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.
I was recently invited to a Words Away Zalon about motivation and inspiration for writers. If you haven’t heard about Words Away, its a small organisation that hosts events for writers on all kinds of interesting subjects. Sometimes these take the form of writers being interviewed about their process, or other times they run day-long writing workshops in London. At the moment everything is online, which means that anyone can join in.
What the audience were most interested in during my interview, not surprisingly, were the little tricks I use for my own motivation. I’m not a very motivated person when it comes to writing, and I have to use every technique I can think of to keep going. I don’t really like writing, what I enjoy is having written. I didn’t get to mention all my tricks during my Zalon, so I thought I’d put them down here.
Let me know if you start using any and find them helpful, and please do let me know in the comments what tips and tricks you use to keep writing. Perhaps I’ll do a list about inspiration next; but do let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to cover.
Pretend to write something that isn’t your work in progress (WIP). Open a new document and write in a stream of consciousness style, or morning pages. Let yourself go, fool yourself, and you never know you might just start to write your WIP.
Try the ‘This is Shit’ Technique. When those little voices in your head which tell you what you’re writing is rubbish get too loud, wherever you are in your WIP type [ and let the little voice have its say. Write [this is shit[, or [no one is ever going to read this] or [if I get run over by a bus please don’t publish this], and then when the voice has run out of steam type ], and carry on with your WIP.
Interview a character or yourself about a plot point you’re having a problem with. For me this works best if I write it, but I know that for some writers they have an actual conversation and record it. Open a new Word document and type a heading. (I use, ‘We need to talk about xxx’.) Then type a question and let your subconscious brain answer it. I find it works best if I type the ‘interview’ very quickly without time for thought.
Keep a writing diary for each novel. This is a long term project, but worth starting. Every time you have a writing session write in your diary the date, the current word count, and one line about how that writing session has gone and any major thoughts. For a start, it’s helpful to see the word count increasing – motivation in itself, and secondly when you go through a really difficult patch you can open a diary for a previous novel and see whether you’re feeling the same level of despondency at the same word count as then. (I always am.)
Give yourself deadlines. If you haven’t been given deadlines by anyone else (publisher or if you’re on a course, for example), then give yourself some. Or ask a fellow writer to give you a deadline and make sure they follow up to see that you’ve achieved it.
Read someone else’s (excellent) novel. Reading a bad book doesn’t make me think I can do better, but reading an excellent novel makes me try harder with my own WIP.
Work on several projects at once.
Find the music that’s right for your WIP (tone / style / period) and put it on every time you write. Eventually, putting it on will mean it’s writing time.
Have a ‘word race’ with another writer. Agree a time you’re going to start and the length. Maybe 11am for an hour. Check in with each other just before you start and at 12 to see how it went. It isn’t meant to be competitive, but it helps to know that someone else is writing at the same time as you.
Visit the work every day. Write some of your WIP if you can, but if you can’t, then think about it – when you’re driving, washing up, cooking, whatever. If you have a good thought, email it to yourself or record it (if you don’t, you won’t remember it, or at least I never do). If you do this every day when you do get back to writing the WIP you will have something to write and you will be able to jump into it much faster.
My fourth novel, Unsettled Ground will be published in the US on May 18, when I’ll be doing lots of online bookshop events, including reading from the book, chatting about my writing process, the inspiration behind the novel and lots more. All tickets are free, but you need to register. See the list of dates here.
Unsettled Ground is already published in the UK, and is shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Buy a copy here.
I’m absolutely delighted and thrilled that Unsettled Ground has been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. The panel of five judges, chaired by Booker prize winner, Bernardine Evaristo whittled down the longlist of sixteen books to just six. You can find out more about the other shortlisted novels, and watch Bernardine Evaristo reading from Unsettled Ground, here. The winner will be announced on 7th July.
Unsettled Ground is available to buy in the UK from all independent book shops, Waterstones, and other online shops. If you’d like a chance to win the whole shortlist, Bloom and Wild, as well as Love Reading are running competitions to win all six novels.
The Women’s Prize has organised a 2021 Virtual Shortlist Festival over three days, where you can hear readings from all six novels, see author, Kate Mosse interview us all, and get the opportunity to put your own questions to the shortlisted authors.
I’m still doing a few more UK events for the publication of the book, and I have lots of online US events lined up. (Unsettled Ground will be published on May 18 in the US and Canada.) It would be lovely to see some of you at them. Click to visit my events page.
This article was originally published on Isabel Costello’s blog – The Literary Sofa. Please visit her website for lots more author articles and information about her latest novel, Scent. Just before the post was due to be published I put out a call on Twitter for people’s dog pictures which could accompany the article. Many thanks to everyone who introduced us to their gorgeous furry friends. Isabel chose the adorable Johnny as Official Dog – thanks from Isabel and me to his owner Leah Bergen for use of the photo.
The dog in Unsettled Ground
This might be an odd confession for an article about dogs in books, but I am more of a cat person. I’ve never owned a dog; growing up, my family never owned a dog. We’ve always had cats, and my current one is a tabby called Alan. But I do like dogs, and that’s why I wasn’t too surprised when a dog appeared in my fourth novel, Unsettled Ground. A biscuit-coloured lurcher wrote her way in and became central to the story. But what to call her? I asked Twitter of course. Lots of people responded with their favourite dogs’ names (Luna and Mabel came up over and over). But in the end, I chose Maude, partly because that was what I thought her owner, Jeanie Seeder, would name her.
