Debut Author Snapshot: Claire Fuller

Posted by Goodreads on March 3, 2015

Rate this book
Clear rating
First-time novelist Claire Fuller plays with a disturbing premise in her debut effort, Our Endless Numbered Days. Kidnapped by her own father at age eight, young Peggy Hillcoat lives in isolation in the wilderness, believing that she and her survivalist dad are the only two people left alive in the world. They scrape together a meager existence, barely surviving their first winter, and persevere for many years. But one day Peggy comes across a pair of boots in the woods and begins to question the constructs that have limited her. Fuller's narrative alternates between Peggy's childhood and her emotional return to civilization at age 17, reuniting with her mother and meeting a brother she never knew she had.

Fuller, who started writing at age 40 after a career in marketing, is also a sculptor and artist. The Winchester-based writer shares some of the inspiration for Our Endless Numbered Days.

"I came across this abandoned cabin on a visit to California. I was a little bit obsessed with cabins, and my husband and I even stayed in several during our trip, but they were rather more luxurious than this one."
Goodreads: Tell us about your inspiration for Peggy and her unusual circumstances.

Claire Fuller: Peggy's story came from a real news report about Robin van Helsum, a Dutch teenager who appeared in Berlin in 2011, saying that he had been living in the forest with his father for the previous five years. It turned out that van Helsum was a runaway—a sad story in itself—but it was the thoughts about how he and his father [might have] survived for that long in the forest, what calamity took them there, and why did van Helsum return to civilization when he did that intrigued me.

GR: By 17, Peggy has spent more years of her life in the wilderness than in civilization. How did you prepare and get into the mind-set of a character experiencing a life so far outside the norm?

CF: I did a lot of research. I read many books about extreme survival, some of which were fiction but also quite a few real-life experiences, such as Natascha Kampusch's 3,096 Days and Piers Paul Read's Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors.

I also did a lot of practical research, including hiking through the woods, mushroom-gathering trips, studying maps, and taking pictures of any cabins and sheds I came across. And I spent a lot of time watching videos about all manner of things, from how to make a piano to how to light a fire with a steel and flint and even old episodes of the 1970s English TV series Survivors.

"And then there was research for the fun of it. One day my daughter dressed up as Peggy, and we went out into the woods together to gather kindling and take pictures."
A lot of my time was spent thinking as well as writing, and considering all details of each object that Peggy and her father had with them. For example, what will happen when they can't replace their toothbrushes? Eventually all the bristles will fall out and only the plastic stick will be left, and if they can't brush their teeth for nine years, there are going to be some dental consequences! Or, what will happen when Peggy outgrows her clothes? She can make some more from animal skins, but how will they catch the animals, how will they cure the skins, and what will they sew them together with? Almost every decision had a consequence: How many buckets, how many knives, how far away is the water source, can they grow food, do they have a fishing rod, what about spare hooks, do they have a saw, how about an ax? And many more.

GR: What modern comforts would you miss most if forced to live in a primitive cabin in the woods?

"Just before I took these pictures, we accidentally locked ourselves out of the remote cabin we had rented and had to hike to our nearest neighbor to use their phone. It was only on the walk back, to wait for the owner to arrive with the spare key, that we noticed the bear droppings..."
CF: That's a really good question! I think at first I would miss being able to wash, but apparently after a while you don't notice your smell. I would miss pencils, paper, and music—not being able to write or draw would be very difficult, but perhaps I could manage with some tree bark, a stick of homemade charcoal, and whistling. And although these probably can't be classed modern comforts, Peggy misses butter and cheese, and I have to admit that these two items come straight from the list of things I would miss. Would I survive without cheese? Of course I would, but I wouldn't be very happy. Peggy also misses Christmas dinner and trifle, and these are also two of my great loves, but again, hardly modern comforts. The one thing I would find very hard to do without is central heating. I hate being cold. When I'm writing, I'm often huddled in a blanket with a hot-water bottle. I'm afraid one stove in the corner of a cabin just isn't going to do it for me.

