For Books’ Sake Talks To: Claire King

27th Feb 2013


Claire King’s debut novel The Night Rainbow was published by Bloomsbury last month and traces the story of Pea, a five-year-old child coping with the psychological absence of her grief-stricken mother.

This isn’t the first time King’s writing has received recognition, her short fiction has been acknowledged by BBC Radio 4, New Scientist magazine, The Bristol Short Story Prize, The Sean O’Faolain Short Story Competition and Metazen.

King explains that the early recognition has been important to her. “I think a few decent writing credits act as a flag to agents and to publishers,” she says. “It’s also useful motivation when you face the mountain of a novel to have had encouragement on other pistes.”

We live in a critical culture where blame is apportioned freely, I wanted to explore the idea that in human relationships there isn’t always someone to blame.King notes a combination of factors that inspired The Night Rainbow, including, “the emerging voices of my young daughters and the fresh way they looked at the world, and the idea that terrible things can happen without it being anyone’s fault.”

She currently resides in Southern France and the novel’s setting is beautifully portrayed with minute detail. She says “the overwhelming ‘character’ of the French countryside in summer” was also a huge inspiration.

The novel is written entirely from the point of view of a five-year-old. When asked how she maintained a level of realism and consistency, King says that while constructing and maintaining any fictional voice is a challenge, Pea’s voice had immediate strength.

“The hardest part was getting started, but Pea’s voice soon emerged strongly, and then I had to go back and rewrite for consistency,” she explains. “My editor helped too. When I was too close to the novel she provided a fresh pair of eyes and asked ‘Would Pea really say that?’

With a child’s voice a writer faces perhaps more criticism that it’s not ‘realistic’. But we wouldn’t want to read a novel narrated by a ‘realistic’ five year old. So the challenge is to write in a way that allows readers to suspend disbelief.”

Rather than being plot-driven, the narrative is focused on the psychological development of Pea, Pea’s mother and Claude, the mysterious local man who loves the French countryside as much as Pea. King says that because the novel was character-driven, it ended up being relatively short.

“I was worried that agents and publishers would reject it for being too short, but that was naïve. If you have confidence in the story, just let it be the length it needs to be, then the tension and drive will be right. Any extra would either have made the narrative woolly, or else I would have had to force in more ‘action’ which would have diluted the main thread.”

One of the most striking aspects of The Night Rainbow is the exploration of the pressures of motherhood. Pea’s mother, Maman, is a complex character with a heart-rending past and her neglect of her child forms the backdrop of the story. What did King want her readers to take from this portrayal?

“What I really wanted was to create a character with whom the reader would empathise, despite her weaknesses and her neglect of Pea,” she replies. “Although Maman’s love and attention is what Pea desperately desires, at the same time her grief and fear act antagonistically, frustrating Pea’s efforts.

But you can see that Maman is struggling. Every now and then her good intentions surface, but the smallest thing can pull her back into herself. And, like many single parents, she has no one to look after her either. We live in a critical culture where blame is apportioned freely, I wanted to explore the idea that in human relationships there isn’t always someone to blame.”

King does not seem intimidated at all by the role of a début novelist, explaining that challenges she’s faced on the road to publication have all been manageable.

“I’ve had my share of rejections and baited breath moments, but really the publication of The Night Rainbow has been relatively smooth sailing. The team at Bloomsbury have been brilliant and I’ve had so much support from other writers and book bloggers. I feel very grateful,” she adds.

King graduated from Cambridge and describes herself as having “climbed various greasy corporate poles”. Afraid that her love of writing wouldn’t make her a living, she developed some business skills. Despite this, she says that everything in her career has involved telling a story.

“It seems I conspired to bring who I am into what I do,” she says. “Writing fiction is just a more pure incarnation of that. I don’t know if it’s going to be a career yet but I’m crossing my fingers and writing more books.”

So what’s next for her? “It’s an existential love story, set on the canal-du-midi. It tackles some difficult issues but at the same time it looks for the best in the human spirit. It’s nearly finished.”

Hardcover (and ebook editions) of The Night Rainbow can be purchased from Foyles, Amazon UK and all good bookshops. The paperback will be released in August.

 Kate Kerrow