Clare Sambrook Interview
Posted on 19 May 2006. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
WriteWords talks to Clare Sambrook, whose debut novel, Hide & Seek, just out in paperback, is in the Daily Mail Book Clubís summer collection. Hide & Seek has sold into a dozen languages and is optioned by BBC Films.
Tell us something about your background.
Since leaving university twenty years ago Iíve earned my living as a writer.
Starting out as a reporter on the John Lewis Gazette I clambered my way up through magazines, worked shifts on the tabloids, then broke through to a national staff job with the Daily Telegraph, not a natural home for me, but great boot camp.
As a freelance Iíve written for, among others, the Guardian and Private Eye. With my partner Andrew Jennings I co-authored an investigation into the people who run the Olympics. Itís called The Great Olympic Swindle (Simon & Schuster, 2000).
Just before Swindle we took a big financial gamble. I stopped earning and started learning how to write fiction.
Other work besides writing?
Being a mother.
How did you start writing?
Aged four I wrote a joke book to impress my family and make them laugh.
Here's one I remember:
A bird sat on a fence.
The bird sat on the fence for a long time.
Then the bird fell off the fence.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
Hard to say ó thereís so much I havenít read.
Lately Iíve been eating up John Cheeverís short stories ó so real and true and gripping. I came to him via Chekhov and Katherine Mansfield and Richard Ford.
Iím discovering the Greek myths and rereading the fairy stories I grew up with ó food for the imagination.
Now and then I reread Harper Leeís To Kill a Mocking Bird and Jane Austenís Pride and Prejudice ó wise and funny and comforting.
I like Elmore Leonard. Heís the master of dialogue.
I adore writers who make me laugh out loud. Hardly any do and they are J.D. Salinger, V.S. Naipaul (A House for Mr Biswas), John Kennedy Toole (A Confederacy of Dunces) and Joseph Heller (Catch 22).
I read stage plays, from Shakespeare to Wendy Wasserstein, screenplays by the masters ó Bergman, Billy Wilder, Robert Towne, the Coen brothers. And poetry ó thereís so much meat in one good poem and itís the hardest thing to write. I love Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Don Paterson, M.R. Peacocke, Meg Peacocke, who ó a great stroke of luck for me ó is my poetry teacher.
Reading aloud with my children is a big help to my writing. Young children are true critics; they turn away from anything patronising, sentimental, bad storytelling of any kind. Among the storytellers we enjoy: Dr Seuss, Shirley Hughes, Mairi Hedderwick, John Burningham. Quentin Blake and Bill Watterson.
How did you get your first agent?
I spent five years on and off writing Hide & Seek, then sent off a letter and 30 pages to agents. After a good few rejections, PFD said Yes.
Whatís the worst thing about writing fiction?
Nothing exists until you create it and most of that goes on the fire.
And the best?
Living in the imagination, like a child, dreaming, playing, asking questions, making things, wrecking them, starting afresh.
Tell us what kind of response you get from readers?
Hide & Seek was my own secret world for so long; even my partner didnít read it until after publication. After years of working for an imagined reader ó tough, intelligent, humorous, discerning, sceptical, itís been a relief to meet real readers. They tend to be more generous than the reader in my head.
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