GR: What's next for you as a writer?

CF: I've just finished the first draft of my second novel. This is also about a family pushed to extremes, but it is very different from Our Endless Numbered Days, although nature is still a big element. And I'll be continuing to write short stories and weekly pieces of flash fiction.


Comments Showing 1-28 of 28 (28 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Jasmon Hi Claire! Those are all excellent questions, and have piqued my interest even more! Our Endless Numbered Days is right at the top of my reading list, so here's my twopennorth:

You really seem to have caught at the reading public's imagination with this book. Why do you think we like reading about extreme survival and isolation?


message 2: by Claire (new)

Claire Fuller Hi Sarah,

Good question! I think the main thing is thinking 'what would I be like in that situation? Would I survive?' And we are all fascinated by the real-life (and often desperate) stories of extreme survival, whilst thanking our lucky stars or God, or whatever else we believe in that it hasn't happened to us.

I'd be really interested to know what other people think. And whether they reckon they'd survive in a remote cabin for nine years?

Claire


message 3: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Jasmon In our family, we quite often speculate on the ways we'd survive a zombie apocalypse... We think we'd be pretty good at it! There's a big difference between consensual isolation and being forced into a position, whether you're aware of the fact or not, I guess.


message 4: by Claire (new)

Claire Fuller I'm not sure about a zombie apocalypse, but in my family we're always debating what things we should put in the cellar for when disaster strikes. But it's still full of old wellies, bubble-wrap that 'might come in useful one day', and tins of half-used paint


message 5: by Rachael (new)

Rachael Lucas That's a really interesting question, Claire. I used to spend a lot of time sleeping out in a bothy on my friend's farm as a child (we liked to pretend we were pioneers!) so I suspect I'd probably get by. I'm good at lighting fires, which is a start. Not sure I'd be any good at the whole killing things and eating them bit, mind you...


message 6: by Christine (new)

Christine Jeffords Claire wrote: "Hi Sarah,

Good question! I think the main thing is thinking 'what would I be like in that situation? Would I survive?' And we are all fascinated by the real-life (and often desperate) stories of e..."


I don't know if this could be described as "remote," but I've thought more than once that if I could have a good sturdy squared-log cabin somewhere, with my books, my music, my videos, a power line, my cat, and a trip to the market about once a month, I could function pretty well. I don't get on all that well with people. Most of them seem to be out to get me.


message 7: by Claire (new)

Claire Fuller Lighting a fire without anything to cook on it might not be that helpful! I'm a bit worried about my vegetarian husband - what's he going eat come the end of the world?


message 8: by Claire (new)

Claire Fuller Hi Christine,
Oh, that sounds lovely! Do you think I could have that too, but with a bit of central heating... Oh hang on, doesn't that make it just er, a normal house?


message 9: by Christine (new)

Christine Jeffords Claire wrote: "Lighting a fire without anything to cook on it might not be that helpful! I'm a bit worried about my vegetarian husband - what's he going eat come the end of the world?"

If the world ever really ends, he won't *have* to eat any more!


message 10: by Alison (new)

Alison That's a great interview, Claire. I've often toyed in my imagination with survival and self-sufficiency but I'm sure it would bedifferent in reality... Your research projects must have been amazing!
I'm intrigued by your referencing the title of an Iron & Wine album in the novel's title. What part does music play in your writing process?


message 11: by Claire (new)

Claire Christine wrote: "Claire wrote: "Lighting a fire without anything to cook on it might not be that helpful! I'm a bit worried about my vegetarian husband - what's he going eat come the end of the world?"

If the worl..."


Good point!


message 12: by Claire (new)

Claire Alison wrote: "That's a great interview, Claire. I've often toyed in my imagination with survival and self-sufficiency but I'm sure it would bedifferent in reality... Your research projects must have been amazing..."

