Thursday, 4 April 2013

Author Spotlight - An Interview with Henrietta Clarke


An Interview with Henrietta Clarke


QTo start off with, let’s get down to the business end. What motivated you to become a writer? 
Henrietta: Wow, that’s going back a long way! It’s actually kind of hard to remember. I know Enid Blyton had a lot to do with it; most of my childhood writing was imitating her. But pinpointing something exact is impossible. You know how when you’re a kid, people ask you what you want to be when you grow up, and you have a different answer every week? I had a different answer every week—for what I was going to do to support myself financially whilst I wrote. Even at six, my parents were teaching me realism.

Q:  How long have you been writing, and was it a long process to become published?
Henrietta: It feels like I’ve been writing forever; I know it can’t have been much longer than about age six, because I couldn’t read and write until I was five. I’m pretty sure I was making up stories before that though. I can roughly pinpoint the first time I finished a story as aged roughly seven, and technically I was published for the first time in an anthology of short stories by children aged 10-14, so I guess you could say it was pretty quick. I don’t really count that though, and I wasn’t published again for another ten years, so overall it feels like it’s been a long process. But I think I needed those ten years to mature as a writer.

Q:  Do you prefer to write in a particular genre, and why?  
Henrietta: I mostly write in the contemporary gay romance genre, probably because for the last couple of years that’s been my favourite thing to read. It’s also the genre for which ideas keep popping into my head, so as long as the ideas continue to be good, I’ll continue writing in the genre.


Q:  Is there a genre you haven't written but would like to give a try at some time?
Henrietta: Oh, lots! Whilst I mostly write in one genre, I do enjoy playing around with others. My teenage years saw a lot of incredibly clichéd fantasy. I blame Tolkien for that—the fantasy, not the clichés. I actually pretty much answered this question in my undergraduate creative writing dissertation—although I’ve been reading detective novels since I was seven or eight, I’d never really written in the genre, so I decided to try modernising the Sherlock Holmes/Poirot style of detective writing. It was fun to do for a change, but a bit too much detailed plotting for my method of writing.

To give a more specific answer, I suppose I’d have to say science fiction. I haven’t really written any yet, but I did plot out a pretty epic sci-fi trilogy which, if I put in some world-designing time in the next nine months, may start to see paper in November for this year’s NaNoWriMo. That’s the current plan, anyway.

Q. Do you tend to plan/plot out your whole story before you start writing, or do you write more by the seat of your pants as you go?
Henrietta: I’m definitely a pantser! I tend to start out with a general idea for a story—sometimes that writes itself as a blurb in my head before I’ve even put pen to paper—and then open up a word document and let it tell itself. Then when little things occur to me as I go, I just jot them down on whatever’s handy and hope I remember to include them. If I’m writing a novel, I’ll often start with the basic idea for the plot, and then find myself roughly blocking out the next five chapters or so—it gives the novel direction and focus whilst still having that element of pantsing. If I plot too much, I tend to get bored because I know what’s going to happen, and—at least when I was younger—I write almost like I’m reading: because I want to find out what happens next. If I already know that, the mystery and motivation is gone.

Q: Do you have a preference in the types of books you like to read?  Have you found yourself reading genres you  never thought you would?
Henrietta:  Favourite genre at the moment is contemporary gay romance. My guilty pleasure has always been chick lit—guilty because I had an English teacher in high school who, whilst being an amazing woman and an incredible teacher, had very strict ideas on what was good literature and frowned on me reading anything that wasn’t. My reading tastes have always been pretty eclectic though: gay romance; chick lit; classics; old detective stories—I’m not so much into the modern stuff, except for Dalziel and Pascoe; historical novels; fantasy…. I think it sums it up when I say my list of favourite authors ranges from the likes of Shakespeare and Jane Austen to PG Wodehouse and Agatha Christie to Abigail Roux and Jill Mansell.

As for unexpected genres… I work as a proofreader for Dreamspinner Press, and I deliberately kept myself open to reading anything for the exact purpose of making myself step outside my comfort zones and read new genres. I can’t say anything about what I’ve actually proofread, but I will say that some of the genres I never would have chosen for myself were surprisingly entertaining.

Q:  Where do you find the inspiration for your novels and characters? 
Henrietta: Anywhere and everywhere! I enjoy writing anthology submissions because the prompts usually act as a good springboard. Sometimes a song inspires me, or a dream, or a snippet of conversation I overheard, or a world event. The novel I started for last year’s NaNoWriMo was inspired by a magazine article. Sometimes a blurb just pops straight into my head, fully formed, and I have no idea where it comes from. I get a lot of my crazier ideas—the ones the world will probably never see—from hanging out with my closest friends: we have a similar sense of humour, and from the hilarity and randomness often springs zany ideas.

That’s plots. Characters… well again, it’s different every time. The characters and the plots tend to come separately and get married together later. I have a list on my phone of characters who want a story: they just popped into my head and introduced themselves, and they’re now simply sitting on my mental shelf until I can identify what their story is. More often, I get a plot idea with nameless, faceless characters—that’s easier to work with because without a plot, characters have nowhere to go.

