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12 April 2021

Claire Alexander: ‘Make a commitment to yourself to write every day’

Photography by Facetimphotos.com
by Katie Smart Author Interviews, From Our Students, Writing Tips

Claire Alexander wrote her debut novel Meredith, Alone during our six-week online How to Write Your Novel course series (Starting to Write Your Novel, Write to the End of Your Novel and Edit & Pitch Your Novel). The book was recently pre-empted by Michael Joseph in a major six-figure deal and rights have also been pre-empted in seven other territories.

We caught up with Claire to find out more about her time on our courses and the inspiration behind Meredith, Alone

You’ve studied on four CBC six-week online courses including our How to Write Your Novel series. How did your time studying online with us impact your approach to writing your debut novel?

They gave me a structure, kept me accountable and reignited my passion for the creative writing process. I’d written one scene of an untitled, un-plotted tale when I joined Starting to Write Your Novel in October 2019 and I finished the first draft of Meredith, Alone during Edit & Pitch Your Novel the following July. I’m honestly not sure if I’d have finished my novel if I hadn’t taken the CBC courses.

Did you meet any trusted writing friends whilst studying with us?

I love my CBC posse! A group of us chat regularly, read each other’s work, share tips and provide lots of virtual hand-holding. One of them (Claire Frances, who recently signed with Viola Hayden at Curtis Brown!) has become such a close friend even though we’ve yet to meet IRL (thanks, COVID-19).

Writing is a solitary existence — and one that only other writers truly understand (and by writers I mean all people who write, not just published authors) — so to be part of a lovely, supportive group who know the frustration of struggling with a tough scene and the joy of finding the missing link is something I’m really grateful for. 

Your debut novel Meredith, Alone was pre-empted by Michael Joseph in a major deal. How did you feel when you found out that you were going to be a published novelist?

My novel went out on submission late Thursday and I was hoping we might start getting some feedback early the following week. On Friday, I was in the supermarket with  my toddler when my agent Juliet Mushens called. I missed it because my phone was in my bag buried at the bottom of the trolley. When I got back to the car I read Juliet’s message telling me that (Penguin imprint) Michael Joseph had made a pre-empt offer. I stared at my phone for ages, then burst into tears. All I could think about was all those books I devoured as a kid with the little Penguin logo on the spine. My childhood dream came true, right there in the supermarket car park. When the international deals started coming in, I kept asking my husband if I was dreaming.

Your debut has an incredible hook – the eponymous character Meredith Maggs has not left her house for 1,215 days. Can you tell us a bit more about Meredith, Alone and the inspiration behind it?

I’m obsessed with what makes people tick — why they behave in certain ways and make particular life choices. Meredith was initially going to be a slightly ominous character in a thriller who had just left her home after a long period of self-imposed isolation. But when I got into it, it just didn’t work out that way. Meredith took me on a different path!  I wanted to make the reader part of her journey out of her house and explore the reasons she was in this situation. And it’s definitely not a thriller!

What does your writing routine look like – how did you stay motivated during lockdown?

I work full time as a freelance writer and we have a LOT of children (my husband and I have six between us) so I don’t have much free time. We also built an extension during lockdown, so there was a soundtrack of drilling and banging for several months. Despite all that, Meredith, Alone was the book I finished. I have a few other unfinished novels that I started decades ago, when I had no kids and all the free time in the world — what’s that all about? I think this was the right book at the right time, and when you have that feeling in your bones, you just make it happen (as hard as it can be at times). I wrote during the day when my toddler napped and in the wee small hours when everybody else was asleep. Those pockets of time add up, in the end.

I think lockdown helped my writing process, in a way. Even though my freelancing was as busy as ever and we had homeschooling to contend with, I felt like being at home gave me the permission to write that we — working mothers in particular — often don’t grab for ourselves. I didn’t have to choose between my novel and socialising!

What words of wisdom would you like to share with the aspiring authors reading this?

It’s really simple: just write. Make a commitment to yourself to write every day, whatever you think you can manage. Get the words down, even if they make you cringe. Later on, you can chop and change and improve 500 words; you can’t do that with zero words. And amidst all the cringing, you’ll find magic too.

Also, even if you have a demanding job and/or a house full of kids, there are little things you can do to free up time. Turn off the TV. Delete social media from your phone. And my personal favourite: leave the laundry for an hour.

Finally, what’s next for your writing journey?

I can’t wait to introduce Meredith to the world in summer 2022. But in the meantime, I have a couple of new ideas taking shape in my mind and once I’ve grabbed onto one of them, I’ll get started on book 2. When I was a little girl all I wanted to do was write stories, and that’s all I want to do now.

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