Q&A with Daniel Clay

We were lucky enough to get signed copies of Daniel’s ‘Broken’ for our giveaway last month (if you’ve not read it yet, it’s brilliant- you can find it under featured/reviewed in our shop) and here’s what Daniel had to say when we caught up with him recently:

What were your favourite books and authors when you were a child?

There were very few books in our house so I just tended to read whatever I could get my hands on; usually quite dark stuff, though I remember reading The Eagle Of The Ninth (which, I think, has just been turned into a film) several times as it was so good.  Later, as a teenager, I loved The Pan Book of Horror Short Story series plus a similar range published by New English Library, then moved on to James Herbert and, finally, Stephen King.  All nice light cheerful stuff.

When did you know you wanted to write?

Since before I can remember, and long before I understood writing could be a career.

How much of Broken is based on people and situations you knew?

Little snippets definitely seeped in from my life – Mr Jeffries’ world view was quite similar to mine at the time I wrote the novel. The situation Broken’s parents go through, not knowing how to get him help, understanding the State are failing him but not being equipped to kick up the necessary fuss to get him seen by the right people, is also something I’d seen someone close to me go through.

Setting wise, it’s very personal – I live around the corner from the place where I imagine Drummond Square to be, and, in the original draft, I wrote it as if the characters lived in the same street as me (my wife made me change that…)

What was it about the story that made you confident it would be successful? (or as confident as you can ever be?!)

Successful and confident are scary words to use when it comes to trying to get your first novel published!  I don’t think either ever applied to me because I’d come close to being represented by a big-name agent once before and was pretty resigned to the fact nothing would ever happen for me, so I was just writing because I love to write and then going through all the standard motions of trying to get published with no real faith the system would work for me.  With Broken, though, six months after I’d finished the first draft, I dug it out of a drawer thinking I’d just have a quick flick through, and, reading it for the first time after such a long break, it felt like someone else’s work, and seemed to be at a much higher level than anything I’d ever written before:  I still didn’t think it would ever be published, because life’s just unfair like that a lot of the time, but it was nice to go on to prove myself wrong…

I think with any sort of writing, except, perhaps, for genre novels, it’s impossible to know if they truly work until they’re finished. For me, the few times I’ve tried to write with a specific plot in mind, the outcome has been disappointing, and usually gut-wrenchingly so.   It’s much scarier to write thinking, well, maybe something like this can happen, maybe I could throw something like that in half-way through, but the results can often be as surprising for the writer as they are for the reader, which is usually a good thing, even though you have no idea if you’re producing anything good or not until a few months after it’s finished…

What’s your new book about?

It’s called Swap and, primarily, it’s about a woman called Angela who, at the age of thirty-nine, has lived the same life her parents lived before her – one job all her life, one relationship all her life, one house all her adult life, one son to show for it all:  When her mother dies and her husband isn’t very supportive she embarks on an affair with her best friend’s husband, the repercussions of which change everyone’s lives forever.

Unlike Broken, it doesn’t really have a linear plot (it tells two parallel stories in three very distinct stages) or the same shades of right and wrong, but I really wanted to capture the way ordinary life can change so rapidly, and not through anything sensational such as murder or physical violence, just through decent people not quite valuing each other enough. I also wanted to show how an ordinary suburban woman’s life can be as shocking and riveting as anyone else’s, and just as hope-filled as well.

When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

I like to read and I write a few articles here and there, plus I critique other writers’ work for writers’ news.  Away from the keyboard I like to ski.  I surf every now and then but not very well.  I like going on bike rides as well, but only really if they involve pubs…

If you were to recommend a book(s) to children to get them hooked on reading, what would they be?

Anything they’re likely to relate to – that doesn’t mean it has to be by a modern writer reflecting life for children today, but just someone portraying character-traits and values they can recognise and identify with. I think, also, the big trick is to make books accessible but never force one on a child (or anyone, really):  I had to read Chaucer and Shakespeare at school and ended up with an Ungraded in English Literature O Level because I just couldn’t decipher what the two of them were on about, yet I’d already read Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm – which were covered in CSE – two years before we sat our exams and had written three novels of my own by the time I left school.  It was ridiculous and turned me off that sort of writing forever, whereas, probably, if I’d found my own way to them later on in life, I’d have loved them.

It might sound obvious, but I’d suggest Harry Potter.  Given how popular they are, I’d imagine no child would feel any stigma in being seen reading them. Also, as a series, they’re perfect for children because the first book is a very quick and easy read, and then each subsequent installment demands more concentration and gets progressively darker – a bit like life, really.

So that’s all from Daniel – hope you enjoyed it as much as us? We’d be hard pressed to come up with a better recommendation than Harry Potter ourselves, but let us know what you think..