writing it?
I enjoyed the early drafts, when I was exploring the space and getting to know the characters. Also, in my blissful ignorance of those early days, I was delighted with my increasing word count, thinking it was bringing me closer to the end!
And the worst part?
One of the worst parts was having to lose sections that I loved. It's not quite as simple as the “kill your darlings” thing – it was more a case of having a number of strong but competing elements in the book. It took me some time to accept that they could not all co-exist, that they were fighting each other, and some would have to go. It was as if alternate versions of the book had to be sacrificed in order that another version could exist fully.
What’s your go-to procrastination method?
Coffee. Twitter. All the usual suspects!
Go-to writing snacks?
Cheese sandwiches. Yoghurt.
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The book that changed you?
THE book? THE book is a big thing to ask about, and I don't think I know the answer. However, let me mention The Crucible by Arthur Miller, a book we studied for our GCSEs in Trinidad. I wish to say that (a) I found it very helpful to “study” this book rather than just read it in a sitting and then put it aside as I probably had for most other books I had read. I discovered that it was an endlessly rewarding enterprise to read, and re-read, and discuss, and reflect upon, and consider the text and the characters from this angle and then that angle and then another angle; and it was notable that through all this close reading and analysis, the text had ever more to yield to the reader – it was like a well that never ran dry.
Next, (b), I will say that there was a sense of the characters being in motion. I don't mean motion in the sense of the characters moving around the stage; it was more about each character having their own momentum, of inner forces at work. This made an impression.
And the third thing, (c), is that it was, in a sense, about good and evil, and yet none of the characters was entirely good or entirely evil. The characters who were morally weaker could be disliked or pitied, perhaps, and yet it felt impossible to damn them entirely.
And (d) this play is set in the 1600s in Massachusetts, USA, and I was reading it several centuries later, in a totally different part of the world, and yet I could follow every character's struggle and dilemma, and I, at the end, could understand the moral victory of John Proctor.
The book in physical form was nothing much – my copy was a slim, dog-eared paperback – and yet these few bits of yellowed paper glued together at the spine held something of tremendous power. This made an impression.
Your pump up song?
Khachaturian’s Masquerade. I have zero knowledge of music theory but I liked the repeating circular elements in this piece, and when I first heard it I thought, “That's the structure I'm looking for!” Also Pan in A Minor which is a Trinidadian steelpan piece. You can find it on youtube.
If you could share a bottle of wine with one writer, who would it be?
It's not that I don't understand the intention of your question, but for some reason I wish to respond by saying that writers are not always people who like sharing bottles of wine and talking endlessly into the night. Many writers are very unsociable people, sometimes very silent people. Many writers dislike being in situations where they are expected to speak at all. The act of writing is solitary, and being forced or expected to speak takes some writers far away from the mental space where their writing is produced. I imagine that at this point you are rolling your eyes. “Just name a writer!” you may say. Indeed. I have recently enjoyed books by Gabriel García Márquez, but I would not like to have a bottle of wine with him. I have also enjoyed John McGahern's work, but I think we would both sit in front of our nearly-full glasses of wine, trying to make the other one talk so we could get material for a story.
One piece of advice you’d give first time writers hoping to get a book published?
Ironically, now that I'm published, my advice would be: don't fixate simply on getting published. I know it's difficult, but if you possibly can, just concentrate on your work and forget all the other stuff. Just produce your best work: that's the only part of this process that you have any control over.
Why do you write?
I've always found this a hard question to answer. Generally speaking, I have no idea! Also, I'm not convinced that being self-analytical about this is necessarily the right thing to do. However, I recently read something that Toni Morrison said about the “why” of writing, and it matches something I feel also: she said (I'm paraphrasing) that writing is something about making order out of chaos. I agree with that. There is a sense of “out there is chaos” (wave arms around head to indicate “out there”), and when I sit at my desk, I make order, or try to make order. Most of the time, I fail to make order, and this is very frustrating; this is why writing is not enjoyable most of the time. But, occasionally, I do succeed in making order, and I suppose “satisfying” is the best word to describe the feeling that accompanies the making of order.
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