Monday 18 January 2021

A Month of Being Brave: Summing Up

In November I set myself the challenge to follow Liberty’s example in A Winter’s Dream and spend the month of December being brave (I wrote about it here). I invited friends and family to set me challenges that would push me out of my comfort zone or encourage me to try new things.

How did I get on?

I’m pleased to say that I:

  • made a quilt
  • climbed Kinder Scout
  • ran 10km
  • learned how to knit
  • made the 13 desserts of Christmas

You can see videos for each of these challenges on my YouTube channel here

I was also set the challenge of reading the classic French novel, Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Unfortunately, I didn’t complete this one in time, but more about that in a moment.

Climbing Kinder Scout
The physical challenges (a run and a hike) were a very different kind of fear from the others, and the thrill when I completed them was equally physical. I found completing these challenges life-affirming, invigorating, and they gave me a real high. 

I’m very keen now to take part in organised races and to test myself with faster times or longer distances.


The crafty challenges (quilting, knitting) were time-pressured, but in normal circumstances would have been relaxing and mindful. 

Like with the physical challenges, they’ve made me want to carry on knitting and make more quilts for charity. 

I’m more confident now that I can machine-sew, and I’ve added to my skill set.

 And the baking challenge brought unexpected drama (see the video), but it was great fun and the results were a bonus! I’ll never serve Christmas pudding again now I’ve tasted the delicious 'buche de Noel' (chocolate log). 

Les 13 desserts de Noel

What didn’t work?

The novel, Les Misérables, is over 1200 pages long, and I simply didn’t allow enough time to read it. I kept a week free between Christmas and New Year, but with hindsight that wasn’t enough. However, even if I’d started reading it earlier, I was so busy with the other challenges I’m not sure I would have completed it. But I’m around halfway through and enjoying it, so I’m planning to finish it in my own time.

The downside of doing these challenges in December was that I had less time to prepare for Christmas. Fortunately, Christmas 2020 was a low-key affair so I think I got away with it.


What did I learn?

Planning is key for most things, but especially for those we find scary or difficult. I broke each task down into small stages, for example, running a bit further each day, and this quietened the voice in my head that wanted to tell me I couldn’t do it. I could and I did! 

I repeatedly underestimated myself, then was surprised by what I achieved.

Would I do it again?

Definitely! All my challenges required energy and dedication, but the rewards were huge.

And having a purpose during the lockdown and Covid restrictions was wonderful. While everyone around me was feeling down and dreading the prospect of a quiet Christmas, I was getting up early to run, and my evenings were filled with baking and knitting. It gave me a positive focus in dark times.

One reviewer of A Winter's Dream said, I recommend this as a January read, as its themes include confronting fears, shaking things up, trying something new.” And I agree.

In fact, I recommend challenging yourself at any time of year. I’m definitely planning to push myself more in future. There’s no better way to give yourself a confidence boost than by surprising yourself with your own achievements.

Have you challenged yourself recently? If so, how did it go? I’d love to hear from you.


PS: A huge thank you to my friends and family who set the challenges, and also to Anna Caig, who gave me the idea.

Tuesday 24 November 2020

My Year of Being Brave

My latest book, A WINTER’S DREAM, tells the story of Liberty who feels her life is stuck in a rut – so she challenges herself to say yes to everything for the month of December.

“Every opportunity, every invitation, I’ll accept. Every difficult dilemma, I won’t let myself go for the easy option. I’ll do the opposite instead. And every day I’ll do at least one thing that takes me out of my comfort zone.” 

A Winter’s Dream by Sophie Claire.

Since the story is about being brave and overcoming your fears, I decided that the best way to research this was to have a year of being brave myself. Gulp.

I needed to feel the fear exactly like my character would, I needed to experience how it felt to dig deep and find the courage to overcome difficult hurdles. So I began by thinking hard about what we find scary, and a quick poll on Facebook made me realise that it’s different for everyone. Yes, the obvious ones are heights and parachute jumps, and spiders and insects featured heavily too, but my biggest fear is getting up to speak in public. 

It terrifies me.

I chose not to make a speech at my wedding, I was a nervous wreck when I had to give presentations for work, and I would do anything rather than find myself on a stage, tongue-tied with a room full of faces all watching me.

So that was obviously going to be my first challenge, then!

I booked myself on a course for honing your presentation skills, and although it was fun (especially the bit where I had to read aloud whilst having socks thrown at me!) and I learned some useful tips, I was still nervous. 

Then I won a short story competition and was invited to read my work at the awards ceremony. It would have been so easy to say I wasn't available – but just like Liberty I made myself do the opposite and accepted the invitation. I followed the advice I’d learned of practising, and speaking slowly and loudly. I also printed my story in an enormous font so I could read it easily. I was really nervous beforehand. Would I mess it up? Stumble over my words?

