Clare Morrall

Clare Morrall

Astonishing Splashes of Colour – shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2003 – is Tindal Street’s bestselling title and has been translated into a dozen languages worldwide. Absorbing and sure-footed, beautifully written and perceptive, Astonishing Splashes of Colour reflects the author’s interest in the complexity of memory and the dynamics of family life. Clare Morrall has had two further novels – Natural Flights of the Human Mind and The Language of Others – published by Sceptre in association with Tindal Street Press.

How would you describe your book?
The story is about Kitty, a young woman brought up by her eccentric father and four older brothers. She is struggling to come to terms with the loss of her premature baby. Unable to have any more children, she feels as if she has no backwards and no forwards. No mother, no child. I wanted to explore the reasons behind apparently irrational behaviour.

What challenges and pleasure did you face when writing your book?
Finding time to write was probably the greatest challenge. I was working full time, teaching piano and violin. So I only had a few hours a week to write, and some weeks were impossible. It was a real pleasure when a parent from school offered me a room in her house. This meant I could leave my everyday preoccupations at home and concentrate on writing. I still go there today.

‘Never a day without a line,’ said Olivia Manning. Are you a regular and disciplined writer?
I like to think I’m disciplined. I’ve always been so short of time that I’ve had to grasp every spare moment and use it to its fullest extent, although I confess that I sometimes fall asleep when I’m meant to be writing. But having somewhere to go makes an enormous difference. You can shut the door, sit down and think. I’ve become more disciplined as I’ve progressed, and I now find I can focus my mind quickly. But I don’t write every day. There are always so many other things to do.

What combination of reading, paid work, family life and leisure would you recommend for a well-balanced writer?
First of all, I strongly believe you should read. Some writers say they don’t read anything while they are writing in case it contaminates their work. I read all the time; it feeds my own imagination. Maybe I’m influenced by the book I’m reading, but I see that as a good thing. It introduces new thoughts, new perspectives, and can send you down a road that you aren’t expecting. In the mix of thoughts, influences and ongoing events, your own creativity rises to the surface and takes charge.

Apart from that, I continue with my music teaching; I like the contact with the outside world. I’ve also benefited from having my own children and watching them grow up. A writer needs to feed his knowledge and perception all the time. Isolation is tempting, but not necessarily productive. But every person is an individual and will find a different way of working.

Do you start with characters, a plot or an image?
This varies. I like to start a novel without knowing where it’s going, so I can enjoy a sense of discovery and excitement as it develops. In Astonishing Splashes, I began with an interest in memory. An apparently unconnected image then came into my mind of a mother waiting outside a school for a child who didn’t exist. I started the novel at that point, with no idea of what would happen. In my second novel, Natural Flights of the Human Mind, I started with an image of a biplane circling a lighthouse, and I worked out characters and a plot from there. I’d been thinking about the concept of guilt, so it was a question of how to combine the various strands.

How many drafts do your novels go through?
Dozens. I write a chapter at a time, and each one has five or six drafts before I’m happy. When the novel is complete, I do endless drafts of the whole thing. And when it’s edited, you have to go through it all again, several times more.

What is your favourite read?
One of my favourite books is The English Patient by Michael Ondatje. It’s beautifully written with a strong story that needs piecing together like a jigsaw. I love the shifting of time and place and the extraordinary visual images. The cats asleep on the headless statues or in the gun barrels facing south, the father who died in a dovecote, the stepmother in a canoe. There are so many wonderful threads to this novel; the desert, the bomb disposal training on the South Downs and the talks from the Geographical Society.