Claire Fuller is the author of Our Endless Numbered Days, Swimming Lessons and Bitter Orange. Her latest novel, Unsettled Ground, was published by Fig Tree on 25 March 2021 and is longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021.
Claire kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Unsettled Ground.
Unsettled Ground is about Jeanie and Julius, 51-year-old twins who still live with their mother in a rural cottage in Wiltshire. When their mother dies (not a spoiler – it happens right at the start), Jeanie and Julius are thrust into the world, really for the first time, and have to negotiate its difficulties, including money, friendships, and love.
2. What inspired the book?
My son took me to a dilapidated caravan that he had come across in some woods (I love odd places). It was in a terrible state: vandalised and smelly, and whoever had been living there has left various items behind – some old shoes, some bedding. And it started me thinking who might that have been? Who would live in such a place and what circumstances would have brought them there?
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
Definitely not a planner. I start with a person in a place and see where the story takes me. Writing that way can be nerve-wracking, because it’s not until I get to the end after maybe 18 months of writing that I can say, ‘Ahh, so that’s what this novel is about!’. But there’s a great quote by E.L. Doctorow that I keep pinned up by my desk to help me keep going: ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’
4. Having been through the publishing process a few times is there anything about the process of creating a novel that still surprises you?
I’m still surprised at how exciting it is when I get to hold a hardback of my latest in my hands for the first time. People say that writing and publishing a book is like having a baby, and I can say that it is amazing when I open that box and see the finished copies. Plus, I’m still surprised at how exciting it is to see copies in a bookshop. I still get a huge thrill from the thought that anyone who steps through the door could buy it and read it.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
Mostly reading. I love to read even when I’m writing. And not just for research, but to take me to other places, to be inside other people’s heads, especially those who are very different to me. It’s a great way to understand other people and also the best way to travel since we can’t do much of that in real life at the moment.
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
This is such a difficult question, especially since I’m reading a couple of books a week at the moment. One book for the rest of my life! I think it might be Train Dreams by Denis Johnson. Ironically it’s a novella, under 150 pages, but each time I reread it, I find something new – some new understanding of the story. It’s about a railroad worker in the West of America at the beginning of the twentieth century. Johnson manages to pack in a whole life in so few words. It’s wonderful.
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?
Maybe, why I write. Or if I have been asked it, I probably didn’t answer it very well, and I’m not certain that I will now, because it is a tricky question. For me, it’s about creating ‘art’ (not in the sense that what I’m creating something magnificent, but that I am creating). It’s about into a subconscious part of my brain and making something, in way that I used to do stone carving.
About the Book
Twins Jeanie and Julius have always been different. At 51 years old, they still live with their mother, Dot, in rural isolation and poverty. Their rented cottage is simultaneously their armour against the world and their sanctuary. Inside its walls they make music, in its garden they grow (and sometimes kill) everything they need for sustenance.
But when Dot dies suddenly, threats to their livelihood start raining down. At risk of losing everything, Jeanie and her brother must fight to survive in an increasingly dangerous world as their mother’s secrets unfold, putting everything they thought they knew about their lives at stake. This is a thrilling novel of resilience and hope, of love and survival, that explores with dazzling emotional power how the truths closest to us are often hardest to see.
About the Author
Claire Fuller was born in Oxfordshire, England, in 1967. She gained a degree in sculpture from Winchester School of Art, but went on to have a long career in marketing and didn’t start writing until she was forty. She has written three previous novels: Our Endless Numbered Days, which won the Desmond Elliott Prize, Swimming Lessons, which was shortlisted for the RSL Encore Award, and Bitter Orange. She has an MA in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Winchester and lives in Hampshire with her husband.