Cassandra Clark

How did you become a writer?

Ever since I realised that the squiggles on a page told a story I've written stories myself. I used to write on a little writing pad with Magnum Opus on the front. I was nine or so at the time. No Latin at that age, unlike Queen Elizabeth Tudor so where did I get that from? My family were extremely unbookish.  I went on to write plays in my teens and twenties and only later, out of financial necessity, wrote contemporary romance. Alan Boon saved my life and that of my two little daughters, god rest him. I was immensely lucky when I started because all my first work was accepted, plays, novels, tv scripts and so on. Only later has it become harder simply because publishing has changed so much and there are so many new writers willing to provide those cans of beans every publisher needs to survive.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

My influences have neither rhyme nor reason. If something is written with style and care for the beauty of words I'll read it though I doubt whether it seeps in. At present I'm rereading Ivy Compton-Burnett, a neglected English writer from the early 2oth century, but I love the poetic, fractured prose of Annie Proulx, the wit and breadth of sadly missed JG Farrell, the plays of Becket and Shakespeare, the energy of the Revenge tragedies, the poetry of Philip Larkin and Dylan Thomas, the novels of Hemingway, Burroughs, Kerouac, Barbara Pym, Barthelme, EL Doctorow - eclectic and so many more I could name. No pattern beyond that thread of startling words.

When and where do you write? 

When I start a new book in my medieval thriller/detective series I start on a Monday morning at eight o'clock, preferably in January when it's bucketting down with rain. I do my actual writing at a battered old Louis XVIth desk on an equally battered old apple mac. I then transfer what I've written to a pc because my agent can't open any other kind of file. I print out what I've written after 12,000 words or so and slash it down to very little. Once that's done I write through to the end, writing about six or so hours every day until it's done. I then let it lie for a week or two until I've almost forgotten it, then I edit, edit and edit. I love all parts of writing but I'm not somebody who can sit in a cafe and scribble a few lines now and then. It's all or nothing with me. Best is when it's so vivid I dream the next day's dialogue. Bliss.

What are you working on now? 

I've just finished number seven in the series. At present it's called The Scandal of the Skulls. There was a most horrific parliament in London in 1388 when every one of King Richard's closest freinds and allies were beheaded or forced into exile (where they quickly met violent deaths). Richard was nineteen at the time. It still rouses my anger when I think how helpless he was and what grief he must have felt. Hildegard, of course, is fictional, but she moves in this world of betrayal and violent death.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

I'm not sure I believe in writers' block. I think it's maybe mistaken for the long period of mulling that every writer needs before they should even think of hitting the keyboard. You can't rush it. The mind has to work things out at a subconscious level and the best thing is to let it get on with it. Gazing out of windows on a moving train gets characters clamouring to be heard, I find.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Is advice ever taken? I would say read, read, read. Keep a note book. I walk around the location where my books are set and imagine it as it was. Because my books are historical I look at old maps and paintings and listen to music of the time. I read chronicles and letters. Everything helps to build detail and you can never know too much. After that I suggest cutting, cut for speed and clarity. Cut your precious research! I see and hear my characters as if they're people in a film. I wrote The Parliament of Spies as if it was a film script. Action is the thing. Oh, and never give in. Never give in.

Bio: Childhood spent in the East Riding of Yorkshire, won a tv playwrighting competition when I was twelve, escaped to London and streets paved with gold at seventeen, decided to go to University of London to read philosophy, married, had two daughters, ran a dress design business and wrote plays before the family got up in the morning, divorced, started writing contemporary romance and street theatre, wrote a couple of libretti for chamber operas, did a masters in Fiction writing, had a break to care for ill parents, moved back to London and started the Hildegard of Meaux medieval mystery series. Book 7 I hope will be out next year. I can be followed and my website is Cassandra Clark - Author.