Career Conversation with...Clare Weze
We have many conversations with writers to get to know more about them and their career and work. Here, we are showcasing all the questions we have asked Clare, the author of The Lightning Catcher and her latest release, The Storm Swimmer. Clare Weze was raised in London and Yorkshire and has British and Nigerian heritage. Her background is in science research, which she loves to weave into her novels.
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Can you explain your career path before becoming a writer?
I always wanted to be a writer. And so, in a nutshell, that was always my goal. I knew it would take me a while to learn the job. I pursued all the goals, and it worked out. When I left school, my first job was in London’s West End as a hairdresser. My mother worked as a hairdresser in the same hair salon when I was growing up. I grew up between Yorkshire and London. I had a hankering for excitement and for meeting people. At 16, I thought that square mile was where it was. I did that for a while and I enjoyed it. I was gathering experience, so that I had something to read about, because otherwise I would just be writing about the things that I'd read, using the other people's experience.
So when that career had run its course for me, which was nine years later, I went back to university and did a science degree, because I'd always loved science as well, it had been like a joint real love for me writing and reading. And I hadn't felt ready for a degree as a teenager. I just knew that I wasn't ready to buckle down. Being at school, I studied hard until the age of 16. I put everything into it and needed a break from it. As an undergraduate, I studied Microbiology, Animal Physiology, Ecology, and Philosophy. Afterwards, I did a master's degree in Health Research and science, so that I can work in both fields. After finishing my studies, I worked on a few different jobs.
I worked at the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology. My role was to investigate all aspects of environmental science. We would analyse the soil samples to see how much carbon was in the soil. I would be the person to collect the sample. Looking at how the microbes were degrading the oil and cleaning up the beach. On the health side, I looked at how a particular complementary therapy can help symptoms by relaxing people and dampening down their stress response system. So my career really took off at that point. I became a science editor. I was looking at other people's research and writing it up, editing it for them to send to submit to magazines.
Amongst all this, I was writing to get better and sneaking into everything I’m doing. As soon as there's a break, as soon as I see something, I’ll write it down. Since my writing was developing, I wrote short pieces published in an online magazine and literary journals. I won competitions for short stories. My adult short stories were published, however I’ve always written children's novels. I won the Northern Writers Award for a couple of short stories I wrote. That was probably one of the best and biggest strokes of luck. I submitted a short story to the children’s diversity writing award, which is based in Manchester. Which was shortlisted, which led to me getting noticed by agents. So the next big stroke of luck came when Salma Begum at the good literary agency contacted me and said she really enjoyed The Lightning Catcher. (This wasn't the original title). She really loved the character Alfie.
What do you most enjoy about your role?
I enjoy living in different worlds I create in my head when I’m writing. I also really enjoy meeting children at readings and school events, and how my story's impact people from the feedback I receive. That’s really amazing! I also enjoy doing all the reading that I need to do both for research, researching books, and to keep abreast of current children's books. That's a really nice aspect of the job, and it does not feel like work when you are reading other books. It becomes enjoyable. I love when something pops into my head from nowhere, because our brains are always noticing and processing things without our conscious knowledge. When my brain gives me back something that I hadn't really noticed, and I can put that into a book. That's the best feeling.
If you were not a writer, what career would you have?
I think I would have stayed in science, as I’ve worked in that field for a long time. However, I would have liked to get into Excel Biology, which is the potential biology of life on other planets. I missed a chance to work in that field. I was always reading and studying about this topic, but I actually didn't get to work in that field.
In three words, how would you describe your style of work?
Quirky, curious and adventurous.
Do you have any advice for young aspiring writers?
I've got some advice that takes them from where they are now to later, when they have developed more. I’ll start off by experimenting with lots of different ideas, and read many books.
It is never too early to see if you can analyse them to see why a particular story, or even just the sentence, has such a great impact on you to see what you can learn from that. There are a lot more opportunities to get published than when I started. With the help of the internet, and literary magazines online that are always seeking new writers. This way is more relaxed and the opportunities are greater. I'd say to young people really take your time to improve your writing, put it away, do something else for a couple of weeks, and then return to it with a really critical eye, and compare it to some of your favourite writers and books. If you dislike your written piece anymore, once you have left it to settle, try to work out where it is lacking, and then go over it again and make improvements. This helps when editing your final written piece. It is like you are building a portfolio of written pieces, long ones, short ones and you carry on taking out one at a time and improving each one. Each time you edit a piece of written work, it gets better.
In the meantime, just learn to write and edit and one of your pieces will leap out at you and that’s when you can really take off with that chosen story. Once you reach that stage, considering publication will be the next step. I'd say always read lots of good books and magazines and online content as well. I begin most days by reading something good by somebody else, because it triggers my inspiration. And it keeps my writing brain well fed. Because I think you can also get bogged down in your own style. And your own gets all circular, and it’s not good for you. The other thing I'd say to aspiring writers is I've noticed that there's a point where people sometimes give up. Maybe they have done three drafts of the story. And it still hasn't worked. Maybe they think that this one story proves they are not a good enough writer, but they cannot abandon it and write something else because we are always taught to finish what we started. And that is good when you need to finish what you started, but not all at once.
The first few stories I wrote, whether they were short or long novels, were not very good at all. There were some good things about them. But there are too many things that didn't flow. It took me a few years to improve my writing; I didn't care. I just wanted to keep that dream and do it because I enjoyed it so much. I was in my 30s, before I hit on this idea of having several side projects on the go, and one main work in progress and my skill level seems to take off in leaps and bounds after.
Congratulations on your second book. The Storm Swimmer. What is the most surprising thing you have discovered while writing your book?
I love this question! So I found a book called Leviathan, or the whale written by Philip Hoare. It won a big prize for non-fiction about a decade ago, a very famous book. One passage that stood out to me was the different branches of evolution. I shall read this passage.
“as a product of a different branch of evolutionary selection. Whales appear to have arrived at a superior way of being in the open ocean without barriers and with a ready supply of food, because an excellent medium for the evolution of such huge long-lived and intelligent animals, an environment in which communication and socialising take the place of material culture. Theirs is a landless race, free from mortgages and fossil fuel, unconstrained by borders or want content merely to sing and sleep and eat and die”. - Leviathan, or the whale
That made a huge impression on me, because it made me wonder how branches of our ancestors had taken a similar path. So that I mean, I'd had the idea before for The Storm Swimmer that fed into how I thought they would live, they would need to live, because I had to sort of research how you would live in the sea if you were a mammal, and look at the other mammals that also live in the sea. There seems to be a choice between whether you stay close to shore or you go out to the open sea, like whales do. If you go out to the open sea like whales and dolphins do, keep moving all the time. Their world is always moving and at a fast pace.
From a human viewpoint, our world must be still and slow. Which gave me ideas for the book. The other thing I uncovered was from a man called Cedric Robinson, who used to guide people across the sands, which is quite near where I live now. And he said, “it is the most dangerous bay in the world, the tide comes in faster than a galloping horse”. That quote stuck with me, just amazing. That’s partly what gave me the idea for my character. Ginika gets into a sandbar in the story. The tie comes in really fast and something happens.
3 Facts about your role
- You can go wherever your imagination takes you.
- You have to be disciplined and make yourself write as often as you can
- Even when you are not writing, your brain is still doing it in the background. Everything you see around you comes back to you in your creative writing.
The Storm Swimmer | Bloomsbury Books | Available here