My guest this week is Clare Flynn, a novelist who recently won a Selfies Award for best adult fiction. Even before Clare became a full-time indie writer, she always had a spirit of rebellion inside her, from her wild college days to deciding to be her own boss in her career and her writing. Clare also travels extensively to get all the nuance of place before she embarks on a new writing adventure.
Every week I interview a member of ALLi to talk about their writing and what inspires them, and why they are inspiring to other authors.
A few highlights from our interview:
On Why She’s an Indie Author
It’s one of the things I think that has made me feel comfortable with self-publishing or indie publishing, as I prefer to say, is the fact that I’m my own boss and I don’t really think I respond well to having someone else as my boss.
On Using Her Travels in Her Writing
It’s a question of breathing in the atmosphere and just looking for those little tiny details that will help to bring a location to life.
Listen to My Interview with Clare Flynn
Subscribe to our Ask ALLi podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Overcast, Pocket Casts, or Spotify.On Inspirational Indie Authors, @howard_lovy interviews @clarefly, a novelist who recently won a Selfies Award for best adult fiction. She's always shown an indie spirit. Click To Tweet
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About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last six years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcript of my Interview with Clare Flynn
Howard Lovy: My guest this week is Clare Flynn, a novelist who recently won a Selfies Award for best adult fiction.
Even before Clare became a full-time indie writer, she always had a spirit of rebellion inside her; from her wild college days to deciding to be her own boss in her career and her writing. Also, Clare travels extensively to get all the nuance of place before she embarks on a new writing adventure.
Clare Flynn: My name’s Clare Flynn and I write historical fiction.
I’m the author of 11 novels and a short story collection. I’m the eldest of five children, and I was born in Liverpool, but, until I was 13, I think we seemed to move home more or less every year because of my father’s job. So, I always struggle to answer the question of, where are you from? because I feel as if I’m a bit of a hybrid.
I’ve lived in so many different places and I always was the new girl at school, which was, you know, very good for toughening you up, good for the soul. From a very early age, I was a passionate reader. I just read everything I could lay my hands on and funnily enough, now I’m a very slow reader, but then it was like blotting paper; I read anything and everything that came my way. It was natural for me really to study English at university, and I went to Manchester to do that. Having spent, probably most of my teenage years, my dad had stopped moving location with his job, and I went to school where I live now, which is Eastbourne on the Sussex coast.
Howard Lovy: Clare went to university for a few years where she says she studied sex, drugs, and rock and roll at the expense of Beowulf and Chomsky.
Clare Flynn: Well, I was only 17 when I went to university. Finally, I’d escaped from home, I was going to have a really good time, and so yes, I just flung myself into everything. I used to go out clubbing all the time, I was the founder and the chairman of the university rock and roll dance society. Yeah, I used to just party all the time.
So, I didn’t devote a lot of my time to my studies I’m afraid.
Howard Lovy: Well, with all that out of her system, she left university to work in the civil service, where she enjoyed what she was doing, but certainly did not see herself doing it for the rest of her life.
Clare Flynn: I had a very strange job managing the financial affairs of mental patients who were under the jurisdiction of the court.
I did that for three years, and I had a good time and I was living in London and, it was interesting, but I felt working in the civil service, it felt like you were in dead men’s shoes, you were waiting. You had to serve your time before you were even eligible to apply for the next rung up the ladder. That really frustrated me, and I kind of always wanted to go into marketing.
And I’d got diverted when I left university. So, I thought, well, I’ll go back and have another go at that. And I ended up joining Proctor and Gamble by a quirk of fate because they ran an ad in the Sunday Times looking for people who’d made a mistake with their first career saying, would you like another chance to do something a bit more interesting?
And I thought, yes. I wrote my application letter and sent it off and, to my amazement, I got an interview, and the guy said to me, it was my letter that got me the interview rather than my CV. He just said it was so well written. So, I thought, well, all right, give it a go.
Howard Lovy: So, Clare spent the next 13 years working for Proctor and Gamble. And believe it or not, she said working on ad copy honed her skills as a writer.
But, after more than a decade working there and at other companies, Clare grew tired of the backstabbing, toxic world of ad madmen and decided to launch her own consulting company.
Clare Flynn: But I became increasingly disenchanted with the whole corporate thing in the end. I felt the last company I worked with, which I won’t name, before I set up my consulting business, it felt very macho backstabbing.
It was not a nice atmosphere, and I just thought, this isn’t me. I don’t feel comfortable here. So, I decided I would try my luck setting up my own business, and I’d never been a consultant before, so I was able to learn from people who had been doing it for a long time and were very good.
And I also had a good network of former colleagues and soon managed to build up a decent amount of business. It’s one of the things I think that has made me feel comfortable with self-publishing or indie publishing, as I prefer to say, is the fact that I’m my own boss and I don’t really think I respond well to having someone else as my boss.
