Claire Wade’s debut The Choice, winner of The Good Housekeeping Novel Competition, is published on 26th December. Claire popped round to talk about NaNoWriMo, dystopias, writing competitions and the “what if” question that set her novel in motion.
You started writing in 2011 when you discovered NaNoWriMo and managed an astonishing 103,000 words in 30 days. Did The Choice come out of that project or did it come later once you realised you’d caught the writing bug?
I’ve loved books since I was little and I always wanted to write my own, I just didn’t know where to start. NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month seemed like a fun challenge; I liked the structure of 50,000 words in 30 days.
When I was bed bound with ME I used to write stories in my head, so I had lots of ideas, I’d just never been well enough to write them down. NaNo seemed like the perfect opportunity to try.
Like the RNA, there’s a strong community among the NaNo participants and they’re the main reason I got through my first month. I had so much fun, I knew I wanted to keep writing.
The Choice is set in a dystopia – are there any dystopian novels which have had an impact on you?
I read a lot of Monica Hughes when I was a teenager and her sci-fi stories had a huge impact on me. She showed me that fiction allows you to play with worlds, create new rules, new structures and situations. I find that freedom and flexibility really exciting.
I didn’t set out to write a dystopian novel, The Choice started as a much lighter, romance focused story, but the more I thought about the reality of a world where sugar was illegal and baking was a crime, the darker the story got.
There are still elements of the original idea, but the book is now about the relationship and love between two best friends, Olivia and Alice.
You run a baking club but The Choice imagines a world where sugar and baking are banned. Was that your “What if…?” question that set the ball rolling for The Choice? How much do you think that idea of restriction comes from the experience of your disability?
I love baking, it’s one of my favourite things, so a world without cake would be horrendous. The idea came one day after I’d been to a cake decorating shop to buy things for Valentine’s cupcakes. On the way home we drove past several fast-food restaurants and I remembered a news story that said sugar and fat were as addictive as illegal drugs. I started to think about what would happen if it was true, what would I do if the government made sugar illegal? I kept thinking about how my life would change. It was definitely my “what if?” question.
I’ve had ME since I was ten and although my main character Olivia isn’t disabled, her life feels very restrictive. In my case, it’s my body that won’t allow me to do all the things I want, for Olivia it’s the government and her own fear that keeps her trapped.
As I wrote The Choice, I explored my own feelings of frustration and limitation; seeing Olivia grow and break free has inspired and encouraged me. Writing about Olivia’s fight for what she wanted has enabled me to get closer to the life I want.
You call your writing room “Narnia” – can you give us a virtual tour of the room? What makes your writing room the perfect place to escape into your fiction? And is there a cup of tea or coffee on the desk? (or maybe something else!)
The first thing you see as you step into Narnia is a sign post that offers you a variety of choices and directions to take – will you head to Hogwarts or Middle Earth? Oz or Wonderland? Follow the sign to Narnia and it will lead you into a bright, open room, full of colour and treasures to explore, from sparkly crystals to miniature dolls houses. Along one wall is the famous wardrobe, with a lamppost and woodland tree scene on the doors. You’ve arrived in Narnia, this is the place I go to, to enter other worlds.
I have a desk in the corner but I always prefer to sit on my large pink sofa. It’s comfortable and the perfect place to relax and write.
I start with a nice, hot cup of tea. I normally end with a cold cup of tea because once I start writing I forget everything else exists. If there’s a slice of chocolate cake, I might be tempted out of my story for a little while.
Congratulations on winning The Good Housekeeping Novel Competition. How did you feel when you found out you’d won? Do you have any advice for writers entering writing competitions?
I still have “pinch me” moments about winning The Good Housekeeping Novel Competition. It was the day that my whole life changed. I’d been working on The Choice for six years and I was determined to get it published, but at times it felt like it was never going to happen.
I’d completely forgotten I’d entered the competition when I got a call from Joanne Finney, the books editor at Good Housekeeping. I didn’t dare to believe that she was ringing because I’d won, I hoped I was a runner-up.
When she told me the news, all I could say was “thank you” over and over. It was a dream come true.
I love writing competitions, I‘ve always found I had more success with them than with agent submissions. I think you can reach people you might not normally have contact with and if your story is a little different, like mine, then a writing competition is the place to shine.
My best tips are enter lots of competitions, big and small. Don’t get put off if you don’t place, it often comes down to the right judge at the right time.
Have you got another title lined up after The Choice? What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just finished the first draft of my next story and I’m currently deep in the editing process. Like The Choice, it still explores the ideas of food and power, but it’s a very different world. And there’s much more romance too!
Imagine a world where…
Everything you ate was monitored by the government.
Every step you took was counted.
Your children were weighed every day at school.
Neighbours reported on neighbours and no one was safe from judgement.
Sugar was illegal, and baking was a crime.
Imagine if that world was here… What would you do?
Toe the line or fight for your freedom…
About Claire Wade
Claire Wade is the winner of the Good Housekeeping Novel Competition 2018. She was bed bound for six years with severe ME, trapped in a body that wouldn’t do what she wanted; her only escape was through her imagination. She now writes about women who want to break free from the constraints of their lives, a subject she’s deeply familiar with.
Her favourite things are books, baking and the WI. She’s the founding president of a modern WI (Women’s Institute) and runs a baking club for other cake lovers. You’ll find her in her writing room, nicknamed Narnia because it’s also home to a wardrobe and is the place where she escapes to other worlds. She’s happiest if she’s got a slice of chocolate cake, a cup of tea and a good book.
Interview by Eleanor Harkstead
Eleanor Harkstead is from the south-east of England and now lives somewhere in the Midlands with a large ginger cat who resembles a Viking. Her m/m romantic fiction, co-written with Catherine Curzon, spans WW1 to the present day and is published by Pride. The Ghost Garden, the first installment in historical paranormal series The de Chastelaine Chronicles is out now, published by Totally Bound. You can hear Catherine and Eleanor chat about writing on their Gin & Gentlemen podcast. Find out more about Eleanor at curzonharkstead.co.uk, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.