Meet Clare Pooley – winner of the RNA’s 2021 Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel Award!

Congratulations and welcome to Clare, a worthy winner of the RNA’s 2021 Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel Award!

What was the inspiration behind The Authenticity Project?

The Authenticity Project was inspired by my own experience. 

Six years ago, my life from the outside, or on social media, looked fairly perfect – happy, healthy, organised and photogenic. The truth was very different. 

I was struggling with a terrible addiction to alcohol that was badly affecting my mental and physical health. I decided to tell the grubby truth in a blog which I called Mummy was a Secret Drinker. 

That blog saved my life, and transformed the lives of thousands of other people who read it. So then I started thinking: what would happen if other people were really honest about their lives with the strangers around them? That thought was my starting point.

What do you hope that people will take away from reading it?

There’s a Leonard Cohen lyric at the beginning of the book: 

Ring the bells that still can ring, 

Forget your perfect offering, 

There is a crack in everything,

That’s how the light gets in.

That quote seemed like a perfect summary to me, as when I finished writing the book I realised that each of the characters have a central flaw, but it’s those flaws that make them human, loveable and unique. 

I hope that people reading the book will decide to embrace their own imperfections and, maybe, to be more open and honest about them. When we pretend to be perfect, all it does is help make the people around us feel worse about themselves. When you make yourself vulnerable by sharing the truth, magical things can happen.

The Sober Diaries has been a very well received book that deals with a serious subject in an accessible way. How has having a keen sense of humour helped in dealing with life’s challenges?

The Sober Diaries covers the year I got sober, and was diagnosed with breast cancer. I honestly don’t think I’d have made it through that year if I hadn’t had a black sense of humour about the whole thing. Luckily my husband and my kids never let me take myself too seriously!

 

What has winning this award meant to you?

For so long, the characters I created in The Authenticity Project just lived in my own head and on the pages of my manuscript. 

I am constantly blown away by the fact that they are now out in the world and that other people have embraced them and loved them like I do. This award is really the epitome of that. 

And I’m particularly happy to have won the award this year – the year of the pandemic, as I believe that we all need fiction more than ever right now. At a time when we can’t travel, when we’re isolated and missing ‘real’ life, stories provide such a valuable escape.

I was also thrilled that the award was sponsored by Katie Fforde, who I’ve admired for so long.

Are you a meticulous planner or do you like to write in a more organic way?

I’m somewhere in between! 

I have a rough plan – a beginning, middle and an end, and some sketchy characters, but I like to allow the characters to develop as I write, and then to help direct the action. I believe that the best writing happens when your characters surprise you! 

There’s a big twist towards the end of The Authenticity Project, and I think the reason no-one ever sees it coming is because I didn’t know it was coming as I was writing. I was as surprised as anyone else!

The house that inspired Julian’s

What key tips would you give an as yet unpublished writer?

My best tip is the same for unpublished writers and for people wanting to get sober: take it one day at a time. If you think about the whole task in front of you – writing 90,000 words – it can feel overwhelming. But the truth is, if you can write just one paragraph  you can write a page. If you write a page you can write a chapter. And if you can write a chapter, you can write a book…

Secondly, you need to show up. Writing is a muscle. You need to exercise it. Try to write every day, even if you end up deleting the whole thing once you’ve finished. It helps to have a regular routine. I’m a member of the 5am writer’s club. I find very early mornings, when the world is asleep and nothing has yet intruded on your day, the most creative and interesting time to write.

Thirdly, remember that all first drafts are AWFUL. Just get the story down on the page, then once you know what you’ve got, you can go back and edit it. It’s a bit like painting a landscape: you do a rough pencil sketch first, then you go back over and over again adding light, shade, depth and colour. If you worry about making it perfect as you’re writing, you’ll end up paralysed my fear and doubt – I’ve been there!

 

How have you coped/worked throughout lockdown?

I have a husband and three kids who’ve all been working or schooling from home, plus two terriers, so it’s been chaos! 

Trying to find the physical space and the headspace to work has been really hard. Sometimes I end up working from the bathroom! 

 

In early lockdown, I completely lost the ability to read or write, for the first time in my life. I spent my whole time doom-scrolling. Luckily, as the news improved, my reading and writing mojo returned. 

What have been the highlights of your career to date – other than winning this award? 🙂

The Authenticity Project was on the New York Times bestseller list for several weeks, which was a real dream come true. I’m also thrilled that the book has sold to thirty-one different territories. I love seeing all the wonderful covers popping up, with titles in various languages, all over the world. 

What are you working on now?

I’m up to my eyeballs in the structural edit of my second novel. It’s not a direct sequel, but there are a couple of cameo appearances from characters you might recognise!

What is next for Clare?

You know, I would write every day even if I weren’t being paid to do so, so the fact that I am able to earn a living making up stories is a dream come true. That’s why I’m so hugely grateful to the RNA, and everyone who has bought, read and recommended my books. Thank you!

