By BRUCE DENNILL
This Might Sting A Bit by Claire Adlam tells the story of a charmingly dysfunctional family, with a closet full of skeletons, and examines the challenges of addiction. Claire grew up in Harare, Zimbabwe, and has worked in media and PR for nearly 30 years. In 2006, she moved to Cape Town, South Africa, where today she runs her own communications and design agency. This Might Sting a Bit is her first novel.
When, and under what circumstances, did the idea for your latest book come to you?
The book follows a nutty-around-the-edges but mostly normal Zimbabwean family, with a number of addictions and social issues trickling through the family and close friends. I believe that there is a bit of the author in every work of fiction, and there are certainly parts of me in this book, having faced addiction myself.
Did it initially feel like something to commit to, or was that something that took time to develop?
The story has been brewing since the early 2000s. Then in 2009, a few years after I moved to Cape Town from Zimbabwe, I just sat down and started writing one day. I wrote and wrote every morning before work. Soon enough, I had a book but it was way too long. We’re talking 100 000 words too long! I knew it needed editing but I lost enthusiasm and decided to focus on my career and my agency. During lockdown in early 2021, I decided to let my book leave home. We all need some warm, feel-good stories given how stressful life has become. I can safely say that writing it was the easy part. This part – publishing, promotion and marketing – is not for sissies. And I work in media!
How did you conduct your research or other preparation before writing – was it more experiential or more academic or desk-based?
I have been in treatment myself for a dependency on prescription pain meds, so my book research can be called life-based and guided by hard-won experience. I have also met so many fascinating people along the way, in similar situations – real people, real lives, real heartache but real survival stories too. I am also an avid watcher of modern society and how people become their own brands based on their beliefs and value systems. I will put my hand up and admit that I also watch really bad reality TV, as that is fertile ground for social issues and modern-day character development. Well, that’s my excuse!
If money was no object, what additional groundwork would you like to have completed?
This is not so much about money but more an impossible dream. As a writer, I would give anything to spend an hour with some of the celebrities and remarkable talent we have lost to addiction. I would love to hear their stories first-hand and understand how they felt in their darkest hours; how or why they couldn’t or didn’t want to make it back. There are so many. We can all rattle off the names of at least five celebs without too much thought.
When considering influence, do you find yourself wanting to write like someone (in terms of their style, tone or use of language), or aiming for a kind of perspective or storytelling approach you admire or enjoy?
Some years ago I read Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight by Zimbabwean author Alexandra Fuller. We have different styles, but it is a book that has stayed with me over the years and I need to read it again. A stunning account of childhood in Zimbabwe.
What’s in your to-read pile – and what upcoming book (other than yours!) are you most looking forward to?
Other than mine? If I have to read mine again I might scream! Irish author Marian Keyes’s sequel to Rachel’s Holiday. Super excited about that one. Addiction fiction like only Keyes can do. Currently by the bed is Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty. I also have one or two Kristin Hannah novels lined up. And I am looking forward to another Zimbabwean author’s latest book – Paula Hawkins’ A Slow Fire Burning. I don’t always have the time to read as much as I’d like to. It’s probably down to all that bad TV that has to be watched!
Do you have a favourite character that you have created? Or if you’re writing non-fiction, do you have a specific topic that you find endlessly fascinating?
In This Might Sting A Bit, my favourite character is Grandpa. He is the rock in the family and brings the humour. He doesn’t give a toss about convention or what people think. He is fiercely protective of his family and is devastated as he watches his granddaughter spiral out of control – a replay of his daughter’s rock bottom decades earlier. I have already started thinking that if I write a sequel, Grandpa is going to have break some records and live to a ridiculously ripe old age because I just can’t kill him off. It would finish me to end Grandpa. Some fans have said they’d marry Grandpa in a heartbeat. There is another character called Colin. He is not a favourite character in the same sense but he’s a very important one. He’s the bad guy, the dealer. I needed him as a means to show how insidious prescription drug addiction can be and how dealer/addict relationships can start in the most unlikely ways, in broad daylight in a store. And how they unravel or flourish from there, depending on which side of the fence you sit. Suffice to say, it would be no problem to have Colin whacked. So those are my two favourite characters, but for very different reasons.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”default_sidebar”][/vc_column][/vc_row]