Happy publication day to Claire King for her wonderful new novel, Everything Love Is. I loved this book. It made me laugh, cry and think about it for days after it ended. So I’m delighted to have had the chance to ask Claire some probing questions about it…
Claire, thanks for coming. Love and memory and how the two are intertwined is a strong theme in the book. Can you tell us what made you want to explore this?
When I originally started writing this novel the predominant theme was happiness; what we think it is and the ways we try and achieve it. When I think of my own day-to-day happiness, it depends not only on the present, but also on the future…and on my past. Certain aspects of the past have the power to make us happy (or unhappy) in the present, both consciously and subconsciously, and this is where memory started to come into play. Also photographs, which crop up several times in the book.
Love too, of course, is strongly linked to happiness in our society. We are led to believe that love can make us joyful and fulfilled: our search for it (in whatever form that takes) and our success in finding and keeping our ‘Happily Ever After’ strongly influences how happy we consider out past, present and future to be.
connection of these two elements – memory and love – to happiness began to shape the story and its characters. As the story grew, they became more and more inseparable.
Your main character Baptiste is a lonely man dwelling in his memories rather than living in the present day and too scared to take action to make his life happier. How did you find your way into his character when he is so closed off emotionally?
It took me so long to write this book. Baptiste was such an elusive character and my first attempts at writing him were most unsatisfactory. I tried rewriting his sections using present tense, which was disastrous, and I tried changing them from first person to third and quickly went back to first again.
I began to suspect that the reason he was hard to get to know was that he didn’t really know himself that well, and ultimately the trick to getting under his skin was putting him into a variety of situations with different people, seeing how he behaved there, and then asking myself why. Some of these stayed in the book. Others are now consigned to untold backstory.
Baptiste is someone whose decisions in the present are strongly rooted in the unfinished business of the past, and his relationship with his parents was a particularly important one to explore. Although she doesn’t appear too often throughout the story, Baptiste’s mother – a quiet but wise character – is present at pivotal moments and became one of my favourite characters in the book.
What inspired you to set Baptiste’s story against the backdrop of political unrest in his home city of Toulouse while at the same time removing him from it by having him live on a canal boat far from the centre?
I was still living in France when I wrote this book, and was spending a lot of my time in Toulouse, which is set on the Garonne river, and on the Canal-du-Midi. You can look south and see the Pyrenees. The climate is beautiful. There is great food, good wine, a café culture…the idyll that typically comes to mind when you think of France.
But in 1968 when this book opens, France is at the peak of a revolution that fundamentally changed its society. In the process the country (and the economy) practically ground to a halt and the train that Baptiste is born on is delayed because of that unrest. Forty–something years on, and France still enthusiastically embraces striking and disruption as a way of achieving social or economic reform – or rallying against it – and Toulouse is often at the heart of it. It became a standard feature of my trips there, and the juxtaposition of the perceived laid back southern life – the canal and the cafés – with the regular dissatisfaction and anger on show in the city streets intrigued me. It mirrors, I think, some of the philosophical questions we face today.
Baptiste has a hypothesis that by turning our back on the pressures of society – the ones that tell us to want more than we have – and shutting out the ‘noise’ in our environment, he can live a simple and content life. But is it as simple as that?
The title perfectly encompasses the story and that love is so much more than the hearts and flowers romantic kind. It is filled with love for friends, food, nature, and the human spirit. The message for me seemed to be that happiness comes from finding a balance in life rather than just expecting one relationship to deliver it – how do you feel about this?
Thank you, I’m so pleased you like (and get) the title. Goodness it took me so long to find. For me a title definitely has to emerge from the story, and until the story is in good shape that won’t happen. Until I settled on Everything Love Is it was a little like writing blind.
I initially dismissed using ‘Love’ in the title, because – given that the novel explores some sensitive issues – I didn’t want to give the impression that this is a love story in the traditional sense of the word. But I quickly realized that ‘Love’ isn’t trademarked by fairytales or Hallmark, and my story’s title should reflect the love that feels familiar to me. That’s the kind of love that fills our house even when we’re yelling. The kind of love that joins us at the table while I’m doing homework with the kids or having a heart-to-heart with my best friends, or just walking on my own out in the countryside.
I often went for long walks up into the mountains with my husband while writing this book, and we discussed the ideas of love and happiness for hours. What do we mean by these words? How do they behave in practice? In the end I think that Baptiste is right – nobody can tell you what really makes you happy, it’s something you have to figure out yourself.
Thank you for having me over to the blog, Amanda, and for asking such insightful and thought-provoking (= difficult to answer!) questions.
One reader can win a signed copy. Just leave a comment on this blog (by 23.59 GMT on 10th August 2016) about love and the random number generator will choose a winner soon after that.