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‘Unsettled Ground’: Claire Fuller’s Darkly Poignant Novel About An Unusual Family

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Claire Fuller
Claire Fuller

Claire Fuller is back with a new novel. This time, in Unsettled Ground, she brings us a darkly poignant tale about 51-year-old twins who still live at home with their mother and whose lives are devastated by her untimely death — and the secrets she left behind.

Highlights of the interview with Claire Fuller

Claire Fuller’s quick summary of the novel
Really, the book is about Jeanie and Julius who are 51-year-old twins and still live with their mother in a dilapidated cottage in rural England. They have lived there with her for 51 years. And as you said, the mother dies. So at the opening of the book Jeanie and Julius have lived a very secluded isolated life. I mean, they've been relatively happy, but maybe it’s because they've not known anything different. But Jeanie, who has been diagnosed as having a heart condition, stays at home with a mother and tends to garden, growing a few vegetables to sell. And Julius goes out to work for odd jobs, whatever he can pick up here and there. They live a very, hand-to-mouth, cash-based existence because they don't have transport. They don't have technology, they don't have bank accounts, and Dot dies. Suddenly these adult children have to cope with the outside world…and they don't cope with it very well.

On the element of music in the novel
It was really important to have that because it is very sad, very dark things happen, but I think the music really lifts it for the characters and for the reader. And for me… I have to write about the communication between the two of them. Sometimes they struggle to say what they mean, what they want after Dot dies. They suddenly find it very difficult without that third party. But the music. They do literally, and metaphorically use it as a means of communication. So there is a wake for Dot where lots of people gather to have food and drink and to talk about her. And the room is very crowded, and Jeanie plays her guitar in the corner in order to catch Julius’ attention so that, you know, rather than calling out his name, she plays, hoping to kind of call her to him and it works.

On the character of Jeanie
[Jeanie] doesn't have friends, but I did create Maude [the pet dog] in order to, you know, so that she would have some kind of companion…Although Maude is a bit useless, actually. She kind of cowers under the tables and hides when there's ever any threat. But I wanted Jamie to have someone with her, especially after Dot dies and when Julius has the potential to leave her completely. And then it was also really important to me that, you know, at the beginning, Jeanie is this very proud character who won't ask for help, who won't accept even when it's offered, but she does go through this change. So that by the end, she meets this character called Saffron who has a child called Angel. And she accepts help from them. She begins to accept help from Bridget. And so there is this kind of character arc, this change that Jeannie goes through. So she understands that it's absolutely fine to take help, that everybody does that. And it doesn't show that you're weak… She's not a weak person. She is very smart. And this, despite the sometimes very naive choices [she made] because she's been so sheltered. I think she doesn't understand that some people will take advantage of her. So she's not smart in that way, but she is resourceful and she is stoical and she is practical.

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