Having been privileged to do the cover reveal for The Last Day by Claire Dyer, I’m absolutely delighted that Claire joins me in interview on publication day. I’m even more thrilled that I’ll be joining Claire at the launch for The Last Day this evening and I can finally share my review!
The Last Day
They say three’s a crowd but when Boyd moves back in to the family home with his now amicably-estranged, Vita, accompanied by his impossibly beautiful twenty -seven-year-old girlfriend, Honey, it seems the perfect solution: Boyd can get his finances back on track while he deals with his difficult, ailing mother; Honey can keep herself safe from her secret, troubled past; and Vita can carry on painting portraits of the pets she dislikes and telling herself she no longer minds her marriage is over.
But the house in Albert Terrace is small and full of memories, and living together is unsettling.
For Vita, Boyd and Honey love proves to be a surprising, dangerous thing and, one year on, their lives are changed forever.
An Interview with Claire Dyer
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Claire. Congratulations on today’s publication of The Last Day.
Firstly, when did you realise you were going to be a writer?
I think I’ve always aspired to be a writer. As a little girl I’d write stories and poems – they were obviously very bad – but I was lucky that my family encouraged me. My mother died when I was seven and I was told that she had loved writing and had short stories published in her school magazine, so I guess I wanted to carry on where she left off. However, it wasn’t until my kids were teenagers that I finally started to apply myself conscientiously to practising the craft. I remember when I went to meet my first publisher, I had a very strong sense that my mother was there with me; it felt great to be able to share the moment, albeit virtually, with her!
(I’m sure your mother would be so proud of you.)
You’re a poet as well as a novelist. How do the two disciplines enhance or inhibit one another do you think?
When I’m writing poetry I try to think like a story-teller: a fellow poet once said that a poem is like a scene in a book and that when writing, we should do what we do in fiction, ie. get in late and get out early, so I constantly re-evaluate my opening and closing stanzas to make sure the poem is as instant and vivid as possible. And, when I’m writing fiction, I try to think like a poet: I listen for the music and beauty in language and give a lot of thought to word choice. I therefore believe the two disciplines go hand in hand and feel very blessed that I seem to have found a voice in both.
I know you know you now teach creative writing after quite an eclectic CV. How does teaching writing impact on your own work?
You’re right, I have had a very varied number of jobs! My approach to the creative writing courses I teach now has been to deconstruct the elements I believe writers use in their fiction, and so we look at character, plot, place, point of view, etc., etc., and then when we’ve got a grip on what they are, we have a go at putting them back together in our writing. Moreover, my grandfather always said that if you wanted to learn an instrument, you should take a pupil, so teaching has made me really focus my mind on what makes good writing good and has instilled in me the discipline to try and put into practice what I preach!
Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about The Last Day?
The Last Day is about three people – Vita, her former husband, Boyd, and Boyd’s new girlfriend, Honey – learning to live together in Vita’s small terraced house. The story follows them over the course of a year during which their separate and shared pasts and their present conflicts and tensions collide, changing them all in ways they don’t foresee.
As it’s publication day for The Last Day, how will you be celebrating?
The very lovely people at The Dome Press are throwing a party and it’ll be fantastic to be able to share the event with those who supported me and the book while I was writing it, those who’ve made it into a real thing with pages and everything, and those who’ve been such champions of it so far! I am so looking forward to saying a huge and soppy thank you to as many people as I can!
(And I’m looking forward to being there Claire!)
I was thrilled to reveal The Last Day cover. I love it. It suggests a real maelstrom of relationships to me. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?
Firstly, thank you SO much for the cover reveal! The cover was designed by Mark Swan and when it got sent through to us, everyone at The Dome Press and DHH Literary Agency really loved it because it summed up so precisely what the book is about: three people in a state of flux. I particularly like its energy and its colours and how the figures represent so closely how I see the characters in my mind!
It was my absolute pleasure and delight Claire.
The Last Day is written in the continuous present tense suggesting an immediacy and the possibility for the events to occur to any one of us. Why did you choose this tense instead of a simple past?
