In our Spotlight On series, we chat with a member of the Writing NSW community to celebrate their success and learn more about their writing practice. This month we’re pleased to put the spotlight on Clare Fletcher, author of the hit novel Five Bush Weddings. Clare spoke with our Membership & Administration Officer Elliot Cameron about challenging her own expectations of writing in the rom-com genre, as well her upcoming book Love Match.
Five Bush Weddings came out almost exactly one year ago. What’s the first year of being a published novelist like?
It’s quite a learning curve. There have been a few moments that feel quite glamorous, and a lot more moments where you realise life is exactly the same! Hearing from readers has been so special, especially when they’re from regional Australia and feel they’ve seen their own experiences reflected back to them in the book. It’s also been a real honour and a pleasure to start to feel part of the community of writers in Australia – everyone is so generous and kind. ‘Authoring’ – doing events and media and networking and talking about books – is so fun but I’m still figuring out how to keep getting actual writing done around it!
The book was a huge success in the Australian rom-com literary scene. Did you always see yourself writing in this genre?
Actually I used to be a bit of a literary snob, I’m embarrassed to say. Despite devouring Bridget Jones’ Diary in high school, I always dreamed of being a precocious literary novelist. When it became clear I wasn’t going to be a wunderkind or pen the great Australian novel, I decided I’d try writing a romance just to see if I could finish a book, thinking it would be easy and formulaic. Along the way I realised I actually loved writing in the genre, remembered all the rom-coms that had brought me such joy, and started reading more in the genre. And seeing what spectacular talent we have in Australian commercial fiction, particularly women’s fiction and romantic comedy, made me repent for my snobby years. Now I’m a massive advocate for the genre.
Your second novel, Love Match, is coming out on 29 August. What’s it like completing another novel only a year after your first? Did your writing process change as a result?
Writing Love Match felt very different to writing Five Bush Weddings, it’s true. You’ll never write with more freedom than you do for your debut – writing to contract and deadline, and with an audience in mind who have a perception of you from your first book, feels very different to playing with a story you believe no one else might ever read.
It’s also worth remembering that while the books might be published twelve months apart, the writing and editing can take longer. I had half written the book that became Love Match when I signed the two-book deal for Five Bush Weddings, but once I got caught up in edits and publicity for Five Bush Weddings I lost touch with the manuscript for quite a while. Love Match needed more structural editing than Five Bush Weddings, but then I’d spent more time polishing and rewriting Five Bush Weddings before my publisher originally saw it. Ultimately I think Love Match is a stronger book because of everything I’ve learned.
Fans of Five Bush Weddings will be coming to Love Match with expectations around your style and voice. How do you manage those as a writer?
Because Love Match spins off from Five Bush Weddings, building on settings and characters from the first book, it was relatively simple to keep the style and voice consistent. The voice has always come instinctively and naturally, because it’s pretty much my voice! I will say that building up the humour was a big part of the editing process with Love Match. It tackles a few heavier themes (mental health, homophobia) so it was important to balance that with lightness.
I am a little nervous about how it will be received. In the rom-com market weddings have an easy appeal, but Love Match is more about small town life, with lots of sport like rugby, tennis and horse racing. I think some women immediately write off anything about sport because they feel like it’s not for them. But that’s exactly why I wanted to write a book about it, because there’s so much joy and fun and community women can gain from team sport, it can be quite transformative.
There are some great testimonials from other Australian writers for both of your books. Who were you most excited to discover enjoyed your writing?
It’s one of the more nerve-wracking parts of putting out a book, asking for those cover endorsements. Getting words of encouragement from writers so established and beloved in the rural romance sphere as Rachael Johns and Rachael Treasure was wild.
There was a tight deadline for cover endorsements on Love Match so I was quite nervous that no one would have time to read it. I sent a midnight email to Hayley Scrivenor on a whim, because she is a DELIGHT of a human and as a small town queer girl I really hoped she’d connect with Love Match, and within a few days she had read it and sent a dream quote.
Sally Hepworth is a queen of commercial fiction and I brazenly gave her a copy of Five Bush Weddings at one of her launch events last year. She read it pretty much immediately and shared some lovely Instagram stories about it. So being a bit shameless can pay off! And sometimes the busiest people surprise you.
What advice would you give to someone aspiring to write their first rom-com novel?
I’ve been working on a podcast (That Rom Com Pod) with another rom-com author, Karina May, where we talk about chasing ‘that rom-com feeling’. You know, the warm and fuzzy one. It’s a kind of alchemy to create that feeling – the perfect cocktail of a vivid setting, leads you want to root for, good jokes and observations that resonate and sizzling chemistry (whatever your preferred spice level). And it’s not something you can engineer with a formula. You can have the cleverest premise, the cutest meet-cute, all the trending tropes, but if it doesn’t feel real it won’t land. You have to lead with your heart, not your head.
To me it boils down to authenticity, and that’s most powerfully established through voice and specificity of details. I don’t want to read a romantic comedy where the romance looks like red roses and diamond rings and sounds like an Ed Sheeran ballad. Every love is different and built on the moments and memories and in-jokes of those two people with all their foibles and failings. The most romantic moment in Five Bush Weddings centres around a meat pie being dropped on the ground. It hits because of who the characters are, where they are, and how they know each other.
So my advice would be to start with voice and spend time getting to know your characters. What’s inside you, your experiences and memories, that you can tap into for authenticity? How specific can you make the details so that your story feels lived in? That’s where you’ll find the originality of voice that makes yours a rom-com no one else could have written.
Clare Fletcher was born and raised in St George, in regional Queensland, and studied journalism and business at QUT in Brisbane. After graduating she moved to Sydney for an internship at the Walkley Foundation for Journalism. Clare’s new novel Love Match will be published by Penguin Random House on 29 August 2023, following her debut novel Five Bush Weddings (2022). She also works on communications for the Walkley Foundation. In 2019 she completed the Year of the Novel Course at Writing NSW with Emily Maguire. In 2022, her short story “Silent Night” was highly commended for the Best Australian Yarn and ‘Little Fish’ won second prize in the Roly Sussex Short Story Competition. In 2021, her short story ‘Death’s Waiting Room’ won the Body In The Library category at the Scarlet Stiletto Awards.
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