Clare Dowling trained as an actress and began acting and writing plays with theatre company Glasshouse Productions, of which she was a founder member. She went on to write six plays, short films, children’s stories, drama, and novels. She has published Fast Forward, Expecting Emily and Amazing Grace with Poolbeg and Headline in the UK, and she has been a scriptwriter with Fair City for the past seven years. She lives in Dublin with her family.
Clare, can you tell us about your latest book, Amazing Grace, and how it came about?
I was reading in the glossy mags about Demi Moore and her younger boyfriend, Ashton Kutcher, and I thought it was a really interesting subject – older woman/younger man relationships are a relatively new phenomenon and I think attitudes to women who enter such a relationship are interesting, ranging from quite derogatory to, ‘you go, girl!’ and I wanted to explore that in Amazing Grace.
How long did it take you to write?
Too long! I had my second baby, Ella, bang in the middle of it and had to wait three months before I emerged from a fog of exhaustion and hormones before I could write again. It took me about a year and a half, with six months off in the middle.
How do you organise your writing day? For example, where do you write? And at what time of the day are you at your writing best?
I’m very lucky in that I have a house-husband at the moment (he’s taken a year off to study part-time) so I get to write in the mornings while he looks after the kids and brings me cups of tea, and I take over the childminding in the afternoon. I tend to work at nights too, after the kids are in bed, and usually do my best work at this time.
Do you use a computer?
Yes. trained as a secretary when I was eighteen and it was the best thing I ever did, as I can type very quickly.It doesn’t mean I write books any faster though …
Do you use the Internet for research?
All the time. Before, I’d have to pluck up the courage to ring a stranger in an office somewhere to beg some information.It’s so much easier to do it on the Net, plus there’s tonnes of info on every possible subject.
Are there any books or websites you would particularly recommend for writers?
The Writer’s Handbook – everybody says it, but it’s true. All the addresses and websites you could want or need.I like Amazon.com too; it’s not just for buying books – they feature interviews with top writers, plus lost of other bits and pieces. The BBC’s website has an excellent Writer’s Room full of tips, hints and contacts for anyone looking to write for television. And, of course, there’s Lynne Truss’s book Eats Shoots and Leaves, for all your punctuation needs …
Has your life changed since writing your first book, ‘Fast Forward’? Or since becoming a full time writer?
I’ve been a fulltime writer for fifteen years – the difference is that up to recently I never got paid for it! I was an aspiring writer for so long that I went into shock when I actually started getting cheques in the post. But even if I was still waitressing to pay the bills, I think I’d still be tapping away on my computer.
How did you get your first book published? Was it difficult?
I wrote four chapters and sent it off to three agents and one publisher, Poolbeg. The three agents sent me rejection letters (nice ones) and I’d pretty much given up on it when Poolbeg came back and said they liked it, and shortly after I signed up for three books. So it wasn’t too hard, and unfortunately I don’t have any dinner party stories about being rejected by nine-two publishers before hitting the jackpot. I think one of the most important things in trying to get published is to target publishers/agents carefully, and be sure they publish or represent your genre of writing.
Do you have an agent? And if so, how did you find him/her?
My agent approached me and took me for afternoon tea in the Merrion Hotel, which of course had me swooning and dreaming of the high life. My agent is based in London so has a finger on the pulse of British publishing too. If I were starting off and trying to get an agent, I’d comb The Writer’s Handbook (that again).
What are you working on at present?
My fourth novel. I’ve only just started, so I’m still at the stage of nipping down for a cuppa and a biscuit every five minutes. Any excuse.
Do you still write for Fair City?
Yes. I’ve been there for seven years now, and have been lucky enough to be able to take time off to write novels in between. I write the scripts from home, and go into RTE for meetings every few weeks, so it’s the best of all worlds.I love writing dialogue, so for me it’s a brilliant job and I love it.
What books are on your bedside table at the moment?
Larry’s Party, by Carol Shields; Time In a Bottle, which is just out by Denise Deegan, and The Famous Five Visit Kirrin Island Again, by Enid Blyton, which I’m reading to my son.
Do you read every day?
I tend to save my reading till the weekend, when I take to the bed at about half past eight and stay there for the night, reading, and ignoring any shrieks or crying from downstairs (my husband’s, usually).
How important are books in your everyday life?
I used to read a lot more, before I had children, and I have to say, I really miss it. But I’m managing to read more now and I’m really enjoying it. I love mulling over the way somebody else puts words together, re-reading little bits here and there, and just getting lost in another world.
Do you have any advice or tips for budding writers?
Just get going. Don’t think, oh I’ll have to write at least three hundred pages for a book. Write the first chapter, or even the first page, and worry about the finished product later. Don’t get too distracted by looking for agents, or publishers or book deals. Once you have something written, then you’re in a much stronger position to get published. And, mostly importantly, enjoy it!