Today I’m interviewing Claire Wingfield, whose first book Saving Francesca Maier is inspired by her own travel. She talked to me about her writing process and the evolution of her writing career.
Tell us something about your books.
My novel Saving Francesca Maier is set over a summer holiday in Berlin, when a family take their 14-year-old daughter to visit her father’s home country for the first time. A slice of European lives intertwined, it reflects my own freedom in travelling to Germany to work in a publishing house as a young graduate. The sequel sees one of the German characters coming to work in Edinburgh as an au pair and continues to explore the complexities of place, family and friendship through the Maier family.
Inspired by some of the exercises I’ve used as an editor and mentor, I have also written the popular creative-writing guide 52 Dates for Writers – Ride a Tandem, Assume an Alias and 50 Other Ways to Improve your Novel Draft. Full of ways to gain a fresh perspective on a work-in-progress, 52 Dates for Writers contains examples from best-selling novels and ‘live’ editing projects.
What inspires you to write? Who are your favorite writers?
I’ve come to realise that I’m looking for stories even when I don’t think I’m doing so. Fragments heard on the radio, interesting narrative structure when a story plays out on the news, something somewhere that hints to an unspoken truth…
Saving Francesca Maier follows the tradition of stories taking place over a period of holiday, and was partly inspired by my own enjoyment of books such as Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse and Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac.
How do you start writing? Do you have a process or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
I begin writing with a lot of thinking time. My editorial training leads me to interrogate an idea from various angles before committing to writing. I tend to work through several versions of an outline early in the process (though I may write some early character and location description at roughly the same time, to help me know more about the world I’m aiming to create).
Outlines always shift slightly in the course of writing, but I find having one keeps me on track and the process more efficient. Readers will talk about a story in the abstract so I find these ‘off the page’ exercises help me to think of the ideas that will ultimately be extracted from the words on the page. From my work as an editor, I’ve seen that in many cases it’s also easier to change an outline document early in the process than it is to make a plot change much later in the draft.
How has your writing process changed since you started writing?
My children have added an efficiency to my writing time. As a young writer, I had all the time in the world and consequently my draft developed quite slowly. I have targets now and think of my work in clear stages.
What is your favorite part of the writing process?
I’m also slightly addicted to editing – to cutting things out.
However, those two things are a contradiction – so I try to be clear about what my role is at any particular time. My diary will mark blocks of time for editing and blocks of time for writing so I know what my primary role is whenever I’m working on a draft – though it can be difficult to separate the two in practice as I do tend to ‘tidy up’ a scene before moving forwards.
Do you involve other people in your writing, as collaborators or editors? How do you make this work?
Yes – and I say this with the caveat of working as a professional editor and literary consultant myself – different readers are great for different stages.
I will discuss with a trusted reader or editor in the outline stage, then I’ll try to get as far as I can with the project myself before asking anyone else to read. I know it’s a big job to give feedback on a manuscript, and asking several people at once can cause its own problems, so I really do ration my readers and only ask as needed. If a reader finds an area for development, I’d want to have my best go at addressing that before anyone else might read the manuscript.
I am so grateful to those readers who enter the world of a book before it’s fully formed – and to those writers who allow me the same privilege as an editor and literary consultant.
Do you have any writing tips you’d like to share with readers?
Embrace the aspect of writing you find most challenging – work on this area for development from all angles…and away from your draft.
I also find simply moving location can help get things flowing again. It’s why I seek out writing retreats and workshops when I’m feeling a bit stuck. Even if I only get a few new paragraphs this can set me writing with a new energy again.
One of the scenes in Saving Francesca Maier is inspired by a yoga pose and was written during a yoga and writing retreat hosted by the author Noelle Harrison. I was at a stage of needing to tie up certain things in the narrative, and that day of focusing on my writing in a different environment moved the manuscript on just enough to provide some new answers and a fresh perspective.
Thanks for coming along and telling us about your writing process, Claire. You can find out more about Claire’s writing on her website or via Twitter or Instagram, and buy signed copies of her book at Off The Press Books.