ShortBookandScribes – Celebrating the reissue of Learning to Swim and In A Good Light by Clare Chambers

I’m delighted to be celebrating the reissue of Learning to Swim and In A Good Light by Clare Chambers today. Many of you will be familiar with her most recent book, Small Pleasures but maybe not so familiar with her back list. I read both of these books before my records began and was a huge fan of this author’s books but I thought she must have given up writing. Imagine my delight when I saw she had written Small Pleasures.

These two new books are published tomorrow by Arrow with gorgeous and snazzy new covers. I believe the other books on the back list will be published later in the year (I particularly enjoyed The Editor’s Wife). So, if you enjoyed Small Pleasures or just fancy a thoroughly absorbing read then give these two a try.

Learning to Swim

Abigail Jex never expected to see any of the Radley household again.

The Radley’s were extraordinary, captivating creatures transplanted from a bohemian corner of North London to outer suburbia, and the young Abigail found herself drawn into their magic circle: the eccentric Frances, her new best friend; Frances’ mother, the liberated, headstrong Lexi; and of course the brilliant, beautiful Rad.

Abigail thought she’d banished the ghost of her life with them and the catastrophe that ended it, but thirteen years later a chance encounter forces her to acknowledge that the spell is far from broken…

In a Good Light

Without even noticing, Esther Fairchild has become locked into routine.

Living with her adored brother, Christian, she divides her time between illustrating children’s books, nightly shifts as a waitress, weekly visits to her father and fortnightly meetings with her married lover.

Then one day she encounters a face in the crowd which jolts her out of her mundane existence and makes her question both her life and the past that has helped to shape it. Memories she had long chosen to forget begin to resurface. Memories of an eccentric childhood in a large and shabby house, where the children were left to fend for themselves within the loose boundaries of their parents’ unorthodox values. A chaotic existence peopled by a rich collection of feckless ‘guests’.

And into this shambolic world came Donovan – regularly deposited by his unreliable mother – and Penny, Christian’s girlfriend and Esther’s idol. Until tragedy struck and shattered their joint existence. But now, it seems, their lives are about to become intertwined once more . . .

Clare Chambers was born in south east London in 1966. She studied English at Oxford and spent the year after graduating in New Zealand, where she wrote her first novel, Uncertain Terms, published when she was 25. She has since written eight further novels, including Learning to Swim (Century 1998) which won the Romantic Novelists’ Association best novel award and was adapted as a Radio 4 play, and In a Good Light (Century 2004) which was longlisted for the Whitbread best novel prize.

Clare began her career as a secretary at the publisher André Deutsch, when Diana Athill was still at the helm. They not only published her first novel, but made her type her own contract. In due course she went on to become a fiction and non-fiction editor there herself, until leaving to raise a family and concentrate on her own writing. Some of the experiences of working for an eccentric, independent publisher in the pre-digital era found their way into her novel The Editor’s Wife (Century, 2007). When her three children were teenagers, inspired by their reading habits, she produced two YA novels, Bright Girls (HarperCollins 2009) and Burning Secrets (HarperCollins 2011).

Her most recent novel is Small Pleasures (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2020).

She took up a post as Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Kent in September 2020.

She lives with her husband in south east London and generally has her nose in a book.


  • I’m delighted to see these being re-issued, they deserve a new audience. Many years ago I kept a note of best book quotes as I was reading and two of my favourites come from Clare Chambers’ books

    The Editor’s Wife

    “I don’t like the thought of some unscrupulous woman using him as a meal ticket. She’d have to have a very small appetite to see Gerald as a meal ticket, I retorted – he’s so tight its untrue”.

    Back Trouble

    “Most children, apparently, go through a phase when they worry irrationally that they are adopted. In my case, it was more of a vain hope. It wasn’t that I wanted a different family – I just couldn’t quite believe I was related to this one.”

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