Today I’m delighted to welcome historical author Clare Flynn to the blog.
Clare writes historical fiction with a strong sense of time and place and compelling characters. Her books often deal with characters who are displaced – forced out of their comfortable lives and familiar surroundings. She is a graduate of Manchester University where she read English Language and Literature.
Born in Liverpool, she is the eldest of five children. After a career in international marketing, working on brands from nappies to tinned tuna and living in Paris, Milan, Brussels and Sydney, she ran her own consulting business for 15 years and now lives in Eastbourne where she writes full-time – and can look out of her window and see the sea.
When not writing and reading, Clare loves to paint with watercolours and grabs any available opportunity to travel – sometimes under the guise of research.
The tagline on your website is “Historical Fiction, Modern Themes”. Which themes in particular do you explore in your fiction? How do you decide which historical periods to focus on?
One of my primary themes is displacement. Almost all my main characters are physically displaced and all of them are taken out of a comfortable existence and thrust into difficult and challenging circumstances.
Often the displacement is geographic – to Australia in A Greater World, to India in Kurinji Flowers and to the USA and to an unfamiliar northern industrial town in Letters from a Patchwork Quilt.
Sometimes the displacement is more of an emotional and lifestyle one – the loss of both parents forces Hephzibah to leave Oxford and become a governess in The Green Ribbons, and war brings about a terrible transformation of Gwen’s familiar surroundings in The Chalky Sea.
As someone who moved house and faced a new school virtually every year until I was fourteen (due to my father’s job), it is a theme that resonates with me!
All the books have central female characters. I try to write realistically about the lives women would have lived. Many writers put twenty-first century attitudes into the minds of nineteenth century heroines – I can understand why they do it as a lot of readers want and expect that, but I prefer to write about strong women who push against the boundaries – but the boundaries are nonetheless evident.
My female characters respond to the challenges that life presents them, but do so in ways that were achievable in the times in which they lived. I love the idea of throwing tough challenges at women who are bound by the constraints of the times – a lack of financial means and independence, the expectations of society, and often the control of husbands or fathers whom they rely upon to survive. Pregnancy for example is something that has a massive effect on a woman’s life – less than a century ago women had fewer choices about their fertility and less control over their bodies than today.
The themes I write about are modern because I suppose they are timeless. They have always mattered and they still resonate now and always will – love, marriage, bereavement, death, illness, and making difficult choices.
As to time periods, it’s not a conscious decision. The stories come to me with the period fixed. That said, I have only ever written about the nineteenth and twentieth centuries so far. I can’t see myself going medieval or tackling the Tudors.
I love the nineteenth and twentieth centuries because they are so near, yet so far. Also they were both periods of seismic change. My next book – a sequel to The Chalky Sea, set in post war Canada, will probably sneak pretty close to my own time of birth, which is a bit upsetting as it still qualifies as historical!
I have written a few contemporary short stories in my collection A Fine Pair of Shoes so maybe I will try a contemporary novel some time.
Your latest book, The Chalky Sea, is set in World War II. Please tell us about this book and why you chose the Second World War.
I had always avoided writing about World War 2. It seemed too big to tackle and I didn’t think I had anything particular or different to say.
Then I moved here to Eastbourne – where I spent my teens. While I was growing up here I hadn’t a clue that the town had been affected by the war. Nobody talked about it, even teachers at school. When I moved back here just over a year ago, I discovered that it claimed to have been the most heavily bombed town in the south-east. I started to find physical evidence of the war years and began to research it. My house looks out over the Downs and the sea and I started to wonder who might once have lived here. When I discovered several regiments of the Canadian army were stationed in the town for long periods and even parked their tanks at the top of my road, I was completely hooked.
The book follows two main characters, Gwen from Eastbourne, in her late thirties, husband at war, unfulfilled, emotionally cold and unhappy, and Jim, a former farmer from Ontario, who has volunteered for the war to escape a broken love affair. Their stories are parallel interwoven strands. The book is about how war can change people radically, how it can bring people together who would never otherwise have met, how it can transform lives for the better as well as for the worse.
How do you stay creatively inspired?
I read voraciously. I travel a lot and I look for stimulus all around me.
I believe that you have to keep the brain fresh by constantly feeding it with new and unexpected things. I take inspiration from a walk around a gallery, listening to music, and in particular from painting.
To me painting is all about meditation. I don’t get on well with “proper” meditation as I don’t like telling my brain to be quiet. With painting it’s all about looking, observing, concentration. Hours can pass without me noticing, but I find ideas come too.
The story of Kurinji Flowers came to me on a painting holiday in India. I have an idea for a new book (the one after my next) that came to me while I was painting on an island earlier this year.
4) What does a typical writing day look like?
There is no typical day. I am not one of those people who is terribly well organised and writes a target word count over fixed hours each day. I am much more haphazard. I divide my day between writing, researching, reading and marketing – as well as dropping everything to go and explore somewhere or do something interesting!
Please tell us about your path to becoming an indie author. What is the best thing about being self-published and what is the hardest?
I always intended to be traditionally published. I had an agent and intended to go down the usual route – the agent would get me a publishing deal and I would be an acclaimed author! Unfortunately, the publishing deal didn’t transpire and months later I decided I was no further forward. I knew a bit about publishing having had a non-fiction book published and having done some strategy consultancy work with one of the big five publishers and I knew the opportunities for self-publishing were enormous. I decided to take one of the two books I had written by this point and give it a go. Three months later I published the second one and I haven’t looked back since.
I love the freedom and the control. I have many author friends and without doubt the indies seem more content with their lot than many of the trade published. I have complete say over what I am writing, my cover design, everything. I use superb professionals for editing, cover design etc – so it’s not so much self-publishing as managing a team.
I used to think the hardest thing was formatting my books and with The Green Ribbons and Letters from a Patchwork Quilt I outsourced it – but now with the advent of Vellum software I don’t even have to worry about that any more – it’s so quick and easy.
I think the hardest thing is marketing – which is ironic as I am an ex Marketing Director – but to be honest all my trade published friends have to tackle this too, as unless you are so successful that you’re already a household name and don’t even need it, you have to do most of it yourself anyway these days.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Read, paint, quilt, watch movies, documentaries and box sets, travel, look at art, drink wine with friends, sit on my little terrace and look at the sea.
Thanks, Clare. That was great!