Questions with Claire J. Harris

Bio:

Claire J. Harris is a writer of short stories, creative non-fiction and screenplays, who has spent the last decade travelling, working and writing around the world.

Her fiction and travel stories have been published in Australia and overseas, including for Matador NetworkSubtle FictionDigital AmericanaGo NomadThe Big Smoke, and a regular travel column in Litro Magazine.

Claire wrote and produced her first feature film, Zelos, which was released in 2017. She holds a Masters in Writing, and a Graduate Certificate in Screenwriting from the Australian Film Television and Radio School.

Claire is currently working on a book of her travels, called What Are You Running From?

(from Claire’s website: https://www.clairejharris.com/about/)

claire harris

Hi, everyone! Back again, after the break. Which … is still a thing? Because school holidays and public holidays and going away and what day even is it and where am I?

But I was excited to bring you a “questions” that’s a bit different this time – my first interview with a filmmaker, screenwriter and television producer! I always thought working in TV and movies would be so glamorous and exciting – i.e. completely not the sort of job for an introvert like me, but I do enjoy living vicariously. Pairing it with being a writer, though? That … that sounds kind of wonderful. So I was super interested to hear what Claire had to say. It’s fascinating. And I am now desperate to see her movie!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy and I promise it won’t be so long next time between … I’m not a drinker, so I’m going to say … cups of tea?

And if you’d like to be featured on the blog, please shoot me a line on social media or kate [at] kate gordon [dot com dot au]. I’d love to hear from you!

Now, on to Claire …

zelos

Tell us a bit about your film.

‘Zelos’ is a feature film about the aftermath of an affair and the corrosive effect of jealousy on a relationship. Bernard is a 30-something whose life has turned out exactly the way he planned it to be: a successful career, a meticulously neat beachside apartment and a girlfriend, Sarah, whom he adores. But his pristine existence is turned upside down when Sarah confesses an affair. To salvage the relationship, Sarah insists they equal the playing field: Bernard should sleep with another woman. It’s now available on iTunes Store, Google Play and Amazon Prime – you can find the links and trailer at www.clairejharris.com/film.
What was the inspiration for the story?
I wrote it some years ago as a novella which then turned into a screenplay. At the time I was entering my 30s and in a serious relationship, and I was interested in the way that every couple has to navigate jealousy – not necessarily because of an actual infidelity, but there is always the possibility or temptation. The word ‘zelos’ comes from Greek and evolved into two separate words in English: jealousy and zeal. For the Greeks, jealousy was the flipside of passion, so I wanted to explore how these two forces interact in a relationship. On a broader level, it’s also about how your 30s are a time for shedding the youthful idealism of your 20s and working out how much compromise you’re willing to make in all aspects of your life.
Tell us about your main character. Why should we fall in love with them?
Bernard is something of an innocent even at the age of 35 – he is the least compromised and most idealistic of his group of friends. He would not dream of cheating on Sarah, even as an act of revenge. The bargain they strike forces him into a moral dilemma – at the same time, he is deeply hurt and conflicted about whether or not he wants to continue the relationship, and he is not entirely free of blame either. But even though he doesn’t always behave admirably, we root for him because his situation and actions are deeply relatable.
Have you always written, or is writing something you’ve come to in adulthood?
I have definitely always written but not in a very organised way. When I was a teenager, I spent 5 years writing an epic fantasy film (I didn’t understand anything about budgetary constraints back then!) But I put screenplays aside for some years and dabbled in various other forms: a couple of unfinished novels, a bunch of short stories and a lot of travel writing, some of which has been published. Coming back to film in my 30s was a bit of a happy accident and one that’s changed my life. I wrote the script and then had no idea what to do with it, so I decided to just make it myself. Without any experience, I was incredibly naive about how hard that would be.
What was your favourite film as a child?
‘Fiddler On The Roof’. I used to watch it over and over and wish my family would break into song at the dinner table. Lifelong dream: to write a musical.
Can you recommend another female author we should read?
I can recommend a female author who is also a screenwriter and film director: Miranda July. She is incredibly unique and has a very quirky style. I love that she basically writes in whatever form she feels like, which is pretty unusual – she’s made films, written books and collections of short stories.
What was the last book you read and loved?
I’m in the middle of ‘No Friend But The Mountains’ by Behrooz Bouchani – a harrowing yet strangely poetic account of life as an asylum seeker detained on Manus Island. It should be essential reading for every Australian.
Do you have a favourite quote by a female author?
Arundhati Roy: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. Maybe many of us won’t be here to greet her, but on a quiet day, if I listen very carefully, I can hear her breathing.” I saw it painted on the wall of the West Bank in Palestine and it stuck with me.
Tell us three fun facts about yourself, that other people might not know?
1. I used to work as a live-in carer for ageing aristocrats in British manor houses, answering to a bell – it was every bit as awful as it sounds.
2. I once had a lucrative role as an extra in ‘Home and Away’ diner – I was complimented on my ability to eat food realistically (should I put that on my CV?)
3. I spent 10 years living out of a backpack, travelling to over 50 countries and living in seven.
Do you have a favourite illustrator of children’s books? Why?
Quentin Blake – because he reminds me of my childhood.
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
The worst was when I took my draft screenplay for Zelos to a workshop with quite a reputable teacher in Sydney. He told me that the only way this story could possibly be interesting was if the main character was Amish. It sounds ridiculous but I was depressed about that feedback for  a week. The best writing advice is pretty much everything Stephen King has to say – my favourite is when asked “How do you write?” he replies “One word at a time.”
What is your favourite song by a female singer, and why?  
So hard to pick one but right now it’s probably ‘River’ by Joni Mitchell… Must be the time of year!

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