An interview with Claire Fuller
I’ve always been a reader, but for forty years it never occurred to me that I could also be a writer. I was so in love with books and reading, that I thought authors were special and different, and that when they wrote, their novels arrived fully-formed from their heads onto the page. But also, in my twenties and thirties I was running a small business and a home, raising children, drawing and sculpting (and reading); I’m not sure writing fiction would have found even ten minutes space in all of that.
I started writing properly when I found out about a regular event my local library held, where people would write a piece that took five minutes to read aloud. I signed up and so not only began to write but also to read my stories to a paying audience. Although it was scary, I enjoyed the challenge, and after a couple of years I applied to do an MA in Creative and Critical Writing at my local university.
If you had written a book in your 20s, what do you think that book would have looked like?
It wouldn’t be the same book, especially since Our Endless Numbered Days was inspired by a news story that happened in 2011. But assuming I had written something, I don’t think it would be as layered. It would be missing all the tiny personal incidents and memories and history that I mined for my first novel. Maybe my writing when I was in my 20s would have been fresher, but writing in my 40s not only provides me with more people, places and events to draw on, but those things have had time to ‘compost’; time for me to look back on them in a more ruminative way.
Do you have any thoughts about the rest of your writing career, perhaps spanning decades, especially now that you're preparing to leave the ‘debut novel’ stage?
Perhaps that is the downside of writing my debut in my forties – certainly fewer decades ahead than if I had written it in my twenties! But the upside is, because I had my children in my twenties, and although they still rely on me for some things, I now have a lot of time to focus on my writing.
Without wanting to tempt fate, I would hope to be able to write and have published many more books; I definitely have plenty of ideas for them. I’m currently editing my second novel, Swimming Lessons, which will be published in 2017, and already thinking about my third.
How do you feel about how age is discussed in the arts world, particularly when it comes to new writers?
I do get frustrated with the focus on the young when people talk about new writers and debuts. With competitions or prizes I’d rather the focus was on the work, not on the year that the writer happened to be born – I don’t really understand how that is relevant. There are prizes for debut authors under 35 and one for debut authors over 40. I feel rather sorry for all those writers whose first book is published when they’re 37!
But because this focus does exist, a group of about fifty writers (including me) who had their debut novel traditionally published when they were over 40, have formed a group called The Prime Writers. We got together to share some of the highs, and occasional lows of having a debut published when you’re older. We want to celebrate the older debutant and show that you don’t have to be young to be a new writer.