Thanks for inviting me to be interviewed, Diana. It was such a pleasure to meet you at the Historical Novel Society Oxford conference recently.
I really enjoyed meeting you and chatting with you, Clare.If your latest book The Green Ribbons was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?
There are two prominent male roles and a female main character. I had mentally cast Eddie Redmayne as the Reverend Merritt Nightingale while I was writing the book and had in mind Kit Harrington or Aidan Turner for Thomas Egdon. For Hephzibah I’ll go for Romola Garai. Excellent choices. I can see them being excellent in those roles.
If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!) you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
The first book I started to write many years ago was a thriller set in Istanbul. I only got about three chapters down when life intervened. Maybe one day I’ll dig it out and have another go. Istanbul is such a fabulous setting and it would give me the excuse to visit it again after many years. At the time I was working for a big global consumer goods company and the book began with a mutilated body in the car park of a detergent plant – then progressed to illicit sex on the board room table – maybe it’s better it stays unfinished! Hmmmm.... a far cry from Green Ribbons but I would love to read it!
*Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??
I work in silence - although I do love music - just not while I’m writing. I like total silence so avoid coffee shops too. I drink vast quantities of tea and then once the sun has crossed the yardarm I usually treat myself to a glass of wine as I read through the day’s work. I always use a Moleskine notebook for research notes and jottings – a different coloured one for each book. I mostly write up research notes with a fountain pen. When writing I work straight into the computer and use Scrivener – I love the way it allows me to move scenes around and look at the whole shape of the book as it progresses.
*What is the worst book you have ever read? What made it unreadable for you?
It’s not fair to name names so I won’t, (very wise!!) but I recently started to read a best-selling novel by the wife of a more famous husband and struggled through pages of dull, dreary text with stilted dialect and undeveloped characters and then decided life was too short to press on. can’t bear to read boring, badly written books - Amazon’s Look Inside feature is very useful to weed those out quickly. But it’s horses for courses and one person’s cracking good read is another’s almighty yawn!
Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
I was lucky enough to have had my dream job before becoming a full time writer. I used to be a marketing director and then had my own business as a management consultant helping companies develop and improve their strategies and build a more innovative culture in the workplace. I got to work with some fabulous organisations, travelled all over the world and had a lot of fun. It was also exhausting and sometimes quite stressful so I’m happier now as a writer. In another life I would have liked to be a foreign correspondent, getting exclusive interviews with evil dictators.
Coffee or tea? Red or white?
All of the above! (That really is the best answer I could have imagined!)
If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?
I see you’re using a font called Plantagenet Cherokee (or else that’s what my Mac has converted it to) - a new one on me! I rather like it - a nice clean serif - maybe I should give that a go – otherwise I like Garamond. The most important thing is to be legible and to make it easy for the reader. Plantagenet Cherokee is my favourite of the modern fonts. Thank you for spotting it!
Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?
Personal letters and diaries. Right now I’d love to find a secret stash I could plunder for unique insights about life in WW2 for my main fictional character in my work in progress. From an ordinary person – but someone with a quirky view on life and a bit of a rebellious spirit. I don’t write about real people but if I did I would love to read the secret diaries of Elizabeth I.
Historical fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?
I can’t say I’ve had this problem up till now. My stories are all fictional - and while they are set in specific time periods they don’t feature real people. The nearest I get are references to real people and events – such as the death of Queen Victoria or the activism of Gandhi and these have not interfered with the plot, but, I hope, enhanced it.
Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this ?
My current work in progress is causing some head scratching. It’s set during WW2 and features real regiments which were present in the (real) town – unfortunately they were rotated through their billeting in the town rather faster than my story needs – so I may have to do some minor fact bending – or go with a fictional setting and/or regiment. In past novels I have sometimes based locations on real places but given them new names to allow myself a little but of artistic licence: Munnar in Kerala became Mudoorayam in Kurinji Flowers and Kintbury in Berkshire became Nettlestock in The Green Ribbons. Apart from this relatively minor tweaking, I stick with the facts where known. I do a lot of research and hate the idea of getting the history wrong.
Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?
I write fiction – so I don’t have a problem with this. I imagine this is more of an issue for those who write biographical fiction.
*Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
I sometimes start off hating a character but usually he or she shows some redeeming quality – or at least some rationale for how they have ended up as bad as they are. I like to believe that even the worst baddies have something appealing about them – although perhaps only to their mothers. When I started writing A Greater World the character of Jack Kidd was utterly repellent to me – but he gradually won me over – and readers say the same (although his daughter was bad to the bone!) I do become attached to characters – particularly minor ones and they often end up having more significant roles than I originally intended for them.
What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
I read very widely and always have done. I don’t stick to genres. I read a lot of so-called literary fiction, obviously historical (more now than I used to), crime, psychological thrillers. I’ve read a few excellent YA novels. I return to the classics again and again (especially the Brontes, Hardy, Jane Austen). I love big American novels. I’m currently reading The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick and next in line is Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins.
*What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book, The GreenRibbons?
People tell me they end up staying awake all night reading my books so probably a big mug of cocoa!
Last but not least... favourite historical author?
I’m really enjoying Elizabeth Chadwick – the first I’ve read of hers – but it has to be Hilary Mantel. (I can relate to that!)
ABOUT CLARE FLYNN
Clare Flynn is the author of four novels A Greater World, Kurinji Flowers, Letters from a Patchwork Quilt and The Green Ribbons. 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.
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 in London for 15 years and now lives in Eastbourne where she can look out of the window and see the sea.
When not writing and reading, Clare loves to paint and grabs any available opportunity to travel - sometimes under the guise of research. You may read more about her on her website
© Diana Milne July 2016 © Clare Flynn 20.09.16