Unsettled Ground will be published in the UK on 25th March, and that evening, my local independent book shop, P&G Wells, will be hosting an online celebration at 7pm. In previous years of course, launch events for my novels happened ‘in real life’ both in London and Winchester. This time we’ll only be able to see each other via Zoom, but the big benefit is that people from near and far can join in.
There will be live music (technology permitting) from acoustic guitarist Henry Ayling, I will do a short reading, talk a little bit about the book, and there will be time for a Q&A. Wine and party hats optional. Tickets are either free or with a purchase of the hardback at a discounted price. Click here to book your ticket.
For North American readers I’m delighted confirm that I will be having an online launch on May 18th, hosted by McNally Jackson bookstore in New York. So you might want to wait and sign up for that one when I have more details.
For the past six years my husband and I have been taking a picture a day and at the end of each year making them into printed books. I wrote an article about it for Good Housekeeping which has just been published in their February 2021 issue. We started the project because we ended up without any decent photos of the two of us from our wedding, so now we take a picture every day of mostly everyday things. When not in lockdown this has included lots of book events, holidays and meeting up with friends and family. For the past year though there have been a lot of pictures of the two of us doing silly things or pictures of Alan the cat. The article isn’t online, so if you do want to read the whole thing I’m afraid you’ll have to go out and buy a copy of the magazine…or you could just start a project of your own.
My fourth novel, Unsettled Ground will be published in the UK on 25th March, and in the US and Canada on 18th May. Find out more about it here.
I watched 75 films this year. Unfortunately, I only got to watch two at the cinema before the UK lockdown. Here are my top ten in no particular order, and the places in the UK you can watch them. I prefer to give my viewing money to organisations other than Amazon, but I’d still rather watch films than boycott the company altogether, nevertheless as well as summaries of each film, I have listed the places you can currently see them in the UK. Read to the bottom and you’ll find a few bonus movies that I also recommend.
A few facts and figures about my 10 movies:
Five female directors, five male (which I’m pretty pleased about)
Four American-made movies, the rest from different countries
Three subtitled films
One from 1992, one from 2013, the rest from 2019 and 2020
Speculative / science fiction. Gemma and Tom go with a peculiar estate agent to visit a house on an estate of identical houses. When Gemma and Tom try to leave they can’t. It gets more and more odd, and ends with a clever circular twist. Available on Curzon Home Cinema and bfi.org
Once Upon A Time in Hollywood 2019 Dir: Quentin Tarantino USA
Action drama. It’s the 1960s and Rick is an actor in LA. His stunt man and friend, Cliff lives in a nearby caravan with his dog. The pair go to Italy to film some spaghetti westerns, and when they return they get to know Rick’s heavily pregnant neighbour, Sharon Tate. A reworking of the Charles Manson murders, this doesn’t end as expected. Violent, yes. Brilliant, yes. Available on Amazon.
The Assistant 2020 Dir: Kitty Green USA
Drama. Jane is an assistant in a film company in New York. She starts early and performs mundane tasks: clearing her boss’s office, fetching sandwiches, photocopying, as well as lying to his wife about where her boss is. When another assistant arrives in the office, Jane is concerned about her welfare but when she tries to report her suspicions things don’t go as planned. Quiet, reflective, excellent.
System Crasher 2019 Dir: Nora Fingscheidt Germany
Drama. Nine year old Benni, angry and out of control, is in the German care system. She runs away, back to her mother who is unable to provide the love and care Benni needs. She makes a connection with Micha and his family, and goes with him to the woods for three weeks to learn to take care of herself and although this at first seems to help, the system is unable to cope with her. Eye-opening, emotional, tough. Available on Curzon Home Cinema
The Last Days of Chez Nous 1992 Dir: Gillian Armstrong Australia
Family drama. Beth lives with her partner, JP, daughter Annie, and lodger Tim, in a house in an Australian city, when her younger sister, Vicky comes to stay. The house is wild with laughter and arguments between Beth and JP. Beth goes on a road trip with her father and when she returns much has changed in the house. Real, touching, memorable. Available on Google Play.
Parasite 2019 Dir: Bong Joon-ho South Korea
Black comedy thriller. Ki-woo, a poor young man living in a semi-basement with his parents and sister gets a job tutoring a rich family’s daughter. Over time he gets his sister, mother and father jobs for the family, ousting the existing staff. When the rich family are away, Ki-woo and the rest of them discover something unexpected in the basement of the house. Tense, thrilling, eye-opening. Available on Curzon Home Cinema and bfi.org
Ordinary Love 2019 Dir: Lisa Barros D’sa Britain
Family drama. At Christmas Joan discovers a lump in her breast. She begins treatment and her husband, Tom supports her through chemo and a mastectomy. At the hospital Joan recognises a fellow patient, who is her daughter’s former teacher, and a friendship develops. Quiet, emotional, beautiful. Available on Google Play.
Only the Animals 2019 Dir: Dominik Moll France
Mystery Thriller. Using a complex but satisfying narrative, this film weaves five different stories and perspectives together. A woman disappears in a snow storm and her car is found. Five people know something about what has happened and as the film visits each perspective we learn something new about the previous section. Clever, absorbing, satisfying. Available on Curzon Home Cinema
Blue Ruin 2013 Dir: Jeremy Saulnier USA
Action drama. Dwight, apparently a down-and-out, goes after Wade, the killer of his parents, after he is released from prison. But Dwight is neither a killer nor a homeless man, but he quickly gets tangled up in looking for and running from revenge for various murders. It’s complicated and violent, but very satisfying. Available on Netflix.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always 2020 Dir: Eliza Hittman USA
Drama. Autumn is 17 when she discovers she is pregnant. Not finding support from her family or her local clinic, and living in Pennsylvania where she needs parental consent to have an abortion, Autumn and her cousin, Skylar travel to New York. Female friendship, quiet, emotional.
There were a few more films that almost made my top ten which you might be interested in looking up. They are:
Which of my top ten have you seen and loved? Which have you seen and hated? And do you have any recommendations for me?
2020 didn’t turn out to be the year anyone was expecting. Many people found it difficult to concentrate on reading, others, like me and Tim, found reading to be a solace and a distraction. (Not so much with the writing though.) My free little library outside my house got more use than ever over our lockdown periods and continues to do so now. I received some lovely notes from my neighbours, saying how much it helped them especially when the libraries were closed.
This is the sixth year that Tim and I have been tracking the books we’ve read over the previous year and trying to work out which ten we’ve liked the best. We rate all the books we read out of five as we read them, and of course always end up with more than ten 5-star books each. Then the discussions begin! You can see previous year’s lists here: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.
I read 96 books this year. Here are some facts and figures about my top ten books I read in 2020:
Two books published this year (Writers & Lovers, and The Weekend)
The oldest published in 1976 (Bear)
One book in translation (Youth)
Nine books by women, and one man (The Innocents)
Two books set in England (The world Before Us and Expectation), one in Denmark (Youth), four in America (Severance, The Hare, Writers & Lovers, A Crime in the Neighborhood), two in Canada (The Innocents, and Bear), one in Australia (The Weekend)
One about a pandemic (Severance)
One not published yet (The Hare)
One winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction (A Crime in the Neighborhood)
Three of my books are also in Tim’s list (A Crime in the Neighborhood, Writers & Lovers, and Youth)
All but one of my books are available in the UK. (The Hare is yet to find a UK publisher.) I have created a list on Bookshop.org to make it easy to buy books from my list online in the UK, here. The Hare is available here (currently pre-orders). But please also consider ordering from you local independent – they need our business more than ever. Please try not to buy your books from that other place which really doesn’t need your business – you know the place I mean.
