I was sent a copy of Clare Pooley’s book THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT by lovely Lauren from Penguin Books SA. I fell in love with the book and started stalking Clare on Twitter (as one does) and discovered that she’d also written a memoir called THE SOBER DIARIES which I immediately downloaded. Besides writing one of my favourite books of #lockdown, Clare has a kickass sense of humour, she’s a recovered addict, a breast cancer survivor AND she has links to SA. I thoroughly enjoyed her interview and I hope to get to interview her IRL one day…
Tell us something about you that few people know.
When I was eleven years old, I sang in ABBA’s backing group. I was one of the choir of children in the chorus of I Have a Dream. Frieda patted me on the head [OMGAAAAAAD!!]. My life has been downhill since then!
What is the AUTHENTICITY PROJECT about?
The Authenticity Project is the story of six complete strangers, who all tell the truth about their lives in a little green notebook. Those acts of honesty lead to them meeting each other, and their lives transforming in amazing ways. It’s a tale of kindness and community, as well as a love story.
Do you have a favourite character in the book? Or is that like asking you if you have a favourite child?
It is so difficult to choose, as I became very close to them all. I still chat to them now, and wonder how they’re getting on in lockdown. Monica would be brilliant in a pandemic!
If I had to name a favourite, it would probably be Hazard. Hazard is an alcohol and cocaine addict, and at the start of the book he’s rather unlikeable. As a former addict myself, I really empathise with his journey throughout the novel.
This book had caused quite a stir on social media, it seems to be the perfect read for #Lockdown around the world. Please share with us why you think that is, and some of the feedback you’ve been getting about the book.
I was devastated that my book was published after all the bookshops closed, as I still haven’t seen it on an actual shelf! However, now it feels like the timing was meant to be, as so many readers have contacted me to say that it’s the perfect lockdown read. Around the world we seem to be craving community, connection and kindness, which are the themes of the book. People often say that reading The Authenticity Project feels like having a hug from a dear friend, and right now we all need hugs, don’t we? I love the thought that my story is helping people through a difficult time.
Tell us about your journey to getting published, how it all started with your secret blog, then your memoir and now THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT.
I’ve always been a passionate reader, and as a child, my dream was to be a writer. I wrote a diary every day, and endless short stories. But in my twenties, I was working hard (in advertising) and playing harder, and the writing stopped. I didn’t write anything other than e-mails for two decades. Then, five years ago, I realised that drinking was messing up my life, and I quit.
I was too ashamed to ask for help, so my form of therapy was writing about what I was going through in an anonymous blog (which I called Mummy was a Secret Drinker). Writing saved my life, and my blog transformed the lives of many people around the world who followed it. Two years ago, that blog became a memoir – The Sober Diaries.
By now, writing had become my new addiction! So I turned my hand to fiction, although the whole premise of The Authenticity Project – the magic that happens when you open your heart to strangers – is based on my own experience.
Talk us through your writing process. Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you love a deadline?
I’m somewhere in between a plotter and a pantser. When I start writing, I have an idea of who the main characters are, and some of the key plot points, but I like to leave a lot undecided. I find that as your characters grow, they start to dictate where the story goes, which is a magical process to watch unfurl. I feel that if the writer isn’t surprised by the story as it develops, the reader won’t be either. There’s a huge twist towards the end of The Authenticity Project, which I had no idea was going to happen until just before I got there!
I need deadlines, because otherwise I would edit and edit for ever. I never feel like a book is good enough.
You are very active and engaged on social media, and you used to be an advertising hotshot. Any marketing tips for authors – particularly debut authors who have had to launch their books during #Lockdown?
You’ll sell some books because people happen to stumble across them in a bookshop and like the look of the cover, but you’ll never sell very many if your book doesn’t become part of people’s conversations. Especially now, when so many bookshops around the world are closed!
What every writer dreams of is someone loving their story so much that they’ll make a point of saying to a friend “There’s this book that you really must read…” And those discussions are the ones that make a book fly.
Social media is really just a way of kick-starting those conversations. I feel that if I’m not happy to talk to my readers about my book, how can I expect them to want to talk to anyone else about it?
The downside of people chatting about your book is that there will always be someone who hates it and thinks you’re a terrible writer whose book was a waste of their money and time. I’ve learned that the best way to deal with this is to look up your all-time favourite books on Amazon and read their one-star reviews! Even Jane Austen gets them [Excellent advice!]
I see that you did a TED talk. What was that like? Do you have to learn it off by heart? Was it terrifying?
It was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done, but I’ve learned that on the other side of your maximum fear lies all the best things in life, and the buzz I got from doing that talk was incredible. TED don’t allow speakers to use notes, or an autocue, as it makes the talks feel less intimate, so you have to learn the whole fifteen minute talk by heart. It took me weeks. Every time I had a shower, or took the dog for a walk, I’d recite it until I could, literally, say it in my sleep.
You have been sober now for five years (CONGRATULATIONS!!) We’ve just had two months without being able to buy alcohol in SA which has nearly driven us all demented – BUT there’s been a huge drop in all sorts of alcohol related ills. Do you think eventually people will move away from drinking alcohol completely? How do we make being sober sexy?
There will always be a desire for alcohol, or other drugs, as it’s human nature to seek a buzz, and to try to numb all the difficult parts of our lives. Things have changed so much in the five years since I quit though. Back then, there was a lot of shame wrapped up with alcohol addiction. Now, there’s a whole community of incredible sober heroes on Instagram and other social media, shouting about how incredible and badass it is to go through life without blurring all the edges. Some of the sexiest and most talented people on earth are proudly sober (Tom Hardy, Bradley Cooper, Brad Pitt, Naomi Campbell – to name just a few).
What was the scariest part of having breast cancer? Any advice for someone who has just been diagnosed?
By far the scariest part of dealing with cancer was worrying that my three young kids would be left without a mother. That thought still haunts me, and thinking through what I’d want my children to know about life in general, and my life in particular, inspired my next novel – The Seven Messengers.
My advice for anyone newly diagnosed is actually the same as my advice to anyone who is newly sober: TAKE IT ONE DAY AT A TIME. Try not to look ahead too far, or to deal with things that are out of your control, just focus on getting to the end of the day. Eventually, once you’ve done that a number of times, you’ll look around you and discover that you’re through the worst of it. And the best thing is, learning to deal with fear in that way gives you a superpower. You’ll find wells of courage that we help you deal with anything life throws at you in the future.
What’s next for you book wise?
I’ve just finished the first draft of my second novel – working title: The Seven Messengers. I sent it to my publishers a few days ago, and now I’ll spend the next few weeks in a state of abject terror in case they hate it. Writing really is a rollercoaster ride!
Any books you’ve read recently that you’d like to recommend?
I loved Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet, inspired by the life and death of Shakespeare’s son. Also, Curtis Sittenfeld’s Rodham, which asks the question What would have happened if Hillary Clinton never married Bill? If you’re looking for a feel-good novel, then Rebecca Searle’s In Five Years is glorious [it is AMAZING], as is Abi Dare’s The Girl With the Louding Voice. For something darker, I’d recommend Kate Elizabeth Russell’s My Dark Vanessa.
We have some gorgeous literary festivals here. Are you planning on visiting us in SA (hint, hint)?
Oh, I would love to. South Africa is very close to my heart. I’ve visited many times, as my husband’s grandfather – James Stevenson-Hamilton – founded Kruger National Park, and was warden there for many years. It’s a truly beautiful country.
Thank you so much for taking part in #FridayReads! You can get Clare’s book online, from Exclusive Books or you can order it from Love Books Jozi (they are having their annual book sale so don’t miss that!) Happy Reading xxx