Monday, 1 October 2018

Salisbury Literary Festival: Q&A with Clare Empson

There's just over 2 weeks to go until the start of this year's Salisbury Literary Festival and I for one am looking forward to attending quite a few events.  One of the events I have already bought a ticket for is the Crime Writers Panel so it's my pleasure to welcome Clare Empson to the blog to talk about her debut novel Him and her festival appearance.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your writing journey? 
Well it’s been a long one! I’ve spent my career as a journalist but have been writing novels in one form or another for almost two decades.

Twelve years ago I had a manuscript picked up off the slush pile by an agent but it didn’t get a deal. That was a sharp learning curve because really it was just a very unpolished first draft. I realised that if I wanted to write the kind of novel I like to read then I needed to spend more time crafting it. It took almost nine years to get HIM into shape but when I finally did the agent and publishing deal came pretty quickly. I signed with Orion in the UK and 7 other European territories in 2017.

If you had to give an elevator pitch for Him, what would it be? 
An author recently described HIM as ‘Brideshead Revisited meets Big Little Lies’ which sums it up so well I have pinched it as my elevator pitch. It’s the story of a woman who becomes mute after witnessing a traumatic event and must revisit a passionate love affair from the past to heal herself.  HIM is about  those choices and decisions we make, often with little thought, and they end up imploding our lives.

Where did the inspiration for the central character Catherine to suffer Elective Mutism come from?   
Years ago a teacher told us our daughter had Selective Mutism (she didn’t) but it triggered an interest in mutism and how it affects a wide range of people for many different reasons. I’m lucky enough to have a very learned psychiatrist friend who was able to help me research this condition in depth.
'You're stuck there, aren't you? Right at the end. And I wonder if it might help to go back to the beginning, to put everything in some kind of order.'
Catherine has witnessed something so traumatic that she can't speak. Or won't speak.The doctors say the only way forward is to look into her past.

Catherine needs to start with HIM .

Fifteen years ago she met Lucian at university and fell into a passionate love affair. They were meant to be together forever. But something happened. Something that destroyed them.

Catherine married someone else. Had two children. She moved on - or so she thought. Now Lucian is back, showing her how different life could have been.

But going back to the beginning won't change the ending.

In fact, it might be the thing that finally breaks her...

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’m so thrilled to be invited, it’s such a great festival and also local to me which makes it special.  The author line up is amazing this year and I’ve booked in for quite a few events.

Have you been on a panel at a festival event before?  
Yes this year I’ve spoken at Wilderness Festival in Oxfordshire  and Festival Number Six in Wales and really enjoyed both experiences. Being a books person I’m a massive fan of literary festivals – people talking about books and writing, what’s not to like?!

What are you most looking forward to about your event?
I’m so looking forward to meeting the other panelists whose novels I much admire and talking about the crime genre. I’m fairly new to crime but discovering new writers every week and I really love it.

What would you most like to be asked about?
I’d like to be asked about the elective mutism strand of my novel and also the theme of trapped or unresolved grief which often affects children and young adults and is something I understand from personal experience. Friendships – good and bad – are also at the heart of this novel.

Clare's event with Louise Voss, Sarah Hilary and Jane Corry and is at 8.15PM on Thursday 18th 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 essentials do you need to have close to hand when you are in writing mode? 
Nothing really just me and my computer.

What would you say is the best thing about writing?  And on the flip side, what is the hardest? 
I’ve come to realise writing is my form of self expression and it makes sense of my life. I can’t imagine not doing it. Once you know your characters well they do become like friends and it’s a joy to spend time with them, for me the ultimate escapism. The thing I hate is the first draft. You have this great idea and then you sit down to write it and realise there’s nothing for it but to clunk  your way from one end to the other. It’s during rewrites that you get to know your characters and then it becomes fun.

What novel have you read that you wish you had written?
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively. I think it will always be my favourite book, she is so brilliant at pared down emotion that still punches  you in the gut. I must have read it more than 20 times.

Did you treat yourself to something to celebrate the publication of your debut novel?
I treated myself a little bit too much when my first advance came in so I’m trying not to indulge!  However an artist I know makes beautiful papercut prints and recently did a version with peonies which feature in HIM. I will be buying one of those for my office as it feels like the perfect way to celebrate publication.

And finally what can we expect from your next? 
My next book is similar in style, a dark love story with a strong element of suspense. It’s about the reunion between a birth mother and her long lost son which takes a sinister turn.

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 Crime Writers Panel.  So if you're local to Salisbury or can travel to Salisbury for the event on 18th 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.

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