It’s blog tour day for the brilliant debut novel, Before You Go by Clare Swatman.
When Zoe’s husband Ed dies, her world caves in. But what if Zoe can get Ed back?
You find your soulmate . . .
Some people stare love in the face for years before they find it. Zoe and Ed fumbled their way into adulthood, both on different paths – but always in the same direction. Years later, having navigated dead-end jobs and chaotic house shares, romance finally blossoms. Their future together looks set . . .
Then the unthinkable happens.
One morning, on his way to work, Ed is knocked off his bike and dies. Now Zoe must find a way to survive. But she’s not ready to let go of the memories. How can she forget all of the happy times, their first kiss, everything they’d built together? Zoe decides she has to tell Ed all the things she never said.
Now it’s too late. Or is it?
I’ve reviewed Before You Go below but first, I had a chat with Clare about her novel and her writing process. Hi Clare, thank you so much for joining me today. Your new book is called Before You Go. Could you tell me a little about it and what inspired it?
Thank you for having me. Before You Go is the story of Zoe and Ed. When Ed dies Zoe is left grieving and wishing she could go back and say all the things she didn’t say to him before he died. Then one day, after hitting her head, she wakes up as her 18 year old self, and realises that, for whatever reason, she’s back in the very first day she met Ed, and that she’s going to get the chance to see him again. Slowly, she realises she might even have been given the chance to change the past – and her future. It’s a story about enduring love, and regrets, and second chances.
Most of my ideas are inspired by people’s real stories. I was a true life magazine journalist for years and found that people’s real stories were actually a lot more interesting than anything you could make up! The spark for this came from a story I read about a woman who had an accident and when she woke up she thought she was 17 and didn’t know who her husband and kids were. Although this isn’t what Before You go is about, it got me thinking about what it would be like to wake up as a 17 year old again – and that sparked the idea for the book.
Which writers inspire you?
Margaret Atwood has always been one of my favourite writers. I love the way she writes really simply but conveys so much. I also adore Maggie O’Farrell. For me her stories just flow beautifully and her characters zing from the page. Her writing makes me want to be better. Last year I also really enjoyed the quirkiness of The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon so I hope she becomes one of my favourite authors, and I love Kate Atkinson too; although her books require a bit of concentration, they’re worth it!
If you could only own three books, which three would you pick and why?
Ooh tough one! I’d need a classic and I’ve always loved Pride and Prejudice. One of my all-time favourite books is the Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Nifenegger and I could read it over and over again, so I’d have that. And of course I’d have to have a Maggie O’Farrell book; one of my favourites is The Hand That First held Mine as I LOVED the post-war London scenes, and the way she pulled the two timelines together. Brilliant book.
How much preparation do you do prior to writing a novel and do you edit as you go?
I plan the plot briefly, and then I sit down and work out the structure and what I want to happen chapter by chapter. Part of this is working out the characters as well because you need the plot to sit right with the characters’ behaviour. I then write a chapter-by-chapter outline onto post-it notes which I stick up on my wall in front of the computer. I much prefer to plan and know where each chapter is going before I start as I find it really hard to write into the ether, but I know this doesn’t work well for everyone.
I don’t tend to edit much as I go along. I prefer to get the story down on the page and then go back and edit afterwards. It’s much easier to play around with something that’s already there than to get it down in the first place!
How is your writing day structured?
Not very well! After dropping the kids at school I’ll get emails and facebook and twitter and news pages and anything else that distracts me out of the way, and then I’ll start working. If I’m writing a first draft or heavily editing then I’ll re-read a few of the pages I wrote the day before, and then carry on from there. If I’m planning or researching, I’ll just crack on with that. The day usually involves a few trips to the kitchen for snacks, some gazing out of the window and the occasional walk through the woods to clear my head. Then the day ends at 3 when I pick the kids up.
What is the best and hardest part of being a writer?
The best bit is the actual writing of the story and seeing the story you’ve had in your head taking shape on the page. I love seeing the characters develop as I go along as well. I also get a huge buzz when someone totally gets your story and loves it.
The hardest part is just learning to get on with it as life offers far too many distractions. I’m the world’s worst procrastinator, but once I do finally start something, I’m good at just cracking on with it.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Not really. I just need to make sure I have snacks, warm slippers, a glass of water and a diet coke, and all my pens, papers and post-its to hand so I don’t have an excuse to leave the room again!
Do you believe in writers block? Any advice to combat it?
No actually I don’t. Don’t get me wrong, there are days when I sit down and stare at the computer and am not really sure what I want to say. But those days I just force myself to write something and move the story along and then on the days when it’s flowing well, I can go back and make changes.
What fictional character would you like to meet?
Mr Darcy. Especially if he looked like Colin Firth in that white shirt. I’d actually really like to meet Cormoran Strike from the Robert Galbraith books too as I think he’s a fascinating character, although I suspect he’d get on my nerves pretty quickly with all that moodiness.
What was your route to publication like?
Pretty quick once it all got going, although it took me a long time to actually get round to sending my novel out to agents. But once I did, I got my agent in August 2015, the brilliant Judith Murray at Greene and Heaton, and after some edits, she sent the book out to publishers in October. Two publishers were interested and I went with Pan Macmillan. The ball started to roll then and I because I had a two-book deal I got on with writing the second book which helped the time pass quickly. And now it’s finally out and it feels like a dream come true.
What is your advice to someone who would like to write a book and doesn’t know where to start?
Think about what you really love to read, and then think about what you realistically could write. I love a thriller but I’m fairly sure I’d struggle to write one. Human interest stories are what I know. Then read magazines, papers, websites, and get inspiration. It doesn’t mean you have to copy a real story, but a story you read might just spark an idea in your head. And then, sit down and plan it out and, most importantly, set time aside to write and stick to it. Don’t worry about writing every day if that’s not realistic, just work out when YOU can write – late at night, early morning, one day a week, whatever – and ring fence it for that and nothing else. Otherwise, the words will never get from your head onto the page.
What I thought of Before You Go…
Zoe and Ed met at University and have been together for years. When Ed dies, Zoe has to try and navigate her life without him. She wishes she could talk to him; see him one more time.
Then she gets that chance. She gets to see Ed again. She realises that she has the chance to change the past. If she can change the past, maybe she can alter the future and she wouldn’t loose Ed.
Everything about this book immediately drew me in from the cover to the synopsis. I did wonder if I was going to find it hard to read but Zoe”s story is so heartfelt it was hard not to want the best for her. I felt such a kinship with this character. This book is relatable to anyone who has lost someone.
This story had me feeling such a range of emotions. Everyone would like the chance to talk to someone they’ve lost – to have more time. This is one of the main messages of the novel in my opinion. It’s important not take the time you have with the people you love for granted and that you never know how much time you have with them.
I had such an anticipation throughout this book. I wanted it to work out. I wanted Zoe and Ed to be OK. I could certainly see it as a great movie.
This book was wonderful. I can’t say enough lovely things about it. I suffered such a book hangover once it was over. I didn’t cry though. I just had something in my eye.
A fantastic debut that had me pulled in from the beginning. I can’t wait for book two.
Clare Swatman has been a writer and journalist for more years than she cares to remember. In that time she has written for many women’s magazines including Take a Break, Bella and Best, and also edits a local magazine in her home town of Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire where she lives with her husband and two boys.
Her debut novel, BEFORE YOU GO, is being published by Pan Macmillan, and is due for release in the UK in February 2017.
Follow Clare on Twitter: https://twitter.com/clareswatman