The Runaway

Yesterday was the first instalment of my interview with the lovely Claire Wong. Today, the questions focus on her debut novel, The Runaway, which I reviewed here.

therunaway

How did The Runaway come to be published?

It was a combination of research and accidental good timing! I decided not to submit it to anyone until I’d learned more about how publishing worked. I didn’t want to make the kind of mistake that would annoy an editor and make them throw away my manuscript. So I spoke to people I knew in the publishing industry for advice, which led to me contacting Jess Tinker at Lion Hudson and asked if she could spare me half an hour to answer some questions I had and she kindly agreed. That was such a helpful conversation, and also how I learned about Lion’s ethos, which I really liked. It so happened that Jess was looking for new submissions for novels, so she invited me to submit The Runaway to her. I said yes very calmly and then after I put the phone down I danced around my living room! It went from there and a few months later they offered me a contract.

Could you describe a little how you came to develop the story and characters, and how engrossed you became with the story?

Rhiannon’s decision to run away was my starting point, and it all went from there. It followed quite naturally that she would run away to the woods rather than anywhere else: in European folklore and fairy tale the forest is typically a wild lawless place where strange things happen, in addition to which I loved playing in the nearby woods as a child so it’s a setting I know well.

I found during the editing stages that the particular section I worked on that day could have a big impact on my mood. I was noticeably lower when working on the first section of the book, but became much happier once things improved for the characters! But I carried on going into work and carrying on with my normal life, and most people didn’t know I was writing a book until I had a publishing deal.

The setting is a Welsh village – quite natural for you as you are originally from Wales. Were the characters based on people you know to a certain extent too?

It’s perhaps inevitable that the people we know have some influence on the characters we imagine. I have met someone very like Diana, and it seemed to me that she would fit perfectly into a village like Llandymna, where there would be all sorts for her to organise! For Adam and Grace I drew on some of the key people who have had a positive impact on my life through their words and their kindness. I think we all need to know a few people like them in the course of our lives.

The female characters in particular are very strong in the book. Was that intentional? The wise Maebh offsets the overbearing, seemingly authoritarian Diana and the patient and kind Grace offsets the headstrong Rhiannon – how did you ensure a balance in the overall set of characters you created?

Well, with Tom being the village policeman and Adam having the makings of a local hero, I was determined not to end up with a story where only the men got to save the day and fix the women’s problems for them! So it was important for me that the female characters influenced the plot and overcame obstacles just as much as their male counterparts.

I think for me a key way of creating balance was to give these women very different outlooks on life, and let their characters form around those views. I think of Maebh as someone who, had things turned out differently, would have been matriarch of a large family – the beloved grandmother to many! So she sees the village as her family, whereas to Diana the village is her career and every interaction is part of her work. Rhiannon is someone who thinks only she is insecure, frustrated and terrified of what the future holds, which leads to her independence and lack of trust, whereas Grace understands that everyone else around her is struggling in their own ways, and because she sees that she can show kindness to others.

Storytelling traditions are highlighted a lot in the book – was oral storytelling a big part of your childhood or is there another reason you wanted to feature it?

I grew up having stories read aloud to me by family members, especially my mother and grandmother, and I remember being transfixed by a professional storyteller who could really bring myths and legends to life with his words. It’s something I got to study in more detail at university too, when I read the Iliad, a poem that ancient bards would memorise, which strikes me as an amazing thing.

What really fascinates me, though, is to what extent we are the product of the stories we grow up hearing, and how we can use storytelling to shape the world.

How difficult was it to finish writing the book and how did you feel once the editorial process had finished?

I dodged it for quite a while. For a long time the book actually had a different ending: one which was much easier to write but not what the book needed. There’s a scene towards the end where some characters say goodbye and that was the last thing I wrote because I put it off for so long! I’ve never liked goodbyes.

Once I was done, it was quite hard to move on to a new book and a new set of characters. I did get very attached to the cast of The Runaway, but at least now that it’s published I can enjoy asking readers who their favourite character was. I get a wide range of answers that I find very interesting!

Booksigning

You are already working on your next novel. Could you tell us a bit about that?

Gladly! A Map of the Sky is a story through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy called Kit, whose family have suddenly and without explanation moved to a remote spot overlooking the wild North Sea. In his quest to solve this mystery, he meets a strange mix of other people who’ve come to the same place to escape parts of their lives, and he makes it his mission to fix their problems. It’s a story about chronic illness, hope and how to be a hero in a world where there aren’t any dragons to slay.

 

 

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Author interview: Claire Wong

Claire Wong photo
I am delighted to share part one of an interview with Claire, author of
The Runaway. She gives us an insight into writing poetry and novels, as well as how she fits writing into her everyday life. One of her poems can be found at the end, which is a wonderful added bonus!

Have you always been a writer?

I think so. I remember writing my first poem when I was five. It was based on the Nativity story: two children woke up one night to hear shepherds out in the street. Curious about the commotion, they decided to sneak out and follow them, and ended up coming to a stable where they saw something very unexpected!

 

Which writers influenced you as a child? And who influences you now? Who do you enjoy reading purely for pleasure too…

As a child I loved books set in other worlds, so Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Brian Jacques were all favourites of mine. As a teenager I enjoyed the dark comedy of Lemony Snicket and classics like Jane Austen. These days, my biggest influences are contemporary writers like Niall Williams and Susan Fletcher, but I still think of C.S. Lewis when I want to say something meaningful in an accessible way.

I enjoy reading books that don’t quite fit the main genres. They’re a risk, because you don’t know exactly what to expect if it isn’t a romance or a thriller or a historical mystery, but you stumble across some wonderful gems along the way.

You fit writing around a day job – how do you find the time, and is there a particular spot you like to write in?

At the moment, I’m in the office Monday to Thursday, and then Friday is my writing day. I think knowing I have a limited amount of time to write helps me be disciplined about making the most of it. I set up a workstation in the dining room, because it has a good-sized table and lots of natural light.

You write poetry – what prompted you to write The Runaway, your first novel?

I’ve been writing novels and short stories for a long time, but it’s taken me a while to finish one I was happy to see published. I suspect The Runaway ended up being that one because it contained a message and a story I felt compelled to tell.

I find poems easier to craft and hone quickly, in part simply because they are shorter and you can see where work is needed. I needed to give myself a lot more time to edit The Runaway before I showed it to anyone. I learned a lot from that process, which I’ll be able to apply to future novels!

Is there a big difference in the way you approached writing the book as opposed to your usual method for writing poetry?

You know, I’m surprised by the number of similarities! It began with an idea I felt I had to articulate – in this case the effects of a person leaving or being left behind, and the amazing extent of what’s possible when you choose to see the best in someone. I started scribbling in a notebook until it was full and then typed up those words so that I could rework them. One big difference was the sheer number of different voices I needed to develop for The Runaway – a poem usually only has one voice, but there was a whole cast of characters to grow here and I didn’t want them to all sound the same as each other!

Cannon's Mouth magazine coverWhat was the first piece of work you had published and how did that happen?

Back in 2013, I had a pair of poems published in a magazine called The Cannon’s Mouth. They were about how different people process loss and hope, and the way faith fits with those things. I’d decided to risk sending some of my work off to poetry magazines that year, which was a scary thing to do, but I’m pleased to say it paid off!

Claire will be sharing more about her book The Runaway in part two of this interview. For now, let me leave you with one of her poems, ‘Adrift’.

Set adrift in the dark
when the last blaze of evening colour
turns quiet on the waters
all her safety net routines in that sky furnace

how many meetings of the board
and quantifiable philosophies
did it take to rationalise the need
for that stealthy trip to shore?

They loosed the ropes
murmuring agreements and best interests
pushed this little boat to the tides
and she awoke to no landmarks
but blue horizons all around

and soon
she knows
She’ll be dancing on the waters

waves teem with songs like you’ve never heard
to be adrift in arms that catch you each time
is to be secure in the storm
so that not knowing is its own kind of certainty

direction comes in its own time
with a breath to the sails
though we’ve lost much that seemed precious
nothing’s lost in this place

 

What I have been reading: Spring

I know that we are well into summertime now, but I hope you will forgive the lateness of this post. I have been working hard on two books (both of which will be published in November – more details to follow). But, although I have had a little less time than usual, I have been delving into my pile of unread books and have a great selection for you below. I have the pleasure of knowing a few of the authors and it is great to be able to celebrate their amazing achievements with them (and to actually really like their books! 😉 ) I will also be posting up interviews with a couple of the authors featured here in the coming weeks so do look out for those…

Mosaic Of Grace New Cover Black EdgeMosaic of Grace
by James Prescott

This book oozes authenticity. James has obviously been on a huge journey into understanding more about God’s grace, and he shares beautifully and honestly with the reader. There are also stories from others that back up what he’s saying. I was so encouraged by this book, as God has been saying such similar things to me – isn’t it great when that happens? If you want to understand more about the precious grace of God, and be drawn in by an engaging writer, then look no further.

THroughmartha'seyesThrough Martha’s Eyes
by Corinne Brixton

I have recently discovered that I enjoy biblical fiction and I was intrigued to read this particular title, as I have read a few books based around Martha’s story in the last year or so. This one was definitely more scholarly in approach to begin with – the author is keen to capture 1st century Judea, with all its traditions and customs, well – which she does. I found I was a bit impatient in the first part of the book, eager to get to the action, but I was totally gripped partway through and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the book.

InkcoverInk
by Alice Broadway

I had heard a lot about this novel, and knew its first print run had sold out extremely quickly. Some are hailing it the new Hunger Games; others told me it was suitable for my 11-year-old daughter. So I picked it up with great curiosity. Alice is a wonderful writer and I was drawn into the dystopian world she has created immediately. The premise of the story is fascinating, as every significant event in a person’s life is tattooed on their skin and, at their death, they are skinned (descriptions not for the faint hearted) and then weighed to see if they are deemed worthy of being made into a book of remembrance. This novel tackles big issues such as love, loyalty, trust and immortality, and there are biblical stories and ideas woven into it too. I will be interested to read the next book in the trilogy – the jury is still out as to whether my squeamish daughter will be reading this one!

whatfallsfromtheskycoverWhat Falls From the Sky
by Esther Emery

When most of us face a life-changing crisis in our lives we can have a tendency to hide ourselves away or rant a lot online. Not Esther – she gave up the internet for a year and then wrote about it! I love her honesty and the wrestling within her journey. The book is full of struggle and yet contains a huge amount of hope too. She doesn’t shy away from discussing the difficult relationships in her life – and the things she doesn’t like about herself. She had walked away from faith in the past, and it was beautiful to read how the silence drew her back to God. If you know you are too dependent on technology or are experiencing a crisis then I would thoroughly recommend you read this book. For anyone else I would say – read it too!

therunawayThe Runaway
by Claire Wong

This book is about a close-knit Welsh community and what happens when a teenager runs away from home. Then two strangers enter her village not long after she leaves it and old secrets begin to be discovered… The story is centred around the teenager Rhiannon, hence the title, but there is great treatment of each character. I warmed to many of them – mainly the strong, positive female characters such as Maebh and Grace. I love the way storytelling is given such prominence in the book too.

This is Claire’s first novel (she has written a lot of poetry) and it shows great promise and skill – I’ll be looking out for her next book.

annabelleeAnnabel Lee
by Mike Nappa

This thriller is not the usual type of book I read – and it wasn’t a clear cut story either, which kept me guessing for a long time. Annabel Lee is the main subject of the story, a young girl who is hidden in a bunker near the start of the book. The secrets surrounding her are eventually discovered by private investigators Coffey and Hill, although they are complicated figures too. In fact each character is unusual, and the novel twists and turns throughout. I found the author’s treatment of ‘the Mute’ particularly fascinating. I wasn’t sure how to engage with the book to begin with, but found I began turning the pages more and more quickly as I wanted to discover all the links. If you like thrillers then I would definitely suggest you try this book out.

thelivingcrossThe Living Cross
by Amy Boucher Pye

This is a devotional for Lent, which I used this year. Utilising daily reflections and prayers I found it a really helpful and thought-provoking book. The theme Amy focuses on throughout is forgiveness and the scriptures and stories she shares from others really gets the reader to dig deep into the subject – such a skill when there is only limited space each day. There are also creative ideas to interact with, which means the book would lend itself well to a group as well as for individual study. I’ve never been through a Lent devotional before but I was glad I started with this one!

thesecondbride


The Second Bride

by Katharine Swartz

This was my chosen fiction book to take away during half term break. I was away with my extended family so I thought I would simply be dipping in and out of it when I had a spare moment. However I read the book in one straight sitting because I was completely hooked (and it happened to be the one rainy day and everyone else was occupied with games or their own books – phew!).

The Second Bride is about a family in which the parents have each been married before. It is when the mum’s (Ellen’s) stepdaughter Annabelle moves in that the tension levels hit the roof. Alongside their difficult story is one from the 1870s – connected to theirs from the outset when Ellen finds a death certificate hidden under their floorboards. To begin with, I found the way that the book hops from one story to the other quite tricky (as I wanted to find out what was happening to the characters and didn’t like the interruption). However, I got used to the rhythm and found myself reading faster and faster as the emotions and stories heightened. When the rain stopped and I was invited to go on a walk I commented to my family that I couldn’t believe how many emotions I had been through while reading this book, and I couldn’t possibly stop until I got to the very end! It is certainly a gripping page turner…