Today I'm thrilled to welcome to my Interview With An Author spot fellow Crooked Cat author Sue Barnard.....
How long have you been writing?
If you include the compulsory “Composition” exercises at primary school, then I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t writing. But thankfully I don’t think any of those primitive offerings have survived! I was encouraged, though, by winning a primary school competition organised by Cadbury’s, in which we had to write an essay about chocolate. My prize was a decorative tin containing a selection of Cadbury’s products. The products were soon demolished, but I still have the tin, which is now home to my pens and pencils. It’s looking a bit shabby now, but I keep it as a reminder of my humble origins.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Difficult to say, really. Although I’ve dabbled with writing, on and off, for most of my life, I only started taking it seriously just under ten years ago. That was when my life was turned upside down by a dramatic change in my personal circumstances. For reasons far too complicated to go into here, I found I needed to write about it. At around the same time I discovered some short online writing courses with the Open University. The rest just followed.
Where is your favourite spot in which to write?
I set up my laptop on a table in the corner of the conservatory. The daylight is good in there, and the view of the garden is even better. I try not to get too distracted by the sight of the birds on the feeder, or the fact that the lawn needs mowing. Having said that, I’ve had some of my best ideas when I’ve been mowing the lawn, so maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all.
How long does it take you to write the first rough draft of one of your books?
The first draft of The Ghostly Father took about six months. The first draft of Nice Girls Don’t (which began as a project in an online workshop) took about the same. I also had a go at NaNoWriMo in 2012. This was a daunting task, but by the end of the month I had a first draft of another novel. It’s going to take a lot of work to lick that one into shape (for one thing, it contains a couple of glaring continuity errors!), but, as another writer friend once told me, you can’t edit a blank page!
Do you prefer to write with pen and paper or straight to the computer?
A bit of both; it depends what I’m writing. If I’m writing prose it’s much easier to go straight to the computer, as I type much more quickly than I write by hand. But if I’m writing a poem, which is a much slower and more thought-intensive process, I find it’s easier to start by using a pen and paper. Especially if I’m trying to find a rhyme. I usually end up with a long list of words down one side of the page, in the faint hope that one of them will turn out to be le mot juste!
Do you plan a plot out in great detail before writing, or start with the basics and let the book evolve that way?
I try to plan out a bit, just so that I have some basic idea which way the book is heading, but otherwise I just let things happen.
Do you ever get part way through writing a book and find the characters are leading the story off in a different direction to how you had envisaged?
Oh yes. That happened in a big way with Nice Girls Don’t, when one of the characters completely floored me. I stared at his words on the page (words which I have absolutely no memory of having written) and realised that what he’d just said was about to change the entire course of the sub-plot. But it’s probably just as well, because I realise now that my original idea for the storyline would never have worked.
Who is your favourite character from all the books you have written and why?
I think it has to be Lorenzo, the eponymous hero of The Ghostly Father (and Shakespeare’s Friar Lawrence by any other name). Whenever I’ve seen Romeo & Juliet, the character of the Friar has fascinated me and I’ve always wondered why he behaves as he does. By giving him what I hope is an interesting and thought-provoking backstory, I’ve tried to offer some possible answers.
What is your favourite book of all time?
Do you mind if I rephrase that question? I can’t name a single “favourite” book, but if you were to ask me what I’d call the most influential book I’ve ever read, I think it would have to be That Devil Called Love by Lynda Chater. First published in 1999 (but now, sadly, out of print), it’s a modern and ingenious reworking of the Faust legend, in which the heroine finds out the hard way that youth, beauty, wealth and fame don’t necessarily hold the key to happiness.
What is your favourite film of all time?
Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo & Juliet (1968). As well as being a cinematic masterpiece, it also provided me with the inspiration for The Ghostly Father.
What was your journey to being a published author?
About a year ago I spotted on Facebook that Crooked Cat Publishing said they were looking for new people to join their editorial team. I’d recently completed an online course in Editing and Rewriting, and I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to channel the interminable rantings of my Inner Grammar Geek into a force for good. Plus, I thought, if I can’t make it as a writer myself, at least I might be of some use to those who can. I applied, and those lovely people at Crooked Cat were brave enough to take me on. A couple of months later, when Crooked Cat opened their doors to new submissions, I grabbed my Dutch Courage in both hands and sent them the partial for The Ghostly Father. A few months later they asked to see the whole manuscript, then showed themselves to be even braver and accepted it for publication. The rest, as they say, is history.
Biggest myth about being a novelist?
That it’s glamorous and easy. On the contrary, being a writer has been compared to having homework every night for the rest of your life! It’s great fun, but it’s very hard work.
Advice to aspiring novelists?
Keep at it, and don’t give up. If I can make it, anybody can!
Sue’s debut novel The Ghostly Father, a new take on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, was published by Crooked Cat Publishing on St Valentine’s Day 2014, and is available as a paperback or ebook. Her second novel, a romantic mystery entitled Nice Girls Don’t, is due to be published by Crooked Cat later this year.