So, although Unsettled Ground was one of the six novels shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, it didn’t win. The wonderful, Piranesi was announced the winner at the award ceremony last week. I can’t deny some disappointment, but I really enjoyed Susanna Clarke’s second novel (published after a long illness and sixteen years after her debut), and think it is a very worthy winner. And, it was amazing to be out in London, firstly reading from Unsettled Ground to an audience of 450 people (so great to be reading in front of ‘real’ people again), and on the following night attending the prize party. After the announcement I was finally able to relax and enjoy myself, and catch up with lots of old friends and meet lots of people who also love books. Thanks for having me, Women’s Prize!
As part of the Women’s Prize for Fiction short list festival, the wonderful actor, Juliet Stevenson read the opening of Unsettled Ground and now the video is available to watch. So if you’re thinking of buying a copy, this should serve as a taster.
Here’s a bit of extra info that you may not know: A few years ago I won the @pindropstudio / Royal Academy short story prize with my story, A Quiet Tidy Man, and the winner had their story read our by Juliet. So, not only has she read my work before but I got to meet her and I can confirm that she’s as friendly as she seems (see the picture above).
I have few in-person events coming up which you might be interested in especially if you live near Essex, Oxford, or London. Visit my events page for more details.
The UK cover of Unsettled Ground has had a refresh! The colours have been made much brighter, so now you can see all the creepy-crawlies in more detail, as well as the rotting fruit. Also included is a new quote from The Times (the previous one was about Bitter Orange, and some readers found that confusing), and the Women’s Prize For Fiction Shortlisted ‘sticker’ appears permanently in the bottom right-hand corner. I love how the cover really glows now, which makes it very eye-catching. Do let me know what you think. At the moment this new cover will only appear on the ebook.
Another week, another 100-word flash fiction story inspired by a photograph. My story is below. Feel free to join in, and if you post yours on your website or on social media, link back here and let me know, so I can have a read of it.
A Great Guy
Let me tell you ‘bout my uncle Jack. He added a kitchenette and a bedroom to his place on Switcheroo Road and let the rooms out to men who stole from him, small stuff mostly: teaspoons and hammers, glasses and tobacco, and left without paying the rent. Each time he said it’d be different: this man was down on his luck; another was a great guy. Reckon he was in love with them all, just couldn’t admit it. Finally, that annex stood empty for five years ’til my aunt Rosie rented it. Although, course, she wasn’t my auntie until later.
For any Oxford / Oxfordshire-based people, I’m doing my first in-person literary event for a long time, at Blackwell’s Oxford on 21st July, with author Lucy Atkins (Magpie Lane). It would be lovely if you could join us. Tickets here.
I want to tell you about a message I received recently from Betsy Teter, a reader in South Carolina, in the US. It has astounded me. But first I need to tell you a little bit about Unsettled Ground. And this is going to include spoilers, so if you haven’t read it, I urge you to stop reading this article now, if you’re planning on reading the book.
You could always go and buy Unsettled Ground, read it, and come back here. In fact, you could buy it from Hub City Bookshop in Spartanburg, South Carolina, if you’re in the US (as well as being a physical bookshop, they also sell online).
But anyway, the thing about Unsettled Ground is that I made all made up. None of it is based on anyone I know or any stories I heard. In the book (as you know, since you’ve read it – ahem) Jeanie has rheumatic fever as a child, and then when she’s twelve her mother tells her has rheumatic heart disease (RHD) and so she must live a gentle life with her, at home. Only when Jeanie is in late middle-age does she discover from her doctor that she never had RHD and so nothing is as she imagined.
Betsy wrote to tell me about her mother, Bette Hubbard who died in 2008. Here’s what she said:
‘The doctors told [my mother] at age 13 that she had rheumatic fever and they sent her to bed for eleven months. Then they told her a couple years later that it had returned, and she was put back to bed for 9 months. Her family was so worried about her they carried her back and forth to the toilet. This was the central story of her life. She missed a huge part of her childhood. Then, when she was in her late 70s and began to develop some symptoms of Parkinson’s, the doctors dropped a bombshell: she had never had rheumatic fever. She had been misdiagnosed.
‘Bette was very bright, and her parents sent her to college in the warmer climate of the American South to protect her health. She was one of a small handful of Northerners at her college (in those days she was tagged a Yankee) and in her senior year she was elected student body president.
