Claire Fuller is a writer and an artist who lives in Winchester, England. Her debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, won the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction, has been longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award, nominated for the Edinburgh First Book Award 2015, and was a finalist in the American Booksellers Association 2016 Indies Best Book Awards. Her second novel, Swimming Lessons, was published in January 2017. You can find her online at clairefuller.co.uk.
Shauna Kosoris: What inspired your new novel, Swimming Lessons?
Claire Fuller: A couple of things started it. A piece of flash fiction that I wrote about a man on a beach and the things he finds washed up there. And a project I did with my husband before we were married, and when he had his own flat. We decided we would write notes to each other and hide them in each other’s houses – love notes, I suppose. When he packed up his flat to move in with me, he found all the notes I’d written to him, but seven years later there are still two notes somewhere in the house we share together.
I noticed that some of your descriptions in the book (for example “smelling the khaki colour of unwashed hair” on pg 51, “cigarettes the colour of wet bark” on pg 261, and “the place still stank of burning, the only smell that was pure black” on pg 287) were very synaesthetic. These descriptions always occurred around Flora. Did she have synaesthesia?
Flora does have synaesthesia. I wrote one of the descriptions without even thinking about it, and someone in my writing group pointed it out, and I thought it would be an interesting thing to go with, especially since Flora is an artist. I don’t have synaesthesia but I think I do see non-visual things visually. I was trying to explain to my husband the other day about how I see decades: the 1960s and 1970s are vertical, the 1980s change to horizontal, with the 90s at an incline of about 30 degrees. He had no idea what I was on about!
Wow, that’s interesting; I hope that will make its way into your writing one day! But now I have to ask – why did Flora love wandering around naked?
Hah! Flora’s a bit of a free spirit, don’t you think? She doesn’t care what other people think of her. Being free of her clothes makes her feel liberated, when actually she isn’t free at all of her family’s history.
And her family’s history is so important in Swimming Lessons, as half of the story is told through the letters Ingrid wrote to her husband about their marriage. Did you always know you would be telling the story in this way?
Not at all. The story started from Gil’s point of view and I got to about 30,000 words before I realised that it was wrong, and deleted half of it. Now Gil’s point of view is only the prologue. I decided I wanted to hear from Ingrid, but because in the present she has disappeared, I started writing a letter from her to Gil, and they just continued.
I’m so glad they did – I absolutely loved Ingrid’s letters. Thinking of things I loved, I thought your short story “Emily, Baker and Me” was fantastic. Do you still write short fiction?
Thank you! I do still write a lot of short fiction – short stories (I recently won the Royal Academy & Pin Drop short story prize) and flash fiction. I’m part of an online group called Friday Fictioneers where a photograph is posted online each week and writers around the world each write a 100-word story inspired by it. It’s great for honing writing skills, and anyone can join in.
Friday Fictioneers sounds like a lot of fun, and congratulations on your win! You’ve written a blog post from a year ago about your writing process. Has your process changed at all since then?
It hasn’t changed much. I’ve now finished the first draft of my third novel, and the only thing that was different to the process I described in that blog post is aiming for a particular word count each day. I stopped doing that when I was about half way through and just made sure I wrote something new each day. Making sure I had 1,000 or 800 new words each day was too much pressure, and too often I found the next day that they were bad words. It was better to aim for fewer, better words.
Your bio on your website says you studied sculpture at the Winchester School of Art. Do you still make sculptures?
I’m not doing much at the moment. It feels like writing is my creative outlet, although sometimes I do a bit of drawing.
That’s fair. What are you working on now?
As I mentioned, I’ve just finished the first draft of my third novel. My literary agent gets to read it first, and she and her colleagues have given me some broad ideas for improving it, so now I really want to get back to it and write another draft. It’s still too early to say what it’s about, mostly because I don’t know how to explain it without it taking three pages!
Well I can’t wait to read it, whenever it’s done. I’ve just got a few more questions for you about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?
I’m not sure a particular book or author inspired me to write, but there are plenty I would like to write like. The ones that spring to mind are We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, and Legend of a Suicide by David Vann.
Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?
No, I don’t think there is. We all like different books, different authors, different genres, and that’s just fine. I’d just like everyone to read, full-stop.
And what are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading The Lonely City by Olivia Laing. I’ve only just started it, but I’m really enjoying it. It’s non-fiction about loneliness and how that’s reflected in the lives and work of some particular artists.