Today I am pleased to welcome Susan Russell on to the blog with a quick interview! She’s come up with some intriguing answers!
What is your favourite thing about writing books?
I think it’s almost the same thing as when reading books, ie being absorbed into a different world with all of the excitement of new people to meet and places to visit. But there is that something extra with writing, the very satisfying flow of creativity that comes from within to blow life into your characters and the story around them.
Who is your favourite character in your book and why?
My favourite character is Great Aunt Mary, who lives in Mallow Cottage in the fictional Cornish village of Gunwithiel. Following the death of his mother and unborn sibling, seven-year-old London boy, Alex, is sent to stay with her for a year, while his father works away to save enough money to build a new life for the two of them. It’s the 1950s, when people were far less mobile, and Alex has never been to the countryside, so on top of his grief and anger at the world he is also terrified of this strange new environment. Aunt Mary is warm and caring, but she is also very much a down-to-earth and no-nonsense type of person, so instead of over-protecting or molly-coddling her charge she finds ways to help him to feel useful. Her approach enables Alex to be naturally absorbed into her world and subsequently less weighed down by his problems. By introducing him to the local area and giving him the freedom to explore (something that was more usual and possible in those times) Aunt Mary knew that to truly help someone you don’t charge in and rub salve into every wound – you find ways to show the person their strengths, so that they can grow from their experiences and learn to help themselves rather than become totally dependent on others.
I didn’t know quite how instrumental she was in Alex’s recovery until the ending of the book revealed itself to me, which was a lovely heart-warming surprise.
What is your favourite drink to consume while writing?
I’m really boring! A pint glass of hot water in winter (when I’m usually swaddled in layers of clothing, as we live in a converted barn and it does get very chilly), or cold water in summer. I’m not good at keeping up my water intake but if I have a glass sitting there I’ll sip my way through it.
Do you have any bad habits while you’re writing?
The usual procrastination, gazing out of the window, suddenly finding the thought of doing the ironing irresistibly attractive… If I can make myself sit at the desk long enough I will always give way to the temptation of sneaking looks at Facebook and Twitter.
How do you research your books?
The bulk of anything I write comes from personal experience, observation or imagination, but if I do need to research I simply use the internet. I live in the Cantal, a relatively isolated, rural area of the Massif Centrale in France, so I have no access to English libraries etc. I do love to include the sights and sounds of nature in my writing, so that comes from direct experience of walking in the countryside, usually with our dog, Ellie, who we adopted from a refuge over here.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m a pantser. I like to have a spark of an idea, write freely and see where it takes me – much to my own surprise, that approach took me into a world of body recycling gnomes in my next, as yet unpublished, children’s fantasy Dilly Drops In. Once I’ve got a rough idea of what’s going on I will then use a bit more logic to think about what I want to happen, where in the story certain events should take place and so on. Once I’ve got the whole first draft down (or nearly down, if I’ve ground to a halt) I’ll make a quick chapter by chapter breakdown to see how the story arc is playing out, any overly dull stretches that need enlivening, or glaring holes needing to be filled in.
When I first started writing I used to create individual scenes that I wanted to include and would then draw them all together like a string of pearls. I wouldn’t recommend working like that – it gets very complicated when you’re trying to make everything flow at a good pace and be consistent as you knit it into a ‘whole.’
If you could live in any fictional world, which would you choose and why?
I tried to decide on somewhere else, somewhere more ‘grown-up,’ but it just has to be Narnia because although I’m 60 now I have never gotten over the thrill that I felt as a child while reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. When Lucy travelled through that wardrobe into a snowy wonderland, I was totally transfixed by the incongruity of that lamppost and the ‘good versus evil’ adventures that unfolded.
If you could befriend any fictional character, who would you choose and why?
Back to Narnia for this one. I would love to befriend Mr Tumnus, mainly because who wouldn’t want to count a Faun amongst their friends?! But as well as that novelty, Mr Tumnus comes across as such a gentle and ‘good’ creature that I’m sure we’d have lots of cosy chats around the fire about how to put the world to rights and how to help out the other inhabitants of Narnia.
About the Author
I was born in Norwich, in the (mostly) flat county of Norfolk, so being a bit contrary by nature, perhaps that’s why I’ve always loved rolling landscapes of hills and valleys. I played out a lot as a child – mostly around the council estate where I was born and in the local woods. When I wasn’t out climbing trees, firing my imaginary gun from a bus shelter, or parachuting off the neighbour’s wall with a sheet, I would have my nose buried in a book, be writing a story, or drawing. My love affair with reading is mostly down to my much-missed mum, Pat, who never failed to take me and my sister along to the local library on a Saturday so that we could stock up on books for the week ahead.
My very first ambition was to be a writer, or artist, but somehow I ended up being a nurse. Two years after qualifying, when I moved away from Norfolk to work with handicapped young adults in a residential home in Sidcup, I met the person who would sweep me off my feet and to the magical county of West Dorset. A busy life ensued – opening a Kitchenware shop, marriage, raising three sons, and building a new career in the natural health care fields (massage, the Bowen Technique, Medical Herbalist)
When a flyer for a new writing group in Lyme Regis caught my eye I wasn’t brave enough to go, until someone I knew announced she was going, and I thought if she could do it, why couldn’t I? Lots of enthusiastically written drivel gradually morphed into half decent stories and I was hooked! The power of a well-written story became clear during two years of volunteering with a charity (Dorset Reading Partners) that inspires primary school children to enjoy books. Seeing the children’s confidence and comprehension naturally improve as they learned to appreciate the stories was a joy.
A Jar Full Of Angel Feathers is my first published novel for children and is influenced by two of the things that I care about deeply – the magic and mystery of nature, and the ways in which people are shaped for better, or worse, by the experiences that come into their lives.
Nowadays home is in the Cantal department of the Auvergne, in France, and not only am I surrounded by the landscape of green hills, fields and valleys that I love, but by ancient dormant volcanoes too!