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Clare Sudbery Interview

Posted on 10 June 2004. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to Clare Sudbery, whose first novel, The Dying of Delight is published by Diva Books

Tell us something about your background.

My first novel, The Dying of Delight, has just been published by Diva Books Ltd. Itís the first serious piece of writing Iíve ever attempted, so Iím absolutely over the moon about it being published! But Iíve always loved words, and prior to writing The Dying of Delight I wrote and performed performance poetry around the poetry circuit in Manchester. My partner and I also had a band, for which I was a singer/songwriter. Apart from that, my mother (Rodie Sudbery) is a published childrenís author. During my childhood she produced full-length mid-range childrenís novels at the rate of about one a year. Several other members of my family are also published authors, so as a child I assumed that I too would be an author when I grew up. But then I grew up.

How did you start writing?

Apart from the poetry, song lyrics and some very small pieces of prose, I first attempted a full length novel in 1999. I had several friends who were artistic in one way or another Ė painters, musicians, performance artists Ė and to be honest I was jealous. I had a full time job in IT, and I felt insecure about my perceived lack of creativity. I was whingeing about this to a friend one day, when she suggested that I could afford to work shorter hours, and that if it really bothered me I should do something about it. On New Yearís Eve 1998, I made a spur of the moment decision to cut my hours down and write a novel. I thought I was probably being ridiculous, but Iím quite bloody-minded and I very quickly decided that this was a decision worth sticking to. It was surprisingly easy to convince my employers to give me a four day week. From June 1999, I devoted the fifth day each week to writing a novel. The 20% cut in income was a good incentive. Without that financial commitment, I suspect it may have been just another craze that was abandoned when I tired of it. I had started two novels when I was younger, and neither of them had got any further than a handful of pages.

Who are your favourite writers and why?

Oh dear, as soon as I start thinking of authors the list just grows and growsÖ but off the top of my head: Margaret Attwood, Toni Morrison, Iain Banks, Martin Millar, Geoff Dyer, Arundhati Roy, Yann Martell, Mil Millington, Angela Carter, Harper Lee. I like lyrical writers, and rhythmic writers (Toni Morrison). Words are such beautiful artistic building blocks Ė I enjoy writers who make the most of this. I also enjoy down-to-earth writers Martin Millar, and I love comedy (Mil Millington). I like it when writers are subtle, and I like to be drawn into an engrossing story. I also love suspense, and used to be a big fan of crime thrillers. I donít like things to be spelled out, and I think it is a real talent to show, not tell. Martin Millar is a good example of a writer who is both down-to-earth and subtle. I love it when writers have something important to say (Harper Lee), but let the story do the talking, rather than clumsily shoving it down your throat. Iím also very impressed by good television drama. My favourites in recent times have been Six Feet Under, Queer As Folk and Shameless. What really struck me about all of these was the combination of humour and darkness, and the incredibly rich characterisation. I dream of having characters as good as these.

How did you get your agent/commission/publisher?

Before I had finished writing The Dying of Delight, I sent out the first three chapters to fifteen publishers and twenty agents. I chose them by poring through the Writersí and Artistsí Yearbook and the internet, looking for publishers/agents who would accept unsolicited submissions and had a list of publications/clients that were compatible with my writing style. There was a strange duality of ego at work here. On the one hand I was impatient for results, which is why I sent out submissions before I had finished writing. On the other hand I never for one moment believed it would be published. But surely I must have done, or else why did I send out submissionsÖ Iím still puzzling over that one. Six monthsí later I had been rejected by all the agents, and all but two of the publishers (Diva Books and Canongate). I had given up on ever being published, but wanted to finish writing the novel, for my own sake. This was 2003, four years after I started writing it. I gave myself four months to finish it, and I was successful. I was still dissatisfied, but I had done so many rewrites that I resolved to call a halt and put it to one side. I had decided to go back to writing music, and was even rather looking forward to it. That weekend I went away on holiday. When I came back, there was a message on the answering machineÖ it was from Diva Books (who are now my publisher). I did later discover that Canongate were also seriously interested in me, but in the end they decided against publication. As soon as I had a publishing deal I decided I needed an agent. I finally found someone through a recommendation from a friend. She didnít represent me with Diva Books, because she said that I had done most of the work myself and it wouldnít be fair. Weíre collaborating together on my next novel. She is with Sheil Land literary agents.

