Hi Claire. Congratulations on being chosen to take part in the Richard and Judy Spring Book Club 2016. What was it like to find out you’d been selected?
Oh, that was absolutely fantastic to be chosen. I think my editor phoned me up and let me know and we were very excited – there was quite a lot of whooping I think! [Laughs] I was at home, which is where I write, so yeah it was really really exciting. And very special to have been chosen, very flattering.
So who was your favourite character to write in the book?
I guess it would have to be the main character, Peggy, because I got to know her the most and she’s the one who kind of carried it. I got to know her growing up, and discover how she was going to change – she’s eight when the book starts and seventeen when it ends, so it’s quite formative years I suppose, so yeah it was Peggy – or Punzel as she’s sometimes called.
And why did you choose to tell the story from Peggy’s point of view?
Well I wanted to write it from a first-person point of view, and I kind of wanted an unreliable narrator. I was interested in writing both those things, and so really Peggy was the one that fitted that. Lots of people have said to me that they want to know James’ motivation, and also what Ute was going through when Peggy was away, but it was the life in the forest that really interested me and that kind of had to be from Peggy’s point of view. But I didn’t think about it too deeply, I did just start writing just to see where it would take me, and that’s what happened.
So how was it researching for the book? I imagine you had to go into quite a lot of detail about surviving in the forest?
Yeah, I didn’t know anything about survival before I started writing! [Laughs] I had to research all of that, and some of it I tried to do in real life. So just, you know, going out hunting for mushrooms, understanding which ones were poisonous, going on guided tours with somebody who knew what they were doing – which were poisonous, which were safe to eat – and tramping the woods. I didn’t get to go to Germany, just the woods near my house, but all the other stuff, you know, how to catch animals, skin them and eat them – and what they taste like, even – was mostly done online. The survivalist movement in America is really huge, so all the kind of hunting videos, there’s hundreds and hundreds to look at. So I did spend a lot of time looking at catching animals! But there was all sorts of other research as well, kind of psychological issues of childhood trauma and how you cope with that, and how people might cope with that – all sorts of research that I had to do.
Do you have a favourite moment or quote from the book, that you always look back on and think, ‘that’s a really special point’?
I really do like the ending, but I probably shouldn’t say too much about that! There’s kind of a dreamy quality to the ending and an ambiguity, and I like books that don’t tie everything together – so I was really trying to write a book that gave enough hints, but left a lot to the reader’s imagination. I think it’s quite important – well I like, when I read a book – to do some of the work to decide what happens, and so I wanted to make sure that happened. And I think that happens in the ending, which I can’t say. [laughs]
The relationship between Peggy and her brother Oskar, I really enjoyed writing those pieces, and there’s a point in the book when they play chopsticks together. And of course, Peggy can play the piano – although probably really, really badly – but Oskar her younger brother doesn’t know this, so he tries to teach her chopsticks – and I just quite like that scene, how they interact.
What was the biggest challenge for you when writing the book?
It’s actually really sitting down to write, and making sure that I did it and that I carried on doing it until I had written the end of a first draft. Especially as I don’t plan my writing, so I really had…I knew that Peggy would be in the forest for a certain length of time, and I knew she would make it home, because you’d know that from the very beginning; but what happened to her or how she got home, I really had no idea until I literally sat down and wrote it. So in way that the biggest challenge, as I really didn’t always know what was coming next, and I find that…it’s quite a hard thing to write when you’re just inventing as you write, as you go along. I much more enjoy the editing after the thing is written, so yeah just churning out the words was the hardest thing!
Who was your favourite author as a child, and who is your favourite author now?
As a child…as a child actually, I read quite a lot of ghost and horror stories – well I guess that was when I was kind of ten to twelve. Younger than that? I really liked things like the Enid Blyton books and Pippy Longstocking, you know all those childhood things – I’m not sure there was one in particular. And then when I was a teenager, I read a lot of Stephen King and I read a lot of James Herbert – really quite scary books, but also ghost stories like Edgar Alan Poe, things that would keep me up at night. Then I got perhaps into more literary fiction and more recently, I really like David Vann and all his books…it’s really hard to think of names off the top of my head, there’s loads! There is loads, but names I’m not sure.