Howard Lovy: And being your own boss means you choose your own work hours. So, while she was running her own marketing company, she also did some writing on the side. That process went through some ups and downs, including a stolen manuscript.
Clare Flynn: My first book took a lot to get written because I was trying to do it in what time was spare, and then because I lost the manuscript; I had a burglary. I had two laptops, my book was backed up from one onto the other and my house was broken into. It was a cottage, a weekend cottage, and they stole both laptops. It was terrible. I hadn’t quite finished, but I’d got about 80,000 words written.
So, I just walked away from that thinking, well, that’s me done. I’m not going to write anything else. And then I heard about T. E. Lawrence, how he left the manuscript, his Seven Pillars of Wisdom, on the train when he got off at Reading Station and he sat down and wrote the whole thing all over again.
And I thought, well, if he can write however many hundreds of thousands of words and recreate that, I’m sure I can manage to rebuild my book. So, I just started at the beginning and wrote it again, and I think it came out much better for that.
Howard Lovy: So, Clare’s book got the attention of an agent. Unfortunately, nobody bought it.
That’s when she decided to go with self-publishing for her second book.
Clare Flynn: I said, I think I’m going to give self-publishing a go. So, she said, well, why not? And then having done it, I thought, I really like this. So, I carried on. I have got two traditionally publish books ’cause I got approached just over a year ago.
They republished my first book and I wrote a sequel to it for them. So, I have got a foot in both camps. I have an excellent relationship with them. But, to be perfectly honest, being a control freak, my instincts lean more towards the indie route.
Howard Lovy: Not to mention she makes more money and sells more books going the indie route.
So, what does Clare write about? Mainly historical fiction set in the last century. She likes to create characters you can relate to and to travel around the world to capture the essence of places firsthand.
Clare Flynn: My first book is called, “A Greater World.” And I always write historical fiction, mostly 20th century, although I do have one in the 19th century.
I’m kind of particularly fascinated about the period immediately after the first world war and then leading up to the second, and then the wars themselves. So that whole kind of mid-century thing I love because to me, it’s history, but it’s still accessible, it’s touchable. You know, medieval history or something, it’s much more academic, it doesn’t feel as real. And I like the fact that I can, you know, watch an old movie or you know, old films on YouTube that take me back to that period.
I’ve traveled very widely, shall we say, so I tend to use location a lot in my books, and then sometimes that means returning to a place or going deliberately to a place. I also paint. So, I like to do painting when I’m in a location ’cause that helps me remember things like the flora and fauna, as you say, the colors.
So, I’m conscious of things like the smells and the sensations you feel, you know, if you’re in a crowded market or walking down a street. I remember that when I was researching my second book and I went back to India specifically to finish the book off and to make sure that I injected more of the local color. So, I went on my own for two weeks and I took just my laptop and my paints with me and I just, I stayed on a tea planter’s bungalow in the middle of nowhere, which is the perfect, perfect place for my main character to live, ’cause she was married to a tea planter. So, I painted, I sketched, I walked and, I was the only guest in this place, so I had free reign to do what I wanted, and I just took notes everywhere. I remember, I got off the flight in Cochin and I had a driver meeting me to take me up into the hills, to the place I was going to be staying. And it was really, really early in the morning and still dark, and then I watched the dawn come up. As the car wended its way up into the hills, I could hear the dawn chorus, I saw the sun coming out over the tea fields and tea gardens, and I just took my notebook out, and lying across the backseat of the car still half asleep from the flight, I just made copious notes.
So yes, it’s a question of breathing in the atmosphere and just looking for those little tiny details that will help to bring a location to life.
Howard Lovy: And her painting and traveling and writing recently paid off when she won what’s called a Selfies Award for adult fiction for a book called the Pearl of Penang.
Clare Flynn: My friends now call me “Shocked Flynn” because the award was done over Zoom, and when the slide came up to reveal it and they said, Pearl of Penang, I just gasped. I just did not expect it. I was amazed that I was on the short list. I was thrilled, but there were some really good writers on there, and I just didn’t think my book would be…I just didn’t think it was going to be me.
Also, I never win anything. I never enter book prizes. I did this really on the spur of the moment. Actually, at the encouragement of last year’s winner, Jane Davis, who said to a group of us, you know, you really should all enter this. So, I thought, well, I’ll give it a go. So yes, I was completely stunned.
Howard Lovy: Clare’s advice to other writers. Find your own passion, your own niche, and stick with it.
Clare Flynn: Well, I would say definitely join ALLi. That’s number one. I would say, be patient. I think it’s wrong to expect overnight success, it’s hard work. I’d also say, focus on doing a few things really well and choose those things because they fit your own inclinations.
Because you know, I know authors who have never done an Amazon ad in their life but have still been very successful through other means. I’ve tried more or less everything, but I know there are some things I don’t like doing and I would beat myself up over that. And now I don’t, I just go where I think it fits with my own personal passions.