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Power Pants and wet wipes - Clare Ward-Smith comes clean

Confessions of Longlisted Unpublished author Clare Ward Smith

Clare's writing cave

Writing Cave ‘Comedy writing requires comedy locations’ says Clare (knowingly)

When did you first hear about the CWIP Prize? When the CWIP Prize was first launched, one of the other writers on the Faber Academy novel-writing course I was on sent me the details and said, ‘This is for you!’ She was right, it was perfect, but Labour Law wasn’t ready and then, every year that passed I thought; this is the year I shall enter! (But then, it took me four years to finish it, see below). Tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing? Like many writers, I’d toyed with it in my youth, but I was on a different path, until one day, I was sitting in my office reading The Times’ Legal Supplement. There was a humorous article in it from a barrister about how annoying solicitors were! Outraged, I fired off a furious (funny) response (because, believe me, barristers win the annoying race every time) which was published, and Frances Gibb (the editor) asked me to write a column for the paper. I later turned that into a blog (called The Anonymous Assistant) and readers kept suggesting that I should write a book, so I did. I finished it eight minutes before the CWIP Prize deadline expired (so apologies for the lack of a copy edit! I’m doing that now). Talk to me about teenage angst: Was it manifested in poetry or diary form? Neither. My angst always manifested itself in letter form; long ‘witty’ (or sarcastic) handwritten epistles to various people or places, which stood me in good stead for life as a litigation lawyer. I still love a good complaint/campaign letter (it’s hard to completely detox). Can you describe what your novel, LABOUR LAW, is about in two sentences? Helen Bailey's (ruthless law firm) employers use her Maternity Leave to steal her clients and ruin her career, but Helen fights back – using her new strength and old skills to whip out her wet wipes, pull on her power pants and litigate like her life depends upon it! Or so it seems. Did you set out to write a funny book? Gender discrimination at work can be a very heavy, depressing topic — what inspired you to make it funny? Yes. Challenging a gritty subject in a witty or satirical way can be quietly powerful. Think of Animal Farm, Vanity Fair, Catch 22, even, Lolita; all famously memorable books which are amusing but, also, startling. The reader thinks, this is funny, but it’s not funny. The paradox is thought-provoking and that’s what appeals to me. Who do you enjoy reading? Anything funny, scary, brilliant, or featuring real-life events. People like DCB Pierre, George Saunders, Aravind Adiga, Nina Stibbe, Helen Fielding, Roald Dahl, James Holland, and Catherine Bailey. What’s your favourite type of humour? Satire (see above). I’m not fond of slapstick (but see below). What’s your most cringe moment in the last five years if you’d care to share for our delight? There are so many! Ask my daughter and she’ll reel off a list, but the most recent one was when I was playing ‘Floor is Lava’ in the woods. As the countdown began, I couldn’t find an easy way to escape the lava so I grabbed a nearby branch (thinking I could swing myself up gracefully like Tarzan) only the branch snapped, mid-swing and instead of gliding upwards into the tree I plummeted to earth and landed upside down on my head! My daughter and husband thought it was the funniest thing ever and I had concussion for a fortnight. Is there a funny line, scene or book that you wish you’d written? Vernon God Little (my favourite funny book, about a high school massacre!), The Twits (forget children, every married couple should read this book) and the spontaneous combustion chapter in Bleak House (who wouldn’t want to have written that?) Where does your writing magic happen, and can you tell us about your writing routine? In my fantasy life, I write in a turret over-looking a beautiful lake with otters … but, having written on The Tube/Thameslink for several years, I can only write in extreme conditions, so I find towards the messiest room in my house, carve out a small corner next to the broken toys, discarded cushions and general chaos, make bad coffee, and write there. Helen Lederer says ‘You had us at extreme and wet wipes…oh and power pants – we love a legal witty writer - what are your rates…? ’

2021 Unpublished Longlist
‘Labour Law’ by Clare Ward-Smith is second from the right

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