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LOCAL PROFILE: Kent writer Claire Lorrimer

What do a romance writer, a top secret war time job, a beautiful cottage and garden in Kent, a famous mother, a Remington Portable typewriter, and Prince Charles have in common? The answer is the wonderful and prolific Claire Lorrimer.

Claire, author of over 80 books that span the centuries and include dashing heroes, strong heroines, and some oh so wicked villains, spoke to us from her stunning and much loved home in the Kent countryside where she told us about her writing, her family, and her exciting life.

Claire.Lorrimer..modern

Do you plot your books in advance, or does the story come to you as you’re writing?

The answer to that is both. A certain amount of it is plotted in advance, but then I can be out walking the dog and suddenly have an idea as to how I’m going to carry that on, or something that’s going to take place during the writing of the book.

You’ve created dozens of characters over the years.  Is there one that stands out as your absolute favourite, or one that you really dislike after you’ve written about them?

Oddly enough, nobody comes to mind who I actively dislike. I’m sure there must have been some, but certainly from the character point of view, the one that I most remember, if you like to put it like that, is a girl known as the Chatelaine, and the book is called The Chatelaine, and I loved that story better than any other that I’ve written.

How long does it take you to write a book, roughly?

Well, in the days when I was writing the trilogies, which were about 700 pages long, it must have been, I suppose, start to finish, a couple of years. But normally, if it’s a shorter book than that, 18 months or a year. It depends on the length of the book and the intricacy of it.

When you were a little girl, your mother gave you a typewriter. Did that inspire you to be a writer?

No, no, absolutely not. I was only interested in animals, so I wanted to work with animals somehow or another. And oddly enough, when I came out of the war after six years working underground doing radar, I got a job for a year in Regent’s Park Zoo, in the children’s zoo. I didn’t start writing as a career until after that. I wrote during the war, of course, I wrote short stories, but not as a career.

Well, your path certainly started a wonderful career, so it worked out rather well in the end. And the typewriter that your mother gave you, do you still have it?

I still have it. My Remington portable. It’s interesting, I now try it out to demonstrate it to somebody, and say that I used to write XYZ thousand words on this a morning. And I can’t believe that I did it, because the pressure you’ll need to get a key down is enormous. It’s so light now when you’re electronically working on a keyboard. It’s so slow, but I wouldn’t part with it for the world. It was a trusty typewriter that went with me everywhere­—it went to Libya; it went wherever I went.

Your mother was also a writer; tell us a bit about her.
My mother wrote 160 books. Yes, I know, it’s extraordinary. They have all been put on e-book this year, so there’s going to be a completely new generation of readers. A lot of people still read her in the libraries, all these years after she died, her library reading numbers are quite phenomenal.

I know you love your garden, and it’s the reason you bought your house in Kent. What is your favourite Kentish season, and when is your garden at its most lovely?

Oh dear, what a very difficult question. Well, it’s so lovely at so many different times of the year. I’ve seen it when it’s under two feet of snow, and it’s absolutely magical. I don’t know, it seems to have a quality of being able to be beautiful, no matter what. I think probably autumn, when the leaves come down, but I don’t think there’s a time ever when I look out on the garden and think, ‘oh, I don’t much like you, I don’t have any urge to go out there’. It’s terribly tempting for me, because my study is in the garden, with a French door that opens onto the garden. And of course, when I’m working and I hear the birds or see a rabbit run across the lawn, I’m terribly tempted to put down the computer and go and see what’s going on out there, or sit out there for a little bit, try and get some ideas.  It’s a very tempting place to be, my garden.

During the War, did you enjoy your work in the radar room?

I was lucky to be given the job that I was given—it was fascinating; it was dangerous; I enjoyed the company. I don’t regret one single minute of it. It was six years, important years of my life, 18, 19, 20—if you think about those years normally and a young girl would be enjoying herself. I don’t regret any of it.

And of course, you weren’t allowed to talk about your work for a long time?

Not at all, no. It was 1976 before we were off the Secrets Act. That was rather pleasing, because my parents naturally wanted to know where I was, and I smugly said, no, I can’t, I can’t, it’s secret. It must have been madly irritating for them, yes.

But perfect for a young girl.  And I think you recently met Prince Charles and Camilla because of your war work?

That was with the opening of the museum at Bentley Priory. Now that radar’s off the Secrets Act, they’ve opened this museum, which shows a replica of the filter room where I was, and of the ops room, and all the other parts and pieces of the Dowding System, which is what was so incredibly valuable to the Spitfire pilots who were winning the war, or doing their best to win the war.

Your current novel, are you able to give us any clues as to what it might be about?

It’s not modern, sort of pre-Second World War. I’ve gone back to being historical now; I’m back in the Victorian times, so a slight change of background. I’m quite pleased with how it’s going so far.

www.clairelorrimer.co.uk

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