When I start with the plot, the first step is to name the characters. I generally find that as soon as my characters have a name, they start to nag at me and assert a personality, which starts to influence the plot as the characters lay claim to their story. The best way to find a name is to flick through the book of babies’ names my parents had when my brother and I were born—I find the modern ones are too full of ridiculous modern ‘names’ that no character born before 2000 would ever have. If I don’t have the book to hand, I look around my immediate environment for inspiration. I have several characters named after theatres because I have fifteen musical theatre posters on my wall, and that’s the first place I instinctively look at home.


Q:  What is a typical day like for author Henrietta Clarke?  Do you write every day?  Do you have a set time you like to write? How long does it typically take for you to complete a book?
Henrietta: I recently got into the terrible habit of doing most of my writing in my local Costa Coffee—there’s a wonderful tiny table there tucked out of the way in a corner, where no-one ever sits and which has an electric socket. (This is very important, since my laptop battery is terminally ill and so she requires life support.) I say terrible because I really can’t afford all that coffee. I’m actually taking a break from feng shui-ing my room into a more inspiring writing environment to answer these questions.

I wish I had the discipline to write every day—this is something I’m going to try out in the new leaf the feng shui-ing is turning over. As of yesterday, however, I tend to work in fits and starts—sort of a one day on, one day off kind of thing. I’m like that with studying too: my brain apparently has a weird attention span. If I do manage to start writing every day, that will just be a case of a couple of thousand words, aka an hour or two. My favourite way to write is to take a whole day to dedicate to it: usually Fridays and Sundays.

As for completing a book… with my terrible attention span, this is not something which has happened often. (I don’t have enough fingers to count my current number of WIPs… most are on hiatus whilst I focus on four projects.) This is why I’m best at shorter works: you can get them done in one go. Anthology calls usually ask for a finished manuscript of between five and eighteen thousand words; I usually average about ten thousand—which is a day’s work for me. I’ve yet to complete a novel, but I’m making good progress on two, and hopefully the new leaf I’m turning over will help me find the discipline to finish both before my next birthday. (That’s October, if anyone wants to keep track and cheerlead.)

Q:  Could you tell us a little about An Unexpected Party?
Henrietta: An Unexpected Party has been quite the journey! It began life as a five thousand word short story for a New Year’s anthology which never came into being, which is the reason the story begins on New Year’s Eve and why the events of that night are pivotal to the Valentine’s-themed plot. I was offered a contract to turn the five thousand words into ten to fifteen thousand words for Valentine’s Day, which was where Merry’s ex entered the story. The original version didn’t have anything from Peregrine’s perspective either, so he’s a lot happier with the Valentine’s version. When I stopped to listen to him, it turned out that he had quite a lot to say. I’m pretty pleased with how the story finally turned out, and I hope that you all enjoy reading it.

Q:  What projects are you currently working on?  What can readers look forward to from you in the upcoming year?
Henrietta: In the next few months, there are about four anthology calls which I’m planning to answer, so I’m hoping to get at least a couple of those stories accepted and published. In addition, I’m about three or four scenes away from finishing a novella about giving love a second chance after the death of a partner—with a little luck and some discipline, I should have that submitted to a publisher by the end of next month at latest.
As mentioned, I’m also currently working on two novels: one about the impact of being gay in a particular career in the public eye, and the other about friendship turned to love. I’m really hoping to get at least one of those submitted to a publisher by the summer, so hopefully you’ll see one released by Christmas.

What I can promise that you will see is a novella coming hopefully sometime before the summer from Bottom Drawer Publications, which I’m very excited to be working on. It’s about finding love in the most unlikely place just when it seems like all chance of being loved has disappeared forever, and I’m really pleased with how it’s progressing so far.

You can keep up with how I’m progressing with all four projects by following me on Twitter or Facebook, where any and all cheerleading makes me write faster. As a bonus, you’ll also be treated to random teaser snippets of the works in progress to whet your appetite.

Henrietta,thank you so much for visiting with us today.
Thank you; it’s been a pleasure to be here.!


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Thanks so much to the Hearts on Fire blog for originally hosting this interview as part of the Valentine's Day collection  book tour showcasing An Unexpected Party.



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Bottom Drawer Publications is proud to have in their catalog: An Unexpected Party by Henrietta Clarke. We are also very much looking forward to bringing you her next book to be published later this year, The Truth about Riley.



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About Henrietta Clarke
Henrietta Clarke is a highly individual Yorkshire lass who grew up with her nose in a book, and is therefore lucky to have only fallen down the stairs once in twenty-one years. Ironically, this had nothing to do with readingHer parents have long accused her of being “away with the fairies,” so perhaps she was always destined to write in the gay romance genre. She’s had enough imaginary friends to fill the Titanic and set her course towards being a published writer at the age of six. Having achieved that dream, her next goal is to get through two years of postgraduate law study with her sanity intact. She thinks she might just be able to do it with a little help from her family, friends, vodka, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and, of course, her trusty bookshelves.

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