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Talking at Night by Claire Daverley: Former Herts and Essex High School and Summercroft Primary School girl impresses critics with her debut novel

Claire Daverley’s first successful foray into literature was earning her writer’s badge at Brownies in Bishop’s Stortford.

Now the former Summercroft Primary School pupil and Herts and Essex High School student is a critically acclaimed author whose debut novel has been optioned for television.

Talking at Night was published in the United States the week before it hit bookshops in the UK on Thursday July 6.

Claire Daverley. Picture: Emma Shaw
Claire Daverley. Picture: Emma Shaw

With her novel on sale in 22 territories across the world, Claire said that the last few months had been a whirlwind.

She began writing Talking at Night in earnest in January 2021, taking nine months to complete the first draft, but the spellbinding love story between Rose and Will had been “percolating” for much longer.

She said: “In terms of inspiration, there wasn’t a shining ‘aha!’ moment. I’d been writing, and listening, for many years to the characters but also to the sorts of themes I was captivated by in fiction.

Talking at Night by Claire Daverley
Talking at Night by Claire Daverley

“I knew I wanted to write about people, and the things they say and don’t say. I’ve always loved reading and the books that really stirred something in me seemed to have something in common: they were about the shades of who we are, the mistakes we make and the highs and lows of everyday living.

“So I started there, with two characters. Will and Rosie felt so real to me – still do! – and they led me through the story, as strange as that sounds. I couldn’t have predicted what happened, nor did I know the ending – they showed me the way.”

The book’s publication is a dream come true. “I’ve been writing since I was little. I earned my writer’s badge at the Brownies group held at Parsonage Lane community centre, decades ago now, and kept writing into adulthood.”

After completing a fine art degree at Oxford University, she became a publishing marketing manager.

Claire Daverley
Claire Daverley

Claire said: “I always felt that if my dream of being a writer didn’t work out, which was a distinct possibility, then the best back-up plan would be working with books in some other way. I took the leap into being a full-time writer last year.”

That decision coincided with a move from Hertfordshire to Scotland with husband Clive, a former Bishop’s Stortford High School student, although they return to Stortford regularly with spaniel Isla to see Claire’s parents Daryl and Keith.

“Clive and I met at the Voyager Explorer Scout unit, which we always joke sounds very wholesome,” Claire laughed.

“We both love the outdoors, so promised ourselves we’d try to make the move somewhere more rural if ever the opportunity arose.

“In 2020 we both secured remote jobs, sold our house and were looking to move to Scotland before the book deal had even happened.

“So it was a happy coincidence that when I traded marketing for full-time writing, a few months later, it was knowing I’d soon have a desk with a new view. The timing couldn’t have been better.”

Finding an agent had proved tricky in the past. Claire said: “I have a folder of many rejection letters, from over the years, which I kept because I felt like every rejection might be a step closer to getting a yes… maybe, one day!”

After reading just 50 pages of Talking at Night, Ariella Feiner was convinced.

Claire said: “She trusted me to go away and finish the manuscript, and then once I did, it all happened very quickly. She sent it out on a Monday, by the Tuesday we had offers from UK editors and by the next day I had offers from the US and Europe too.

“Only months before, I’d been writing quietly in my bedroom, hoping that one editor in the world might see some merit in what I was writing. To have dozens of editors emailing from across the globe was so unexpected. I’ve still not quite caught up with how it feels.”

In the end, she was published by Penguin Random House – the company she had worked for.

Claire said: “It was an amazing, and very surreal, coincidence. My agent sent my manuscript out without my name on it; only when Penguin made their offer did she reveal I was a colleague, and, thankfully, this didn’t change their decision.

“I don’t think my background in publishing made much difference, in all honesty – I kept my work life very separate from my writing life and didn’t mention at work that I was writing in my spare time, mainly on the commute.

“But I loved books and wanted to work closely with them, and felt very lucky to walk into a building every day where I could talk about stories and write about them online before coming home and trying to write one that I myself would want to read.”

Talking at Night has a clutch of rave reviews already, including comparisons with Normal People by Sally Rooney, adapted into a hit BBC TV drama.

Claire, who is about to turn 32, said: “It’s an incredible – and boggling! – thing to have happened: to have achieved my childhood dream after many years of trying. But with that also comes an immense amount of pressure – mainly from myself, I think.

“In saying that, comparisons to Sally Rooney and so on truly fill me with joy. It’s only an opinion, of course, but for anyone to feel my writing might reach such levels of quality is always going to be a pleasure to hear.

“In terms of writing the next book, the weight of expectation is certainly a new thing to contend with. Writing had always been a solitary activity before, but now there are people – editors, friends, readers – who are hoping for another book, which in many ways is fantastic and, in others, brings its own level of noise.

“But if it ever feels too daunting, I try to come back to one thing: the fact that writing itself is something I’ve always done and will always do. The book deals, the TV option, the extraordinary reviews... all of that has been a very wonderful, very unexpected bonus. So in a strange way I just have to ignore all of it and get back to work. It is my job now, after all.”

Talking at Night has been optioned by New Regency Television. Claire said talented names were already in the frame for parts, but their identity was being kept under wraps.

“There are many hoops to jump through for a novel to get officially adapted for the screen, so it’s by no means getting produced, but every stage so far has been really exciting,” she said.

“I always pictured Johnny Flynn, specifically his character from Beast, or Sam Claflin as Finnick [in The Hunger Games] as the roguish, gold-haired Will, and perhaps someone like a young Emmy Rossum as the dark-haired, thoughtful Rosie. But when the current actor for Rosie was suggested to me, I knew immediately that she’d be right – if it even gets produced, that is. Here’s hoping!”

Meanwhile, Claire has started her next book: “It’s in the early stages, but I’m sinking into the story and getting to know the characters, which is always where I have to begin.

“It’s a novel about three people – a love triangle, you might say – told through the voice of one creative, highly empathetic, open-hearted young woman who experiences something that knocks her for six and has her questioning everything she thought she knew. It’s about lifelong friends, jealousy and the line between loyalty and betrayal. That’s probably all I’ll say for now.”

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