Inspiring Reigatian: Claire S Lewis
With her third psychological suspense novel about to be published, Claire S Lewis (parent of former students) shares her advice for becoming an author.
It must have been a big step to leave your corporate job to follow your dreams. What made you take the leap?
To be honest, it was more of a journey than a leap! My writing journey from aspiring writer to published author spanned several years, starting in 2016 when I took the first step and signed up to a beginners’ online creative writing course run by the Faber Academy. I followed this with a Writing Your Novel course which led eventually to the publication of my first novel, She’s Mine, in 2019, followed by No Smoke Without Fire, in the lockdown summer of 2020, and finally my third novel, The Infinity Pool, which will be coming out in a few weeks’ time (ebook version on 14 April, and in paperback on 9 June 2022).
My writing journey has been long and winding and I guess goes back all the way to my childhood. It started with a love of reading. With a French mother, I grew up in a bi-lingual family of writers – editors, journalists, and translators – in a home where the bookshelves were lined with French, British and American novels. I fell in love with the modern classics, especially writers such as Evelyn Waugh (Brideshead Revisited), E M Forster (A Room with a View), J D Salinger (The Catcher in the Rye), F Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby) and Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr Ripley). I was struck by the magic of the printed word that could bring to life gorgeous places, intriguing plots, and enigmatic and morally ambiguous characters.
Writing a novel was something I thought I’d like to do one day but as a teenager my real dream was to become a journalist. I wanted to be a foreign correspondent. (Still working on that one!). At university, I became involved in student journalism, writing film and drama reviews for the arts pages of the student newspaper as well as covering local news stories.
My career as an Aviation Lawyer, first at a London law firm and later in the legal department at Virgin Atlantic Airways, involved lots of business and legal writing alongside all the commercial deals and negotiations. It was a challenging and fascinating job which gave me the chance to travel the world. After a career break from the law, I decided it was time to try my hand at creative writing, if only to put my rather paranoid imagination to some good use. That’s when I turned to writing psychological suspense novels…And this journey’s only just begun…
What would you say is your greatest achievement to date?
In terms of my writing, I suppose this would be that I was lucky enough to be offered a book deal by the publisher Head of Zeus when I finished the manuscript of my first novel. By this time, I’d almost given up on getting a publisher for my draft novel and had resolved to self-publish She’s Mine. Then out of the blue, while sunbathing on a Mediterranean beach, I got a call from my soon-to-be editor, Hannah, to say she’d not only like to publish my novel but also sign me up for a three-book deal.
What three tips would you give to someone wanting to become a published author?
If I had to sum up my advice to new writers from what I’ve learned along the way in three short tips, it would be these:
Believe in yourself.
Just get started.
Never give up.
To add a few more words… Faced with a blank screen and the prospect of writing 80,000 or so words, it’s easy to feel daunted and full of self-doubt, but once you start to get your ideas down in black and white, things get easier. Remember, writing doesn’t have to be a solitary activity – joining a writing group, peer reviewing each other’s work and connecting with other writers on social media are great ways of developing your writing and keeping motivated. Now, more than ever, the world needs stories – in isolation and in chaos – stories to escape with, and to entertain, and to uplift and to bring us together though the darkness and the light. Oh, and one last thing, write the book that only you could write!
What is the greatest challenge you have had to overcome thus far?
Writing the book is the easy part. Getting it published it is the hard part. And for most new authors, the biggest hurdle is what comes in between – finding an agent. Getting rejections from agents and publishers is part of the course, and I got more than I can recall along the way. Sometimes they don’t even bother to reply – and it can feel like sending off your story into a black hole. Make sure not to take it personally (agents get so many submissions that half of them don’t even get looked at) and as I said, never give up! There are hundreds of agents and publishers out there and one day, one of them will say ‘yes’.
If you were castaway on a desert island, which luxury item would you want with you and why?
My luxury item would be a solar-powered radio. I listen to the news, current affairs and arts and culture broadcasts on Radio 4 which forms part of the soundtrack to my daily life. It would be like having a constant companion and connection to the outside world to have a radio with me. In these troubled times, access to a radio with truthful and accurate news reporting you can trust, is more important than ever for so many people.
If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor?
I don’t have one particular mentor in mind, but in recent days, I’ve been lost in admiration and respect for the selfless and heroic courage of Ukrainian women in their struggle to protect their children and their country. I’m overwhelmed by the passionate words of Ukrainian MP Kira Rudik who has taken up arms to resist the invasion of her country and by the fearless challenge made by Ukrainian activist Daria Kaleniuk, who confronted Boris Johnson at the Warsaw press conference, and by the fortitude of Ukrainian BBC journalist Olga Malchevska when faced with images of her own family’s bombed-out flat in Kyiv while broadcasting live on air. The compassion of Polish women on the Ukrainian border providing support and comfort to mothers and children fleeing from the attacks is so very moving. And the commitment of UK journalists, including the BBC’s Lyse Doucet and Sky’s Deborah Haynes reporting from Kyiv is beyond impressive.
One and all, these women are the truly inspirational women of our times.
What would you most like to tell yourself at age 13?
Enjoy the freedom of being young…What’s the hurry?
In the words of Oscar Wilde, “With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?”
Follow Claire on Twitter here.