Whilst preparing this interview, Clare Mackintoshs' latest novel has just charted at number 5 in the Sunday Times bestseller and sold 11,000 copies in a week. This gives us the proportion of a worldwide success of an author who is not afraid to talk about feelings and everyday problems we can relate to. The paperback version of her latest work: After the End has just been published and has given us the opportunity to discover more about her works, book club and future projects.
Your books are translated into many languages. How does it feel to be able to reach such a wide audience?
There is something quite extraordinary about seeing your name on the cover of a book written in a language you don’t speak, and it never fails to make me jump up and down with excitement. If you’ve ever been in an airport bookshop and seen someone grinning inanely at a translated novel, it could well have been me... In normal times I spend a large part of my year travelling, meeting readers in different countries and learning to say thank you for reading my book in a dozen languages.
In the new COVID-19 normal, my travel is virtual and my excitement at seeing translated copies confined to social media. I love searching my book’s hashtags on Instagram and seeing the different cover approaches. My books are translated into around forty languages, but the messages I receive from readers are very similar. I write about ordinary people in extraordinary situations, often with the same unspoken question: what would you do? In After the End, a couple disagree on a life-altering decision, and I’ve had hundreds of emails from readers all over the world, sharing their own stories about moments that changed their life. I love the way books can connect us all.
What inspired you to have a “book club” of your own where you can exchange ideas and recommendations?
I’ve always wanted to join a book club, but I live in a very rural area, and already have a busy schedule. Add in three children and a husband who works as a mountain rescue volunteer, and committing to a regular event is really tricky. I love chatting with my readers, and my most popular posts on social media are always reading recommendations, so in September 2019 I launched the Clare Mackintosh Book Club. Every month I pick a different book - across a wide range of genres - and share the story of why I’ve chosen it, in my newsletter. We have an active and friendly Facebook group in which we have a structured discussion, as well as sharing other book suggestions and details of literary news and events. I love it, and I’ve discovered so many new authors from other members.
You seem to be very interested in family dynamics. What intrigues you the most about interpersonal relationships?
I’m fascinated by relationships in general - they’re the basis of all stories, I think - and by families in particular. My thrillers all have the emotional pull of familial ties, and After the End is completely rooted in family. It’s inspired, in part, by a terrible time in my own life, when my son was critically ill. I remember reading a terrifying statistic about how many marriages break down following a crisis like the one we were experiencing, and wondering what lay in our future. When you have a child you don’t love your partner any less, but your child will always come first. When I wrote After the End I wanted to explore how that dynamic might push a relationship to the brink, and - most importantly - how a person might recover from it.
What made you decide it was time to dedicate yourself completely to writing?
I was a police officer for twelve years, and incredibly committed to the job, but I was working at a relatively senior level and struggling to balance my career with being the sort of mother I wanted to be. I received a glowing appraisal which referred to my energy, my willingness to listen, my positivity… I showed my husband and he said, ‘that’s great, but who’s this woman? I don’t recognise her.’ Like many people, I’d used all the best bits of me for work, and brought the leftovers home for my family. It wasn’t the way I wanted to be, so I took a career break, and the only way I could think of to pay the bills was to start writing. I worked as a copywriter for small business, wrote articles for newspapers and magazines, and worked on my first novel.
When I Let You Go came out I hoped it would sell enough copies to ensure I’d get another book deal, but I knew how tough the industry was, so I was realistic about the prospects of failure. It sold a million copies and hit the New York Times and Sunday Times bestseller lists, and I’ve been a full-time author ever since. Every time I publish a new book I’m terrified it’ll come crashing down, but so far— Well, I’ll keep my fingers crossed, for now…
Can we already ask you about your future projects?
I’ve just finished the third draft of my next book, a thriller set on an ultra long-haul flight from London to Sydney. It’s a claustrophobic, emotional read, and I’m really excited about it. I’ll be sharing the title and some sneak previews with my book club very soon, but it won’t be hitting the shelves till sometime next year. People always ask if I prefer writing thrillers or family dramas, like After the End, but I don’t really consider the differences when I’m writing. A good story is a good story, whatever shelf it sits on, and I plan to keep writing them for as long as I can.