If you’re looking for a good read this summer, then look no further than Claire King’s new novel, Everything Love Is. Not only is it a wonderfully evocative book, but this Saturday Claire King herself will be appearing at our very own Stroud Bookshop to sign copies of her enchanting second novel.
I caught up with Claire to ask her a few poignant questions…
So, Claire, what’s the latest book about?
Ultimately it’s a story about happiness – what we think it is and the choices we make to try and find it. Baptiste, one of the central characters, lives on a houseboat on the Canal de Midi outside Toulouse, and spends his life helping other people find happiness. He narrates much of the book, which begins with his birth on a train during the spring of May 1968, a time of revolution in France. He is orphaned at birth, and one of the things that guides him growing up and into adulthood is a sense of unfinished business around his birth mother, who is never identified. The story then switches to modern day, and his growing obsession with an enigmatic new client, Amandine Rousseau, who, uniquely, he appears to be unable to quite decipher. Meanwhile, we have a second narrator, whose identity is left for the reader to work out. This means that the first few chapters will necessarily be somewhat puzzling, until you have figured out what is going on and why. This is a very grown up love story, wrapped up in a mystery…
Why did you write it?
The themes I wanted to explore in this novel are all very contemporary: the search for happiness, the quest for love and the way many people believe that these two things are inextricably linked. After all, that’s what we’re told in fairy tales, right? The third thread I followed is the way our personal histories – or how we remember them - shape us. Why happiness? These days, particularly in the western world, it seems like a widespread preoccupation, and we are bombarded by opinions about how to achieve it– very often from interested parties like consumer companies and the media. We end up caught up in what they are selling us, satisfying their agendas rather than learning about ourselves and what we really need.
So where should we be looking? There are two conflicting ideas about happiness: the first that suggests it’s a personal journey, that we can only find happiness within ourselves. The second accepts that our happiness is continually influenced by our past, our present situation, and our expectations of the future. It is from that second view that our expectations come of other people – our parents, our partners, our children - to ‘make us happy’. I wanted to explore that.
Everything Love Is Is is an undeniably poignant book, but I’m a firm believer in the tenacity of the human spirit, and so as with The Night Rainbow, my first novel, the dark elements of this story have to exist in order for the light, hopeful ones to shine through.
How does Stroud influence you? How does it differ to where you've lived before?
I spent the last 14 years living in southern France, and of all the places to move back to in the UK, I think Stroud has to be the most perfect fit. The differences with France are really the things that brought us here, to give us the change we needed at this time in our lives: we needed to move out of the deepest, rural backwaters to somewhere that could offer us both the countryside we all need but also a thriving town with lively schools and a enriching culture, for all our sakes.
We’ve all found Stroud to be the most wonderfully welcoming place. Our neighbours are all lovely, we adore the Saturday farmers’ market (we were regular market goers in France too) for the amazing local produce and the buzz it has, and the area is gorgeous. There’s so much to do right on our doorstep and a real sense of community.
Whereas before we were in a hamlet in the foothills of the mountains, we now live on the edge of the town now, very close to the canal. The specific location was never intentional, but it is a lovely co-incidence given the timing. The canal, the towpath and the local wildlife, - particularly the kingfisher - all feature heavily in Everything Love Is. Now it’s as though I conjured them up in real life. I saw a Kingfisher near Ebley Mill here in my first week!
I’m working on my third book at the moment and it’s very interesting to see how living in Stroud will influence my writing. Being in contact with a more diverse group of people, and also having other authors to talk to, is a definite boon. And whenever you move to a new location I think you wear ‘fresh eyes’ – that is, you notice the tiny details more. I have a view of Selsley Common from my writing garret window, so I still get the green open space I crave too, to let the inspiration flow.
What does the local bookstore means to you?
I am SO HAPPY to have a local bookshop after so long without. Although I do speak French I don’t read in French for pleasure, so when I was in France it was either order online or shop during rare visits to the UK. Now I can browse, pick books up, have a chat about books with the people in the store, get some word of mouth recommendations…it’s lovely. Getting a new book was always a treat to me as a child and being able to pick it yourself even better. My daughters are both mad on books too, so we usually visit Stroud Bookshop as a family, often on a Saturday during the farmers’ market. In fact the first person I really knew in Stroud was Anna, who works there!
Claire will be at Stroud Bookshop, 23 High Street from 11am on Saturday 23rd July, visit the facebook event page here for further info. Her second novel, Everything Love Is is published by Bloomsbury and is available to pre-order now.