The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews with…. Clare Pooley

Awards

In my final interview in the series, I am chatting to the winner of the 2021 Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel Award with her novel, The Authenticity Project, … Clare Pooley.

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Clare, congratulations on your win in the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards 2021 with your novel The Authenticity Project and thank you very much for agreeing to appear on my blog during the entry period for the 2022 awards.

You seemed rather shell-shocked to hear your name read out as the winner of the award on the night. How did you feel in that moment?

Ha ha! I was totally shell-shocked! It had been such a strange year, with all the excitement building up to my publication date and then, just a couple of weeks before the big day, BANG – a global pandemic. With all the bookshops closed, I worried that my little story didn’t stand a chance. So, to have such a wonderful accolade from such a fabulous organization was a real thrill. 

The Authenticity Project is your debut published novel, but many writers spend years writing and working on dozens of discarded manuscripts before they finally have one accepted for publication. How long have you been writing and is The Authenticity Project the first novel you have written to completion?

I loved writing as a child, and dreamed of being a novelist, but then I went into the advertising business, spent decades working hard and playing harder, and forgot about my writing. 

Then, six years ago, my drinking habit got out of control and I knew I had to quit. I turned to writing as therapy – in an anonymous blog I called Mummy was a Secret Drinker. That blog turned into a memoir – The Sober Diaries. 

Once I’d started writing, I couldn’t stop, so I turned to fiction. The Authenticity Project was a story I’d had going round and round my head for years, so once I finally started putting it down on paper it flowed really easily, and I wrote the initial draft in under six months.

Aside from this award, this book has received so much love and admiration from everyone, including every one of my fellow bloggers I recall reading it. Did you anticipate the success this book would have before it was published and how has it made you feel? What pressure does that put on you for your next project? Do you have something already underway?

Thank you, I’m blushing! 

It’s always terrifying putting something you’ve created out into the world, so when people embrace your characters and love them as much as you do it’s an incredible feeling. I’m particularly thrilled with the messages I’ve had from people who’ve said that my story helped them through the dark days of the pandemic, restoring their faith in humanity. 

But yes, that does pile on huge pressure with book two! In fact, I wrote a whole second book which I threw in the bin because I didn’t think it was good enough! I then started all over again, and the new novel is out in the spring. I wish I could tell you the title, but we’re still arguing over that one!

Uplit has been a growing trend ever since Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and we have never needed it more than over the past eighteen difficult months, a fact reflected in the outpouring of love for your novel. Did you set out to write an uplifting story, or was it just the way it unfolded on the page? 

Because I started writing as therapy, I’m naturally drawn to stories that attempt to make sense of the world, that take issues and try to find a way through them, and that make connections and friendships between people. I like to feel better about the world when I’ve finished writing a novel, and I hope my readers feel the same. I think if I tried to write psychological thrillers, I’d end up feeling incredibly miserable!

Authors often describe their characters taking on lives of their own and changing the direction of the novel as it is written, how much control did you have over the characters in this book, or did they insist on going their own way once you released them from your imagination on to the page?

That’s such a good question! I started off with a vague idea about my characters and what they might do, but they totally morphed and developed as I wrote, and often changed the direction of the story completely! There’s a major twist near the end of the story which nobody I’ve spoken to has seen coming, and I’m sure that’s because it was a total surprise to me too! One of the greatest joys of writing fiction is the magic that happens when you set your characters free and see where they take you.

Your book has a very original premise, which is one of the things the reviewers seem to love about it and, as blogger and prolific reader, a refreshing and unique idea is certainly something I get excited about. What first sparked this particular storyline and how long did it take to develop into the finished novel?

The inspiration for the story really came from my own experience. My life six years ago looked perfect from the outside, but the truth was very different, as I grappled (like Hazard in my novel) with a terrible alcohol addiction. I told the truth about my life in a blog, and that act of authenticity changed my life and the lives of thousands of people who read it. Which got me thinking: what would happen if other people shared the truth about their lives with strangers? I turned that thought around in my head for a couple of years before I dared to start putting it down on a page…

I noticed one reviewer speculate that the book would make a great Richard Curtis film. Do you agree and do you have any thoughts on who you would like to be cast in such an adaptation? Has there been any interest in developing the book for the screen?

I have actually sold the film and TV rights, so watch this space! I would LOVE Bill Nighy to play Julian, and Bradley Cooper to play Hazard. But I haven’t yet got further than that. I love it when readers start casting the film version, which I often see on social media!

Thank you so much for answering my nosey questions so brilliantly, and good luck with the next book.

The entry period for the Romantic Novel Awards 2022 is open now and will close on 30 September. Further details on entry can be found on the romantic Novelists’ Association’s website.

Clare’s award-winning novel, The Authenticity Project, is available in all formats here and I will be reviewing it on the blog soon.

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Six strangers with one thing in common: their lives aren’t always what they make them out to be.

What would happen if they told the truth instead?

Julian Jessop is tired of hiding the deep loneliness he feels. So he begins The Authenticity Project – a small green notebook containing the truth about his life.

Leaving the notebook on a table in his friendly neighbourhood café, Julian never expects Monica, the owner, to track him down after finding it. Or that she’ll be inspired to write down her own story.

Little do they realize that such small acts of honesty hold the power to impact all those who discover the notebook and change their lives completely.
 
About the Author
 
Clare Pooley spent twenty years in the heady world of advertising, working hard and playing even harder. When she realised that her alcohol habit was out of control, she quit drinking and started a blog called Mummy was a Secret Drinker. The blog went viral and became a memoir – The Sober Diaries.
Clare then turned to fiction, and her first novel – The Authenticity Project – was published in thirty languages, became an international bestseller and was the winner of the RONA debut novel award. Clare’s second novel is out in Spring 2022.
 
Connect with Clare:
 
 
 
Instagram: @clare_pooley
 
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