Susannah, your short story “The Excuse” appeared in Issue One of The Literary Commune. Much of your work seems to be about the terrible things in life. Is it hard writing about these things?
The work I’ve done in the past, I’ve seen some tough things, and they’ve undoubtedly had a profound effect on me. Some people don’t take their work home with them. I suppose in a way I can’t stop thinking about these things, and so putting my thoughts down on paper is kind of cathartic.
How would you define your writing style and what genre does it fit into?
I prefer to write in the first person, because it’s more immersive. If you can become the person you’re writing about, feel their emotions, I think it comes out more in the writing, and as a consequence the reader actually believes you. It may not be as entertaining as traditional fiction – I guess some might call it depressing – but it’s an honest style. Though not, I understand, to everyone’s taste. I guess my genre is urban fiction.
Tell us how you write, how you get focused onto the task.
I think of an idea – as you say, something terrible – and try to imagine myself in that situation. Once I’m there, I sit and write. A short story can be anywhere from 500 words to 3,000, so I just write until it’s all out. I don’t like to be disturbed, because when I’m writing, I’m in the zone. I can probably write the first draft of a short in an hour. When I’ve finished, I have to slip back in “Susannah”, which might mean having a glass of wine and listening to some good music!
What are you working on at the moment?
Better to say what I’ve just finished, because I don’t actually stop when I’m working on something. I’ve just finished a short about a girl who is on the fringes of a gang, and the trouble she faces from the male members of the gang.
Who is your favourite writer, the one you admire the most, the one who inspired you to be become a writer even?
The first writer who deeply affected me was Sylvia Plath. I guess it was the open honesty in much of her work . The fact that she died at the age of thirty means that once you’ve read what she’s produced, there is no more. I suppose that demonstrates that there is a limit to everything. I also like reading Bukowski and Houellebeque. I've read a couple of Shaun Stafford's books too - but then I do know him and he twisted my arm!
Bizarre snap questions time (currently or favourite):-
Currently drinking? A nice glass of merlot.
Currently eating? A Galaxy chocolate bar.
Currently reading? Aside from these questions, I’m reading “Atomised” by Hoellebecq.
Currently listening to? Radiohead.
Currently driving? Not right now - I'm filling in this questionnaire! - but when I do drive, it’s a Renaultsport Clio
What do you think of low-budget magazines such as The Literary Commune, and the role they have to play in helping lesser-known writers to get their work “out there”?
I think there should be more magazines like The Literary Guild. Small circulation, with an eclectic readership. Not that I’m a fan of young adult fiction, but lots of young writers get into writing by writing YA, and there’s not even a market for them to get their work read. Short stories are a good way to start writing and it’s just a shame that people have to resort to putting their stories online, on blogs, for people to read. It’s more real when somebody reads a magazine or a book. And even getting your work read by a hundred or so people in a small fanzine is a fantastic achievement.
Any advice or encouragement you would give to other writers, whether their stuff is being read or being hidden away in a bottom drawer somewhere?
If you’re hiding your stuff away, you will never improve your writing. You have to have confidence in what you put down on paper. If somebody tells you it’s rubbish, ask them why. If somebody offers you advice as to how it can be improved, listen. Maybe their advice is worthless, maybe they have a valid point, but as a writer, particularly when you’re starting out, you have to be critical of your work and allow others to be critical as well. Having said that, don’t be afraid to show your work. Keep writing and keep reading. You can’t improve your writing without doing both. Short stories are a great exercise to improve your skills.