Hi Alison, I love Iron & Wine's music, and the title definitely came from his album of the same name. I listened to his music on shuffle on my ipod as I wrote, and I still do. Although I love Our Endless Numbered Days as a phrase, it is also relevant to the story, in that the characters in the forest stop keeping a calendar and decide to only live by the seasons.


message 13: by Helen (new)

Helen Vanderberg Christine wrote: "Claire wrote: "Hi Sarah,

Good question! I think the main thing is thinking 'what would I be like in that situation? Would I survive?' And we are all fascinated by the real-life (and often desperat..."


I've often thought about consciously taking myself off the grid, but you have to do it while you're young. The older you get, the more warmth matters. I was fascinated by Alan Furst's book "The Polish Officer" where the protagonist has to make his way across the forests of central Europe in the dead of winter as Hitler's hordes sweep through his homeland. Beautiful descriptions had me shivering the whole time.


message 14: by Claire (new)

Claire Osgood I think your book sounds like one that I would like to read. What drew my interest was your name. Mine is also Claire Fuller {Osgood}. My grandmother was named Clara Fuller, and she could trace her lineage back to Samuel Fuller, a founder of the Plymouth colony in Massechusetts in the early 1600's. This can be confirmed in the family Bible that passed down through the generations. I wonder if we are related?


message 15: by Jackie (new)

Jackie Cartwright I just received my copy in the mail today Claire, I was so excited as it was a strange day, I had been thinking about my father a lot as he's older brother just died this morning.
Anyway this isn't about sadness, this is about your life as a successful author. I've followed your blog and short stories for a while and had the privilege of reading about your publishing experience, so holding your book felt a tiny bit like I was holding my own first novel. I wish! Plainly you inspire me and I feel very lucky to have your good influence. Good luck with everything.
So glad you're already finished the 1st draft of the next one. Wow!!! Love the image of you with blankets and a hot water bottle. Never tried that. Yes to the blankets and sometimes I wear a read woolen hat. Don't ask. So happy for you - I can't wait to read your wonderful novel!


message 16: by Claire (new)

Claire Helen wrote: "Christine wrote: "Claire wrote: "Hi Sarah,

Good question! I think the main thing is thinking 'what would I be like in that situation? Would I survive?' And we are all fascinated by the real-life (..."


Helen wrote: "Christine wrote: "Claire wrote: "Hi Sarah,

Good question! I think the main thing is thinking 'what would I be like in that situation? Would I survive?' And we are all fascinated by the real-life (..."


Helen wrote: "Christine wrote: "Claire wrote: "Hi Sarah,

Good question! I think the main thing is thinking 'what would I be like in that situation? Would I survive?' And we are all fascinated by the real-life (..."


Hi Helen,

You're right. We can accept many things as normal when we're young. If we're older it's much harder to adapt, both physically and mentally. I don't know that book - 'The Polish Officer' - I go and look it up. Thanks for the recommendation.


message 17: by Claire (new)

Claire Claire wrote: "I think your book sounds like one that I would like to read. What drew my interest was your name. Mine is also Claire Fuller {Osgood}. My grandmother was named Clara Fuller, and she could trace ..."

Hi Claire,
Lovely to meet another Claire Fuller! We could definitely be related, way back. I don't know much about my Fuller ancestors, so can't confirm it!


message 18: by Claire (new)

Claire Jackie wrote: "I just received my copy in the mail today Claire, I was so excited as it was a strange day, I had been thinking about my father a lot as he's older brother just died this morning.
Anyway this isn'..."


Hello Jackie,
I'm so sorry to hear about your uncle. Sad times.