My Best Reads of 2020
Top three (in no order)
Bear by Marian Engel
Controversial and prize-winning, and a masterpiece. Is what I’m going to say now a spoiler? Maybe. This short novel is about a woman who has sex with a bear. There, it’s said. Avoid it, or read it, now you know. But it’s so much more than that – although these scenes are handled expertly. It’s about nature, a woman working out who she is and what she wants, falling in love (yes), feminism, loneliness, connection. Engel writes beautifully, plainly, elegantly. There is nothing lurid or salacious here; it is all part of the whole.
The Hare by Melanie Finn
With The Hare, Melanie Finn has written a powerful story of female perseverance, strength, and resilience. This book has rare qualities: beautiful writing while being absolutely unputdownable, and I will be pressing it into the hands of every reader I know. Teenager, Rosie meets the much older Bennett and for a while is in thrall to him, but when he leaves Rosie and their daughter in a run-down cabin to fend for themselves, Rosie toughens up and fights for her freedom and her daughter.
Writers and Lovers by Lily King
Don’t be put off by the cover – I thought that it was going to be whimsical, a bit too cute for my tastes, but it was almost my perfect read. (I still don’t like that jacket.) It is funny in a downbeat way, brilliantly written, and with such an engaging main character and story. Casey is grieving the death of her mother, juggling debts and gruelling shifts in an upmarket restaurant in Boston (the waitress scenes were so good). And she’s been writing a novel for six years. (All the parts about writing books were spot on.) Writers & Lovers covers the few months where she has relationships with three men and finishes her novel. It’s about creativity and commitment, work and love.
Best of the Rest
The Weekend by Charlotte Wood
In The Weekend three female friends in their seventies gather at the holiday home of a fourth friend who has recently died, in order to clear it out. Bitchy, grumpy, private, candid, supportive, loving, these three women are so real, so full of life, I absolutely loved them and the book.
The Innocents by Michael Crummey
This book starts with the death of Ada’s and Evered’s parents and baby sister, leaving the siblings aged 9 and 11 completely alone on a cold and inhospitable New Foundland shore. Ada and Evered – see what Crummey has done there – labour through the seasons only with very occasional visits from The Hope to deliver supplies and take their catch of cod. Ada and Evered know just about enough to survive (and the book is full of the work they do, and the landscape they have to submit to), but like Eve and Adam before the time of the apple, they know next to nothing about the world beyond their cove and even less about their bodies. A brilliant, visceral, evocative coming of age novel.
A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne
Marsha is looking back to a couple of months in the summer of 1972 when as a child her father leaves her mother for her aunt, and a boy she knows a little, and doesn’t really like, is molested and murdered in her neighbourhood. Hot days and boiling nights make everyone in the claustrophobic suburbs suspicious of strangers until the undercurrent of hysteria bubbles up into a terrible accusation. This book positively simmers. But don’t expect a crime novel; it’s more about asking why we do the things we do, and not always knowing the answer.
Severance by Ling Ma
This was pure enjoyment, even though it’s mostly a book about a world after a virus has killed most people off. I love a good apocalit. But it’s much more than that, and has a lot to say about immigration, consumerism, capitalism, millennial ennui, and office work. It is also an elegy to New York, or cities in general. Candace is an office worker when a deadly pandemic kills people, but not before they repeat the same routine again and again. She escapes New York and finds the scary Bob and a small team of people heading to The Facility in Chicago. The story flips backwards and forwards in time looking at how Candace ended up in New York, and her brief time in China, as well as the immigration of her parents to the US. The more I’ve been thinking about this book in the months since I read it, the more I’ve found to love.
Youth by Tove Ditlevsen (translated by Tiina Nunnally)
Second in Tove Ditlevsen’s Copenhagen trilogy and from the start it was definitely going to be in my top ten reads of the year. Tove is a teenager moving from job to job, longing for love and to have her poems published. The writing is so fresh despite it being first published in 1967 and being set in 1930s. I’m not sure I’m ready to say goodbye to 20 (or so) year old Tove.
The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter
How had I never heard of this book until this year? How have I never read it before? when it is exactly my kind of book. Layered, ambiguous, thoughtful, beautifully written, but with a strong narrative. When Jane was 15, Lily the child she was minding, vanished on a walk. The disappearance has haunted her into adulthood, shaped her decisions about work, relationships and study. Jane is obsessed with two things: a girl known only as N who disappears from the pages of history in a similar location, and William Eliot, Lily’s father. When Jane meets William again after more than fifteen years it doesn’t go as she has always imagined, and forces her into action. Following Jane around is a group of ghosts who talk about themselves in the first person plural and are trying to work out who they are and why they are here. If that sounds ridiculous, it isn’t – I found the ghosts very moving.
Expectation by Anna Hope
While the story might not be particularly new, something about the way Hope writes just pulled me in and I ended up reading this in any spare moment, even standing up cooking the dinner. The author doesn’t show herself in even the tiniest way and so it was as though I wasn’t reading at all, but walking along the London streets with these women, lying in the park in the dusk, smoking in their flat with them. Hannah, Cate and Lissa are in their mid 20s and are best friends living together in London. They have the rest of their lives ahead of them: they can be anything, go anywhere, do anything. The book skips ten years on (and back again) to see how their lives have unexpectedly turned out. For fans of Ann Tyler, Maggie O’Farrell, and Esther Freud.
Tim’s Top Ten Reads of the Year
Tim’s Top Three (in no order)
A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne
Tim says: Originally published back in 1998, this is amazing. As close as it comes to time travel by reading a novel as you can get. I read it and it was 1972. I read it and the sun pounded down. I read it and I was in the Boston suburbs. Great characters and so much wonderful detail. If you like your books vivid and bright, try this one.
Burning Bright by Ron Rash
Tim says: Raw and honest. Sometimes brutal, sometimes intimate, always just right. I’ve read tons of incredible short stories this year (see Emma Cline and Jeffrey Eugenides in my top 10), but this is something else. Brilliant. Ron Rash is new to me. Claire and I give each other books all the time. She always gets it spot on, or at least that’s what I thought. Then I found out that she asks her Twitter and Instagram friends for suggestions after briefing them on my tastes. I don’t care if that’s cheating, but if it was you who pushed her in the direction of Ron Rash, I thank you. Pushing it back.
Love by Hanne Orstavik (translated by Martin Aitken)
Tim says: Tense, Nordic, and beautiful in equal measure, with a bit of eerie thrown in too. Love takes place over the course of a single night. Jon is locked out of his house. He and his mother have very different journeys. I couldn’t put it down. Makes me want to go back to Scandinavia right now. How do books do that?
Tim’s Best of the Rest
Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg
Daddy by Emma Cline
Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese
Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides
Youth by Tove Ditlevsen
Writers and Lovers by Lily King
My fourth novel, Unsettled Ground will be published in March in the UK, and in May in the USA and Canada. Find out more here.
I’m thrilled to be able to show you the amazing US cover of Unsettled Ground for the first time. It was designed by Diane Chonette, the Art Director at my US publisher, Tin House, using art work by Valerie Hegarty. What do you think? Drop me a line and let me know.
The cover was revealed today on Entertainment Weekly’s website, and they have also published a sneak preview of chapter one. Read it here.
Unsettled Ground will be published in the US on 18th May 2021.
I’m so excited to be part of the UK campaign to support bookshops throughout lockdown – #SignForOurBookshops. During the last lockdown, bookshops moved mountains to remain operational – taking orders online, or over the phone. They now face a second lockdown in the build-up to Christmas, their busiest sales period.
#SignForOurBookshops is a national show of support from UK authors, urging people to keep buying through bookshops by offering exclusive signed bookplates to stores and customers. Over 200 authors are taking part so far, including me!
