Last week we reviewed Claire Varley’s The Bit in Between.
Today the delightful Claire joins us to chat more about her debut and what she’s working on next.
We also have a paperback copy of The Bit in Between to giveaway courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia. But more on that in a moment…
BLBR: Congratulations on the release of your debut novel ‘The Bit in Between’ Claire. It was a pleasure to read.
Much has been said of Pan Macmillan ‘discovering your manuscript in the slush pile’. On the strength and originality of this novel, I was very surprised it had not been afforded a more direct route to publication. Can you tell us a bit about the road that led to it being in that pile?
Claire: It was a long and winding road, much like Sir Paul’s, full of potholes and dead ends and angry farmers with pitchforks telling me to get off their lawns. I wrote most of the manuscript while living in remote Solomon Islands from 2010-12.
I started submitting it to everyone who accepted unsolicited manuscripts on my return to Australia in September 2012, working my way patiently through each ‘thanks but no thanks’ response, before histrionically pledging Pan Macmillan – publisher #9 – would be the last before I relegated the manuscript to the metaphorical hard drive drawer.
Obviously the gods of my Greek forbears were watching because on this, my last and final act, someone at Pan Macmillan decided to put it into the ‘maybe’ pile and the Commissioning Editor decided to dip into the slush pile and it caught her eye. A high school literature class Classics essay would call this ‘fate’ but I’m fairly certain it was incredible luck and fortuity.
Claire: Obviously fairly unworthy but equally chuffed akin to the way a male peacock gets about in mating season. I adore each of these authors. ‘One Day’ in particular, took my breath away. I read it in a single night, splayed across a sweaty hotel mattress in Cairns, sobbing inconsolably and soundlessly because I didn’t want to wake my friend who was sleeping nearby. There is such power in funny-sad stories. Life is so funny-sad and I have so much respect for authors who master this.
“There is such power in funny-sad stories”
BLBR: One of the things that really struck me when I began reading ‘The Bit in Between’ was the strength of the dialogue, some of the best I’ve read in a long time. I can only imagine this comes from having a lot of practice – is it safe to assume you are a chatterbox?
Claire: Selectively so. But I’m a first class listener. Some would say eavesdropper. Either way. I write my dialogue by speaking it aloud to myself, which is also a bit weird as I prefer to write in cafes, libraries and other public spaces. I grew up with poetry and theatre so I’ve always been fascinated with how things sound as well as read.
BLBR: Despite this novel often being laugh-out-loud funny, the deep respect you obviously have for people from all walks of life, but particularly those of the Solomon Islands, resonates throughout. Can you share with us a particularly memorable experience in your time spent there?
Claire: Along with choosing to set my book in the Solomons came the responsibility to do so respectfully. The extensive history of colonial authorship of the Pacific was at the forefront of my mind throughout the writing process and I didn’t want to add something that was patronizing or limiting or two dimensional. There isn’t one single memory but more an accumulation of them that is strongest in me.
We Australians know so little about the Solomon Islands despite its proximity. We probably couldn’t find it on a map despite the fact we are heavily invested in the country through aid and development, and in the logging and mining industries. For the most part we have a series of headlines such as ‘failed state’ or ‘aid dependency’, or sets of bleak statistics from multinational aid agencies. These make it seem as if the entire country is sitting around languishing, waiting for outsiders to come rescue them, instead of attempting to live the best lives they can, which is what we all do. I get really angry about this. It saps my ability to make jokes.
BLBR: I note ‘The Bit in Between’ has been published just in time to gain you entry into the ‘authors with their debut novel published before their 30th birthday’ club. Is that a particularly meaningful milestone to you or do see the prevalence of such commentary just ageism in the publishing industry?
Claire: I think you’ll find, BLBR, that there are in fact still ten months until I turn 30, so you check that pseudo-concerned motherly tone right there. I will give you grandchildren, okay? There’s life in these ovaries yet. I don’t really see 30 as being particularly significant as I have the spirit of a teenager and the right knee and noise tolerance of a very old man. I feel very lucky that this means I will – lack of early death permitting – have many more years to write things, but it’s not a particular milestone on a purely age-related level. Ageism, in any form, is silly. A good story is a good story.
BLBR: While this may be your first novel, it is not the first time your writing has been published. Can you tell us a bit about your short stories and poetry?
Claire: I’ve had a smattering of things published in journals and collections, most recently by the good people at Inkerman & Blunt. Pre-book deal I wrote a couple of novellas, one of which was shortlisted for Viva La Novella’s second competition. But for the really juicy stuff, you’ve got to go back to my prolific backlog of childhood creations.
My aunt recently sent me a scan of a book I wrote for her and my uncle when I was in primary school. It’s called ‘Lost on Little Venus’. Lost on Venus is an Edgar Rice Burroughs’ book but I doubt I knew this at the time. Check out this ending:
Didn’t see that coming, did you?
BLBR: What’s next in the creative pipeline?
Claire: I’m working on my second novel for Pan Macmillan which will hopefully appear some time next year. At this point it is about the various levels of political engagement in society told through the members of one family, but who knows where it will end up? I can smell the December deadline but can’t see it, so ask me again in a couple of months.
BLBR: A little birdy told me you may be finding Netflix a little distracting of late. Don’t worry, I just might be a tad guilty of that too. Just for fun, name the last TV series you binge watched ‘while preparing to write’?
Claire: I made my partner binge-watch both VEEP and The Thick of It as ‘research’ for book two. I reckon I can get away with adding House of Cards to the research list, and Rake too. The next book should come with a companion essay titled ‘From Netflix to Narrative: How I let my viewing habits shape my plotline.’ I could be the equivalent of the fancy people who sit in bars drinking high-end spirits: ‘What are you drinking?’ ‘Netflix, naturally.’
To celebrate the release of Aussie author Claire Varley’s debut novel The Bit in Between, Pan Macmillan Australia have offered a paperback copy for giveaway:
- Australian mailing addresses only
- extra entries for spreading the word via Twitter and Facebook/Google+/Webpage
- extra entries for registered participants of the Aussie Author Challenge 2015 – there’s still plenty of time to sign-up!
- entries close midnight 31 August 2015
- the winner will be randomly selected and must respond to my email requesting their mailing address within 5 days otherwise their prize will be forfeited and another winner selected
SORRY, ENTRIES CLOSED – Winner announced HERE