Hi everyone, this morning I’m delighted to welcome Claire Dyer to the blog. Read on for what authors have inspired her, her writing process and what she does to relax.
Over to you, Claire…
1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there a turning point with any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’
When I was little, I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton’s ‘The Famous Five’ series but then, as I got older, I fell in love with Jane Austen and the Brontës. I guess the thing they have in common is that they both deal with tension really well and tell good stories, but Austen and the Brontës are obviously in a different league! What I didn’t appreciate for a long time though is the humour in Austen’s work. The books poke fun at people’s foibles in a gentle, but relentless way. Then, when I was sixteen, I read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee and it had a profound effect on me. I have read it every ten years since, each time drawing down new and valuable lessons from its messages and writing style.
2) Did you enjoy English at school?
Yes, I did. My A Level teacher, in particular, was very exacting and challenging and taught me to read between the lines of both poetry and prose. Doing French at A Level also helped, as reading another country’s classics in their own language makes you look at your own literature through a different lens.
3) Do you find that your day job helps you in your writing?
My day job now is writing, editing and teaching creative writing so I’m pretty much steeped in all things writing all day every day. However, when I was working (for an HR research forum in Mayfair, and before that, a Livery Company in the City of London), much of my time was spent communicating with clients and members through the written word, and so structuring a coherent and cogent argument and/or putting together a persuasive email, and/or producing written reports and papers were important parts of my roles.Having said that, there’s no better way to help your own writing than to teach others and/or edit other people’s work (which I do through my Fresh Eyes service (https://clairedyer.com/fresh-eyes/)), because it makes you look at your own writing in a new light. You can get lazy after a while, so being reminded of the guiding principles is a good thing!
4) What was your route to publication? How did you find your current agent?
Oh golly, my route to publication has been very complicated and very long. In summary, I wrote 4 novels before I signed with my first agent. I then wrote another 4 novels before that agent secured me a 2 book deal. I then wrote another 2 novels and changed agents and published The Last Day with my current agent. I have written 3 more novels since then, which we have been working on to get submission ready.
5) Do you have any plan formed when you come up with ideas? How does your idea generation work?
Most of my novels start with an outline idea and a cast of characters and the story unfolds from there. I do plot, but not forensically, and I do tend to know how the book will end, but try not to tell myself this too soon in the writing process as I like to surprise myself because I believe if I’m surprised, then my reader will be too! I also like it when my characters go off piste and take the story in a new direction.
6) How many times, roughly, would you say, that you polish a draft before you send it off to your agent?
About three times I think. However, what my agent is brilliant at is pointing out where the structure of the novel needs work and also where the emotional register of the book needs ramping up. So, when I send it to her, I expect to do more work on it once she’s read it.
7) Do you have any advice for writers looking to send their work to agents?
Make sure the novel is finished, is edited and as polished as it can be and that you know what the book is about, its genre and what sort of reader it will appeal to. Treat your novel as a product you are taking to market because agents and publishers are in the business of selling books. Also, make sure you only send what the agent asks for, ie. the first 3 chapters, a synopsis and a covering letter. Do not pick and choose which bits of your book you think are the best. Also, a well-written synopsis will prove to the agent that you have a firm handle on your plot and that your plot makes sense! Also, following agents and publishers on social media will give you a heads-up about what sort of thing they’re looking for and give you the chance to get to know them a bit before approaching them. Avoid sending submissions while the Book Fairs are on (March or April in London and, for children’s books, Bologna, and October in Frankfurt).
8) What was the last book you read, and did you enjoy it?
I’ve just finished ‘The House at Silvermoor’ by Tracy Rees, which I enjoyed immensely. It’s the story of two young people at the turn of the twentieth-century and is about class and industry and family and love and secrets. It’s superbly written, with vivid characters and a great sense of time and place. I’m now reading an advanced reader copy (ARC) of ‘Another Us’ by Kirsten Hesketh, which is due for publication in May. Again, this is a super, bittersweet yet funny story about a mother struggling to cope when her son is diagnosed with Aspergers.
9) When you leave your desk on a Friday, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/on the weekend, what do you do to relax?
In normal times on a Friday night, I will have a glass of wine and a takeaway with my husband if I’m not compering Poets’ Café (https://clairedyer.com/poets-cafe-2/). My weekends (again, in normal times) usually involve visiting my elderly parents, doing chores around the house and catching up on my reading.
10) If you had to choose between Rod Stewart and Freddie Mercury, who would it be and why?
Definitely Rod! I have loved his music (and stage presence) since the Seventies and am in awe at the way he has reinvented his career, how his voice has softened and mellowed over the years and how he seems both to reflect and determine the feelings of the age. Having said that, I have huge respect for Freddie too and, when it was released as a single, my sister and I used to sing Bohemian Rhapsody in full on our way to school!
Bio: Claire Dyer’s poetry collections are published by Two Rivers Press, and she has another forthcoming with the Press in February 2021. Her novels are published by Quercus and The Dome Press. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London, is a regular guest on BBC Radio Berkshire’s Radio Reads with Bill Buckley, and curates Reading’s longest-running poetry platform, Poets’ Café. Claire also teaches creative writing at literary and writers’ festivals and for Bracknell & Wokingham College, and runs Fresh Eyes, an editorial and critiquing service. Her website is www.clairedyer.com.
Thank you for visiting my blog today Claire, it has been a pleasure to interview you.