It's very exciting for an author to hear that their book is out there, arriving in people's homes and being read. It becomes something else then - the pictures in your head as you read it will be different to mine. I like that.
I also like the idea of a woolen hat. I might be following you with that one. And good luck with the writing!


message 19: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Vaughan Hi Claire
I'm intrigued that you used to be a sculptor and only began writing once you were 40. Can you draw parallels between sculpting and writing - chipping away at layers, etc - and has the second now entirely superseded the first? Does one form of creativity feed the other?


message 20: by Claire (new)

Claire Sarah wrote: "Hi Claire
I'm intrigued that you used to be a sculptor and only began writing once you were 40. Can you draw parallels between sculpting and writing - chipping away at layers, etc - and has the sec..."


Hi Sarah,
I'm not doing any sculpting at the moment, although still a bit of drawing, but mostly it's just writing. There are parallels - I do my planning with carving and with writing as I go along, changing what I'm doing according to what starts appearing. But the good thing with carving is that you get to start with a lump of stone to work on; with writing you have to create the the thing in the first place before you get to revise and edit it. But even with that similarity, I don't really find that one feeds into the other - they're very separate for me.


message 21: by Nina (new)

Nina Hello Claire! I'm glad I read the March newsletter. This story sounds good. I want to read it! I hope copies will be sold here in the Philippines. I think it's wonderful you're also an artist and sculptor. My sister thinks she's pretty artistic and I draw from time to time as well. I would love to try sculpting too but from my experiences with molding clay, I don't have much confidence.
I don't normally check newsletters from Goodreads but now I know I should. I somehow got interested when I saw the words "kidnap" and "forest".
I've recently been worried I'd live my life just reading stories (which I don't mind but I want more). I would love to write my own stories too and share them with others as I love reading the stories other people make. I come up with nothing but crap though. Any advice for those who aspire to be story writers?


message 22: by Claire (new)

Claire Fuller Nina wrote: "Hello Claire! I'm glad I read the March newsletter. This story sounds good. I want to read it! I hope copies will be sold here in the Philippines. I think it's wonderful you're also an artist and s..."

Hello Nina,
Thanks for your message. You mustn't be so hard on yourself! First drafts are always pretty rubbish, perhaps you just need to revise and edit your writing more. I would say that writing a first draft of a story is 20% of the work, and 80% is revising and editing. And maybe when you're reading something you love try to analyse what makes it work for you, and feed that into your writing. Good luck.
By the way, I know Book Depository delivers books worldwide for free (www.bookdepository.com)


message 23: by Nina (new)

Nina Claire wrote: "Nina wrote: "Hello Claire! I'm glad I read the March newsletter. This story sounds good. I want to read it! I hope copies will be sold here in the Philippines. I think it's wonderful you're also an..."

Hi Claire
Cool! I'll check that out! And thank you so much for the advice! I suppose I'll take my time. I do have a lot of stories in my "to-read" shelf. Ahahaha. I'll keep at it! Thanks again!


message 24: by Terry (new)

Terry Your book summary gave away the whole plot. Why on earth did you do that?


message 25: by Claire (new)

Claire Fuller Terry wrote: "Your book summary gave away the whole plot. Why on earth did you do that?"

It might look like it does, but it doesn't give it away at all! Many readers might assume that the story is about whether Peggy makes it home or not - but that isn't the case - readers know from the very first page that she does make it home. What they don't know is what happens to Peggy in the forest to force her to come home when she does. This is the 'twist' that many readers say they didn't see coming. And I can't say more than that, or I will give it away!


message 26: by Terry (new)

Terry Isn't the 'twist' finding an object in the woods that indicates to the girl that she and her father aren't the only people in the world? I already know that's coming, but it might be interesting to see how that discovery plays out.
Thanks for the reply.


message 27: by Claire (new)

Claire Terry wrote: "Isn't the 'twist' finding an object in the woods that indicates to the girl that she and her father aren't the only people in the world? I already know that's coming, but it might be interesting t..."

No, that isn't the twist either. I can't promise you won't guess it in advance, but I hope you enjoy it if you read it.


message 28: by Terry (new)

Terry OK, now I'm curious. Thanks again for responding.

Terry


back to top