The former Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell, has designed bespoke bookplates for the campaign. Buying a #SignForOurBookshops book is buying a slice of positive history in a challenging year. What better Christmas present idea than that?
WHAT IS A ‘BOOKPLATE’?
It’s a signed label that you can stick into the front page of books, so it’s like having a personalised, signed, copy.
HOW TO GET A BOOKPLATE
I will send a signed, personalised bookplate to the first 50 people who buy one of my books through a UK bricks and mortar bookshop during lockdown.
This offer is a first-come-first-served basis. Just drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a picture of your receipt (from a UK bricks and mortar bookshop) for one of my published books – Our Endless Numbered Days, Swimming Lessons, or Bitter Orange – and let me know your address and any particular dedication you would like on the bookplate. And I’ll post a book plate to you, free of charge.
AND PLEASE SUPPORT BOOKSHOPS!
If you buy a signed copy, do try and pick other books up while you’re shopping with that store. Books make incredible, thoughtful Christmas presents – even if they’re not signed.
Check out #SignForOurBookshops on Twitter and Instagram to see the hundreds of other authors who are offering bookplates.
On Thursday 12th November I’ll be appearing on Zoom with my literary agent, Jane Finigan from Lutyens and Rubinstein to talk about how we work together on my books. I’ll also be reading from Unsettled Ground, due to be published in the UK in January 2021 (and May 2021 in the US and Canada).
The event is being run by Blue Pencil, an editorial services agency who run writing retreats (where I’ve been a guest), and provide manuscript advice.
So, if you’re writing a novel, sign up to the event and come and ask me and Jane some questions. I’d love to see you there and I’m happy to answer any question about writing, getting published, or finding an agent. Click here to buy a ticket.
Blue Pencil are also running their Pitch Prize for unpublished authors, and the prize, for up to seven writers, is to be able to pitch your novel to Jane. More information here.
L’été des oranges amères (aka Bitter Orange) is published in France today. After the tremendous success of Un mariage anglais (aka Swimming Lessons) in France last summer, I’m hoping that French readers will enjoy my third novel just as much.
I’m also delighted that Editions Stock, my French publishers have bought my fourth novel, Unsettled Ground – although I’ve yet to hear whether the title will be changed and what to.
If you live in Europe and you’d like the chance to win a signed copy of L’été des oranges amères, I’m running a give-away on my Instagram account. Just visit @writerclairefuller on Instagram for details of how to enter. The competition closes on 10th June. Good luck!
On Friday 1st May (4pm UK time / 5pm French time) I’ll be appearing at LockDownLit, an online version of Festilitt, a wonderful French literary festival I appeared at (in real life) in 2017.
The event is free, you just need to click here and log on to Zoom at the correct time on Friday to join the audience. You can also email email@example.com to join their mailing list to be informed about any future author appearances as part of the festival, and reminded about this one.
I’ll be interviewed by Kath Humphries about Bitter Orange, and there will be plenty of opportunity for questions from the audience.
A short while ago I was invited onto the award-winning podcast, Backlisted to discuss with the two presenters, Andy Miller and John Mitchinson, together with fellow guest William Atkins, The Journal of a Disappointed Man, and the episode has now gone live.
If you haven’t come across Backlisted before, it’s a discussion podcast about a book which deserves greater attention – often a book which has been forgotten from an author’s back-catalogue. It’s friendly, and chatty, and funny, and I have come across so many gems.
In fact, I discovered The Journal of a Disappointed Man through Backlisted a few years ago, and then here I am, on the podcast extolling the wonders of this journal.
The podcast will explain more about the book, and hopefully persuade you to find a copy and read it, but it is the journal of Bruce Cummings, starting at age 13, and continuing until his early death from MS. It’s sad, of course, but also incredibly funny and clever, and just very very readable.
So, have a listen, in fact have a listen to some of the other Backlisted episodes, and you might discover some new favourite books.