Hello, OcTBR challengers! We're so excited to be able to bring you this author interview with a wonderful writer, kick-ass artist, Lara Croft enthusiast, and genuinely diamond-studded soul, the fabulous Claire Waller!
*OcTBRland erupts in rapturous applause and cries of ‘We Love You Claire!’*
So, Claire, first of all, let me say a huge thank you for agreeing to talk to the OcTBR crew, exclusively for the delight of our participants’ eye-holes and mind-caverns.
Hello all! But especially you. Yeah, I see you there, the one with All The Books to read… *grins*
If you wouldn’t mind, could you tell our readers about you? Who is Claire Waller?
To be honest, half the time I'm not even sure. In public, she likes to pretend to be a capable human being. At all other times, she's a nerdy little weirdo who is interested in everything. Apart from football. I still don't get football.
Your novel FUGLY (due for publication by Lerner on 5thNov 2019) is about a shy, overweight teenager, Beth, who becomes an internet troll as a way of dealing with a lifetime of being bullied. Can you tell us a little bit about your process in writing this book?
This book started life as a personal rant. I'd been out running (yes, fat people do exercise) and a lovely young man of around 18 or 19 went past me on his moped, yelling 'WELL RUN THEN, YOU FAT BITCH'. Now, this isn't the first time I've been heckled in public for, you know, simply existing. More recently I was nearly involved in a nasty accident while cycling because some equally lovely young men in a van overtook me and started yelling at me and barking like dogs, which meant I hit a pot hole and almost went under their wheels (which they found hilarious, obviously).
But I digress. I was angry and upset, and came home and wrote a Properly Self Pitying screed about how I was fed up of trying to do the right thing, of being judged on my outside rather than my inside, that I was too old for this crap etc, which got me thinking – if I was feeling like this, how were younger people feeling?
I have age and not much wisdom on my side – when I was a teen, the internet was only just coming into our lives, and so I didn't have to contend with social media etc.
So I started looking into fat shaming and how toxicity turns people toxic, how I've had less than charitable thoughts about other people due to this toxicity, and it took off from there. I also teach kids who can't attend mainstream schools for medical reasons – these are usually for mental health reasons, and I kind of wanted to write a 'don't do this' guide. The book is a cautionary tale, and how hitting out may make you feel better in the short term, but it can cause a world of hurt (for you and others) in the long.
For the record – I have never trolled anyone, and never would (I think what Beth did was pretty appalling), but in the context of the book, it seemed a natural 'extreme end point' to take. Researching trolling was hard as, wow, that's a level of conflict I am not comfortable with, and as the story took shape I was wondering if I'd gone a bit too far – but, hey, I'm a horror author at heart, and so I'm never going to be here to tell you nice feel-good tales to help you sleep at night. This kind of stuff happens, and I wasn't going to sugar-coat it.
What do you hope your readers will take away from your novel?
As I said above – it's a cautionary tale. It isn't supposed to be the feel-good hit of the summer. I hope it shows that everyone has problems / issues that you don't know about, so always be kind. Ironically, given how vicious Fugly can be, that's my credo for life: be kind. It takes Amy's kindness to show Beth that she is worthwhile and how much she has to lose if she continues down her toxic, self-destructive path. I can only imagine how Beth might have turned out if she'd met Amy earlier.
Have you always wanted to write Young Adult contemporary fiction?
Nope! I wrote Fugly by mistake. Before that, my YA was very much sci-fi/ fantasy, but I had lots of fun (and sometimes tears) writing Fugly, so I've written more contemporary YA, and now I've got another string for my bow, I guess!
So your writing covers quite a few genres! Do the books you read have the same flavour as the ones you write?
Definitely. I adore books that make me go 'wtf???'. I like the weird and the odd, and my reading reflects that. I love horror (especially cosmic and occult), speculative, sci-fi, fantasy… anything that makes my brain marvel at how weird things out there can get. Saying that, I do also love a good life-in-tooth-and-claw novel, too – something to get fired up about!
The OcTBR challenge is all about finally getting the chance to dive into those books we’ve been dying to read, but life has forced us to push into a teetering TBR pile. What books, audiobooks, graphic novels or blogs have you been hoping to get your teeth into?
I think I should laugh here? SO MANY. I've had Coldheart Canyonby Clive Barker on my bedside table for years (I am not exaggerating – I bought it at a car boot sale years ago and it's been there ever since). I need to finish The City and The City. Bloody Neuromancer, a book I have shamefully started 4 times but never finished (and I love cyberpunk!). The Luminous Dead, The Wilder Girls, The Imaginary Corpse (just ordered that, so hopefully I'll read that next!), Queenie… all new books sat in my TBR pile, which I feel a bit guilty about because I still have a load of older novels I've picked up over the years but never managed to get to. And that doesn't include all the stuff I want to read to broaden my horizons…
Who would you say are your favourite authors, and why?
Terry Pratchett will always have my heart. I picked up Mort when I was 11 and that was it. In terms of influence – HP Lovecraft (for cosmic horror, although I have developed issues with him as a person given how bloody awful he was. As a teen I naively thought the cosmic horrors were just that – cosmic horrors. As I got older, I found out about the terrible racism, and that has soured my enjoyment of some of his tales). I love Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker for sheer scope of imagination. Anne McCaffery, because who the hell doesn't love dragons??
Does reading Pratchett / Lovecraft influence your own work much?
Pratchett doesn't influence my own work too much, mainly because I am not worthy. He was a one-off and no one can do what he did IMO. I do have a dry sense of humour that gets injected into nearly everything I write, though, so I suppose Pratchett did influence that!
As for Lovecraft… well, I did write a female-led reimagining of At The Mountains of Madness (Predator X) and an LGBT gothic/Cosmic horror tale heavily influenced by The Shadow Over Innsmouth (Nine Eyes), and am currently writing a female-led horror using the basic bones of From Beyond as it's central idea (plus undead jellyfish, because WHY THE HELL NOT??), so I would say that Lovecraft influences my writing a lot, but I do try to subvert some of the quite frankly appalling themes he put into his work, mainly because ancient tentacle monsters from beyond time and space and human insignificance in the universe = Good, and rampant racism / misogyny = Ugh. Y'gotta separate the tenctacley-fun from the hate and run with it.
So, what are you working on at the moment? What should our readers expect next from you, Claire?
At the moment, there's the aforementioned From Beyond-y story, called (at the moment) The Desolation of Juno Tempest. There's also another contemporary YA in the mix, but that's kind of Super-Secret Squirrel right now.
Any final thoughts for our OcTBR crowd?
Read, my pretties, read! But don't feel too bad if you can Read It All. And Audiobooks / Graphic novels count. If it wasn't for Audiobooks / podcasts, my TBR pile would be even bigger than it is!
Brilliant. Thank you so much, Claire, and best of luck with the release of FUGLY!
FUGLY is available to pre-order now, or to request from libraries, and is released on 5th November 2019.