I’m pleased to be joined by Clare Flynn today. Her latest novel, The Alien Corn, was published on 3rd January and you can order a copy of it here. I have a copy myself so watch out for a review of that in the next few weeks.
Thanks for joining me today Clare. First of all, would you tell my blog readers a little about yourself?
I live on the south coast in Sussex, about half a mile from Beachy Head. I moved here a couple of years ago because I love the Downs and the sea – after twenty years living in London. Before London I lived all over the place – born in Liverpool, ten years in Newcastle, stints abroad in Paris, Brussels, Milan and Sydney. I suppose I “suffer” from wanderlust – a bit of a gypsy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I used to be a Marketing Director, working on brands from Fairy Liquid to McVities Digestives. I then spent years running my own consulting business, working with companies from Farrow and Ball to the BBC.
I love to look at the sea (I can see it from my windows) and walk beside it – and even sometimes get out my paints and paint it. I also like to make quilts. (And drink wine!)
What inspired you to start writing?
From childhood, I loved reading and telling stories. I loved words. I loved writing. My first (unpublished) book was inspired by business trips to Turkey in the 1990s – a thriller set in Istanbul that has fortunately been buried (it’s on an old Mac floppy disk – probably corrupted). My first published novel, A Greater World, was inspired by trips to Australia and childhood memories of taking ferries across the Mersey to Birkenhead and New Brighton.
Tell me about your journey to publication
My first novel was almost ready to send out to agents when I was burgled and lost two laptops – it was backed up between them in those pre-cloud days. I was ready to give up but forced myself to sit down and write it all over again.
I then started out down the traditional route. I had an agent who was absolutely brilliant in helping me improve the first book. Unfortunately, a publisher didn’t buy it, and my agent didn’t like my second book. I decided to have a go at self-publishing the first book and once I’d got my feet in the water I didn’t want to get out! As an ex-marketing director and a control freak, I love the fact that I hold the reins. I have no time for all the stuff about only traditionally published books being any good. Anyone who knows anything about publishing and marketing knows that isn’t so. It’s all about economics. Self-publishing is just a different route to market. Readers are the ultimate arbiters.
In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?
The Alien Corn is about how war can throw people together but leave them little time to get to know each other. Nowadays we are familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder, but back in the 1940s, it was just about shutting up and getting on with your life, regardless of the impact on your mental health and on personal relationships.
The Alien Corn is also about loneliness and alienation, and the struggle to adapt to new surroundings and circumstances. Joan is a war bride and I can’t even begin to imagine how hard that must have been in those “unconnected” days – leaving the only home you’ve ever known to travel across the world and only have hand-written letters to stay in touch with family and friends.
Finally, The Alien Corn is also about the war in Italy – the so called ‘Forgotten Front’. I have a good friend from my time in Milan and she was shocked when I told her Canada had played a huge part in the liberation of the Italian peninsula – she wasn’t aware that the Canadians had been involved, let alone that six thousand of them lost their lives on Italian soil with a further twenty-three thousand injured in a long and brutal campaign.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
The title comes from a poem by Keats, Ode to a Nightingale.
“Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;”
Thee lines sum up the loneliness and sense of alienation that my character, Joan, feels. And, being on a Canadian farm, she spends a lot of time hanging about in cornfields.
How did you celebrate publication day?
I cracked open a bottle of bubbly. Any excuse!
Do you have a work in progress just now?
Yes. It has a working title of The Gamekeeper’s Wife. I was inspired to write it while staying in a place called Keeper’s Cottage on the Old Warden estate in Bedfordshire. I felt as if I’d wandered onto the set for the filming of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. My initial idea was a kind of Lady C in reverse. It was going to be a novella but it’s run away with me and is now going to be a full-length novel and has moved beyond the original location to include (so far) a mental asylum and Biarritz in France.
What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!
That’s hard. I’ve just finished The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, which I loved. I also loved a non-fiction book, Dadland by Keggie Carew. A friend recommended it and I couldn’t put it down – a memoir of the author’s father who was a madcap Special Ops man in WW2 and after, doing incredible secret missions in France and Burma, everything post-war was a horrible anti-climax. It’s a fascinating portrait of a family and of the struggle of an alpha male to adapt to civilian and family life. When Keggie was just twelve and skived off school to go riding, her father gave her a note for her teacher, which read “I am sorry Keggie was not at school yesterday – she had a bad hangover.”
What are you reading just now?
I’m reading Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan (January 2018). This is set in 1943 to 1945 in Italy and I only discovered it after I’d published The Alien Corn. It’s about wartime Italy – in this case about the underground railway to rescue Jews crossing the Alps north of Milan. I’m only about 25% through, but enjoying the story – especially as I used to ski up there myself when living in Milan and once got caught and lost in a snowstorm and went into a complete meltdown, got off my skis and was too terrified to ski down. But that’s another story…
[This sounds great, I wasn’t aware of this book. Now on the tbr list!]
If you were on Desert Island Discs, what one book would you take with you?
If it’s fiction, then it has to be A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry. A beautiful moving book set in India, one of my favourite places. Otherwise I’d take the complete poetry of WB Yeats, which I never tire of reading and re-reading.
Is there a book you’d like to see made into a film? Who would be in your dream cast?
I’m going to be a complete tart and say it has to be one of mine. I’d pick the first one, A Greater World. It’s set mostly in the beautiful Blue Mountains of Australia so it would look gorgeous. There’s a sea voyage, lots of drama, a big cast of characters and plenty of opportunities to get the tissues out. I’d cast Bryan Brown as Jack Kidd (suitably Australian and now quite old and gnarled). As to my my main characters, it would be Hayley Atwell as Elizabeth and as for Michael I think a lengthy casting process involving Tom Hardy, James Norton and Kit Harrington would be required before I could make my final decision.
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
On Twitter I’m @clarefly. On Facebook /authorclareflynn. On Instagram I’m @clarefly. My website is www.clareflynn.co.uk
Thanks so much, Joanne, for inviting me to answer your great questions!
You are very welcome. delighted to have you and looking forward to reading The Alien Corn.