Conversation with Lucy Clarke about her second novel, A Single Breath.
Where did the inspiration for A Single Breath come from?
The idea came from two very separate threads. In 2011, I visited Tasmania for the first time and fell in love with its wild beauty and its remote shacks. Later on that year, I heard of a friend-of-a-friend who was leading a double life in order to hide a huge secret from their family. I was intrigued by the idea of the unknowability of those closest to us, and thought how devastating it would be to find out the truth only when that person had gone. These two threads began to weave together, stitching themselves into the beginning of a story.
In the novel, Saul shares his passion for freediving with Eva. Do you freedive?
I learnt to scuba dive in Tasmania and had a fantastic time swimming alongside sea dragons, draughtboard sharks, and huge rays. I found the dive tanks and thick winter wetsuits very heavy and restrictive, so I was excited to try freediving instead. However, it quickly became apparent that I have the lung capacity of an aging hamster, so my freediving career never really took off! Luckily my husband freedives and spearfishes, and is very patient when answering the barrage of questions I fire when he returns to shore.
Secrets play a large role in A Single Breath. Under what circumstances is keeping a secret necessary?
There is something so irresistible about secrets. The moment I hear someone whisper, ‘I’ve got a secret’, my ears prick up. I’m sure that many people keep the odd secret in order to protect someone they care about, and most of these will be harmless enough. But then there are those darker secrets, the ones that are tightly wrapped with lies, and presented as truth. Those are the dangerous ones – and also the ones that are wonderfully exciting to explore in fiction!
What’s next for Jackson, Saul, and Eva? Do you imagine a future for them beyond the ending of the book?
It is not an easy story with easy answers. I think that Eva and Saul have a tricky path ahead of them. They will have to negotiate many issues, such as: Will their friends and families accept their relationship? Will they chose to make their home in Tasmania or England? Will they one day regret not allowing Jackson back into their lives? For my part, I like to believe that Saul and Eva’s love for each other is strong and deep enough to survive the challenges that await them.
Jackson tells us that a shack is a bolt hole, ‘a place to disappear to when you’re craving some space, some wilderness.’ Do you have a bolt hole?
Yes, I do! My bolt hole is actually a beach hut on the south coast of England, where I do much of my writing. I love being near the water when I write, and I also love that feeling of space and quiet: no emails, no phone calls, just the sea and my notebook. Heaven!
According to your author bio, you and your husband spend your winters travelling. How does travel inform and inspire your writing?
There is something about slinging a few belongings into a bag, and heading off on a plane, train or ferry, that gives me the most incredible sense of freedom. The break from routine, the stepping out of one’s ordinary world and into another, is surely good for the soul. (At least, it feels very good to my soul!) What I see, hear, smell, and taste while travelling certainly inspires my writing, but it is also the very fact of being away that I find interesting in terms of fiction. I’m intrigued to see how characters behave outside the usual parameters of their daily lives. Routine can be limiting, so I like to explore what happens when a character is taken out of their comfort zone and dislocated from their family and friends. What then?
Your debut novel, The Sea Sisters, was a Richard and Judy Summer 2013 Read. Did this put more pressure on you when writing your second novel?
There were eighteen months between finishing The Sea Sisters and it actually landing on the shelves over here in the UK, and in that time I wrote A Single Breath. I had no idea whether The Sea Sisters would take off or not, so I just got my head down and focussed on my second novel. That removed a huge amount of pressure because, yes, I think it would have been very hard otherwise. Also, to avoid that sort of ‘slump’ when you’ve finished writing a book, I try to make sure that I have my next idea in mind a few months before completing a novel. That way, there’s no time to fret about writer’s block as the next idea is already fizzing and popping!