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Meet Clare Knighton - co-author with Bernard Beckett of Deep Fried

Interviewed August 2005

Why did Bernard Beckett choose you to co-write Deep Fried? How did you feel when he first asked you?
Clare KnightonHe’d been keen on the idea of co-writing a book for some time I think but I wasn’t his first choice. When the adult writer he asked was too busy, he asked me, after seeing an article I wrote for the school magazine about the fifth formers’ year. (Nobody else understood the article, by the way, but he must have seen some potential in it I guess).
It was a complete surprise when he asked me if I’d consider writing a book. I’d been coerced into writing the article because no-one else would do it and I never had any pretensions to do any writing apart from whatever was required of me in English class and maybe something at varsity. I was incredibly flattered, of course, that an established author would even consider that I was talented enough to work with, and so, without really knowing what was involved I said yes. Part of the reason Bernard chose me, I think, was that originally (the story has meandered somewhat from this point) the book was to be based on a play I had been part of at Onslow College, also written by Bernard. I played a character similar to Deep Fried’s Sophie and so had a bit of background and knew the voice of the character.
Was Sophie ‘presented’ to you as a character or did she evolve as you went along?
Sophie certainly evolved as my writing improved and I became more confident and sure of her as a character. Bernard and I did discuss who Sophie was but it was left largely up to me in what direction she went, within the bounds of the plot, and which aspects of her personality came through.
How much of a part did you play in the actual plot, other characters, etc? Did you know how it was going to end?
Every week or so Bernard and I would meet up and show each other our writing and work out where we were headed in terms of plot. We must have done dozens of plans of the chapters as we had new ideas about where we should go and what would happen. I was very much involved in the plot and I really valued being able to make that contribution and helping with solving problems, rather than just being told what my section should contain to fulfill an already rigid plot. The story was a constantly evolving entity and in terms of ending, we did go through a few scenarios, some very different, before rewriting to give the final one. Because this was a long term project - we started it when I was in sixth form, we had a lot of time to play round with various ideas.
How did you consult with Bernard Beckett & what was the actual process for the writing of this novel? E.g. did you meet weekly, email frequently, discuss problems, write to a deadline, etc.
As I’ve said above, we’d meet fairly irregularly, depending on other commitments and how much work we’d got done. Generally we would work out where the next episode of each character should go and then come back when that was done. Being at the same school was useful as we could just meet up in lunchtimes or whatever and I could ask him if I had met any problems. Bernard was very good about not imposing deadlines on me because he knew I was doing a lot at school and also wrting as two distinct characters helped this - he could go ahead in the story without me holding him back.
Did you ever have conflicting ideas? If so, how were they resolved!?
We always discussed the plot and characters, rather than having fixed ideas, and we were very much on the same wavelength when it came to what we were after, so I don’t remember any great conflicts. One of us might say, no, I don’t think he or she would do this in those circumstances and the other would usually agree or manage to convince them. If Bernard had been really insistent about something not working I think I probably would have gone with that - he obviously has a lot more experience with this sort of thing than me.
We started it when I was in the sixth form…
How long did it take and did you have to do much editing?
Writing started in sixth form and was pretty much done by the end of my seventh form but we continud to edit and change/ add bits through my first uni year. This year (my second) was mostly just proof reading the manuscript after the publishers had looked at it and changing parts in response to any of their problems. In total, it’s probably taken two and a half years. The first pieces I wrote needed huge amounts of editing. Bernard went through them with me and I think we must have taken out about every third word but it got better as I went along and started to find a voice and a very minimalist style of writing. In terms of the book, we edited our pieces separately, then the book as a whole to make sure it flowed before we sent it to the publishers. They sent it back, we changed some more, sent it back, they read it again… The last edit was with what the pages would actually look like and was picking up things like typos, rather than the direction or content of the story.
What was the best thing about writing this novel?
Seeing my writing improve, I think, and watching the story grow, knowing I was a part of it and that I had contributed something. Of course, being sent an advance copy of the book was incredibly exciting - finally seeing the finished product.
I don’t think I realised quite how personal this kind of writing was.
The worst?
The very first time I had to show Bernard some of my writing. I put it off for several weeks pretending I hadn’t done it and it was incredibly painful watching him read it. I don’t think I realised quite how personal this kind of writing was. Also knowing that Bernard had a lot of faith in me and I really didn’t want him ending up thinking “what on earth have I got myself into, she really can’t write all."
If the book was ever made into a movie who would you like to see playing the parts of Pete & Sophie? Lucinda & Marcus?
I really would have no idea! It’s not something I have thought about at all.
The extent of fast food corporations’ influence is massive and often fairly malignant."
Do you think there are certain elements of truth in Deep Fried regarding corporate manipulation/fast food chains?
Some elements certainly. We researched quite a lot but of course a lot is complete fiction, like the funding of eating disorder research. The extent of fast food corporations’ influence is massive and often fairly malignant and self serving, but it’s up to the reader to pass their own judgement - Marcus and Lucinda are quite compelling in their argument of ‘it’s completely up to you if you eat the burgers or not.’
Would you ever co-write another book? Actually, are you interested in ever writing more fiction?
Having known Bernard personally before doing this work with him was a great help. I think collaborating with a different authour (supposing of course that one would want me to) would be much more difficult for me. I really enjoyed the experience of writing Deep Fried but I think I would certainly wait before even thinking of doing a book by myself. Maybe when i’m older, with something worth saying, and a bit more life under my belt, I’ll be confident enough to contemplate it.
Your future plans? Goals? Ambitions?
At the moment my ambitions are purley academic, and scientific at that. Short term my goals are to finish my degree in genetics (learning Italian on the way) and go on to some kind of post-grad research which hopefullly will be more rewarding than the compulsory stats and chemistry first years have to endure. That’s all that’s on my horizon at the moment, apart from finding the money for the groceries each week.
At some point there’s the rest of the world out there … but it can wait …