Today I’m thrilled to be a part of the blog tour for When The Floods Came and was lucky enough to interview Clare Morrall! I also have my review of this wonderful book to share with you so please keep reading to the end of this post.
Please tell my readers a little bit about yourself, and also briefly what When The Floods Came is about.
I was born in Devon, but I’ve been living in Birmingham since I was 18, when I came up to study music at the University. I teach violin, piano and music theory at a school for children between 5 and 11, and I also have a few older private pupils. I have two grown up daughters.
When the Floods Came is my seventh published novel. It is set about 50 years in the future, in an almost empty Britain, but rooted in the world as we know it now. The majority of the population has died in a virus, and most survivors are infertile. City centres have been sealed off and the country has been quarantined. The novel is about the Polanski family, who live in a deserted tower block on the edge of Birmingham. There are Popi and Moth, Roza and Boris in their early twenties, Delphine in her teens and Lucia, who is eight. They manage well, even though they’re so isolated, scavenging in the empty flats around them for spare parts. They’re also supplied with essentials by drone drops from the Brighton-based government, the contents of which have become increasingly unpredictable. Then one day a stranger, Aashay, appears, who charms and alarms them in equal measure. No one can decide whether to trust him or not, but they are all mesmerised by him. He interrupts their organised life and leads them to a fair, cycling along motorways, through Spaghetti Junction, to an overgrown football stadium. The book is about the strength of family relationships, their ability to survive once they discover that the most precious commodity in the country is children, and the precariousness of the life that we have created around us.
How did you first come to be a writer?
I have always preferred the world of fiction to the world of reality, so as soon as I was able to read, I was writing. I was forever embarking on Enid Blyton adventures, Biggles stories, novels about boarding schools, all of them entirely unoriginal and none of them ever finished. I didn’t start writing seriously until I was in my thirties. It was hard to find enough time, but once a week, for a couple of hours, I would go to a friend’s house and write. It took another twenty years before I was published. I still have four unpublished novels in a cupboard, and several folders full of encouraging letters from publishers and agents, none of which brought me any closer to publication. My first published novel, Astonishing Splashes of Colour, was actually my fifth completed one and it took five years to complete. It was published in 2003 by a tiny Birmingham publisher and then unexpectedly went on to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It took me by surprise. I didn’t even know the book had been entered.
What is your writing routine?
After the good fortune of the Booker Prize, I was able to cut down on some of my teaching hours and allow myself the luxury of time to write. So now I don’t go into school until midday. When I was squeezing small amounts of time out of an impossibly busy schedule, I had to be disciplined. I couldn’t afford to waste the time – although I did occasionally go to sleep. So I’ve learnt how to get going without resorting to delaying tactics. I now start work early and rarely struggle with lack of motivation.
I love how When The Floods Came is a dystopian novel but it feels so close to the world we’re living in now and is scarily believable. Was there a specific trigger that sparked your inspiration to write this novel?
I’ve long had the desire to place people on bicycles, cycling along a motorway. The idea has been at the back of my mind for ages, but I couldn’t decide on a way to make it happen. Setting a novel in the future seemed to be the only reasonable way to achieve this. Sadly, if the cars do eventually go, I’ll be far too old to attempt the actual cycling myself.
I think the thing I’m enjoying most about the book is that, whilst the dystopian landscape is terrifying and fascinating, it seems, at heart to be a novel about how people cope with what life throws at them. Do the characters come to you first or is it the general idea of a storyline?
I like unusual settings – I’ve written novels about a man in a lighthouse, a man who lives on a roundabout, a family who grow up in a crumbling country house. So it’s often the atmosphere that inspires me and I then create characters to inhabit this world. They grow and develop during the novel, as I never know where they’re going to go, so I usually have to go back to the beginning to check they are the same people I end up with. I’m interested in strange people, the kind of people who are very isolated, on the outside looking in. It was inevitable that I would eventually write a novel set in the future – in an empty landscape, a crumbling, decaying world.
I’ve been a fan of your writing ever since reading Astonishing Splashes of Colour when it was first released. What has your journey to publication been like and has it altered as each book has been published?
It took a long, long time to get published in the first place. Each time I completed a novel, I would send it off and forget it while I got on with the next one. There were always so many interesting new ideas. When the novels were returned, I would just send them out again, working my way down the lists in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. Life has become much easier since then, as all my other novels have been published by Sceptre, who have always been very supportive. I send the completed novel to them, my editor goes through it, we discuss any plot uncertainties or character inconsistencies, then I rework it, which usually takes a few months. Then it gets read by a copy editor, who picks out more details. It’s a long and satisfying process, and in between the rewriting, I start my next novel. The entire process takes about two years in total.
