One of the most imaginative books of the year so far for me has been Who Framed Klaris Cliff?, by Nikki Sheehan. I was delighted to get the chance to interview her - particularly as I'm also lucky to be going to a brilliant OUP event tonight to celebrate the launch of WFKC and the equally wonderful Storm and Stone by Joss Stirling!
1. When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?
I’d love to imagine that Klaris will be read by a kid sprawling on their unmade bed, or lying in the long grass at the bottom of the garden, or sitting among the chaos of family life, totally lost in the story. Wouldn’t that be great?
2. I think you have one of the most varied backgrounds of any debut author I can remember seeing, with your career including subtitling for The Simpsons, studying psychology, retraining as a journalist, writing for parenting magazines and co-founding a property blog! Have you always wanted to write a novel?
Yes, I always thought I would be a fiction writer, but I was very mañana about it. The push I needed came when I had children and spent many many hours reading to them. I was either blown away by the books, or thought, meh, I could do this better. So I decided to give it a go.
3. The announcement of OUP buying the UK/Commonwealth rights to Who Framed Klaris Cliff was first made in October 2012, about 15 months ago. How nervous have you been waiting for publication?
The thing about publishing is that it’s so sloooow that you sort of get used to it, and I haven’t felt too nervous. Fortunately some nice reviews have been coming in for the last few months so I no longer think that the publishers have made a terrible mistake and they’re going to rip up the contract and ask for their money back! I know that some people won’t like the book, but there’s nothing I can do about that, and as long as I please some of the people some of the time it will be worth it.
4. The ending left me reeling - it's one of the few books for younger readers where I've been completely by surprised by what happened. What feedback did you get from beta readers/editors/agents? Were they as taken aback as I was?
I wrote it over a period of about a year and read chapters out every few weeks to my crit group, so I was able to see their faces and get instant feedback when I they heard the ending (imagine if they had gone, yeah, and?). Neither my agent nor my editor at OUP saw a synopsis, so I think they were like woah! In fact OUP thought it was a bit too woah, and I had to tone it down a little, but that was fine.
5. I really liked the relationship between Joseph and his father. Who is your favourite fictional parent?
Obviously number one Good Parent has to be Atticus Fitch from To Kill a Mockingbird. He is the uber fictional parent; physically absent enough to let the kids get into trouble, but emotionally present and interesting in his own right. But I also like the really neglectful, self-indulgent parents because they force the characters to be independent and resourceful. For the category of Bad Dad, I think Cassandra Mortmain’s father, James, in I Capture the Castle, is a great example. He’s a tortured writer who hasn’t produced anything for ten years, forcing his adoring family into the depths of genteel poverty where they have to sell off the furniture to pay for food. It’s great stuff.
Two great picks! I love Atticus, while I Capture The Castle is one of my very favourites of all-time.
6. Rocky and Joseph make each other do a couple of nasty forfeits during the course of the book (or at least try to!) Have you ever had to do an embarrassing forfeit, and can you share the details with us?
God, no. I hate anything like that. I’d run a mile. Well, maybe I’ve been involved in a few games of truth or dare, but that’s all I’m going to say.
I'm sure that's a very tactful answer to the question, but I can't help feeling there's something you're not telling us...
7. If you could ask any other author any question, what would you ask and who would you ask it to?
I’d ask Daphne du Maurier what the main character’s name is in Rebecca, and why she kept it secret - it’s maddening!
8. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what was the soundtrack to Klaris Cliff?
Unfortunately I can’t write with any music on, even classical, because it disturbs my rhythm. But I live in the town, so when I was writing Klaris I put headphones on and played countryside sound tracks from Youtube, which were mostly distant bird song, and the odd cow mooing or tractor putting along. However, the book does have a signature tune; the Mama Cass version of Dream a Little Dream of Me, which I used in the early chapters. It has the line, ‘Birds singing in the sycamore tree,’ which I had forgotten when I chose it, but it’s very relevant (you’ll have to read the book to find out why!)
Ooh, awesome song!
9. If you could host a literary dinner party for six people (authors or characters) who would you invite?
Ooh, what a good question. OK, I’d have three of each. For the authors I’d go for Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood and Andy Stanton. And for the characters, I’d have Miss Haversham, Willy Wonka (if he brought pudding), and the lovely Auggie from Wonder.
Glad you liked the question, it's one of my favourites to ask as it always gets fascinating responses! Willy Wonka bringing the pudding sounds like a great plan.
10. What's next for Nikki Sheehan?
Well, the next book is written, but I can’t say any more than it’s a bit strange, but as that seemed to work the last time I’m not worrying too much.
Sounds like a plan! Thanks so much for talking to me, Nikki - and see you tonight!