Author Chat: Susie Kelly
Our Commissioning Editor Rosalie Love catches up with Blackbird's bestselling author Susie Kelly on loathing housework, writing fiction and that $10 million question...
You were Blackbird’s first author and have played a very important role in the growth of the company. How did you first come to publish with Blackbird?
Well, every cloud has a silver lining. My particular cloud is housework. I hate it, probably because I am utterly useless. No matter how I dust, brush, mop, hoover, rub, polish and tidy, the end result is always the same - it looks just as it did before I started. It’s frightfully demoralising. I have a theory that because I’d always had people to do it for me until I was in my mid-twenties - I grew up in Kenya where it simply was how it was - and by then I was too old a dog to learn the new trick.
Of all the things I do worst, cleaning windows and mirrors is at the top of the list. I’d tried with proprietary sprays, damp newspaper, vinegar, chamois, you name it, I’d tried it. And the results were always streaky.
Because I realise that no matter how hateful, housework has to be done, especially if you are having guests, I’ve always searched for advice on how to be more effective, and my quest led me to an article written by Stephanie Zia in her Guardian column, trumpeting the joys of E-cloths. Having followed her advice, I promoted her to Heroine No. 1 in my book of heroines.
From there I began following her blog - Confessions of an Author, through her attempts to have her latest novel published - she had, like me, previously been published by one of the ‘traditional’ big names. She grew increasingly frustrated with the prevarications of the publishing world, and finally took the bull by the horns (not that I’m one to use clichés!) and decided to publish it herself. I loved her sincerity and honesty in writing about her efforts, and followed her progress publishing several of her own titles. When she announced that she was considering starting a small independent press, I happened to have recently completed a manuscript which I sent off to her.
To my delight she was really enthusiastic, and we met to discuss where we’d go next. I found her to be sincere and genuine, with a quiet confidence - very much the kind of person I wanted to work with, and so The Valley of Heaven and Hell - Cycling in the Shadow of Marie Antoinettebecame the first Blackbird Digital Books title she commissioned.
Since then I have regained the rights to two of my titles previously published by Transworld, and have written another five, all of which are now published in digital and paperback format by Blackbird.
The books that you’ve published so far with Blackbird have all been non-fiction - your escapades cycling/driving across France, your childhood in Kenya, your anecdotes about running holiday homes - there is certainly enough material in your lived experience to span many books! But have you ever wanted to try something different and write fiction?
I had been trying to write fiction for 30 years. I had a shelf of ‘How To’ books, and drawers full of notebooks with plot lines, character sketches, newspaper articles, photos cut from magazines to represent characters, multiple ‘snowflakes’, and countless pages of drivel that I would, ‘one day’, turn into a masterpiece.
But my motivation soon fizzled out as I realised the plots had gaping holes that I couldn’t find a way to fill, and the characters were characterless. So back in the drawer they went.
When I came to live in France, instead of having to create material, it was all around. It was a new life, every day bringing shocks, joy, drama, excitement, challenges, and that’s when I began to really love writing. It seemed so easy. There was no need to make anything up, it was all here and only needed to be recorded.
However, the interest in fiction writing is still very much there. I have plenty of ideas, ranging from humour to mystery, and have already drafted them out. Well, I mean I’ve written basic outlines and a couple of pages. These are projects that I think I could make something of when the time is right. So to answer your question, yes, I do want to try to write fiction.
In your bestselling memoir I Wish I Could Say I Was Sorry, you talk about some painful memories. Did you find writing about the past a cathartic experience, or was it difficult to relive some of these times?
It was very hard to write, because it brought to the surface things from long ago that I’d forgotten, and some that I wish had stayed forgotten. And looking back, I saw them from a different angle and realised that if I had handled things differently, there would not have been such a painful story to tell. I am not sure that it was cathartic, because it raised so many questions that will never be answered. However, it was something I HAD to write, it roiled in me for years and years, and I hoped that once written I’d be able to move on. In some ways I have, but it has also raised many regrets. Unlike Piaf, I will never be able to say “Je ne regrette rien.”
A lot of the stories in Swallows and Robins are laugh-out-loud funny: what’s the secret to making a reader laugh?
That’s a $10 million question. Humour is so variable, and what makes one person roll on the floor with tears streaming down their face can leave somebody else cold and wondering what’s funny about it. Slapstick comedy doesn’t make me laugh, but a simple facial expression or phrase can have me in fits. I can never get enough of Ricky Gervais and Sacha Baron Cohen. How they get away with the things they say and do makes me howl, but I know other people who say they don’t find them in the least funny. Whatever the situation I am always looking for something in it to amuse me. The strangeness of human behaviour - including my own - as I perceive it is a constant source of entertainment to me, and I hope that readers share that with me.
Keep up to date with Susie’s home life in the idyllic French countryside at www.nodamnblog.wordpress.com
Chat with Susie on Twitter @SusieEnFrance
Follow Susie’s Facebook Fan page
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