Today I’m pleased to welcome Claire Evans to the blog. Claire’s debut novel, The Fourteenth Letter is published in paperback by Sphere on 21 September 2017
Claire kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about The Fourteenth Letter.
The novel is set in London in 1881, a time of great change politically, scientifically and culturally. The book begins with the brutal murder of a young woman at her engagement party by a naked stranger. As the investigation gets underway, we simultaneously meet a young naïve lawyer called William Lamb. We follow William as he visits a mysterious client, a man he was never supposed to meet. As William’s life rapidly falls apart, we begin to realise there is a connection between William and the investigation into the girl’s murder. A bewildered William unpeels secret after secret, before finally confronting a centuries-old truth.
2. What inspired the book?
Many things. The book for me was a coming together of a number of different influences. My obsession with this period in history, which saw the birth of modernity, the collapse of so many traditional boundaries and more alarmingly, the birth of several dangerous ideas that in turn led to the horrors of twentieth century war. But I suppose the starting point was the central character of William Lamb. I’d first invented him decades ago when I too was a bored, naïve articled clerk wondering when my life would start, and dreaming of some grand adventure or terrible event that could save me from the tedium of my everyday life.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
For decades I was the latter, which was why I never finished anything! For this book, I definitely became a plan, plan, plan writer. I actually wrote over 17,000 words of plot, structure, character and research before I even wrote the first word of the novel. I definitely need a map, even though I deviate from it. Without it, however, the dreaded writer’s block descends and I lose confidence in what I’m doing.
4. Is there anything about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?
The biggest surprise I think was just how long the first draft of my novel was – almost 200,000 words! I’d never really tackled a novel before, as I was too intimidated by the idea of writing 100,000 words. I guess I overcompensated in the planning stage and my map was overly complex at first, but it meant that writing it was surprisingly quick and enjoyable – like I’d saved up all the fun things until the end. Editing it down was less fun however….
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
Well my other job is being COO of a TV drama production company, so it’s quite a contrast. Very full on, very people orientated. I like the contrast between my two lives, but it does mean I get very little free time. Also, I think one of the down sides of being a writer is that whatever else you’re doing, you always feel guilty that you’re not writing. If I have a hobby, it’s renovating my house in Spain. My guilty pleasure is sitting on the sofa reading the latest design mags, or browsing websites looking for the perfect lampshade I can’t afford, though mostly this particular hobby involves being up a ladder painting ceilings or trying to buy five metres of guttering when you don’t speak Spanish. Think I ordered a tractor by mistake….
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
Wuthering Heights. Without a doubt. It’s probably the book I have read the most – maybe 10 times at various stages of my life. I think there is something elusive about it, something unknowable. Every time I read it I promise myself I will really concentrate, find what I’m missing, but then I get swept along and have to accept there are no more clues to be had. Emily Bronte is top of the list of women I would like to talk to in the afterlife – if there was one. I think if I could understand her, I would finally understand this book. But then maybe I’d find it less compelling. I don’t know. I think it’s a masterpiece by the way – THE masterpiece of novel writing. Just writing this makes me want to read it again.
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
Another interesting question! I think I’d have liked to have been asked which are my favourite books and theories about writing, partly because I’m a bit opinionated on the subject (not least from working in TV!). I’m very happy to give the answer. There are two I would thoroughly recommend. Stephen King’s On Writing, and a website about Dramatica theory by Glen C. Strathy called how-to-write-a-book-now.com. Both actually help, rather than hinder, the creative process.
About the book
A mysterious keepsake, a murdered bride, a legacy of secrets…
One balmy June evening in 1881, Phoebe Stanbury stands before the guests at her engagement party: this is her moment, when she will join the renowned Raycraft family and ascend to polite society.
As she takes her fiancé’s hand, a stranger brandishing a knife steps forward and ends the poor girl’s life. Amid the tumult, he turns to her aristocratic groom and mouths: ‘I promised I would save you.’
The following morning, just a few miles away, timid young legal clerk William Lamb meets a reclusive client, whom he was never meant to meet. He finds the old man terrified and in desperate need of aid: William must keep safe a small casket of yellowing papers, and deliver an enigmatic message: The Finder knows.
With its labyrinth of unfolding secrets, Claire Evans’ riveting debut will be adored by fans of Kate Mosse, Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Jessie Burton.
About the author
Claire Evans is an established business specialist in the UK television industry. After finishing her law degree, she qualified as an accountant, but realising her mistake quickly ran away to work at the National Theatre before finally landing a job at the BBC. Once there, she rose through the ranks to head up operations and business affairs across the TV commissioning teams. In drama, she led the BBC’s commercial relationships with the Independent production sector and a wide range of international co-producers and distributors.
She left the BBC in 2013 to pursue her writing career. Since then she has advised a number of drama and film production companies, most recently working on The Honourable Woman and Doctor Foster. She is also now the Chief Operating Officer at Two Brothers Pictures Ltd, the company set up by Harry and Jack Williams, the creators of The Missing.