Monday, 29 February 2016

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Claire Fuller

My Life In Books is an occasional feature on Random Things Through My Letterbox
I've invited authors to share with us a list of the books that are special to them and have made a lasting impression on their life.

I'm delighted to welcome Claire Fuller to Random Things today.  I read and reviewed Claire's hugely successful debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days here on Random Things back in January of last year. 

This beautiful novel won the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction and was nominated for the 2015 Edinburgh First Book Award and the 2016 Waverton Good Read Award. 

I've always been a huge reader of whatever I could lay my hands on. When I was growing up I visited my local library every day while waiting for my lift home from school, selecting books from both the children's and adult sections. My Dad also had quite a few books and I was allowed to read whatever I liked.  
Here are some from that time, as well as novels I've read more recently.

Small Dreams of a Scorpion by Spike Milligan     This is a book from my Dad's shelves. It's poetry, but in no way comic - it's mostly from when Milligan was undergoing treatment for depression, and includes drawings by him and his daughter. I suppose I must have been seven or eight when I was reading this, which seems strange now. I recently bought myself a copy, and although looking at it again was nostalgic, I'm afraid to say that the poems don't bear too much re-reading. 

James Reeves Complete Poems for Children   This was a book my Dad bought me in 1977 for my birthday when I was ten. 

It's the only book from childhood that I still have and it's inscribed by him.

I have to admit that I would look at it more for the wonderful illustrations by Edward Ardizzone, rather than the poetry. 

Phenomena: A Book of Wonders by John Michell and Bob Rickard   This is a non-fiction book my Dad had on his stud shelves. I loved it. Showers of frogs, spontaneous human combustion, phantom music, strange disappearances - this book has them all. With pictures. 

Even just writing about it now, makes me want to go and buy it. Many of these things must have worked their way into my subconscious and are coming out in my novels and short stories, which  often includes slightly creepy happenings. 

The Railway Children by E Nesbit    Another childhood memory and actually a massive cheat, because I only read the book for the first time last year when my editor, Juliet Annan at Fig Tree / Penguin gave me a copy.
My memory is (as is Peggy's - the narrator in Our Endless Numbered Days) from the vinyl album, which is a recording of the film from 1970. The album belonged to my sister, and although I was allowed to play it whenever I liked, I desperately wanted it to be mine. And just like Peggy I can still recite chunks of it. 

Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas   When I was fifteen I was Mrs Ogmore Pritchard in a school performance of Under Milk Wood and I fell in love with the play's words and rhythm.

At the after-show party, behind the door in one of the music practice rooms, I kissed Organ Morgan.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Attwood   I'm a bit picky with my Attwood, but this I loved. I read it when it was published in 2003, probably with many other books - all of which I've forgotten. 

But Oryx and Crake has stuck with me for its story telling and setting more than anything else.

The Vet's Daughter by Barbara Comyns   I could choose any of Comyn's books: Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (which features in my second novel, Swimming Lessons), or Sisters by a River. 

I was introduced to Comyn's work by my librarian husband fairly recently and I searched out and read all eleven of her books. She's a bit like an English Shirley Jackson; odd things happen and nobody blinks an eye.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson   If I had to pick one novel that made me want to to write one myself it would probably have to be this. And I do go on about it far too much. 

It's quirky and odd. It has one of the best narrators ever written: Mary Katherine Blackwood, I love you. 

Legend of Suicide by David Vann   This is quite a recent read - perhaps from six years ago. It's a collection of interlinked short stories, or maybe each could be seen as a retelling of the same story.

Sukkwan Island is a novella within the book, and it had a huge influence on my first novel. Vann's stories are dark, he lets bad things happen to his characters, all the while describing the magnificent landscapes they inhabit.

Wildlife by Richard Ford   I'm picking this for my final book not so much because of the content, although the story is interesting (the falling apart of a marriage from the point of view of the teenage son), but for Ford's writing style.

Sometimes when I'm writing a first draft nothing works - the words don't flow, my style is too flowery or simpering, so I pick up Wildlife, open it at a random page and read some of Ford's words. They will always re-set me and start me going again in the right direction.

Claire Fuller is a novelist and short fiction writer. For her first degree she studied sculpture at Winchester School of Art, specialising in wood and stone carving. She began writing fiction at the age of 40, after many years working as a co-director of a marketing agency. Claire has a masters in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Winchester.

Her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days was published in the UK in February 2015 by Fig Tree / Penguin, by Tin House in the US in March 2015, as well as seven other publishers around the world.

Her second novel, Swimming Lessons will be published in the UK in early 2017

Claire's short fiction has been published in Vintage Script, From The Depths, After The Fall and The Rattle Tales Anthology.  One of her stories was shortlisted for the Brighton Prize, whilst another, Baker, Emily and Me won the BBC Opening Lines competition, and was broadcast on Radio 4.

Claire lives in Winchester with her husband and two children.
For more information, visit her website
Follow her on Twitter @ClaireFuller2



  1. I adore listening to Richard Burton reading Under Milk Wood. I did it for O'Level and it remains on of my favourite plays. Wonderful stuff.

  2. Fascinating choices, bookmarked for more investigation later. Without doubt, my favourite line is "At the after-show party, behind the door in one of the music practice rooms, I kissed Organ Morgan". Should be the first line of a new book...!