The Seeder family go through some difficult times and Maude, unfortunately, suffers along with them. What do you feed your dog when you can’t afford dog food, let alone meat? How do dogs behave when they sense illness, or when their owner is under threat? I did a great deal of dog research online, even joining a lurcher appreciation society on Facebook, where I lurked and read lots of posts about the funny things the members’ lurchers did. I watched lots of videos on YouTube of lurchers running (very fast) and sleeping (a great deal). I went for walks with my friends who had dogs, and I asked some of them lots of tedious details about how their dogs would react in certain situations. What I really learned from all my research, is that like humans, and cats, dogs have their own characters. Of course.
And just like human characters in novels, dogs in books can be used in all sorts of ways: to add tension, to gain sympathy, for light-relief and to reflect what’s happening to the human characters. If, like me, you love a good dog (or a bad one) in a novel, then here is a list of some of my favourite novels with dogs in them.
Fluke by James Herbert I read this book about forty years ago but it has stuck with me all this time. James Herbert was a master of the horror genre, but Fluke is not horror. This is a story about a dog, told in the first person, who remembers being a man. He believes he’s been murdered and sets out to try and protect his family. It’s about life and reincarnation and is probably due a re-read about now.
The Weekend by Charlotte Wood Three old friends in their 70s meet in the house of their fourth friend, Sylvie, who has recently died. They are there to help sort out the contents so the house can be sold. The three women, suffering from the usual ailments of old age and griping about each other, are wonderfully drawn. They might be getting on a bit but there are no old-age stereotypes here. Wendy brings along her old dog, Finn, who acts as a symbol of the women’s decline.
Help Yourself by Curtis Sittenfeld This is a short story collection with only three short stories in it. But what stories! In the first, White Women, LOL, Jill, a white Jewish woman is videoed accusing a group of Black people of gate-crashing her friend’s party. The video goes viral and Jill is ostracised by her friends for being racist. At the same time, an African-American TV presenter has lost her dog and the whole community wants to help her find it. When Jill discovers the dog in someone’s yard, she is determined to catch it. Sittenfeld’s writing and situations skewer suburban life.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters A wonderfully gothic novel with a haunted house (or person) which includes an old lab called Gyp. Caroline Ayres lives with her mother and disfigured brother in the run-down Hundreds Hall. They host a drinks party and their neighbours bring along their precocious eight-year-old daughter. At the party, the young girl is at first scared of Gyp, and then, behind a curtain she teases him, the dog bites, and the girl is injured. There are of course disastrous consequences for everyone. It’s a very tough read for dog lovers, but the incident helps to kick off the unsettling things that happen in the house.
So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell An old man remembers when, as a child, one of his neighbours was murdered and how afterwards he did something which he has been ashamed of ever since. In the middle section of the novel, the man imagines how the murder happened, moving between the minds of the main characters including the family’s dog. Unlike Fluke, the mind of the dog in So Long, See You Tomorrow remains very dog-like, but I still felt huge sympathy for his predicament.
Isabel Costello’s review of Unsettled Ground
In her fourth novel, Claire Fuller unearths lives rarely seen in contemporary fiction through middle-aged twins Jeanie and Julius, whose experience of rural poverty is all they have ever known. The novel is set in my home county of Wiltshire (which doesn’t happen very often either); we knew of people who lived ‘off-grid’ near the village where I grew up, long before it became a lifestyle choice for some. The gap between them and mainstream society was huge but not as wide as it would be now, when those without access to technology find themselves further marginalised from the infrastructure of everyday life. This happens to Jeanie and Julius when the death of their mother jeopardises an already precarious domestic set-up.
In less sensitive hands this could have backfired, but there is nothing patronising or romanticised about Claire Fuller’s vision of the protagonists’ rapidly deteriorating circumstances. In fact, she achieves an effective juxtaposition of hardship and, at times, squalor, with the simple joys of a life lived close to nature and as far as can be from materialism – few could read this novel without reflecting on their own situation. Both siblings have musical talent and the author’s characteristic sensory prose and artist’s eye make the story spring up around the reader in every dimension, including the emotional. The dark tone gives Unsettled Ground more in common with her debut Our Endless Numbered Days than her two most recent novels and if it was sometimes almost unbearably distressing, this is a testament to the empathy Fuller has and creates for the characters, despite heaping one terrible loss or setback after another on them – Jeanie’s vulnerability is especially poignant. A motif shared by all four novels is that of complex and unusual parent-child bonds, mostly extending into adulthood, and on that score this one is as fascinating as its predecessors. A literary highlight of 2021 which merits the recognition it received even before publication.
Buy Unsettled Ground
Unsettled Ground is longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and is available to buy in the UK as a hardback, ebook or audio book. Click here to buy in the UK. Click here to pre-order in the US. Click here to pre-order in Canada.
Unsettled Ground is published in the UK today, 25th March 2021. It’s had wonderful reviews from readers, book bloggers, and many of the national papers, including the FT and the TLS, with The Times calling it, ‘a beautiful and powerful tale’.
If you’ve pre-ordered a copy, hopefully it will be arriving soon if it hasn’t already. If you’d like to buy Unsettled Ground you can do so online from Bookshop.org or from your local bookshop. I’ve got lots of online events arranged, and most of the bookshops that are hosting these are also offering a book included in the price of the ticket. See my events page for more details.
(Thank you to Olivia Partridge @ayoungwritersworld on Instagram, for this gorgeous picture.)
I’m so thrilled to let you know that my fourth novel, Unsettled Ground has been longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021. The announcement was made last night, and Unsettled Ground appears alongside 15 other novels. The shortlist will be announced on 28th April. Keep your fingers crossed for me.
Unsettled Ground will be published in the UK on 25th March, and in the US and Canada on May 18. It can be pre-ordered from any independent or bricks and mortar bookshop, or if you’re interested in pre-ordering and attending one of my online events in the UK or the US, click here.
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.
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.
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.