 

Thank you for such honest and uplifting answers.

Meet Louise Douglas -the RNA’s 2021 Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller Award winner

Douglas house sea author (1)

I love the description of ‘contemporary gothic mysteries’ – where and when did you first discover your desire to write novels?

Thank you, Valerie and thank you for inviting me to your website, it’s a treat to be here 🙂

You are very welcome!

I’m one of those people who never wanted to do anything but write. When I was a child and people asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, I always answered: ‘Bookmaker!’ I still love that word now!

I was a dreamy child, often in trouble as I never listened to instructions, struggled to concentrate in school and was always getting lost. This was because I was imagining alternative lives in my head and not paying enough attention to the real world. I loved fiction books; loved the pictures, the feel of the pages, the way the stories unfolded. I was often told that writing was all very well but I needed a ‘proper’ job too. Which was fine, as long as it was a job that I could do while I was day-dreaming.

What is it about this genre that attracts you?

I’ve always been drawn to the dark, but that’s because it’s necessary to accentuate the light. I like pre-Raphaelite paintings, epic Gallic poetry and music with a mysterious edge to the lyrics (Nick Cave, Massive Attack). From a young age, I liked exploring old graveyards, because of the way nature takes over, and because of the inscriptions on the gravestones, the stories they tell and the stories they hide. I love that these sad places inevitably evolve into magical and joyous havens for wildlife. It was inevitable I’d be drawn to the kind of books that meld death and love and wild countryside places and big old abandoned houses with secret doors and love letters hidden between the pages of novels.

The night is darkest before dawn; that’s what makes the sunrise so glorious.

Your winning novel was inspired by a real place – is it place, character, theme or another inspiration that triggers most of your plots?

It is usually places that are the inspiration, I can’t say exactly why. But that’s another habit that has carried through from childhood – finding a certain place and knowing that I have to write about it. I remember being about nine years old and riding in the back of my dad’s car, going past a massive old building that was completely derelict and (I know this will sound weird) although I’d never seen it before, I recognised it. It was somewhere in the East Midlands – that’s all I could tell you about it now, but it’s always stayed clear in my mind. That building has become the asylum-turned-reform school that’s at the centre of the novel I’m writing now.

Are you a meticulous plotter or a more organic writer?

Oh, I wish I could plot! I’ve tried everything to turn myself into a plotter, I’ve got a bookshelf full of ‘How to plot…’ instruction manuals, I’ve asked other writers for advice, scoured the internet for tips, I’ve tried and tried and tried and I just can’t do it! Even if I start with a plot within about 500 words it’s all gone to pot and the characters are doing their own thing or turning into different characters altogether and everything that started off clear in my mind has become a mess.

‘Organic writer’ is a lovely phrase but it doesn’t really describe the chaos that I go through every single time. And the not-plotting is so wasteful. I end up deleting tens of thousands of words because I’ve written myself into a dead end. It’s annoying and frustrating and I wish I could be different but it’s the way it is.

You have a love of nature, creativity and the outdoors, does this shine through your work?

Thank you for this question. I do love nature, plants, animals, the moon and stars, the countryside, urban foxes, the oceans, birds, all of it. I hope it shines through in my work because nature is so important to me. One day I really want to write a book about how the outdoors grounds, inspires, heals and calms. Climate change and the threat to the environment terrifies me.

What has winning this amazing award meant to you?

It means the world to me. Being shortlisted gave me a huge boost; it’s done wonders for my confidence. I’m incredibly grateful and proud to have won. And also… to have my name mentioned in the same sentence as the wonderful Jackie Collins is just.. well it’s amazing! Thank you so much to Simon and Schuster UK for sponsoring the award in her name. #BeMoreJackie.

Has your road to success been long or short?

It’s been a long road, with plenty of steep hills, bumps and potholes and I’ve got lost many, many times and had many a flat tyre but I’m still on that road and still enjoying the ride.

What tip would you give your unpublished self-looking back, or would you not change a thing?

I’d tell myself to learn to plot.

How important has being a member of the RNA been to you as a writer?

It’s been important to me both as a writer and as a human being. Through the RNA I met my first ever writer friends; we used to meet once a month in a pub and we laughed and encouraged one another and I realised what a warm and wonderful community it is. It’s a superb organisation run by incredible people.  I admire and respect the way it promotes romantic fiction in its myriad guises, challenges the sometimes patronising assumptions that appear in the press, supports both new and established writers and helps those of us in what is effectively a solitary profession feel part of a collective.  I’m incredibly proud to be part of it.

What is next for Louise?

Book number eight, The Scarlet Dress, has just been published and I’m currently working on the asylum-turned-reform-school book which is my first ever full-on ghost story.  

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Congratulations and I wish you every ongoing success!

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