This is probably not a very writerly thing to say, but I don’t think I consciously chose to write it in the continuous present, it just came out that way! I suppose it was because the story was happening as I was writing it and there are sections in it which just wouldn’t work in any other tense but I can’t really say any more about that right now!
You explore love as a theme in The Last Day. To what extent do you think love has the ability to surprise us still?
Oh, I think love is a constantly changing thing but that sometimes it’s hard for us to rationalise this and so it makes it an intriguing topic to explore. Sometimes we can get hooked on the past and are fearful of the future and so we forget to live in the present and therefore miss the signs that tell us that something is beginning or ending until it’s too late.
If you could choose to be a character from The Last Day, who would you be and why?
I’d love to be Vita for a day! I adored writing her because I never quite knew what was going to come out of her mouth next. She swears, is rude and bad-tempered, but she’s also complex, compassionate and loving. She’s a woman who doesn’t say what she means and doesn’t mean what she says, one who believes she lives life on her terms but who doesn’t really and who gets to know herself in a way I admire. She has the sort of courage I sometimes wish for myself!
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
I read loads of different kinds of books. Having done an MA in Victorian literature, I confess I adore Brontë, Dickens, Eliot, etc., and, after doing a module on 20th Century American Literature during my first degree, I’m also a big fan of F Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway. But I love all books really. I’ve been in a Book Group for 13 years and we’ve read 140 books over that time! I’m also part of the Radio Reads team on BBC Radio Berkshire, so we pick a different book each month that listeners can get from their local libraries and again, we’ve had a huge range of titles, from psychological thrillers, to rom coms, to literary, historical fiction and detective fiction and cosy crime. I also read a lot of poetry. I subscribe to a number of magazines and journals and go to poetry readings – my shelves are jammed tight with the poetry collections of the many poets I admire.
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that The Last Day should be their next read, what would you say?
Please do read it, like love can so too may The Last Day surprise you!
Thank you so much for your time in answering my questions Claire.
My Review of The Last day
Living with her estranged husband Boyd and his much younger girlfriend Honey will affect Vita in surprising ways.
The Last Day is an affecting and effective novel that is intelligent, beautifully plotted and superbly crafted.
The mix of Vita’s first person narrative against the third person sections belonging to Boyd and Honey should place her centre stage but the balance of perspectives is delicately wrought so that I felt I knew and understood all three equally well. These are vivid, desperate people whose lives are so intricately interwoven that Claire Dyer has a masterful touch in conveying their lives, their passions, their bitterness and their griefs.
I loved the lurking menace from Honey’s past that hangs threateningly over the story, and the grief that she, Vita and Boyd all experience is almost too much to bear. Having so few extraneous minor characters in Belle, Tricia and Colin gives a taut claustrophobic feeling so that I was waiting for the storm to break. Although I guessed the plot with ease, this was by no means negative, but rather added to the enormous satisfaction in reading a crafted, honed and beautiful novel.
The title The Last Day is perfect. I can’t explain all the nuances for fear of revealing too much of the plot, but I thought the ways we are reminded that there are so many last days in our lives and that we never know exactly when any particular one will occur gave the novel an almost Shakespearean feeling. There is real tragedy here on many levels. The manner in which Vita’s thoughts are presented almost as asides adds to this sensation and gives depth to her character whilst making the reader see inside her head so clearly.
I didn’t like the way the novel ended, not because it wasn’t perfect because it was, but because there could really be no other resolution and not everyone could have their happy ending as I wanted. I was reduced to tears at both the desperate sadness and the potential optimism that pervade this story. Claire Dyer understands humanity and presents it on the page with utmost skill.
I haven’t read anything from Claire Dyer before, but my goodness I will in the future. I loved The Last Day and cannot recommend it highly enough.
About Claire Dyer
Claire Dyer’s novels The Moment and The Perfect Affair, and her short story, Falling For Gatsby, are published by Quercus.
Her poetry collections, Interference Effects and Eleven Rooms are published by Two Rivers Press. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London and teaches creative writing for Bracknell & Wokingham College.
She also runs Fresh Eyes, an editorial and critiquing service.
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