Clapham Book Festival Annmarie Neary

Clapham Book Festival: Annemarie Neary

Clapham Book Festival: Annemarie Neary

The top novelist on setting her book in Clapham and her literary walk for the festival

Clapham has a long and distinguished literary history and the 2021 Clapham Book Festival aims to share it via a series of walks around Clapham, centred on Clapham Common, on the afternoon of 16 October. The walks will be lead by local writers, including Annemarie Neary, an Irish-born novelist and prize-winning short story writer living and working in Clapham.

Annemarie qualified as a barrister at King’s Inns, Dublin while working as a civil servant and later moved to work as an in-house lawyer in London.

“I stopped lawyering when I had my third child,’ she says. “Then joined a writing group and took it from there. I have huge admiration for those writers who manage a full-time job as well as a family and writing, for me the time and space, especially the head-space, was so important. I began writing short stories and, having won a couple of prizes, gained in confidence. The writing group was key to encouraging my development, in terms of moral support as well as acting as a sounding board and offering friendly criticism.”

Annemarie’s third novel The Orphans (Hutchinson 2017) is set, in part, on Clapham Common. A ‘faultless mystery fiction thriller’ (Books Ireland), it is the story of Jess, who was orphaned, aged eight, with her younger brother, on a beach in Goa. She is now a mother and a lawyer and a ‘locker of doors’, living on the edge of the Common. Her brother Ro has never really been able to leave the Goan beach, growing up unpredictable and obsessive. When new evidence comes to light which suggests that their mother didn’t die on that beach, Ro returns to Jess’s life.

“I wanted to set Orphans in a liminal space and Clapham Common was familiar to me and I could absorb it into the tale. In some ways, it’s a quintessentially ‘normal’ space, with its dog walkers and young mothers and babies, but it’s also open, without boundaries and with layers of history over the centuries.”

“I’m interested in place and atmosphere, the accumulation of human experience in a location and how it impacts upon us in the here and now. Sometimes unique atmospheres attach to a particular place, but that’s very subjective and can’t be measured. The fictional landscape of a place can be even more seductive than its actual history because the writer, consciously or not, has often picked up on the accumulated traces of vanished lives. In the literary walks around Clapham we hope to touch on some of that as well as pointing out the homes and haunts of writers who have lived there for many years.” Famous writers associated with Clapham include Graham Greene and Samuel Pepys.

“As for writing about a particular location, visiting new places can be very seductive to writers, but writing is a long haul activity. It’s too easy to be drawn into a superficial spirit of place and want to write about it, but there’s no doubt that travel gives a jolt of energy to creative projects. Just being somewhere else, doing something unusual, can act as a well-spring for creativity, shaking things up and re-positioning one’s thoughts.”

Annemarie Neary will be leading one of the Book Walks at the 2021 Clapham Book Festival on 16 October. Tickets cost £15 (£10 concessions). The walks are centred on Clapham Common and last for approximately one and a half to two hours.

Annemarie’s short stories have won the Michael McLaverty and Brian MacMahon Prizes (Ireland) the Columbia Journal (US) and Posara (Italy) Prizes and have been placed or short listed in a range of international competitions. More information about Annemarie and her work can be found at

Annemarie was in conversation with Julie Anderson, author of Plague and Oracle (Claret Press) and Trustee of Clapham Writers, the charitable organisation responsible for the Clapham Book Festival.

Time & Leisure, media partners for the event, will be hosting live talks online leading up the October festival. The first is a chat with author Elizabeth Buchan on 28 July. Sign up for tickets now here!


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