About The Author
Claire Fuller initially studied sculpture at Winchester School of Art, specialising in wood and stone carving. After co-founding a marketing agency, she began creative writing at the age of 40, earning a Masters from the University of Winchester.
Her first novel is Our Endless Numbered Days.
Peggy is eight in 1976. While mother, a former soloist, plays the piano, she plays at camping with her father. He is a Survivalist, hoarding provisions and making plans to survive the fall of civilisation that he knows must come.
One day, without warning, Peggy's father announces that the end is coming, that her mother is dead and that they must set out for the remote cabin deep in a forest on the continent that will be their refuge.
Nine years later, Peggy is back at home with her mother, missing half an ear, with a younger brother to become acquainted with.
Our Endless Numbered Days is a fairy-tale from the other side of the looking glass, of broken boundaries and broken trust. It's ideal for fans of Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk about Kevin, Emma Donoghue's Room and Ian McEwan's Enduring Love. It was the winner of the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction.
In our exclusive interview, Claire talks about her memories of the mid-70s power cuts, getting inside the mind of a traumatised child and the influence of David Vann, as well as her second-novel plans.
Questions & Answers
Peggy’s father is a Survivalist, someone who makes plans for the aftermath of the collapse of society or the end of the world. Survivalism was very much in vogue around 1976; why do you think this was?
It was a stronger movement in the US in 1976, but beginning to gain followers in the UK, mostly due, I think to the political and industrial turmoil of the early ‘70s. Economic instability was a reality: people queued for bread, petrol coupons were issued for car owners, and the lights went out. I vividly remember the enforced power-cuts (and being excited by them) due to the Three Day Week. And the government was cutting military budgets, making people worried about the UK’s involvement in NATO, and a possible escalation of the Cold War. Many thought that they wouldn’t be able to rely on the government or army in a crisis, and so started looking out for themselves.
Much of the novel focusses on just two characters, Peggy and her father. What were the challenges in writing a novel where much of the action involves just two characters?
I don’t plan my novels; I just have a vague idea of how I would like them to end, and so with this book, I did get to a point where I had Peggy and her father in the forest without knowing what I was going to do with them or how I would sustain a reader’s interest. One solution was to make Peggy live in her head a lot of the time, and the other was to use the structure of the novel to break up her life in the forest. For every two or three ‘forest’ chapters there is a ‘London’ chapter where Peggy is back in her mother’s house, this was also useful for maintaining tension and suspense, even with so few characters.
One of the book’s most impressive aspects is the way that there are subtle foreshadowings of Peggy as we meet her in again 1985, scenes of which recur throughout the main narrative. How did you go about developing her character from innocent child to the traumatised adolescent she becomes?
I did quite a bit of research on possible psychological coping strategies for a person living through something like Peggy’s traumatic childhood, and I also looked at the outcomes for children who have gone through something similar. But that makes my writing process sound very clinical; most of the time I simply tried to put myself in Peggy’s situation and imagine what it might be like for her. I thought about what things would affect her when she finally gets back home (this isn’t a spoiler, readers know this from the first page). And I believe often tiny incidents can be used to reflect the bigger trauma – so for instance, Peggy cries when a bucket is broken, she doesn’t understand why her mother has so many saucepans, and she is constantly turning the heating down. None of these things are that important in themselves, but hopefully together show Peggy’s state of mind.
Are there any writers you’d cite as an influence on your own style or how you approached telling this particular story?
I would say my biggest influence on this particular story has been David Vann (author of Legend of a Suicide, and most recently, Aquarium). I love how he writes about the more grisly aspects of nature in his books but in such a spare and beautiful way. There are also many individual books, rather than writers which influenced Our Endless Numbered Days. Books like Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, Deliverance by James Dickey, This Life in Your Hands by Melissa Coleman and many more.
The book won the 2015 Desmond Elliott Award. Has winning an award changed anything for you?
It made me very happy! But then, I was pretty happy beforehand. It was fantastic to have the book considered worthy of winning by judges whom I really respected, and to have it judged against some wonderful books. Of course it has brought me, and Our Endless Numbered Days some very useful recognition. But in terms of altering how I write, or what I do, perhaps it hasn’t changed much. I was determined to finish a first draft of my next book before my first was even published, to try and avoid some of the pressure of having one book out there, and being successful (or not) while writing the next.
Can you tell us anything about your next book?
It’s called Swimming Lessons and will be published by Fig Tree/Penguin in early 2017. It’s about a woman called Ingrid who writes letters to her husband about their lives together. But instead of giving them to him, she hides them amongst the thousands of books he collects. Then she disappears off a Dorset beach. It’s also about their adult daughter, Flora, who comes home after her father has had an accident. She’s still looking for answers about what happened to her mother, without realising that everything she needs to know is hidden in the books around her.
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