Clare Harvey tells Army&You how she juggled her career as an author and military wife…
What is your connection to the military?
When I first met my Royal Engineers husband, Chris Smith, he was a corporal – a tank commander based in Germany. By the time we finally got around to getting married (I proposed to him on Leap Day 1996 in Split, when he was on 72-hours’ leave from his Bosnia tour – but that’s another story) he was a staff sergeant, based at Chetwynd Barracks in Chilwell, Nottingham.
I was an Army wife for 17 years, during which time we had three children and moved house seven times. By the time he left, I had a wardrobe full of below-the-knee-mess-dinner-suitable-dresses, as you do!
How did your career as an author begin?
I began writing when I was pregnant with my first child. My plan was to develop a flexible career that I could fit with Army life and I had always loved to write. What I didn’t appreciate is that writing is a really long apprenticeship.
By the time I realised my ambition, Chris had already signed off, and the children were all in school.
What was your inspiration?
I wrote three contemporary novels about Army life in one form or another before finally getting published with my fourth novel, The Gunner Girl, which is an historical novel about girl soldiers in wartime.
I didn’t intend to become an historical author, but I stumbled into it when my husband happened to mention that his mother had been in the ATS, working on the anti-aircraft guns in London in WWII.
Although his mother sadly passed away before I met her, the idea of women soldiers in London during the war proved an irresistible catalyst for the story that became my debut novel.
How did you manage the work, particularly with your soldier husband away at first?
The Gunner Girl was partly written as masters coursework. I took an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Nottingham whilst Chris was away on ops in Afghanistan in 2011/12. I naively thought that it would be ‘nice to have something to do’ when Chris was on tour.
I hadn’t really appreciated just how much work an MA involves, and how hard it would be to juggle the needs of three primary-age kids (the twins were six and my son was nine at the time), a terminally-ill Labrador and everything else – you know what it’s like. It was really hard work, but friends and neighbours were always a brilliant support, and the book club on camp even critiqued some of my writing, which was a tremendous help.
Why do you think your books appeal to Army families?
I think my books appeal to people with links to the Forces – and not just women. My books aren’t about war, they are about relationships, with armed conflict as the messy, intrusive backdrop to personal dilemmas. And I think this is something that Forces families know all about.
Do you think writing is a good career choice for Army spouses/partners? If so, why?
Being an author is a brilliant job to mix with Army life, because you are completely flexible about when and where you work – but if I’d known how long it would take to realise my ambition, I would have started the process a good ten years earlier!
Do you have any tips for budding authors who are reading this?
Be patient, take as many writing courses as you can to help you improve, and don’t give up.