Today I'm delighted to welcome Claire Fuller to the blog to chat about her latest book Bitter Orange as well as her appearance at Salisbury Literary Festival next month.
I started writing short stories when I was forty. In the eleven years since, I’ve had three novels published (Our Endless Numbered Days, Swimming Lessons, and Bitter Orange) and have continued to write short stories as well as flash fiction. While studying for an MA in creative writing I wrote my first novel, which was subsequently bought by Penguin.
If you had to give an elevator pitch for Bitter Orange, what would it be?
I’ve been practicing but it’s difficult! Frances Jellico is dying and remembering twenty years previously, to the summer of 1969 when she was commissioned to write a report on the follies in the grounds of a dilapidated country house. For a month or so she stays in the attics and meets Cara and Peter, a bohemian couple staying in the rooms below hers. She becomes dazzled by their way of life (drinking, smoking, staying up late) and the stories they tell. But Frances discovers a spyhole in her bathroom floor and she cannot resist spying on her new friends. As the hot summer rolls on and the stories become more outlandish, a small crime brings on another which will change all three of their lives forever.
How did the title Bitter Orange come about?
For a long time while I was writing, the book was going to be called Blood Orange, because there is an orangery in the novel, with one old orange tree growing in it. But just as I was doing final edits for my Penguin editor we learned that another book was going to be published called Blood Orange, and I had to change my title and some of the story. In the end, I’ve found I prefer Bitter Orange; Blood Orange seems to suggest a crime novel, and although there are crimes in the book, it’s not really that genre.
Bitter Orange features a socially awkward spinster and a hedonistic young couple whose paths cross whilst staying in a dilapidated country house, where did the inspiration come from?
It started with a flash fiction story of 100 words, about a man spying through a hole in a ceiling-rose onto a woman in the flat below his. I thought it would be interesting to make the person doing the spying a woman and the person below, a man.
From the attic of a dilapidated English country house, she sees them - Cara first: dark and beautiful, clinging to a marble fountain of Cupid, and Peter, an Apollo. It is 1969 and they are spending the summer in the rooms below hers while Frances writes a report on the follies in the garden for the absent American owner. But she is distracted. Beneath a floorboard in her bathroom, she discovers a peephole which gives her access to her neighbours' private lives.
To Frances' surprise, Cara and Peter are keen to spend time with her. It is the first occasion that she has had anybody to call a friend, and before long they are spending every day together: eating lavish dinners, drinking bottle after bottle of wine, and smoking cigarettes till the ash piles up on the crumbling furniture. Frances is dazzled.
But as the hot summer rolls lazily on, it becomes clear that not everything is right between Cara and Peter. The stories that Cara tells don't quite add up - and as Frances becomes increasingly entangled in the lives of the glamorous, hedonistic couple, the boundaries between truth and lies, right and wrong, begin to blur. Amid the decadence of that summer, a small crime brings on a bigger one: a crime so terrible that it will brand all their lives forever.
I'm looking forward to your panel at this year's Salisbury Literary Festival, how did you feel to be invited to be part of the festival?
I was absolutely delighted. Salisbury is a wonderful city, and a lovely place to visit. And there are some really interesting writers speaking. I’m also excited to be judging the adult category for the Salisbury Story Prize; I’m looking forward to finding some gems amongst the entries.
Have you been on a panel at a festival event before?
Yes, many times. My very first event was on a panel at Cheltenham Literary Festival when only proofs of my first novel were available. I was very nervous. Now, though after lots more times being on stage, I enjoy literary events because it’s wonderful to meet other writers and of course, readers.
What are you most looking forward to about your event?
Sitting alongside another author at an event usually works really well, with both of us adding to the comments the other makes, so that it becomes like a conversation rather than simply an interview. And in this case I’m tremendously excited to be sitting beside the author, Caoilinn Hughes. And, although I know many authors dread this, I really like the audience Q&A sessions. It’s interesting to find out what the audience is interested in, and to be able to engage with readers.
Claire's event with Caoilinn is at 5PM on Saturday 20th October at Salisbury Playhouse, tickets can be purchased here but see below for giveaway for your chance to win a pair of tickets for the event.
What would you say is the best thing about writing? And on the flip side, what is the hardest?
The best thing about writing is having written, and the hardest thing about writing is writing. I don’t enjoy creating the first draft of my novels and will do anything to put it off (…answering questions about literary festivals for example). But once I’ve got the bones of a first draft, what I really love is revising and reworking those words until I’m happy with what I’ve got.
Do you treat yourself to something to celebrate the publication of your books?
For my second novel, Swimming Lessons, I bought a painting from a friend of mine, Fran Donovan, a painter, who happens to live and work in Salisbury. It is a wonderful painting of the Dorset coast, where Swimming Lessons is set. I’m going to treat myself to something for the publication of Bitter Orange, I just haven’t decided what yet.
Thanks to the generosity of Tom Bromley, the festival director of Salisbury Literary Festival, I have a pair of tickets to give away to the Claire Fuller & Caoilinn Hughes event. So if you're local to Salisbury or can travel to Salisbury for the event on 20th October, enter via the Rafflecopter form below.
*Terms and Conditions* The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by email and/or Twitter. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties and will be deleted once receipt of the prize has been confirmed.
a Rafflecopter giveaway All book titles in bold are Amazon UK Affiliate links which will earn me a few pence if anyone clicks through and makes a purchase - any money earned will go towards buying books or gifts for giveaways.