Interview With Author Clare Harvey

Credit: Simon Buck Photography

Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

Hi, I’m Clare Harvey. I’m originally from Devon, but have lived all over the world, working variously as a waitress, freelance journalist, radio reporter, and English tutor in South Africa, Nepal, Germany and Northern Ireland. But I’m now settled in Nottingham with my family, and I’m a full time author. I write historical fiction for Simon & Schuster UK. I currently have four titles out in print, e-book and audio: The Gunner Girl, The English Agent, The Night Raid, and The Escape. They are all set during World War 2 (although The Escape also includes a 1989 timeline running alongside the wartime story)

What is/are the story(ies) behind your book(s)?

I fell into writing about wartime when I discovered that my mother-in-law served in the army in World War 2. Sadly she’d passed away before I even met my husband, so I never had the chance to ask her about her own life, but the idea of a teenage girl soldier working on the anti-aircraft guns in London inspired my debut, The Gunner Girl. After that I think I had just fallen in love a bit with that era so I have carried on writing about wartime women. My second book, The English Agent, came about through a fascination with the remarkable women volunteers of the Secret Operations Executive (SOE) and their formidable agent handler, Vera Atkins. The stepping off point for The Night Raid was the war artist Dame Laura Knight, and I span a story around her real life and fictitious factory girls who sat for her home front portraits. My new book, The Escape, is a two-timeline story that wraps up the history and secrets of two women, in 1945, at the tail end of World War 2 in Germany, as the Russian Red Army moves in, and the ‘iron curtain’ begins to fall, and in Germany in 1989, as the Berlin Wall is broached, and the ‘iron curtain’ begins to rise.

What inspires/inspired your creativity?

Real life women doing remarkable things – whether they are famous or not – grabs my interest. I love taking a real person (via autobiography, biography or memoir) and doing a giant ‘what if…?’ to create a work of fiction. What I like to think about my books is that the stories didn’t actually happen, but given the personalities and the circumstances, they could have…

How do you deal with creative block?

I always say there’s no such thing as writer’s block. What I mean is that a writer can always write. Sometimes if your work-in-progress feels like a work-in-regress, you can write something else, maybe a piece of flash fiction, or simply just write a scene for your story, accepting that most of it will get lost in the editing process. But the block might also be telling you something: you may need to take another look at your plot, or a character’s back story/motivation, in order to get the story moving again. To paraphrase Picasso, the muse only strikes when you’re working!

What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

I am not experienced enough to know what the biggest mistakes are, and I’m sure I’m still making plenty of them! But there are lots of brilliant books, such as Into The Woods, by John Yorke and Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, which are full of writer-ish wisdom. And anyway, mistakes are fine. No book fully survives the first draft, as all authors know!

Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

When you’re a traditionally published commercial author, the title and cover becomes more of a job for the sales and marketing team, than for the author. Neither the title nor the cover of my debut, The Gunner Girl, were my choice – but they got the book into the supermarkets, and the book charts, so I didn’t mind too much about my lack of creative input…

How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

All writers get bad reviews. I try not to dwell on reviews too much, but if it’s getting me down I sometimes look at the reviews from authors I really admire. Even Costa and Booker winners get the odd one-star, so that cheers me up.

Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

Most authors would say writing is a bit of a compulsion, so for all writers, published and unpublished, I’d say the process is about personal satisfaction. However, if you want to transition from a writer to an author there has to be some kind of awareness of readership. I think even in literary fiction, if you’re not considering your reader at all, then there’s a risk that your story will lack life. A good story should raise questions in a reader’s mind that makes them want to keep turning the pages. If you’re not considering a possible reader, then it’s much harder to write a good story.

Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

I proposed to my husband on Leap Day 1996 in a war zone.

I once hitchhiked from Zanzibar to Cape Town.

I spent part of my childhood living in Mauritius.

In my 17 years as an army wife, I moved houses seven times.

I have never watched a single episode of Game of Thrones, and have no intention of doing so!


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