Wednesday, September 30, 2015

My Guest: Claire Smith

My Guest this week tackles an interesting, and very personal subject; one from which many newer writers may draw solace and guidance. Ladies and Gentlemen...

Claire Smith

Fiction – The Secret is in the Name

When starting out as a writer, or ‘aspiring writer’ as some people insist we are called until we crack the bestseller lists, we are bombarded by advice from all quarters. Most, no doubt, given with the best of intentions but much of it is also useless and in some cases off-putting. As intelligent as we may be it is sometimes hard to sieve out the good guidance from the downright impractical.

Anybody who has ever mentioned a desire to write has no doubt heard the widely distributed instruction of “Write about what you know”. But in all honesty how helpful, or indeed accurate, is this directive?

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Surely this would severely limit our creativity? Does our imagination and ingenuity not have a role to play? If we can only write, and hope to be considered worthy, about things we have actually experienced then, even those with the most interesting of lives will only have enough potential material for perhaps one or two novels. Those with mundane and ordinary lives cannot even hope to be fiction writers if this adage is to be considered even vaguely true and should, therefore, hang up their dreams of becoming a published author.

The fantasy and Sci-Fi writers among us would be in dire straits and restricted merely to those who can claim to have been abducted by aliens. That’s not to mention historical fiction for which we would need a time machine and paranormal fiction for which who knows what we would need. The list of problems this ‘good advice’ creates is endless.

All in all this advice cannot seriously be considered advice at all, merely a phrase trotted out by people who actually have not given the problem any thought at all and simply, in my opinion, serves to put would be writers off before they even start. I sincerely hope there are many more people like me out there who looked at this particular piece of helpfulness and viewed it with the contempt and mistrust it deserves.

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For me surely the advice should be “Use what you know to its best advantage and then research the rest with fervent dedication to detail.”

That’s the way I saw it when I wrote my first novel ‘NO MORE BUTTERFLIES’. Some of the more harrowing parts and the darkest of the emotions were certainly drawn from my own experience as a child and teenager but even they were embellished to fit the plot I had created. Having been in some of the situations I was writing about certainly helped me with communicating the emotion these scenes generate, and, writing these scenes definitely helped me to understand my own reactions to events much better, an advantage I had not really considered when I started adding my own traumas to the plotline. That said, anyone with access to the internet and a basic understanding of human psychology could find more than sufficient information to create these scenes without having been there. 

When it came to my second novel, ‘A STORM RISING’, again, I used the lasting effects traumas have had on my psychological health as a basis for my heroine’s character, and some of the bullying, both domestic and professional, was from experience. But these only form part of the equation, for the rest I trawled the internet researching every last detail.

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My third novel, second in the Storm series, ‘CROSSED STEELE’, uses even less personal experience as I've pretty much used them up in the first two. Does this make it a lesser creation, I don’t think so. Although my next novel, as yet unfinished, will contain certain aspects of the after effects of PTSD and how my heroine learns to live with such problems, which I can glean from my own life, the rest of the novel will be entirely from research, and so the series will hopefully go on. I would hate to think I could not write any more either in this series or stand-alone novels because I have run out of horrible experiences to write about.

At the end of the day we are fiction writers – the secret is in the name. We make stuff up. That’s the whole point and to make it plausible it does not have to have happened to the author, but it has to have been thoroughly researched by said author. Anyone writing without doing their research is as obvious as the sun in the sky and will, without exception, create a novel which is difficult to read and even harder to love.

Plausibility should be the buzz word we all strive to achieve, not honesty, not ‘based on a true story’ fiction, less real life and more true to life is, and should always be, our aim.

So my advice, for what it’s worth, to all writers or anyone considering becoming a writer is simply this - Write about anything which interests you enough to put pen to paper and research anything and everything you don’t already know.

A great novel comes from hard work, dedication and an ability to string a sentence or two together correctly, not from the depth of a person’s lifetime experience.

Never confuse the two.


Claire Smith lives in Sale, South Manchester, England with a husband, two teenaged boys and a year old springer spaniel/border collie cross called Mac.

Since childhood she loved to read and soon graduated from ‘The Famous Five’, through ‘Swallows and Amazons’ to Jacqueline Suzanne and Jackie Collins in her teens.  In her twenties she discovered such writers as Tom Clancy, Frederick Forsyth, Clive Cussler, Wilbur Smith and Robert Ludlum to name but a few.  However, it was not one of these greats who inspired Claire to write.  It was a series of dreadful books by several someones she can't remember which prompted her to make real the notion "I could do better than this..."

So 'NO MORE BUTTERFLIES' began.  It took several years to write, with children, home life, husband and job all getting in the way at some point or other but eventually it was finished.

Published for the first time on Kindle in May 2013 the reviews so far have been very encouraging.  So much so in fact that Claire has written her second and third books.  'A STORM RISING', the first in the Abigail Storm Series, and 'CROSSED STEELE', the second in the same series, are also available on Kindle and paperback.  The next in this series is currently WIP.

When Claire isn't pounding on the keyboard, producing heart-thumping thrillers, she can be found here:

Thank you, Claire, for your magnificent insights and helpful advice from which many writers, both new and old, will benefit. Looking forward to your next book.

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