Monday, August 20, 2012

A Conversation Across the Water

Donna: My guest today is Claire Dunn from England, a friend I made through the Association of Christian Writers. Congratulations, Claire, on publishing your first novel. Tell us about yourself.

Claire: With a degree in history and a career in specialist education, writing a novel is not so divergent a choice of occupation as it might at first seem. My all-abiding love of history, language and learning came together in my debut novel: Mortal FireThe Secret of the Journal - the first of a series of romantic thrillers with a twist published by Monarch Books in the UK in May, 2012, and in August in the United States.

Mortal Fire grew out of a desire to weave the sort of story that kept me enthralled – multi-layered, dark, with an evolving tale that packs a punch, but it might never have been written if the predictions of my headmaster at primary school had proved correct. Struggling to learn to read and write, school represented a hurdle to be overcome. I nonetheless loved literature, and it wasn’t until I left school that dyslexia was diagnosed.

Refusing to be daunted, I went on to study history at university. On graduation, and building on my own educational experiences, I established a school for children with dyslexia, autism, and communication difficulties, which I still run.    

Now I divide my time running my school in Kent and writing in the south west of England, a life I can only describe as living between the here-and-now and the never-never.

Donna: And I’ll bet you’re never bored, Claire. Can you share some of your story without giving too much away, of course?

Claire: Mortal Fire follows Emma D’Eresby a 29 year-old, independent and self-contained professor of history – who leaves her Cambridge college for a post in an exclusive university in Maine, USA. It is meant to be the culmination of her obsession with a curious journal – the diary of a long dead Englishman - a portion of which was left to her by her grandfather; instead the legacy leads her to a head-on collision with history and a secret that should never have been uncovered. But, most diverting and disconcerting of all, is Emma's growing attraction to the strikingly handsome Dr. Matthew Lynes, whose kind but deliberately distant demeanour puzzles her. And the mystery surrounding Matthew only deepens when Emma discovers a link between him and the journal. What is Matthew trying to hide?

Donna: That sounds gripping, indeed. Congratulations on being endorsed by Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse) and Fay Sampson (The Hunted Hare)). Those are two of my favourite authors. Now, tell us how you came to write Mortal Fire.
Claire: Hanging on my bedroom wall is an excerpt from the poem ‘God Knows’ written by Minnie Louise Haskins in the early C20th, and used for King George VI’s Christmas broadcast in 1939. You may know it from the opening lines:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
It is undoubtedly easier to put this into practice when the way is clear and the light shines brightly on your road ahead. Sometimes, however, your way is not clear until you are on it, and this is the path I found myself treading one spring in 2009. First, a bit of backstory...
Although a career in writing and history had been my ambition from my earliest years, the twin revolutions of finding Christ and a diagnosis of dyslexia took my life in a different direction.  I fully believed – and still do – that the dyslexia was  both a gift (in the way that only God is able to turn a negative into a positive and so much more) and a command to direct my life in service to others with the same condition. The setting up and running of a school for children with a range of specific language difficulties was therefore a straightforward, unquestionable act of obedience. It wasn’t easy, in fact there were many obstacles over a long period of time that threatened to stop the project in its tracks, but not once did I question the validity of what I had been asked to do.
So what has this to do with writing, you might ask? Well, quite a lot really. I had long put aside any desire to write, and the development and running of the school dominated life for a considerable number of years. Content with this, I didn’t look for anything else. It came as something of a surprise, therefore, when a thought became a niggle, and the niggle became an itch. In 2009, I resisted no longer, and scratched the itch until it became a book. But what sort of book and who was I writing it for? Herein lay my dilemma.
Although Mortal Fire is primarily a book about a developing romance and the mystery that surrounds the central characters, I introduced elements of faith because it is important for my heroine, and has a bearing on the unfolding story. Emma is a Christian but in this first book of the Secret of the Journal series her faith is almost dormant as she hides in a bubble created in an attempt to protect herself from her past. Emma is not seen praying on a regular basis, does not attend church – yet faith underlies her life and the choices she makes and, gradually, as she is shaken from her somnolence, she wakes. Nonetheless, I would describe Mortal Fire as a secular book, albeit written from a Christian perspective. How could I justify the amount of time spent writing a story and one not intended to enlighten or comfort, but merely to entertain? Where was this in God’s plan for me? How did it serve Him?
I discussed it with Christian friends, read how other authors and singers juggled secular and non-secular aspects of their work, and, of course, I prayed, bending God’s ear repeatedly over the months it took to complete Mortal Fire. And each time I prayed for clear direction I had the same message to keep going and I would ask ‘but why?’, because I couldn’t quite believe there could be any purpose in it. Non-Christian friends didn’t see the problem – ‘write because you want to’, they said. But it was difficult for me to see how I could serve God through writing this book, whereas the purpose of the school had been abundantly clear from the outset.
There came a point when I had a completed manuscript – well two, but that’s another story – and I set off to find a publisher. To cut a long story short (and what a story) I entered into negotiations with a Christian publisher in the UK. We discussed what they were looking for, I explained my perspective - toning down some elements, and highlighting others - until we had a balance and I had a contract.
I had accepted the directive to write; but I still didn’t understand why? Then a friend said to me “Write for God in the best way you can and He will find a purpose for it”, and someone else said, “It’s not what you do that matters” and at last I understood that it wasn’t up to me to decide God’s purpose in this, all I had to do was to let go.
It came down to trust. The lesson I learned when writing The Secret of the Journal series is echoed by one of the characters who, taking from Isaiah 55:8, quoted:  
 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD.’  (King James 2000 Bible)
Mine is not to reason why; mine is to do and write. Stepping out of our comfort zone is a matter of trust, stepping out into the unknown – at whatever level – is a matter of faith.
Donna: So true, Claire. Obedience is a lesson we just have to keep on learning, isn’t it? Where can we find you on the web?
Claire: The Mortal Fire video is on YouTube at:     
            And the book is on AmazonUK at:


  1. Thank you for a fascinating interview, Donna and Claire. Yes, we have to trust God in our writing and in every aspect of our lives.

    I've added "Mortal Fire" to my wish list, it sounds like a terrific read.

  2. Great blog and so true.Loved hearing how God led you.

  3. What a beautiful story! It is amazing what God can do when we offer up everything to Him. And you, sweet lady, are an amazing woman!

    This sounds like a great book!

  4. Nice to meet you, Claire! Congratulations on your book.

  5. Thank you Ruth, Dale, Jennifer, and Valerie and many thanks to Donna for posting the blog. Writing Mortal Fire has been a leap of faith and - along with the school and family - one of the most fulfilling and enjoyable aspects of my life. If you get around to finding a copy, I do hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. It comes with a health warning though: Mortal Fire poses lots of questions but gives little away, so be prepared to wait until the second book of The Secret of the Journal series: Death Be Not Proud!