‘She died of some sort of Parkinsonian disease – the doctors called it “white matter disease”. We saw dozens of doctors trying to figure out what this was, and along the way, one of them told her there was absolutely no sign that she’d had rheumatic fever. Her heart was strong until her last days.’
Thank you so much to Betsy for telling me this amazing story and letting me write about it here.
* The title of this piece is a quote said by the mother of the author, Anne Patchett, and I keep it stuck on wall next to where I write to remind myself about what it is I’m trying to do when I write.
If you live near Oxford you might be interested to know that I’ll be doing my first in-person event in a while on 21st July at Blackwell’s Bookshop with fellow author Lucy Atkins (her latest novel is the amazing Magpie Lane). We’ll be interviewed by Sarah Franklin about our ‘dark fiction’. Tickets are available here.
I’ve started writing flash fiction again after a break of a couple of years. I’m not sure why, but I’m enjoying it. I’m still responding to photographs, but this time from pictures that I own. And I’m still setting a rule of it needing to be exactly 100 words plus the title, and it must be a complete story, not just a scene. If you want to have a go, feel free to use the photograph above as inspiration for your own piece of flash fiction – you can work to my rules or you can set your own. If you post yours online, please do link back to this page, and if you want to post a link to your piece in a comment on this page, I’ll try to have look at what you’ve written (just to have a read, not critique) if I have time. If you want to write your own, you might want to write it before you read mine, so that my idea doesn’t get stuck in your head.
Goodman Orthodontics Limited
She watches him arrive for work, his shoulders slumped, head down. Wills him to look up and smile. A nice ordinary smile. His wife’s left him, she thinks; no, died tragically. He’s single and lonely. Has five sad children, or better, none. She discovers he works in dentures, and passes his office daily. She considers sending a memo: re your Status Update, re my Decision-Making, re our Team-Building. Then, at an adjacent table in the canteen, she sees his teeth glow too white, too bright, like luminous underwater animals.
The next day she works furiously, her back to the window.
My fourth novel, Unsettled Ground, is shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Read more about it here.
I’m delighted to have been invited back to Arvon to teach fiction writing for a week in December 2021, this time with fellow author, Russ Litten. We will be at the Hurst in Shropshire from December 13th to 18th, and we’ll be focussing on the ‘elements of fiction’.
Any kind of fiction is composed of these core components: character, story, plot, setting and timeframe. There are also the more intangible aspects of powerful story telling, like creating a distinctive narrative tone or the building of a unique mood and atmosphere. Then, there is the alchemic process of bringing all of these elements together – how does character inform dialogue? How much does setting impose tone? How can you shape the emotional effect your work has on the reader? All of these questions and more will be held up for examination in a series of group discussions, writing exercises and workshops.
Visit Arvon’s website to find out more information and to book.
For those who don’t know, for over fifty years Arvon has been the UK’s home of creative writing. The organisation has three centres, in Devon, Shropshire and Yorkshire. And their residential and now, online courses, are led by highly acclaimed writers, and span poetry to playwriting, song to screenplay, fact to fiction, starting to finishing – and they offer grants to help with course fees for those who need it. Generations of writers have been inspired by their experience at Arvon. They offer a home for creative writing, where anyone, regardless of writing experience, can step away from their normal routine, immerse themselves in the creative process, be inspired by experienced writers and release their imaginative potential.
I’m very excited to be returning, and if you’re a writer (beginner or otherwise) looking for inspiration, support, and motivation, I hope you might be able to join me.
Unsettled Ground was published in the US just over a week ago, and I’m about halfway through my US online book tour. If you’re interested in joining me in Vermont, Illinois, Washington, or Michigan, all from the comfort of your own home, click here to see the rest of my dates.
Aside from these events, I have been busy being interviewed, responding to questions and writing original essays. Here are links to some recent ones:
Vox: The Best £85 I ever spent: A cat who doesn’t like me
Crime Reads: Six suspenseful novels
Lithub: Outsiders, eccentrics, and misfits – a reading list
Time: How my ex-husband became one of my best friends
Poets & Writers: Claire Fuller shares what has inspired her in her writing
Podcast / Radio Interviews
New Books Network: In this engaging conversation, Claire tells Duncan McCargo why all her books are rather dark, why she is not romantic about rural life, why Unsettled Ground doesn’t exactly have a happy ending, and why the novel contains a hidden social message.
