Next up in our Sunday Girl author special, we sit down for a chat with Clare Swatman, author of Before You Go. We caught up about the inspiration behind her gorgeous debut novel, finding the time to write when you’re a busy working mum and how text speak is the ultimate no-no.
Kindle or paperback? Be honest…
Easy – paperback. I had a Kindle for a while but I never used it and now I have no idea where it’s even gone! I just love the feel of holding a real book in my hands. Kindle has its place of course, and I have considered buying one recently as I’ve run out of bookshelf space, but I’m still to bite the bullet.
That was a toughy, sorry! The next question’s a little easier. Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes, I did. I always dreamed of being a journalist or a novelist – the journalism dream was realised much sooner as I starting working for women’s magazines when I was about 21, and have done ever since – I loved it. I wrote real life stories and loved interviewing people about their lives and their stories. People are fascinating. Being a novelist was something I thought happened to other people. But then one day it happened to me, and it was a dream come true!
So, Before You Go – tell us a little about the story:
It’s the story of Zoe and Ed, and it starts with Ed’s funeral. When he died, they hadn’t been in a good place and so when he’s taken from her unexpectedly Zoe is obviously heartbroken about losing him – but also about the fact that they weren’t happy when he died and now she’ll never be able to tell him how much she loves him. But then something happens that means she’s given another chance – and she also realises that it might mean she can change the past – and even stop him from dying in the first place.
And what was your inspiration behind the book?
I think spending so many years speaking to people about their real stories always gives you lots of ideas, but this one in particular was sparked by a story I read about a woman who had an accident and when she woke up she thought she was 17 again. She didn’t recognise her husband and children or the woman that she saw in the mirror. Although this isn’t what happens in Before You Go, it made me want to explore what could happen if you COULD wake up as your younger self again and you got the chance to do things differently. Would you? How far would you go to do it, especially if you knew there was tragedy in your future? I found it fascinating, and it was the basis for Before You Go.
How long did it take to complete – did you have to lock yourself away?
No chance of that with two young boys! I was still working as a journalist at the time, and had two young boys, one of whom was still in a paid-for nursery two days a week, so taking one of those days out to write something which wasn’t earning me any money was a big decision, but I just decided it was important and that I wanted to give it a go.
So every Thursday for a year, while the kids were at school and nursery, I took myself off to my local coffee shop and sat drinking tea and eating chocolate twists and wrote as much as I could every time. And then I’d try not to think about it until the following week. I was strict about ring-fencing that time to write and, after a year, I had a rough first draft.
The rewrites and edits took considerably longer, not least because it sat around in my virtual bottom drawer for quite some time while I decided whether I was ever going to send it out. So from start to finish – sending it to agents – was two and a half years. And then the real hard work began!
You’re quite the wordsmith, so do you often find yourself correcting people’s grammar?
ALL the time! I’m terrible for it but it does drive me absolutely mad. I know some people say they’ve never been taught it properly but it’s so important. It helps makes sense of things, and quite frankly is an essential skill. And it’s never too late to learn. A few years ago my mum said apostrophes confused her so I sat down and explained them to her – and it is SO simple! – and she got it straight away! Of course there are some quirks of the English language that confuse me too, but basic mistakes like ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ are just unnecessary! ‘Fewer’ and ‘less’ drives me mad too – and they do it on TV all the time! Sorry, rant over. Bet you wish you’d never asked now!
We loved spending the day with our authors! What was your favourite item from the shoot?
I loved the dress. I’m a huge fan of vintage dresses and the style of this felt very vintage – the neckline was lovely. I loved the leather jacket too – although I was definitely coveting a pair of leopard-print shoes one of the other authors was wearing!
Which literary heroine do you admire?
I know I should say Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice because I’ve always loved that book, and the fact that she doesn’t let being a woman back then stop her from saying what she means. But I also really love Hermione Grainger. I love the fact that she’s brighter than all the boys, and often makes them look stupid; that she doesn’t feel the need to change to make friends, and that she’s basically an all-round bad-ass 21st century girl who sets a great example.
If you had to pick a book title to sum up your personality, what would it be?
Now THIS is a tough one. I’ve trawled through as many as I can think of and the best I can come up with is ‘Us’ by David Mitchell – because for me, my life is all about me, my husband and my boys – so everything becomes about Us. I would have chosen one about being a good girl if could have found it of course!
And finally… text speak – yay or nay?
God no! My son has just been given his first phone and so far either writes proper sentences or sends emojis – which I do actually quite like as they make me laugh – but if he ever starts sending messages such as ‘wl b l8’ or however it goes, then he’ll be in trouble! And anyway with predictive text, it’s usually quicker to write out the whole word anyway so there’s really no need.
Head over heels for Clare’s sweet shift dress with the conversation starting collar? Shop her look and so much more here.