I'm excited to be a part of this blog tour, not just because I love the book, but because it's a journey of how The Year of the Rat came to be made. From writing to agents to covers, this blog tour will tell you everything you need to know about Clare Furniss and her book. Make sure you check out the full schedule below to find out where you can read more throughout the week.
Big thanks to Clare for answering my questions, and I hope you enjoy following this tour. Before we start, here's what The Year of the Rat is about:
I always thought you'd know, somehow, if something terrible was going to happen. I thought you'd sense it, like when the air goes damp and heavy before a storm and you know you'd better hide yourself away somewhere safe until it all blows over. But it turns out it's not like that at all. There's no scary music playing in the background like in films. No warning signs. Not even a lonely magpie. One for sorrow, Mum used to say. Quick, look for another.
The world can tip at any moment… a fact that fifteen-year-old Pearl is all too aware of when her mum dies after giving birth to her baby sister. Told across the year following her mother's death, Pearl's story is full of bittersweet humour and heartbreaking honesty about how you deal with grief that cuts you to the bone, as she tries not only to come to terms with losing her mum, but also the fact that her sister - The Rat - is a constant reminder of why her mum is no longer around…
Wondrous Reads: Hi Clare! Thanks for answering my questions. How did you come to write The Year of the Rat? What was the inspiration behind it?
Clare Furniss: I started writing the story on a creative writing course run by the Arvon Foundation. I hadn’t done any creative writing for years before I went on the course, and I was so terrified that I put off writing anything until the last possible moment when I had to hand something in. I’d had this vague idea that had been knocking about in my head since the previous summer when I’d had to have an operation. I had two young children at that time, and I baked a cake for them the evening before I went into hospital. The thought popped into my head of what would happen to the cake if I died during the operation (I’m a catastrophist) and this had obviously stuck in my mind. In a panic, I wrote the scene which is still in the final book about Pearl’s mum baking the cake, and Pearl and her Dad coming back from the hospital after she dies and finding it there. I found that as soon as I’d written that one scene it sparked so many other ideas - a lot of the basic idea for the story just fell into place.
WR: What was your writing process like? Did you listen to music, or did you have to work in silence?
CF: I do listen to music, I find it very helpful for getting me into the right frame of mind. Sometimes before I start writing I’ll listen to a song that I know will get me into the right zone for what I’m about to write - it has to be something that is at exactly the right emotional pitch for what I’m writing. The music I listen to while I’m actually writing can’t be too intrusive. In fact I often listen to classical music as I write so that there aren’t lyrics to distract me - again, for me, the mood and tone of the music is the most important thing.
I don't write in a linear way. There were certain scenes that were very clear in my head (or that even just had a sentence of dialogue or an image in them that I knew had to be in the book) and I wrote them first. I found this helped me get to know and understand the characters and their relationships, and suggested other plot developments and scenes. This can be a bit confusing, and it takes a lot of work to pull everything together at the end, but I felt better when I discovered that both Sally Nicholls and Hilary Mantel also write like this!
Clare busy working!
WR: How long did it initially take you to write the novel? Are you someone who plans meticulously, or do you just write?
CF: The truth is I don’t really know how long it took because it was a fairly fragmented process. I first had the idea for the story six years ago but I was expecting my third child at that point and only got a few scenes written before I was dealing with a newborn, a toddler and a four year old. My hands were pretty full and writing had to take a back seat. Eventually I started the MA Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. By this point I wasn’t even sure whether or not to persevere with The Year of The Rat, but eventually my lovely tutor Julia Green persuaded me to write a few scenes for workshops, and eventually I fell back in love with the story. I still didn’t have much time for writing but in January last year I decided it was now or never. I’d written quite a few individual scenes and knew the shape of the story but there was still a huge amount to do. I immersed myself in it for six weeks, getting up before the children and going to bed in the small hours, pulling it all together, filling in the gaps, stripping out what I didn’t need. It was very intensive and exhausting but by the end of it I had something that resembled a book.
I do plan a bit but it’s more that I know where I’m going, rather than how I’m going to get there. I have ‘stepping stone’ scenes that I know will be in the book but there are also lots of surprises along the way. One example in The Year of The Rat was that I didn’t know Verity was going to appear, she was just there behind a door when it opened!
WR: When did you first know that this book was something you wanted to publish, and how did you go about finding an agent?
CF: I hoped it would be published right from the start, though of course I had no idea whether this hope would ever come to anything! I was determined to do it properly and get it as good as I could before I sent it to anyone. I’d heard Catherine Clarke (now my agent) speak at an event and been incredibly impressed. I knew she represented a lot of authors I really admire so she was top of my list of agents to approach. I had a chat with her at the event - she was interested in the idea of The Year of The Rat but I’d only written a few scenes at that point. She asked me to send it when it was finished and (a long time later!) I did. Luckily she liked it!
WR: Do you remember the day you got the news that an agent had decided to represent your book? How did it make you feel?
CF: I remember it very well. Catherine and I met in a cafe in Bath and she offered to represent me. I was completely elated - I remember walking up to collect my children from school after the meeting feeling dazed. I just couldn’t stop smiling.
WR: Do you have any tips or tricks for aspiring authors? What's the best advice you could give?
The best advice I can give is to write a story you really love - don’t try to write something just because you think will be popular; if you’re not genuinely excited about your story it will show. If you get stuck, don’t panic - all writers get stuck. And don’t worry about getting it right first time - most authors probably spend as much time editing as writing, so don’t be afraid of getting it wrong. Remind yourself that the first draft of your favourite book will have looked very different from the final version!