What are you reading at the moment?
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet, shortlisted for this year’s Booker. It’s very skilful, although a bit – er – bloody, I fear.
If you were to be stranded on a desert island and could choose just one author’s books to read, who would you pick and why?
John le Carre, I think. His books are so much more than spy stories – although I do like the shadowy world of spying. He is a wonderful writer – very clever, literary, and perceptive about human nature. He penetrates so deeply, understands the complexity of character and the nature of love, and still manages to produce plots that take your breath away.
Is there a question that you wish an interviewer would ask that you’ve never been asked? What’s your answer to that question?
I’ve struggled with this one. I’m afraid nothing springs to mind. I usually tell people what I want to tell them anyway. Nobody notices if you don’t answer the question correctly. Or if they do, they never mention it.
How can people connect with you on social media?
Another failure. I don’t use social media. I don’t have enough spare time – I struggle to keep up with my friends – and when I do have spare time I prefer to read or write rather than communicate. I like space and silence – I live on my own now and I love it. I would be perfectly comfortable in an isolated tower block in an empty world.
I was thrilled when I received a surprise copy of When the Floods Came in the post as I’m a big fan of Clare Morrall’s novels. Her first novel Astonishing Splashes of Colour is one I still remember reading now and I read that when it was first published. This latest novel is just as brilliant.
When I first started reading this I was immediately drawn by what had happened to Britain. The descriptions of this dystopian future were quite chilling at times because the virus that wiped out the majority of the population in Britain, and the floods that followed seem absolutely believable given all that is happening in the world. I don’t know Birmingham very well but I could easily picture all that Morrall described.
Soon though I was drawn in to the Polanski family that have survived all that has happened and who are living in a high rise apartment block. They are obviously a very close family but they’re very insular and have never explored the possibility of meeting others who have also survived. Then one day an interloper appears and they are immediately fearful but also very drawn to him. Aashay is an enigmatic character, he’s exciting to the children of the family but the parents are wary. It’s impossible to put the genie back in the bottle though and once Aashay tells of the fairs where other survivors gather together it’s something the children simply cannot resist. What happens at the fair and afterwards makes this novel one that was very hard for me to put down!
I felt there was a bit of mystery in the novel too. The Polinski’s eldest daughter Roza’s fiance, Hector, who she met online through work, is a bit of an enigma. He appears to be quite perfect and is planning to visit soon so that they can get married. I was unsure whether he was real for a while, and I was also suspicious of whether he had any connection to Aastay – it added another dimension to the novel that kept me hooked as I wanted to know if there was a link.
This novel is a brilliant mix of a dystopian future and a study of the dynamics within a close-knit family. I was utterly enthralled throughout and would highly recommend it.
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Book
A taut, gripping novel set in the future, when the lives of a family existing on the margins of a dramatically changed society are upset by a mysterious stranger.
In a world prone to violent flooding, Britain, ravaged 20 years earlier by a deadly virus, has been largely cut off from the rest of the world. Survivors are few and far between, most of them infertile. Children, the only hope for the future, are a rare commodity.
For 22-year-old Roza Polanski, life with her family in their isolated tower block is relatively comfortable. She’s safe, happy enough. But when a stranger called Aashay Kent arrives, everything changes. At first he’s a welcome addition, his magnetism drawing the Polanskis out of their shells, promising an alternative to a lonely existence. But Roza can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to Aashay than he’s letting on. Is there more to life beyond their isolated bubble? Is it true that children are being kidnapped? And what will it cost to find out?
Clare Morrall, author of the Man Booker Prize-shortlisted Astonishing Splashes of Colour, creates a startling vision of the future in a world not so very far from our own, and a thrilling story of suspense.
About the Author
c. Howard Walker
Clare Morrall was born in 1952 and grew up in Exeter.
She moved to Birmingham to study music and still lives there, working in the Blue Coat school as a piano and violin teacher. Her first published novel, Astonishing Splashes of Colour (2003), tells the story of a childless woman who kidnaps a baby. It reflects her interest in synaesthesia – a condition in which emotions are seen as colours. The Daily Mail describe it as “An extremely good first novel: deceptively simple, subtly observed, with a plot that drags you forward like a strong current.” It was shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.
(Bio taken from https://literature.britishcouncil.org/writer/clare-morrall)
You can follow the rest of this fabulous blog tour at the following blogs: