Meet the Members: Clare Stevens
Clare Stevens grew up in Somerset but has lived most of her adult life in Nottingham. She has a background in journalism and PR and wrote her first novel, Blue Tide Rising, while studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University.
The novel was published by the independent press Inspired Quill in 2019. She’s now working on her second novel. In her day job, Clare manages PR and media for Nottinghamshire Hospice. She also runs creative writing workshops at the Maggie’s Cancer Centre.
Blue Tide Rising is on sale from Inspired Quill, and available at independent bookstores.
Who are or have been the important writers for you?
The authors I loved as a child, like Dodie Smith and CS Lewis, got me into reading. Graham Joyce was very influential when I did my MA in Creative Writing. He was my dissertation tutor, and I learnt a lot from him. Sadly, he died that year, which is a great loss. One of my favourite contemporary writers is Sarah Winman (When God was a Rabbit, A year of Marvellous Ways, and Tin Man). Her books have a dreamy quality which draws me in and exactly the right blend of real and magical elements. I also love Matt Haig (and he’s from Notts!).
Some local authors who are NWS members have also helped me in my writing journey. Anne Goodwin is also published by Inspired Quill – the indie-press I’m with. I love her novels and I have worked with her on book fairs. Before submitting my novel to Inspired Quill, I approached her and asked for her help and advice. She has been a mentor to me since that time. YA author Paula Rawsthorne has also been very helpful and encouraging, as has indie author Mark Barry.
Tell us about the book that made you want to write?
I’ve always enjoyed writing, but the book that motivated me to do something about it was Becoming a Writer, byDorothea Brande. It set me off on a writing practice I’ve followed ever since. She suggests writing first thing in the morning when you’ve just woken up. You’re more creative at that time, more in touch with your subconscious, before the logical brain takes over. Since reading that book, I write every day. I start the day by freewriting for at least 10 minutes. This can easily stretch to an hour. Sometimes what I write is a stream of consciousness that’s going nowhere, other times I’ll compose an entire short story before I’ve gotten out of bed!
Tell us about your own writing process and what makes it special to you.
For my morning sessions I write long-hand in notebooks. I won’t necessarily read back what I’ve written until weeks, months, or even years later, when I may be surprised by what I find and have no recollection of writing it. The morning pages are my way of generating ideas and getting into the flow of writing. For chunkier pieces of work, I’ll write at a computer for several hours at a time. In the old world – pre Covid – I’d take my laptop and sit in cafes and bars to write or edit. I’d get inspiration for characters and material for descriptions by observing the people around me. I look forward to a time when that’s possible once again! Like many writers, I find endless excuses not to sit down and write, but when I do I become totally absorbed and absolutely love the process.
If you think of yourself as new to writing from choice and desire, was there a trigger for you to get started?
I’ve always tinkered with writing and told myself ‘one day…’, and I’m lucky enough to have had a career which involves writing, but the trigger for me was being diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2010. Two pivotal things happened that year. I began a blog about my cancer journey which gained readers across the world and was listed in the top 10 UK cancer blogs. This made me dare to dream there could be a wider audience for my writing. Also, that year, Jane, one of my best friends, died of cancer. I already had the idea for Blue Tide Rising then, and Jane encouraged me to write it. Sadly, she never got to read it, but I dedicated it to her. When I visited her in hospital a few days before she died, I asked myself, if that were me, what would I regret not doing. The answer was unequivocally – writing a book. So, I did!
Plotter or Pantser, Architect or Gardener? Tell us your approach to creativity when crafting your work.
Pantser all the way! My writing is all over the place, literally. When I wrote Blue Tide Rising, some sections were on my laptop, others in various notebooks. Nothing was in the right order. I had to find everything and piece it all together like a jigsaw. Graham Joyce’s input made me realise I’d structured the novel wrong, so I altered the order considerably after draft one and kept revising it. Having seen that first novel through to publication, I thought I might be more organised this time around. But I’m going about my second novel in exactly the same way! I see it as an organic process. It’s not planned, and it’s not linear, it evolves. So maybe that makes me a gardener too – but an organic one!
Have you ever read your work in public and how did it go?
Yes, many times now. At first it was daunting, but now I’m used to it and it mostly goes well, as audiences that show up to writing events are usually kind and interested! There was one occasion I found more challenging; I had a story in an anthology sold in aid of a refugee charity, it was launched at a benefit gig at the Maze on a Saturday night. I was one of three readers. The other performers were bands. The readers were scheduled in the interval between the bands, so the audience was in the mood for dancing, not listening to literature! It was noisy and although we had a mike, hard to be heard, and it was dark and difficult to see the words.
What do you think about writing groups and how have you experienced them?
I would definitely recommend them. I’ve been in several writing groups and I think they’re great. It’s really useful to run ideas past people, try out pieces of writing on them and get feedback. It helps boost your confidence and motivates you to continue writing. Being a member of NWS ties into this. Being part of a supportive writing community, having access to a network of other writers and having opportunities to showcase work through events.