Yes! Are you a fan too? Shall we skip the books and the writing and just talk about music? No? OK. It’s also the title of my debut novel. I wrote the book while listening to all of Sam Beam’s (also known as Iron & Wine) music on a loop and now when I put it on I’m ready to write. But it’s not just that I love his music, the title is also very appropriate to the story.
So, what is the story?
Peggy, an eight-year-old English girl, is taken on holiday by her father. But the holiday isn’t ten days in a static caravan on the south coast like I had when I was a child. He takes her to a remote cabin in a European forest and tells her the rest of the world has disappeared, and she believes him. She’s only eight remember, and he’s very convincing. They survive there for the best part of a decade and Peggy then makes it back home in mysterious circumstances.
I heard you didn’t start writing until you were forty. That’s pretty old, isn’t it?
Oh, enough of the age thing. There are lots of authors who didn’t start writing until they were older. Annie Proulx, for instance. She didn’t start writing until she was in her 50s, and her first novel was published when she was 57. I think I’m doing OK at 48. Besides, I have all those years of experience to draw on. Not that I was ever taken to the wilderness against my will by my father. But I did spend much of my first 40 years reading; maybe all those words soaked in somehow. I used to think that books came out fully formed from authors’ heads. Now I know a good percentage of writing a novel is in the revising and editing.
You write a lot of flash fiction. How does that work alongside novel writing?
I try to write at least one piece of flash fiction a week as part of an online group called Friday Fictioneers. A photograph is posted online and we all write a 100-word story inspired by it. Sometimes mine are complete stories, or when I’m in the middle of writing something longer I use flash fiction to explore what one of my characters might do in a different situation, or to write part of a scene that I know is going to come later. Some of these I expanded, revised and used in Our Endless Numbered Days.
Trying to tell a story in just a 100 words, with character, tension, and a beginning and an end is tough. Each word has to earn its place, and work really hard. Pieces of fiction which are that short also often have to leave a lot of the imaginative work to the reader; I’m a big fan of not saying everything, and I’ve tried to use that kind of writing in my novel. It’s like drawing, which I also do a lot of. When you’re drawing a face you don’t have to put in all the features and join up all the lines; the viewer’s mind will do that for you. It’s the same with reading: it’s often as much about what isn’t said as what is.
What career paths did you pursue before you started writing?
Initially, I wanted to be a sculptor. I hear so many people saying how difficult it is to write, to find the time, to make enough money. And it is difficult. But try making a living from sculpting… So I ended up eventually working in, and then running, a small marketing agency that specialised in writing. If I hadn’t have done that, I think I would have liked to be a midwife.
You’re not squeamish then?
Not at all. There are some quite gruesome scenes in Our Endless Numbered Days, but I didn’t even have to shut my eyes while I wrote them.
And for my final question, how do you think you’d get on in a remote European forest with only an axe and a knife?
I like to think I could get by, living on the things I could catch and gather. I could chop some wood with the axe, and catch some fish and gut them with the knife. I might be able to get hold of a few squirrels and rabbits, and I know what you’re meant to do with acorns in order to make them edible. But I have to admit that it is all theory; I haven’t put any of these techniques to the test. So who knows whether I’d really survive without all the things I rely on to make my life comfortable?
CLAIRE FULLER lives in Winchester, England. Our Endless Numbered Days is her first novel. Read more at clairefuller.co.uk.