Author Q&A: Claire Varley

Claire Varley

Claire Varley is a 29 year old Melbourne dweller, and the clever clogs has just had her first novel published.

This is her book:
The Bit In Between by Claire Varley, Macmillan Australia, RRP $29.99

This a story that explores identity, relationships, family, culture and the art of writing. It opens with a highly original and memorable beginning set in an airport lounge that may or may not have involved a full jar of sun-dried tomatoes and a lot of vomit. It is the meeting place of Oliver and Alison who fall in love right there and then (sort of).

With no other place to be, Alison follows Oliver to the Solomon Islands where he is planning to write his much anticipated second novel. But as Oliver's story begins to take shape, odd things start to happen and he senses there may be more hinging on his novel than the burden of expectation. As he gets deeper into the manuscript and Alison moves further away from him, Oliver finds himself clinging to a narrative that may not end with 'happily ever after'.

After reading The Bit in Between, I was lucky enough to quiz Claire on writing real, self discovery, inspiration and fate.

First of all – congrats on your first novel!
Thank you so much! 

Did you intentionally set out to write a lead female character that vomits, snorts and snores loudly but is still likeable and cute? (And why does she?)
As with all my characters, I aim to write people who are flawed and real. I didn’t intentionally aim for my characters to be likeable, just real. And real people vomit, snort and snore loudly, often in the same night if they have been imbibing.

Do you see family as an asset or a liability for the purposes of self-discovery?
Family are an absolute asset for self-discovery, you just have to be prepared for whatever it may be that you discover.

Was there any particular spark of inspiration that lead you to write this story?
I wanted to write something that explored fate and choice, and how much influence we have over where life takes us. I wrote it while living in the Solomon Islands working in community development, and wanted it set against the backdrop of a country so close to Australia that most of us know so little about.

Did you always know where the story would go/end or did it evolve as you wrote it like it did for Oliver?
The final scene was the first thing I wrote and then I had to work out how all the characters got to that point. It was lots of fun tinkering about working out how to pull the puzzle together.

Do you use specific incidents in your everyday life to your fiction?
Yes but not necessarily exactly as they occur. Sometimes it is more interesting (and fun) to alter the ending or repurpose the incident. I like to think of it more so as creating little Frankenstein monsters from all the things I have seen, heard, pondered or made up.

Do real life drama and experiences make for better writing?
Good writing is good writing, regardless of if it is based in real life experience. I would say that empathy and compassion enhance writing because they allow you to imagine your characters’ experiences, reactions and responses. It depends on the writer, but I write best from immersing myself in whatever I am writing about, so in my case I appreciate real life experience, but more often what I write is a pastiche of many many different experiences.  

Why did you include small asides to explain the backgrounds and circumstances of non-key characters throughout the book?
The book is both Oliver and Alison’s stories, and those of all the people they interact with on a fleeting or more meaningful level. I was really interested in the idea of fate and autonomy, and the fact that each of us is the product of the accumulated backstory that has led us to this exact point in time. The little asides are a way to explore these.

Why the Solomon Islands? (Was this just a brilliant tax write off?)
I was living in the Solomons when I started writing the manuscript, coordinating a project preventing violence against women and children in a remote province. It is an incredible country and I spent a lot of time listening to the stories of the both the locals and foreigners who found themselves there. In Australia, despite how heavily invested we are in the country in terms of aid and development and the logging and mining industries, we know so little about this country and I wanted to explore its history, cultures and beauty.

Who did you write the book for? Can you imagine who your readers are?
I know you’re not meant to say this, but I didn’t really write it with anyone in mind. I suspect most of my readers are related to me, but of those aren’t reading the book out a sense of familial obligation, I imagine they are lovely, open souls adventurous in their reading habits and appreciative of a well-crafted pun.

What’s your view on whether we all construct our own life’s narratives or are well mainly along for the ride and subject to fate’s whims or the plan of a greater power?
I suspect it is probably a mix of things. We’re at the helm of the ship but we can’t necessarily predict what the weather is going to do.

What is your drink of choice?
Water. I choose it above all else.

What is your dessert of choice?
The shared cheese platter for one.

Dream destination?
Driving first around and then through Australia, including sailing into the Tiwi Islands and Torres Strait Islands, and also hopping a ship to the Antarctic Territory.

What’s been the best little moment of your day today?
I have a head cold and managed to fit in a power nap between a radio interview and writing this. Subsequently feeling invincible and ready for my Wednesday night social netball game.

What or who do you read religiously?
Zadie Smith, David Sedaris and Annabel Crabb. I like to pretend that though we have never met, we are all actually very good friends.

What’s your current go-to music?
They Might Be Giants have been my go-to music since I was fourteen. I am a creature of habit.

How do you pronounce ‘project’?
Depends on if I’m saying project or project. You should pro-JECT your voice when facilitating the PRO-ject. I say both like a pro.

 You can find out more about Claire Varley here.

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