Notes on Writing my Third Novel by Claire Fuller

Today marks the publication of Bitter Orange (Fig Tree), the third novel by our 2015 winner Claire Fuller. The novel has already received rave reviews from the Guardian and The Sunday Times and will no doubt go on to garner many more. To celebrate its release, Claire shared some insight into the writing process with us.

I know the exact date I started writing my third novel, Bitter Orange, because I keep a daily writing diary. It was 16th October 2015. I wrote 736 words that day about a woman called Elsa ripping up a bathroom carpet because it smelled. I’d been thinking about her for a while, ever since I wrote a 100-word short story about a man spying through a ceiling rose on a woman in the flat below him. I thought it would be more interesting to invert that trope and have a woman do the spying. Elsa became Frances, and day by day, word by word the story grew.

28th October 2016: 61,637 words. Difficult today. Wrote only rubbish, and deleted.

I discovered that writing a third novel was no easier than writing the first or second. It was still a battle with procrastination and the voice in my head asking whether I was good enough. Two main things got me through this and kept me writing. The first was knowing (partly due to my diaries) that books 1 and 2 were just as slow and difficult to do, but a novel still came out of the mess I felt I was creating. And the second was saying to the voice now and again, ‘Well, Our Endless Numbered Days won the Desmond Elliott Prize’. And for a while it would go quiet and let me get on with it.

20th December 2016: 73,303 words. Finished! Well, kind of. Sent to Jane [my agent]. Relieved and scared that it’s gone. Secretly, sometimes I like this book.

Occasionally there were good days, days when I felt I had achieved something or passed a milestone. I knew the manuscript still needed a lot of work, and that Jane would give me some honest feedback. I knew too that I write short, and rather than cutting back, my editing process was one of revising and adding.

28th April 2017: 75,989 words. Done it! Well, this draft. Now for the editing.

I incorporated the comments from Jane and her colleagues that I agreed with, and for five months worked on editing. This is the part of writing that I love. I’ve often said that I only write in order to edit. I consider the structure of the whole novel, and then drill down to chapters, paragraphs, sentences and individual words. Is every word the right word in the right place? It’s during this process that I put in the detail, develop the themes, the clues, the foreshadowing, and deepen the characters.

The diary ends on 12th September 2017, at 87,720 words (although there was more editing later). If I’d written anything alongside the word count it would have been a long happy sigh.

Claire won the Desmond Elliott Prize in 2015 for her debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days. The book went on to be huge success, garnering glowing reviews from titles including The Sunday Times, The Independent and Woman and Home. A prolific writer, Claire was already in the process of writing her second novel Swimming Lessons when she won the Prize. Swimming Lessons also received abundant praise from critics, was shortlisted for the Encore Award for second novels and published in various countries, including the USA, Canada, Germany, Poland, France, China, Israel and Korea.