Lucy Clarke on The Sea Sisters

Where did you get the idea for this book?

The idea that sparked The Sea Sisters came from my fascination with travel journals. I love the colourful places they’ve been written, the pages thick with smears of sunscreen and grains of sand. Whenever I travel, I keep a journal and I’ve often thought how intriguing and tempting it must be to read someone else’s travel journal. What an insight it would give you into who they are. With this in mind, I asked myself two questions that were to be the fuel for the story: Who could the travel journal belong to? And, who finds it and why? From there, the relationship between sisters Katie and Mia was born.

The book takes place in a number of exotic locations, including Hawaii, Australia and Bali. Are these places you have travelled to?

Yes, all the settings within the novel are places I’ve visited. My husband and I spend as much of each winter as we can abroad. He is a professional windsurfer, so we are both lucky enough to be able to take our ‘offices’ with us. Over the past few years, our travels have taken us to Chile, Hawaii, Western Australia, Tasmania, Fiji, New Zealand, Canada, the US and Europe.

Which sister would you consider yourself to be more like—Katie or Mia?

That’s an interesting question as the sisters are so different. I remember meeting a publisher when I was in the process of selling the book and, when I arrived they said, ‘We wondered which sister you’d be.’ In truth, I think I’m a bit of both. A piece of me goes into every character I write because I need to be able to understand and empathize with each of them. Mia certainly shares my passion for travel and the sea, so I had a lot of fun writing her and exploring what drives her. But I can also identify with Katie and her need for structure and organization to make sense of the world she lives in.

Mia and Katie have a tumultuous relationship, but ultimately share an unbreakable bond. What does the relationship between sisters mean to you?

I have an older brother who I’m close to, but no sisters. I think this is why I‘ve always found the bond between sisters so fascinating. When researching and writing the book, I spoke to lots of women about their relationships with their sisters and what struck me was the complexity of their feelings towards one another. There seemed to be degrees of competitiveness, admiration, jealousy, and protectiveness – but what always stood out was the love between sisters. This became my driving force in drawing Mia and Katie’s relationship. Over the course of the novel I hoped to show that, despite the pain Mia and Katie cause each other, ultimately their love and bond as sisters is what prevails.

The sea is a powerful symbol throughout the book. What drew you towards exploring the sea?

I’ve grown up on the south coast of England, so the sea has always been part of my life. Cities are wonderful and exciting places to be, but after a few days I feel an almost gravitational pull towards the coast. I love everything about the sea – the pure smell of salt-air, the mirror-calm of a dawn sea, the promise of an empty horizon. My favourite place to write, where I have my clearest thought, has always been by the sea.

In the novel, Mia and Katie spend their childhoods by the coast, so it forms an integral part of their early memories. But as they grow older, the sea begins to divide them, both geographically and emotionally. It isn’t until Katie begins to understand the reasons behind her fear of the sea that she’s able to find peace in her relationship with Mia.

Finn and Ed are very different, but Katie loves them both at certain points in the novel. Why do you think this is?

Some people have a very clear picture in their mind about the type of person they are going to fall in love with – a sort of checklist of attributes or qualities. Katie is one of these people. On paper, Ed is her ideal man, ticking all of the boxes: well-educated, handsome, sophisticated, wealthy. Katie falls in love with him at a time when her mother is seriously ill and perhaps, subconsciously, she is craving the security and safety Ed can provide.

But then there’s Finn. He barely ticks any of the requirements on Katie’s list, yet she finds a deep connection with him. In Finn’s company, she feels more truly like herself – her best self. And this, ultimately, is what comes to matter to her.

How have you reacted to the immense interest in The Sea Sisters from around the world?

It’s been absolutely incredible – and a complete surprise! Like most writers I’ve accumulated quite the collection of rejection letters and, at times, it’s been a battle of sheer will to keep believing in myself and my writing. When my previous manuscript was rejected, I asked my agent what I should do. She said, “You take a deep breath and start your next one”. So I did – and wrote The Sea Sisters.

What is the structure of your writing day?

I’m a morning person, which means I set my alarm early and get straight to my desk. I’m hopeless by evening – it’s as if my creativity fades with the day. I generally write Monday to Friday, so that I have evenings and weekends free to spend with friends and family. Being a full-time novelist is a luxury I’m still getting used to because, until recently, writing had to be fitted around running a business.

I prefer to write by hand – there’s something about the simplicity of a pencil and a blank page that appeals to the romantic in me. I love to write to music, too. There are certain albums I play to help me step into a character’s mindset, or to inspire a particular atmosphere in a scene. My biggest distraction is sunshine – I struggle to focus if I’m indoors and the sun is shining, so I often decamp to the beach on my bike and then I’m focussed once again!

What’s up next for you? Are you working on anything new?

Yes. I am SO excited about the next book! It’s set in a beautiful, rugged coastal location in the Southern Hemisphere, where I spent part of this winter researching. The story is based around a young woman who has been recently widowed. She travels to meet her late-husband’s family, but begins to discover that the man she married wasn’t who she thought he was. I can’t say too much more just yet, other than to expect plenty of twists and turns!