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Blitz Spirit: We Meet Clare Harvey

Mon 5 Feb, 2018

Clare Harvey's novels have been wowing readers for the last few years and bring war-time Nottingham to vivid life. We meet her to find out more.

Many writers have a routine: Anthony Trollope would rise at 5.30am and write solidly until he left for his day job at 8am. Kafka wouldn’t pick up his pen until near midnight, and work until dawn, despite also having a day job. Here at Nottingham City of Literature our writers have their own idiosyncrasies when it comes to writing (one once told us he can’t turn his keyboard on until at least a bottle of wine has been downed – don’t try that at home, kids), but Clare Harvey’s method is by far the most attractive, especially in these grim Winter days “I write in bed a lot of the time,” she tells us. “I write freehand, so it’s not difficult. Its comfy, and there are no distractions, so makes sense”.

These duvet-topped, pillow-propped writings obviously do the trick: Harvey’s three novels to date have all been big-sellers with a strongly positive critical reception. All set during the second war and featuring female protagonists, they tell stories of the often-overlooked contributions made to beating Hitler by women on the home front. Her imagination was sparked by her mother-in law, who during the Second World War saw action as a teenage soldier on the anti-aircraft units in London, and the works of Long Eaton born painter Dame Laura Knight, famed for her war paintings that have done much to shape our historic imagination of the Second World War. Harvey herself was a military wife, arriving in Nottinghamshire with her husband who was stationed at Chetwynd Barracks in Chilwell. Built on the site of the National Shell Filling Factory, which in the First World War saw the greatest single loss of life on home soil when an explosion killed 134 (mainly female workers), the Barracks were a fitting place for Harvey to touch down in her adopted city.

Originally from Devon, which still mildly manifests in her accent, Harvey had a fascinatingly transitory life before arriving here, including a stint in Mauritius. Such travel, as many of our legendary local writers can attest to, feeds into the creative imagination. Feeling she might have a talent with words, she joined the MA at The University of Nottingham, graduating in 2012. From this sprang her first novel, Gunner Girl, which with a little help from Writing East Midlands, became a big success. “I never intended to just write about the war,” she says, “It’s never been a particular obsession. But there are wonderful stories to tell, and I really enjoy writing them”. Her new novel, The Night Raid, centres around three women (including the aforementioned Dame Laura Knight) and is a cracking read, with well-drawn characters, a strong, surprising plot, and a cameo location appearance for former Nottingham City of Lit HQ, Bromley House Library.

 “I research by walking around Nottingham and imagining the stories in such places. Places like Bromley House, or the Park: they are great inspiration”. They also give her books a sense of familiarity, familiar to local readers of Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, who can easily see Arthur Seaton stumbling drunk up Ilkeston Road to Canning Circus, or any of the other protagonists whose adventures come courtesy of an NG postcode.

Harvey’s success has enabled her to make her writing a full time career, and she hopes to be able to write a novel-a-year for the foreseeable future. On the horizon is a more conceptual novel set across different eras, bringing the historic and the contemporary crashing together. She cites Stephen Booth, Dorothy Whipple, Alison Moore and Niki Valentine as local inspirations and examples of great writers; and while she would be too modest to say so herself, can count herself as part of that staggeringly talented pantheon of local writers that make us such a strong City of Literature.


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