What was your breakthrough moment?

I think I had two. The first came when I decided that my novel would never be published. I had received about thirty rejections, and I was demoralised. My writing pace had slowed right down as a result. But once I gave up on the possibility of publication, I was free to write what I liked without worrying about acceptance. I became very committed to finishing the novel. I set myself a deadline of August 2003, and I achieved it. Iíd never reached any of my earlier self-imposed targets. I think the reason this was effective is that Iíd removed the fear of failure. Iíd decided that failure was inevitable and therefore I was no longer afraid of it. My writing flowed much better as a result. The second breakthrough (and Iím afraid this wonít be very helpful to aspiring writers) was the phonecall from the publisher. Once I had confirmation that someone believed in my writing, my confidence increased and my motivation did too. I collaborated with my editor on one final rewrite, and the whole process was so much more enjoyable and less painful than previous rewrites had been. I was also motivated to work harder than I had ever done before.

What's the worst thing about writing?

The fear of failure. Sitting there at the computer doing anything but writing, because you donít believe you are any good at it.

And the best?

When the words flow. Throughout the last five years there have been periods when the words just flowed. They felt right. And then you edit them and perfect them and give them to others to readÖ and they give you positive feedback. And then you feel even better. Of course the downside to this is the occasions when you read the words back and decide that they stinkÖ

What kind of response do you get from your readers?

The most common praise Iíve received for The Dying of Delight has been with respect to the twists and turns of the plot. I keep the reader guessing until the end. This was a difficult trick to pull, because itís hard to know how much the reader can or will guess, seeing as itís impossible to put yourself into the position of not knowing how things end. But apparently Iíve managed to pull it off, which is quite a relief. Iíve also been told that my novel is easy to read, which was intentional, and so for me it is a compliment. Also that it is gripping, and that people identify with the main protagonist. All of this makes all the hard work and the rewrites worthwhile! I had an interesting criticism the other day though, which was that my characters are too extrovert, and that the reader found it a bit relentless. I think this leads us back to subtlety. I admire subtlety so much in other writers, but itís something I have to work at quite hard in my own writing.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Comments by other Members

Account Closed at 10:52 on 11 June 2004  Report this post
Congratualations Clare.

That's a really good interview. Informative, and I'm curious about the book. I especially liked the bit about 'fluid sexuality'. I hate it when every character in contemporary lit is 'straight'. Life just isn't like that.

Thanks. I'll keep an eye out for your book.


anisoara at 18:10 on 11 June 2004  Report this post
Thanks for the interesting, down-to-earth and very helpful interview!


Friday at 18:56 on 11 June 2004  Report this post
Hi Clare,

Well done for sticking with your novel, very inspirational.

I especially like your íbreakthrough momentí (both).



Clare Sudbery at 14:39 on 15 June 2004  Report this post
I'm very glad it was useful!

This kind of resource is invaluable to aspiring writers - I know how much support and encouragement helps.


Zigeroon at 13:27 on 16 June 2004  Report this post

Thanks for an interesting view from the inside. Keeping going in adversity, which we all have problems with, was inspirational.

The key moment for me was your advice about letting go of the outcome. Several books and positive advice experts talk about it, it's nice to hear someone achieving that state and creating the space for success.



Clare Sudbery at 16:02 on 16 June 2004  Report this post
Every single one of you has spelt my name right! I'm impressed. It's very rare.

I'd be interested to hear whether anyone has managed to consciously let go of the fear of failure. I don't know whether I would have managed it without the rejection slips. It almost makes me wonder whether writers shouldn't send each other hoax rejection slips in an effort to motivate. Hmmm. That can't be right, surely?

I do find it fascinating though, that in my own case both failure and success had the effect of motivating me - because both had the effect of removing the fear.

deblet at 20:50 on 30 June 2004  Report this post
Hi Clare

Thanks for being so candid about your experiences and break through moment. It's funny isn't it, just stopping caring what people think of what you write, and the freedom (and often good writing) that comes of that. It's like giving your internal censors a week off in the Bahamas. Not that I get that feeling much! Still struggling with the 9-5 and dreaming of working few hours as cleaner & life model and full time as a writer.

Thanks, you've encouraged me and I'll look out your book too!

deblet claire (with an 'i') x

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