Today on Meet the Author, we meet Claire Handscombe and her obsession with The West Wing……
Women’s fiction/literary fiction/YA
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I moved from Europe to Washington, DC in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but actually – let’s be honest – because of an obsession with The West Wing.
I’m the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan, and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.
I also host the Brit Lit Podcast, a fortnightly show of news and views from British books and publishing. I can be found tweeting at @bookishclaire.
What inspired you to start writing?
I wrote prolifically as a child and pre-teen – but I wrote in French, my mother tongue. After we moved to the UK when I was twelve, I let the writer part of me gradually fade away. But when I started watching, and then became mildly obsessed with, The West Wing, I realised that English could be beautiful too, and that inspired me to write again.
How many books have you written and published?
I’ve written five, plus a terrible first draft of a sixth. Unscripted is my first to be published, though I’ll be self-publishing a different one under a (secret) pen name soon.
Which book, out of all the books you have written, is your favourite and why?
That’s rough! It’s like asking me to pick between my children. Not that I have any of those, but, y’know, I imagine. I have a soft spot for all of them. Unscripted was the one where I really found my feet as a writer, I think – and I also have a strong personal connection to both the main character and the plot. But I feel disloyal to my others saying that!
How do you choose the names of your characters?
They mostly just come to me unbidden! For more minor characters, I sometimes look at what baby names were popular in the year they were born.
Which of your characters would you want to be stranded on an island with, and why?
I wouldn’t hate being stuck on a island with Thom, the actor Libby has a crush on in Unscripted. Libby would probably scratch my eyes out, though!
Who is your favourite author and which of their books is your favourite, and why?
Another rough question! It’s funny, because when a book really means a lot to me, I often shy away from reading other books by the same author. I’ve never read any David Nicholls besides One Day, for example. An auto-buy author for me is Karin Tanabe – but to be fair, she has become a friend of mine, so I don’t know if I can be objective, though her books are genuinely good. My favourite is The List, which is probably not objectively the best of hers, but I love fiction based in Washington, and this is thinly veiled fictionalisation of her time at the “very DC” newspaper Politico – exactly my favourite kind of book, especially now that I live here.
What is the first thing you can remember writing?
One of the clubs I went to at primary school was a club where we learned to typeset in the old-fashioned way. I wrote maybe my first poem there. It was terrible – but it was also the gateway drug! I’d love to be able to find the woman who ran that workshop and thank her.
What other jobs have you done other than being an author?
Various odds and ends, but my longest-standing job was as a freelance language tutor – I’d hang out in a Costa Coffee in London, go through a chapter of a French textbook with a businessman, then get on the Tube, walk to a different coffee shop, and do some Spanish conversation with a soon-to-be-traveller. I loved it – I’d probably find it exhausting now, but it was the perfect job for a people-loving, entrepreneurial language nerd. I’m about to start work in a bookshop, so I imagine it won’t be long before I set a book in one!
If you could get in a time machine and had one chance to travel, where would you go? (Backwards or forwards!)
I miss the ‘90s a lot. I think I might transport myself back to my first year at uni in 1997.
If you could have one conversation with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Well, time was the answer would be Bradley Whitford, who played Josh Lyman in The West Wing. But I once had lunch with him, so I guess you could say I’ve accomplished that goal. I’d happily take another one, though.
What are your favourite things to do?
Reading and writing are high on the list. I also love checking out new restaurants and visiting old favourites with good friends. The Washington foodie scene is wonderful.
What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you?
I think my entire life at the moment is pretty wonderfully strange. One minute I’m watching The West Wing on a tv show, daydreaming about visiting DC, and the next I’ve been living here for six and a half years!
If you could give your younger writing self any advice what would it be?
Don’t let life get so busy that you forget that you love this! Don’t let your twenties go by without putting pen to paper.
Name one book you think everyone should read?!
If it’s not cheating, I’d have to say the Bible. A truly life-changing book.
And finally, tell us about your most recent book and where we can find it?
Unscripted is out on 4th April from Unbound. It’s a smart beach read about a young aspiring writer with a celebrity crush and a determined plan. You can order it in all the usual places, including Hive, which supports local bookshops, and where the book is cheaper than it is on Amazon! In the US, your best bet for the paperback is Blackwells, which has free international delivery.
Thank you so much Claire for taking part! Sorry for making you choose your favourite book….I hope the others weren’t too upset 🙂
Any questions for Claire, please give a shout out below!
We hope you enjoyed this!