Mother Writer Interviews: Claire King

Claire King’s first novel The Night Rainbow will be published by Bloomsbury in Spring 2013. She lives in France where she also works and runs a gîte. She has two daughters Amélie, 5 and Beatrix, 3. She is currently Fiction Editor for The View From Here literary magazine.

When did you start writing? Had you established a writing rhythm or career before or did it happen alongside the kids?

I’ve been writing for a long time, but really, the successful rhythm and the serious approach to writing only came alongside my children. When my youngest was two, that’s when I really got on a roll.

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

I went through a long hiatus when my first child was born. Having a baby, far from the support of our parents, took every last drop of time and then some. Of course writing had to go, goodness some days we barely managed to wash and eat. But in the long term, as a result of having the girls, my time management and the way I set priorities definitely improved. And eventually I was managing to fit more quality writing into my days than I had before.

I recently took up the role of Fiction Editor for The View From Here literary magazine. It seems crazy on top of the load I already have, but I see it as an investment in the future. The work that I do currently is interesting, challenging and has allowed me to live where I do, but it does take me away from my family. I would like to be here for my family more often and so am nudging my career in the direction of more literary pursuits!

How do you organise your writing time and space, do you have a routine or is it more ad hoc?

I have no routine. I work away from home on average one week per month and there is no pattern to the timing of this. I also run our two gîtes, including everything from the marketing and website to ironing the bed linen. This is heavily seasonal, but also happens on an ad hoc basis through the year. After family, the writing fits in with all this and the last thing on the pile is housework. The children always have clean clothes but they are often un-ironed and the cobwebs often mount up.

What is important to me is my writing space, or garret. When I sit down to write I physically move myself and my computer from the place I answer emails, do the tax returns and so on. I have a small square table by our roof terrace windows. I sit there, put on my headphones, shut out the world and write.

Is it possible to maintain a balance on a daily basis or do you find yourself readjusting focus from work to family over a longer time-span depending on your projects?

I find it easiest to keep to a kind of rhythm, setting daily goals and setting time aside to achieve them. Breaks to that momentum are pretty disruptive and it can be hard to get going again, but I have to accept that they happen. If I have a sick child then it’s time to be Mummy and too bad for the writing. I don’t ever want my children to remember a time when I was too busy to cuddle them when they were feeling poorly.

How do the children react to your writing or the time you spend on it?

My children seldom see the time I spend writing, they are usually asleep, or, now that they’re both old enough, at kindergarten. Also I write on the train when I’m going away to work. When my children and I are at home together I don’t try and write. It’s no good for my concentration and no good for them needing my attention and being constantly turned away. The only exceptions are when I have a deadline (real or self imposed) and my husband is able to take care of them. Then I’ll shut myself away and explain why it’s important.

I do talk to them about my writing, of course. My children understand why I need to write. They understand that it is one of the ways I work (there are many!) and they understand that they books we all love to read are created by people who sat down to write the stories so we could enjoy them.

What do you find most challenging in juggling your role as a mother, your writing and other work?

For me the hardest thing is creating my own space and time. When I’m writing I absolutely must shut myself off. I can’t have conversations or interruptions. I need a clear hour at least, without interruptions. I’ve found ways to communicate that and insist upon it. And I’ve found ways to not feel guilty about putting fish fingers on the dinner table occasionally because I’ve written in the time I could have been making a lasagne.

You’ve made breakthroughs, most particularly finding your agent and your novel The Night Rainbow being taken on by Bloomsbury, at what stage of family life did they occur, why do you think they occurred when they did?

2010 was an amazing year for me, when I made breakthroughs with both my short fiction and my novel. I was a runner up in the Bristol Short Story Prize 2010, and shortlisted in both the Sean O’Faolain Short Story Competition and the New Scientist flash fiction competition. I also won first prize in one of the monthly Writers’ Forum magazine competitions. The most amazing breakthrough came towards the end of the year though, when I had finished and submitted my novel and quickly found literary agent representation in the wonderful Annette Green. Annette worked fast, and by the end of the year I had met Bloomsbury and knew an offer was forthcoming. It all happened so fast in the end that sometimes I have to pinch myself to check that this is really happening. All this coincided with my youngest daughter starting kindergarten, which now frees up more time for me to get cracking on that next novel. I think the discipline that I learned during the years I had the children at home as well as writing and working is hugely beneficial to me now. I don’t waste my time, it’s far too precious, and these days I don’t have to write so late into the night, which I think my husband appreciates…

Do you think women face particular challenges in career/family life balance or is it something that both men and women face in equal measure?

I think women are often more reticent to set time aside, more often putting themselves last. Since writing cannot often be justified as a means of making money (certainly initially) or of pleasing the family, then it can easily drop off the list. I think men in general find it easier to prioritise time for themselves, whether it’s reading a book, playing a computer game, having a drink with a friend, going to play squash, whatever. Women need to get smarter at doing that too – it’s good for us and ultimately good for our families when we create space and time for things that are important to us personally.

What suggestions do you have for mothers or indeed parents who want to write or further a writing career.

1) Be crystal clear on your priorities. Know what you need to make it work – how much time you need for family, friends, work etc and give yourself realistic achievable writing goals.

2) Have a plan for how you’re going to achieve your writing goals but be flexible and pragmatic when your plans get disruptive.

3) Tell your family and friends that you are writing and that it is important to you and not just a ‘hobby’. You need their support and to be taken seriously.

4) Get yourself some cheerleaders – network on twitter or on writing websites with people like yourself.

5) Don’t ever give up.

Thanks so much for sharing your amazing writing journey with us Claire and we really look forward to seeing The Night Rainbow coming out. Congratulations on your wonderful news!

If you want to read about Claire and browse her excellent writing articles and links to her short fiction you can find more at http://www.claire-king.com/

For more in the mother writer series see here.

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10 comments

  1. Wonderful interview, Alison and Claire!

    Some wise advice here, and yes, I also believe women have a tougher time of setting prioirities and making time (we ‘ask’ rather than ‘tell’ for our need for space).

    I am SOOOOOO looking forward to your new book Claire — a hearty congratulations! And now, can one of you please tell this US mom what a ‘gite’ is? Peace…

    1. Thanks Linda! A gîte is a self-catering property in France, where people go for holidays. They differ from villas etc in that usually they are rural properties, and they are often a part of someone’s home, so guests treat the place as though they were borrowing a friends house, cleaning and tidyig behind them as they leave. Usually the owners are nearby, and interacting with them and their knowledge of the area is part of the fun. Have a look at ours – http://www.giteking.com

  2. I like that idea of setting realistic writing goals. I read one of Claire’s stories in the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology – it’s a great story. Thanks Claire and Alison.

  3. Thanks for a very interesting interview, Alison and Claire. You obviously lead an interesting and busy life, Claire, and are to be admired for your organisational skills. As Claire knows, I too have read ‘Wine at Breakfast’ (a poignant story right now with the trouble in Japan), which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I’m looking forward to ‘The Night Rainbow’. Good luck.

  4. Oh this is SO interesting to read. Thanks for such a great interview, both.

    You sound so definite, and organised Claire – I am going green here.! I am hopeless at carving out space and time for self. Although my children are much older, and have left, you never really stop being Mum. Or Grandmum… or, indeed, stepping out of the role of child, to parent your own parents, as I’ve been doing for the last goodness knows how long.

    I do go away frequently… write at writing retreats etc…too far away to be called back! . vx

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