Across the Pond: Lori Feathers and Sam Jordison discuss Sam’s boxes and boxes of books, fact checkers, Goodreads fatigue, and most importantly–Lori and Sam’s most interesting discussion with writer Claire Fuller about her new novel, Unsettled Ground.
Little Atoms: Claire Fuller talks to Neil Denny about her 2021 Women’s Prize shortlisted fourth novel Unsettled Ground.
BBC Radio 4 Open Book: Johny Pitts discusses working-class rural life with Claire Fuller whose novel, Unsettled Ground, is longlisted for the Women’s Prize.
Full Stop: I [Megan Kakimoto] had the pleasure of interviewing Fuller over email to discuss her interests in music, ownership, and how she created the truly remarkable Seeder twins.
Shelf Awareness: The Writer’s Life, interviewed by Alice Martin.
Curtis Brown Creative: In an intimate and insightful [webinar], our students heard about Claire’s journey to publication, and picked up some useful tips and tricks on writing and editing. Here are some of the highlights.
Powell’s Bookstore: A Q&A including Claire’s favourite book as a child and one she’d recommend to read right now.
Bookstore Events Recordings
Powell’s Books: In conversation with the author, Ron Rash.
Exile in Bookville: In conversation with the author, Kate Racculia.
Napa Bookmine: In conversation with the author, Faith Merino.
PRINT A bookstore: In conversation with the author, Lucy Atkins.
Interabang: In conversation with the author, Daniel Magariel.
Unsettled Ground is published today, May 18 in the USA by Tin House, and in Canada by House of Anansi.
It’s already been getting great reviews:
“The close attachment to Jeanie’s and Julius’s limited points of view enrich the suspense as long-kept secrets are gradually revealed. But even the disclosures and resolutions can’t entirely domesticate “Unsettled Ground,” which carries its lonely, stirring music of loss to the end.” Wall Street Journal
“Fuller paints a devastatingly haunting picture of abject poverty, especially in her descriptions of the houses they dwell in, each of which becomes a character in its own right.” Booklist
“Fuller builds suspense over the twins’ fate and ends with a brilliant twist. This one is worth staying with.” Publishers Weekly
Buy Unsettled Ground. The novel is available to buy or order from all US (and Canadian) independent bookstores, chain stores, and online. If you pre-ordered it – thank you – and I’d love to see pictures of it on Twitter or Instagram!
Tonight I’ll be kicking off a 12 bookstore virtual tour with a Zoom event hosted by New York bookstore, McNally Jackson, where I’ll be interviewed by author, Lucy Tan. Signed books (with bookplates designed by me) can be purchased from the participating stores, at the same time as registering for a free ticket for the event of your choice.
And keep an eye on my Twitter and Instagram accounts for the chance for US readers to win a signed copy of Unsettled Ground together with a limited edition flexi disc single of one of the songs in Unsettled Ground, composed and sung by acoustic guitarist, Henry Ayling.
(Thanks to @suethebookie on Instagram for letting me use her wonderful picture of Unsettled Ground.)
While I wrote Unsettled Ground, I listened to two pieces of music: Polly Vaughn (an old English folk song) sung by Tia Blake, and We Roamed Through the Garden, written by my son, Henry Ayling. Listening to only two songs for two years, it was probably inevitable that they were going to become part of the novel I was writing. But they had a bigger influence: Jeanie and Julius, the protagonists in Unsettled Ground became folk musicians.
I thought it might be interesting to create a playlist for Unsettled Ground, for those who are currently reading the novel or those who have read it already. I hope that this selection – which are all pieces of music I love – will help add to the atmosphere of the book.
Henry is an unsigned acoustic guitarist – teacher, performer, and composer – and therefore his song isn’t on Spotify. But you can listen to We Roamed Through the Garden, here: www.henryayling.com/music/ It is number five on this page.
The playlist below will allow you to hear a little of each song. Open it in Spotify to listen to all the songs in their entirety. And please do let me know which you might know already and if any particularly resonate. Happy listening!
Unsettled Ground will be published in the US on May 18 and I have lots of online events planned, where, from the comfort of my writing room in England, I’ll be talking about the book, my writing process, and what it feels like for Unsettled Ground to be shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. It would be lovely if any US or Canadian readers could join me on Zoom.
See my list of online events.