Interview with Clare Stevens
How did you get into writing?
When I was very young, before I could read and write, my older sister used to tell me ghost stories that came from her imagination—although at the time I thought they were all true! She’d encourage me to make up tales to tell her in return. That fostered an early love of storytelling.
At primary school I started to write little stories. English was always one of my best subjects, which is why I initially went into journalism, but I’ve always tinkered with writing short stories.
It was not until 2010 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer that I started to take my writing to new levels.
Being off work and bored, I started a blog about my experiences which later got listed among the top 10 UK cancer blogs.
It came as a surprise that people were reading the blog not just for information about me, but for entertainment! And it wasn’t just people I knew who read it—total strangers from halfway across the world were also reading it.
Through the blog I learnt that there could be a wider audience for my creative writing.
After I finished treatment I joined up with a bunch of others who liked writing and we started the Telltale Writers group which still meets today. As a group we produced an anthology called Seven Echoes, which gave me a taste for publication.
Ross Bradshaw (from Five Leaves Publishing) came to talk to our group and explained how difficult it was to get published, which made me determined to prove him wrong.
After my illness I re-evaluated my life and took a redundancy package from my government job, which gave me the opportunity to do an MA in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University.
How did you come up with the idea for Blue Tide Rising?
It started as a 10-minute free write from an online writing prompt, which I then put away and forgot about. I returned to it years later and decided there was scope to develop it.
The one line prompt was: ‘after she lost the baby she washed up on Balmoral Street.’
Who’s your favourite character from the book and why?
Amy is the main character so she is naturally the person I’m most invested in.
I also like Adam because he’s grumpy, drinks too much and swears a lot, and there’s a secondary character called Maria who I’m fond of. She’s eccentric and trilingual—she speaks Welsh to her kids, Italian to the dog, and English to everyone else.
What’s your writing routine like?
My most creative time is first thing in the morning when I’ve just woken up.
When I’m in the habit of writing regularly I write for half an hour, longhand, first thing. I may or may not then use what I’ve written.
I’m quite chaotic with my writing.
I wrote Blue Tide Rising on bits of paper and word documents in no particular order then had to piece the bits together like a jigsaw.
I also like writing in cafes and on trains.
You do a lot of work with Maggie’s Cancer Centre. How has that influenced you, as a person and as a writer?
After finishing the MA I was approached to run the Creative Writing group at Maggie’s, which I had been to a couple of times as a delegate.
During my own experience of cancer I found writing hugely therapeutic, so I really believe in the ethos of the group and have empathy with the people who come along. They are a great bunch of writers who are very supportive of each other, and of me!
It fascinates me how people in the group produce such a diverse range of material from an identical writing prompt.
Although running the group is about facilitating others, not about my own writing, I do tinker with some of the exercises myself.
Running this group has also given me further experience in the publication process as we produced an anthology, Missing Pieces, launched at Waterstones in September 2017. This process gave our writers a huge boost.
Sadly two of the people who contributed to that book and were present at the launch are no longer with us—that is the nature of working with people with cancer. But I’m proud that the book is part of their legacy.
What made you decide to go with Inspired Quill to publish your book?
I’d tried a few agents. Those who replied at all did so with bland ‘not for us’ responses which weren’t terribly helpful, and I didn’t feel invested in the process.
I started to look at independent publishers and Inspired Quill was the first one I came across that had an imminent submission window.
I was immediately drawn to their ethos as they are a social enterprise who put profits back into literary projects, and seek out ideas outside the mainstream. From the start I felt I was building a personal connection with the publisher.
Are your friends and family supportive of your writing?
Friends are very supportive as is my husband John (JP). Blue Tide Rising is dedicated to JP and to Jane, a close friend who died of cancer the same year I got it.
I discussed the idea for the book with Jane back in early 2010 and she said ‘write it Clare, I’ll read it!’ Sadly she never got to read it.
Friends have always encouraged me to write and celebrated my successes with me.
My sister, as I’ve mentioned, fostered my early love of stories and she’s excited about the book launch.
Other family members are farther afield geographically but cheer me on remotely.
Nobody’s ever been discouraging, although some people have been surprised by my writing, as it can reveal a darker side of me they didn’t know about.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
‘Let the words flow out of you. It doesn’t matter if what you write is rubbish—you might surprise yourself when you later read it back.’
What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
‘It’s impossible to get published so why are you even bothering?’
What are you working on now?
Just started my next novel—about a bunch of baby-boomers who decide to buy up their old college building to convert into a retirement home for themselves—a place where they make the rules and can re-enact their student days.
The action switches between present day and the early 80s when they were students there. The dream doesn’t all go according to plan!
I share regular updates on my blog. I also use the blog to post writing exercises and prompts used in the Maggie’s group.
Where can readers get hold of a copy of Blue Tide Rising?
Come along to the launch event at 2pm on Sunday 31st March at Waterstones, Nottingham, and grab a copy!
Otherwise it will be available in paperback and e-book format at Waterstones and other outlets in Nottingham and around the Midlands, via Inspired Quill’s website, and on Amazon.