In the wake of great success comes great pressure. Claire Fuller, author of the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlisted novel, Unsettled Ground, shares her thoughts on the aftermath of success for writers and how to stay motivated to write the next book. Claire’s latest novel, The Memory of Animals, is out now with Penguin Fig Tree.
Winning or being shortlisted for a book prize is always something to be celebrated and I’ve been lucky enough for my novels to win and be shortlisted for a few. Publishers take you to lunch, agents send flowers, friends and family congratulate you, bookshops are more likely to stock your books, and most important of all, more readers read what you’ve written.
But I try to keep in mind the little word I used in my first sentence: lucky. It could be easy to let winning or being shortlisted go to my head and so I find it’s good to remember that the handful of judges who chose my book on that particular day might have chosen a different book on a different day. And an alternative judging panel would almost certainly have picked another book. Haven’t we all read novels and wondered why they weren’t even shortlisted?
Writing a book that gets this sort of attention is of course a massive confidence boost. Each novel takes me about three years to write and that’s a long time sitting in my room on my own not knowing whether what I’m writing is any good. The public validation that prizes bring is a useful tool to keep me pushing onwards when I’m ready to give it all up. But there’s also expectation: a subtle pressure to write another that’s as good as the book which won or was shortlisted. For me, this pressure doesn’t come from my editor or my literary agent or even readers, but from myself.
One of the ways I deal with success or failure is to try to write a substantial amount of the next book before the previous one is even published. When Unsettled Ground came out in March 2021, I’d written more than sixty thousand words of The Memory of Animals. After Unsettled Ground’s publication the amount of time I had to spend on writing inevitably slowed as the publicity I had to do increased. But that’s a lovely problem to have – what could be a nicer distraction from writing than being longlisted and then shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction?
Finally, there’s the financial impact of winning, which is always good news. Not only the prize money (if there is any) but an increased profile amongst foreign publishers, booksellers and readers. And that’s what I’m always reminding myself: no matter how prestigious the prize, this is what it comes back to – readers.