Claire North

SFX - - Claire North - Words by Jonathan Wright Por­trait by will i reland

It’s some­how ap­pro­pri­ate that Claire North was some­body else the last time SFX spoke with her. That’s be­cause her new novel, Touch, is the tale of a body- hop­ping en­tity, Ke­pler, that jumps from hu­man host to hu­man host. “A friend of mine de­scribed it as The Bourne Iden­tity but with­out the need for pass­ports,” says the writer. But while Ke­pler, of whom more later, has “no iden­tity of its own”, things aren’t quite so dras­ti­cally weird when it comes to Claire North. Rather, this is the lat­est pen name of YA nov­el­ist and some­time theatre light­ing designer Catherine Webb, aka ur­ban fan­tasy scrib­bler Kate Grif­fin, au­thor of nov­els star­ring Matthew Swift, Lon­don sor­cerer. At this rate, it could even­tu­ally take a small en­cy­clopae­dia to log all her dif­fer­ent iden­ti­ties. “I hope so,” she says as brightly as a win­ter cold will al­low. “I hope, though, that the first names al­ways begin with ‘ C’ be­cause I strug­gle to re­mem­ber my own pseu­do­nyms and it’s at least some way of get­ting vaguely in the area. Claire North was a pub­lisher’s idea be­cause I’d been Kate Grif­fin for a few years and then I accidentally wrote Harry Au­gust.

She’s talk­ing about a novel that was one of the break­out hits of 2014. The First Fif­teen Lives Of Harry Au­gust re­volves around a kalachakra, some­one who lives the same life over and over. It was a book that grew from “a palate cleanser” short story and, ini­tially, North was con­fused by her pub­lisher’s en­thu­si­asm.

“I was still very much in an ur­ban fan­tasy vein,” she re­calls. “I was like, ‘ Oh no, no, no, this was my ac­ci­den­tal book, I’m still writ­ing Kate Grif­fin.’ They went, ‘ No, no, no, no, your ac­ci­dent is now your life.’ Oh, okay, not the end of the world, but still like, ‘ Oh, I’ll just re- gear my brain to that fact.’”

This in­volved get­ting her head around the idea of her book get­ting a huge mar­ket­ing push. Harry Au­gust was a Book Club choice for Wa­ter­stones, Richard and Judy, and Simon Mayo. “Two peo­ple from the pub­lish­ing of­fice came with me,” she says of her ap­pear­ance on Mayo’s Ra­dio 2 show. “It was lovely but I was like, ‘ Guys I’m happy to get my­self there…’” Oc­cu­pa­tion: Born: 1986 From: Lon­don Great­est H its: As Catherine Webb, North has twice been nom­i­nated for the Carnegie Medal. As Kate Grif­fin, she’s writ­ten six Matthew Swift nov­els. R an­dom Fact: North of­ten thinks about her books while work­ing in the theatre. But not when she’s busy, it’s more a case of, “I’ve got a 10- minute break, I’ll sit and have a mull.”


Safe to say no­body from Or­bit ever turned up when SFX in­ter­viewed North in her Kate Grif­fin it­er­a­tion. So how does she re­act to her new pro­file and all the bal­ly­hoo that sur­rounds be­ing Claire North? “I’m aware that it’s awe­some, and I’m aware that some­times peo­ple feed me cake when I go and do th­ese things,” she says, “but other than that I ac­tu­ally try quite con­sciously not to nec­es­sar­ily fol­low up on the com­mer­cial ef­fects, if that makes sense, be­cause I think I might be­come a mon­ster if I do.”

Not that she’s un­grate­ful, it’s more that be­ing “an au­thor with a cap­i­tal ‘ A’ brings out some­thing ter­ri­bly fright­ened in me”. Her bloke, she adds, thinks she’s “in­vested a huge amount of en­ergy in this whole free­lance, in­de­pen­dence men­tal­ity”. Which is rather ad­mirable, but surely there was pres­sure to come up with an­other high- con­cept idea? North says she strug­gles with this term, and with la­bels such as lit­er­ary. “I aim to come up with ideas that I think will be fun and in­ter­est­ing to tell,” she says. Nev­er­the­less, it’s per­haps telling that she and her pub­lish­ers knew the next Claire North book needed to be “like [ Harry North] but dif­fer­ent” and that all con­cerned “strug­gled for months to find out what that meant”.

The an­swer turns out to be Touch. The spark for the book, she says, came from see­ing peo­ple pass un­der lights and then dis­ap­pear into the gloom while walk­ing. This is re­flected in the way that, in Touch, Ke­pler’s hosts ef­fec­tively blink out of ex­is­tence tem­po­rar­ily when it takes con­trol of their bod­ies.

“I was quite in­ter­ested in the idea not just of iden­tity theft, but al­most the theft of a soul, the theft of a com­plete life,” says North. “What are the moral im­pli­ca­tions of that, but also the psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions for the per­son do­ing the steal­ing? I think there’s a lot out there about pos­ses­sion from the point of view of vic­tims. But I couldn’t think off the top of my head what it would be like to write from the point of view of some­one who would be the posses­sor.”

This is per­haps be­cause this in it­self poses tech­ni­cal chal­lenges. “There was that dan­ger of end­ing up with a char­ac­ter who’s al­most noth­ing, a char­ac­ter who hav­ing no phys­i­cal­ity, hav­ing no fam­ily of its own has no def­i­ni­tion or pur­pose of its own,” says North. “Ke­pler gets round that by jump­ing into a body and then be­com­ing not ex­actly ob­sessed, but com­pletely im­mersed in what it thinks that body’s iden­tity should be.”

It’s just such chal­lenges that can lead to a nov­el­ist get­ting “en­tan­gled” in a uni­verse of what North jok­ingly calls “my art, my words, my art, my words”. In part to head off this risk of be­com­ing An Au­thor, North con­tin­ues to work in the theatre: “So that there can be that mo­ment on a Sun­day night, at 11pm, when I’m seven me­tres up a rick­ety lad­der try­ing to rig some­thing that weighs more than me with a direc­tor un­der­neath go­ing, ‘ Cat, do you think that’s the right kind of red?’ I’m like, ‘ Yes, this is good, this is putting my life in a cer­tain kind of per­spec­tive that I need.’”

Touch is on sale from Thurs­day 26 Fe­bru­ary.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.