Claire Fuller is the author of Our Endless Numbered Days, Swimming Lessons, and the forthcoming Bitter Orange. After The Motherload® Book Club read Swimming Lessons last month, she took the time to answer questions from some of our members.
Who do you believe is telling the truth in Swimming Lessons?
I do have an opinion, but perhaps I should start by saying that I deliberately tried to make Swimming Lessons a book that the reader has to think about and engage with (hence the ambiguity). So really, this is only my opinion as a reader, rather than as the writer – since all opinions are valid and there are no right or wrong answers for questions about this book. Phew… well, even Ingrid’s letters are only her version of the truth from her point of view, but I think that all the incidents she describes in the book actually happened, so for me, her story is closest to the truth.
What’s the most precious letter you’ve received and why?
There are two – that I still haven’t read. One of the inspirations for Swimming Lessons was a project that my husband and I did before we were married or living together. We decided we would write five notes to each other and hide them in each other’s houses. A couple of years after that we decided he would move in with me, and in the process of packing up, he found all five of my notes. But still, ten years later there are two of his notes that I haven’t found, hidden somewhere in the house we share together. I’m certain they’re in the books.
Which was your favourite character to write in Swimming Lessons and why?
That’s a hard one, because I liked them all. But perhaps Ingrid. I had huge sympathy for her predicament. I kept wanting her to get away from Gil, and in the end she does, but not quite in the way I had anticipated when I started to write her story.
Can you recommend five books you’ve read recently and tell us what you loved about them?
Usually when people ask me this my mind goes blank, but since I’m typing this, I’m allowed to go to Goodreads where I keep track of all the books I read.
The Wall, by Marlen Haushofer. It’s about a woman living alone in the Alps after a strange event. I love the will to survive in the story, and the descriptions of the landscape.
Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson. An odd story about sisters brought up by their aunt. This one has a brilliantly strange atmosphere. It’s odd, but feels normal. Every page has stunning writing.
The Sparsholt Affair, by Alan Hollinghurst. I just love how he writes, and I love how he manages time in this novel.
To The River, by Olivia Laing. This is non-fiction – the story of Laing’s walk along the river Ooze to the sea. Just beautiful descriptions of nature, and meditations on life.
My Absolute Darling, by Gabriel Tallent. Again amazing nature in this novel, but it also has a strong and terrible story. Not for the faint of heart, but brilliant.
Is there a book you wish you’d written?
Well, my favourite book is We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. It’s amazing and wonderful. But if I’d written it, then she wouldn’t have, and it wouldn’t be as good.
What’s your process from idea to finished book?
To give a proper answer would take a long time, but generally I have an idea which can come from anywhere, but usually I need a person and a place they’re in. And I start writing. I don’t have a plan, I write to discover who they are and what their story is. So with Swimming Lessons it started with Gil walking along a beach to his house. I edit a little as I go along, and it takes me about a year and a half to get to the end, and then I spend about six months editing. Then it goes to my literary agent, and then to my editor at Penguin. There are then lots of things that have to happen to make it into a finished book – editing, copyediting, design, layout, printing, etc.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to get a book published?
Write every day if you can. Writing is a bit like a muscle; you have to work it. Get to the end! It’s easier to have great ideas then work through the slog of what might be years to finish a novel. And then edit, edit, edit, edit. And then be prepared for disappointment and knock-backs. Grow a thick skin, and keep going.