Chester Prize for Literature 2019

The big day came and I was even more nervous when I discovered there was no podium to hide behind and no microphone either. My legs were shaking so much I was sure everyone would see. 

But I did it.

I read clearly and didn’t mumble or get tongue-tied, and afterwards people came to tell me how much they’d enjoyed my story. I was by no means the best speaker – one lady read with such expression it was liking watching an actress at work and I was full of admiration – but I did ok.

The relief was overwhelming. And the sense of achievement too. I’d surprised myself and I was elated. If I could do this, what else could I do that I’d never dared try before? Suddenly the world didn’t seem such a frightening place after all.

What else did I do in my year of being brave? Well, on a research trip to Provence I drove a hire car in France for the first time. Driving on the right-hand side was the trickiest part, and getting used to the gearstick on the right took some time. I also left the Sat Nav in French mode rather than English because this was not the easy option, but great research. And I managed, even if I did drive up one particularly windy mountain road in 2nd gear all the way! (I used that experience in the book).

My year of being brave brought some great memories, and my confidence really grew as a result. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone was fabulous research for my book, and the sense of achievement when I accomplished something I hadn’t thought possible was unbeatable. 

But it's not over yet. 

For the month of December I'm going to follow Liberty's example and say YES to challenges set for me by friends and family. There'll be around half a dozen, and they will include:

  • running 10km
  • a sewing challenge (Liberty's a keen quilter)  
  • a baking challenge to make the 13 desserts of Christmas (a Provencal tradition mentioned in the book)

You can follow my progress on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. And perhaps you'll be inspired to challenge yourself too? (Let me know if you do, and I'll cheer you on!) 

I must admit, I'm quite daunted by the prospect of facing these challenges: there will be nowhere to hide if I don't succeed in them. But I've learned that half the battle is being willing to simply have a go.  So here's to a month of being brave. Wish me luck!


Sophie’s latest book, A WINTER’S DREAM, is available in Tesco, online and in bookshops.


Monday 8 June 2020

What a Difference 5 Years Makes!

Remember this?

I didn’t realise it had been so long, but Facebook recently reminded me that this was published 5 years ago! Which is timely – because today the paperback is out of A FORGET-ME-NOT SUMMER!

Small-town florist Natasha is determined to leave the past far behind her. But when she learns her ex-husband never told his family about their divorce — and that he needs her to accompany him on a trip to the French countryside — could love bloom again between them?

It’s a re-release with my new publisher, Hodder. The same book, but not the same.

Let me explain.

You might recall that I signed a 3-book deal with Hodder last year (read about it here) including this book. However, it was 55,000 words long and the norm in women’s fiction is 80-90,000, so they asked me to make it longer.

At first I found it a daunting prospect. I wanted the story to carry the reader along and keep the ‘will they/won’t they’ romantic tension, so I definitely didn’t want to pad it out with unnecessary scenes or description. Also, my editor and I agreed that we didn’t want the story to change too dramatically because it had previously sold well with good reviews.

But as I read the book again, I realised there was so much in my head which hadn’t made it to the page the first time round. Backstory about Natasha and Luc, and memories of their brief relationship in the past. Scenes with Luc’s family which revealed more about him, his qualities and flaws. I added all this, and it was great to give the secondary characters more room on the page too. One of the young children rather stole the show with his desire to teach Natasha how to speak French, and Luc’s father showed himself to be a mischievous devil!

Several Provencal dishes were mentioned in the story too, so I included my own family recipes, some of which were passed down to me from my French Grandmère.

I also added more twists in the plot: complications and obstacles for the characters to overcome.

But the essence of the story is the same.

Natasha and Luc have a shared history and so much pain to work through. However, they’re older now and Natasha’s success as a florist has given her a confidence she never had before. Luc is surprised by this, but he respects her all the more for it. And spending time together in France brings flashes of tension – but also of understanding. Of connection and chemistry that never really went away. Neither of them wants to risk their heart again, but what if they can’t help it?

Extending the book turned out to be a really satisfying experience. It was like revisiting old friends in that dreamy chateau in Provence surrounded by vineyards and fields of sunflowers in the shimmering heat of summer.

If you read it the first time round, I’d love to know what you think of this new longer version. And if you haven’t read my books before, this is the perfect place to start. My books can all be read standalone, but they’re linked by the heroines who are friends and chronologically Natasha’s story in A FORGET-ME-NOT SUMMER happens first.

In a year when most of us are unlikely to travel overseas, I hope my readers will enjoy being transported to the heat and sunshine of summer in Provence.

Happy reading!


Sophie’s latest book, A FORGET-ME-NOT SUMMER, is available from your local bookshop, Amazon & Tesco stores.