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My First Time with...Claire Askew

Claire Askew is a poet and novelist, and is the current Writer in Residence at the University of Edinburgh. She was the winner of the 2016 Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, was longlisted for the 2014 Peggy Chapman-Andrews (Bridport) Novel Award and she has a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award, as well as a PhD in writing to her name. Phew!

Claire was also selected as a Scottish Book Trust Reading Champion, and she works as the Scotland tutor for women's writing initiatives Write Like A Grrrl! and #GrrrlCon. She will be joining us at The Riff Raff on Thursday July 12th reading from her debut novel, All The Hidden Truths.

Claire Askew, The Riff Raff

Here's the blurb for All The Hidden Truths...

'This is a fact: Ryan Summers walked into Three Rivers College and killed thirteen women, then himself.

But no one can say why.

The question is one that cries out to be answered - by Ryan's mother, Moira; by Ishbel, the mother of Abigail, the first victim; and by DI Helen Birch, put in charge of the case on her first day at her new job. But as the tabloids and the media swarm, as the families' secrets come out, as the world searches for someone to blame... the truth seems to vanish.'

Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book?

I realised I was going to write All The Hidden Truths one day in around 2010. I was working at a Further Education college and we had to go on a kind of impromptu lockdown because there were reports that someone had come into the building with a knife.

I looked around at the students in my classroom and realised, anyone could walk in here and attack these kids. The idea became far, far more complicated and nuanced than that, but that was the ‘spark’ moment.

However, I could also say that the very first seed for All The Hidden Truths was planted in 1996, three days after my 10th birthday, when Thomas Hamilton walked into Dunblane Primary School – a place less than two hours’ drive from my own small Scottish primary school – and shot sixteen children, a teacher, and himself. It had a profound effect on me (and my school and community) that I’ve never really shaken off.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before starting to write it?

That one day towards the end of the ninth draft, I’d find myself crying on my kitchen floor over this book, thinking I might just put it in a drawer and forget all about it. But I hope that same person would also have told me that thankfully, I got up after a while, had a cup of tea, felt a bit silly and got on with draft ten.

What’s your go-to procrastination method?

Twitter is the old faithful, and Instagram Stories has become the young pretender.

Any tantrums while writing it?

Well, the aforementioned crying on the kitchen floor. My poor old friend Dom, who’s very good at pep-talks, got a lot of ranty phone calls around that same time.

It doesn’t seem like he held it against me: he’s now my partner, so I guess my novel-related tantrums had a pretty good outcome in the end!

All The Hidden Truths, The Riff Raff

Best thing about writing your book?

I got to finally write my way through this idea that had been bouncing around in my head for years. I did it, I finished it. I’ve been a poet for a long time, and I honestly wasn’t sure I had the attention span to write anything longer. It was a nice surprise to find that I do. And the worst?

The fact that the word almost everyone uses to describe my novel is "topical.” In the early stages of writing, the Elliot Rodger shooting happened. I’m answering these questions just a few days after the Santa Fe shooting, just a few weeks after the Parkland shooting.

There have been dozens of school and college massacres in the three years I spent writing and I fear there will be dozens more, because the root causes of these horrendous events aren’t being dealt with.

Go-to writing snacks?

I love a cheese-and-jam sandwich. Strawberry jam and extra mature cheddar. Oh, and endless buckets of tea.

Who or what inspires you to write?

My dad worked in communications most of his career and taught me that writing is a precision skill: although he’s never written creatively, he taught me a lot about craft and clarity.

I realised I could write the sort of crime novel I wanted to write when I read Louise Welsh’s The Cutting Room, a crime novel like no other – and I continue to be so inspired by Louise and the amazing things she does with fiction in various genres.

I’m also inspired by the writers (almost always women) I meet all the time who are afraid to call themselves ‘writer,’ afraid to draw too much attention to their creative projects, afraid of failure, rejection, critique.

I just want to show them look, if a bozo like me can do it, then you lot absolutely can too.

The book that changed you?

I’m cheating and picking two. Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad.

What Margaret Atwood does with plot in that novel is mind-bending, yet she makes it look so easy. And Jennifer Egan is just the master of the sentence. I want to write like her when I grow up.

Your pump up song?

‘Good As Hell’ by Lizzo.

If you could share a bottle of wine with one writer, who would it be?

It’s really hard to choose, but I think I’d pick the poet Mark Doty. I’m such a fangirl of his that I might not actually be able to talk. But maybe the wine would help with that…

One piece of advice you’d give first time writers hoping to get published?

Believe you deserve it. If you don’t believe it, you’ll never convince anyone else. And if you’re worried it’s not good enough yet, well, work on it until you know that it is. Belief in the work is where you’re trying to get to.



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