Today I'm joining in the publication day celebrations for Girl, Unstrung and it's my pleasure to welcome author Claire Handscombe to the blog.
I wrote a lot as a pre-teen and teenager, but for lots of reasons I sort of stopped for a long time after that. Then in 2008, I started watching The West Wing, and something about the way language is used in that show re-awakened that creative part of my brain. I started reading a lot of novels and a lot of books about writing and dived into my first novel!
If you had to give an elevator pitch for your latest book Girl, Unstrung, what would it be?
Girl, Unstrung is a YA contemporary about a teen violist with a big life plan and a distracting crush on a Scrabble geek.
Not her semi-famous dad.
Not her annoying sisters.
And definitely not Tim, the swoopy-haired Scrabble geek...
You might think it's fun to grow up around Hollywood with semi-famous parents. You'd be wrong, and Clara Cassidy would be the first to tell you so.
She's fourteen, figuring out life with three siblings and a new stepmom, and navigating her freshman year at a stupid high school where she doesn't even want to be. She was supposed to be at arts school by now.
It's fine, though, totally fine: she's going to practice her viola extra hard and get into LACHSA next year. She's definitely 100 percent focused and not even slightly going to get distracted by Tim, the sophomore Scrabble champion with the swoopy hair and the chin dimple. Nope. Not her.
Where did the inspiration come from to include an aspiring classical musician as your central character? And how much research did you need to do into learning about playing the viola?
It was kind of by accident! Girl, Unstrung is set in the same world as my debut novel, Unscripted. In that novel, one of the main characters has four kids and I made the eldest a viola player because I wanted something a bit more offbeat than the violin. I wanted her to say in her pre-teen way, “Duhhh, it’s the viola, not the violin” at one point and then I ended up giving her her own story!
I grew up playing the flute so a lot of how it feels to be a musician and love music comes from my own experience. Otherwise, I read a novel that featured string players – Sight Reading by Daphne Kalotay -- did some online research, joined some relevant Facebook groups, listened to a lot of music, and asked my viola player friends a lot of questions!
What attracted you to writing YA as opposed to any other genre?
I’ve written non-fiction and adult fiction before so I think I like to try new things.
What I love about YA is the big feelings, how big a deal everything seems at that age. But honestly, for this novel, it was because I had this character’s voice in my head and I wanted to spend more time with her and with the other characters whom I already knew from my other novel, Unscripted.
What comes first for you, characters or plot?
Usually the characters and the one thing they’re obsessed about, which will become the thing that triggers the plot! That was definitely true this time.
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 being able to lose yourself in another world and create characters you fall in love with. The hardest is the end part of the edits, when you think you’re almost done but you have to read it yet again and then find a glaring error that throws a few things off and you’re back to the drawing board right when you think you can’t look at this novel for one more second! Also, marketing is a nightmare. I enjoy it, but it feels like yelling into the void a lot of the time and that can get really disappointing.
If you could give some advice to your younger self about writing, what would it be?
I would tell her not to stop. I wrote a lot as a child and teenager, then kind of forgot about it for a couple of decades. I’d be better and more successful by now if I hadn’t stopped!
What advice would you give to other aspiring authors who are thinking about writing a novel?
My first and biggest piece of advice is don’t read anything about the publishing process. I knew nothing about it when I started writing my first novel, and it was a magical time that I wish I could have back! I was able to lose myself in the characters and the world I’d created and really work on the craft side of writing. When it’s time to pitch your novel, ie when you’ve got it the best it can possibly be, then start researching. It may be that you don’t sell that first one – that it’s mostly about that learning process. It’s good to be okay with that, I think, because nothing in this writing life is guaranteed!
Is there such a thing as a typical writing day for you?
No! I wish. In an ideal world I’d spend the morning writing and the afternoon working at the bookshop where I’m lucky to have a job. But life doesn’t really work that way. Girl, Unstrung, was actually first drafted during NaNoWriMo in 2016, so mostly I did start the day trying to get my 1,667 words in. I’d even turn my phone to airplane mode at night and not switch it back on till I was done with my words!
As well as writing, you host a podcast talking about books and publishing, how did this come about? I’m an avid listener of book podcasts, but many of my favourites were from an American perspective and I really wanted something that focussed more on the British market and aesthetic, so I created the Brit Lit Podcast!
And finally, what can we expect from you next?
I’m pretty excited about the book I’m working on now – this one is a romance novel between rival booksellers in Washington, DC.