Features, Interviews, On Writing

Claire Fuller: ‘Where I Write’

Claire Fuller has been shortlisted for the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction for her novel Unsettled Ground. Here she brings us into her writing space for our ‘Why I Write’ series, sharing how it inspires her and impacts her process

Where do you usually write?

Now that my children have left home, I’ve converted one of their bedrooms into my office. I bought myself an old desk, mostly because of its stationary drawer which has little compartments for paperclips, drawing pins and rubbers. It feels like it might have been a teacher’s desk in a secondary school in Leicester in the 1970s. I think the teacher wore demin flares and a gypsy blouse and perched on the side of it when she talked to her students. The desk faces the window and outside I can see a brick and flint wall and a high bank with beech, holly and vines. In the summer I migrate downstairs where the light is better. 

What do you have on your desk?

Notebooks, a planner for what I’m doing each week, piles of books, sticky notes, bits of paper. And two ceramic coasters which I’m supposed to put my glass of water and my cup of coffee on, but because they’re usually covered with all the books and sticky notes and bits of paper, the cup and glass go on the desk. So now the top is covered with sad ring marks. 

Which is the most inspiring object in your workspace?

The shelves my husband built me with their special alcoves designed for my three rescue typewriters, and all the books on them that I want to read. Other people’s fiction is always an inspiration to me. 

What does your writing process, from gathering ideas to finished manuscript, look like? 

I don’t plan, I just start writing once I have a place in my mind and a person who might inhabit it. I let their story take me in any direction for about a year and a half. I allow myself to edit the previous day’s work, but my rule is that I must always write some new words too. I don’t like writing new words but I love editing, so I have to discipline myself. When I have a short first draft of maybe 70,000 words, I finally know what the story is about and how it ends. Then I spend about six months revising, adding in, taking out, layering, editing – going over and over every chapter, paragraph, and word, until when I open the manuscript at any page and read it, there might be only one word I want to change, or hopefully none. 

Note-on-wall

Have you ever had a particularly good piece of writing advice?

There’s one piece of advice, if you can call it that, which I have written out and stuck on my wall so I can see it while I write. I find it reassuring when I sometimes worry that I should be more of a planner. It’s by E.L. Doctorow: 

“Writing is like driving at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Discover the 2021 Women’s Prize shortlist here, and tell us your thoughts on Twitter or Instagram.

The Women's Prize Podcast


Tune into host Zawe Ashton and a host of inspiring guests on our weekly podcast full of book recommendations.