This interview with Susan Tarr was re-blogged from Historical Fiction by Christoph Fischer – Saturday 26, 2015
Today’s Saturday Interview guest is historical (amongst other genres) novelist Susan Tarr, who should be well-known on this blog by now. Welcome (back) to the hot seat. Please tell us more about yourself as writer and as person.
Much of my personality comes out through my writing. I write in several different genres so whether I am up or down, there’s always some place to write about it.
Living in Kenya for so long, cut off from my New Zealand family, I wrote long letters home. I’d get 1 or 2 pages in return for my 20+ page efforts. Clearly there were no other budding authors in my family.
Did anyone influence you / encourage you to become a writer?
Well, often people would say, Susan, you should write a book. But we know what that means. Anyway I wrote stories from Africa.
How did you come to writing?
I’ve always been a dreamer.
How did you come up with your stories?
I think the stories came up with me.
When did you decide to write in your chosen genre(s) ?
I started writing about Seacliff Mental Hospital 20 years ago, wanting to get Malcolm’s story on paper before I forgot it.
You have created great characters. Which one is your favorite?
Malcolm! He is my reluctant hero from PHENOMENA. He epitomized the people in those days in those circumstances. Colonial 1930s. He even managed wry humor.
Are you like any of the characters (and how so)?
In MIRANDA BAY I am both Miranda and Pansy. Introvert and extrovert. Impulsive and deliberate. Exuberant and quiet.
Were the plot and subplots completely planned from the start or did they change during the process, and if so, how?
I start with a general outline, and then it grows from there.
Members of my family and workmates plied me with historical facts based on New Zealand mental health and hospitals of the day. So along with Malcolm’s own words, PHENOMENA grew.
For MIRANDA BAY, I wrote from diaries I had kept during that difficult time.
For JACK just an ordinary dog in the dog house, I wrote from diaries I wrote on his behalf for his mum and dad. Jack was a dog, but he had a valid opinion on most stuff. At that time we had built up a Boarding Kennels facility with an on-site animal hospital. I had originally wanted to be a doctor, so this occupation took care of those needs.
What is your main reason for writing?
Beats paying a psychiatrist!
I’ve read three of your books so far. What is the idea behind your work?
I write how life is, and sometimes it’s not kind. But we do manage to survive. Well, mostly we do. That’s what I write about. Life. The good and the bad.
Tell us about the concept behind your books. How did you get the idea?
PHENOMENA the Lost and Forgotten Children was the recovered/retitled version of the original SEACLIFF a Regular Boy Within.
I worked in mental health for many years, as did my family. We lived in the hospital village so we kind of ate, slept and breathed mental health. Most of the characters in this book were related to me in some shape or form. Those inside and those not.
MIRANDA BAY is pretty much my story of when I managed a tourist resort here in our beautiful idyllic New Zealand. I experienced stuff I would never have expected. My staff had been through some bad times too, so I melded the various stories in this book. My gorgeous daughter is the cover model. She was throwing a giant hissy with her back to us, and that was the picture of the day. Can’t you just see the attitude?
What are you most proud of in your books?
That I actually wrote them. PHENOMENA the Lost and Forgotten Children came straight from my heart. It took 25 years to complete that one, and I could still be adding more to it, but I had to type ENDS.
What is your life like outside of writing?
I am on the gallop all day long. I may not achieve much, but you’ll barely find me sitting unless I am at my PC engrossed in book stuff. That’s about 12/24.
What makes you laugh?
People make me laugh. Life makes me laugh.
What song would you pick to go with your book?
‘Come away with me’, by Norah Jones. This seems to be my writing song. And I must explain that I don’t actually have it playing. I write in total silence, with just the first line of that song running through my mind. I have no idea what the rest of the song is.
What makes you laugh?
People who do dumb things, like idiot criminals who bungle their own plans. I make me laugh because I am such a klutz. Have to laugh because the option is…?
What (not who) would you like to take to a lonely island?
My PC and ereader.
Hot or cold?
Salty or sweet?
Both, I like salted popcorn dusted with icing sugar. I need to alternate. As soon as I finish with a sweet, I am craving salty. And vice versa.
What would your friends say are your best and your oddest quality?
They would probably say I am colourful and unpredictable, and a wee bit brave. I have heard the word ‘loyal’ bandied about.
What would you chose as those qualities?
Honesty and fairness. Fun. Support.
What are the best and the worst aspects of writing?
Becoming so tired that I cannot get the ideas from my head to my keyboard.
How do you handle criticism of your work?
A bad review or rating always stings.
How do you balance marketing one book and writing the next?
Hmmm, that is the eternal question. I fear I don’t do either justice. But I set aside a couple of hours each day for my personal stuff. Sometimes I get caught up in the promotional side of things and that eats up my time.
What do you do when you don’t write?
Gardening. I hate gardening. I hate mess even more.
Tell us one odd thing about you and one really mundane thing.
I’m reserved, possibly/probably introverted. And yet I accept offers to speak publicly whether it’s about books or not. Give me a microphone and I am fearless!
Mundane? I’m a homebody. I don’t like people popping in to visit without preparing me first. I don’t like surprises. BUT I tandem-dived from 10,000ft and sailed to Kenya in a 28ft yacht. Crazy mix of personalities. A brave scardy cat.
What else would you like us to know about yourself and your books?
That there will always be more on the boil.
Who are your editors and how do you quality control your books?
When my first book was published, MIRANDA BAY, I handed it over to the professionals and took my hands off. I thought that was what you did. However, once I saw their published version of it, in hardback, I was so embarrassed. I’ve not done that again!
How have you found the experience of self-publishing? What were your highs and lows?
Harrowing! I have struggled so much and yet I have learned a lot. But come tomorrow, I’ll probably have forgotten what I learned last week.
What do you like best about writing? What’s your least favourite thing?
Editing and proofreading my final draft, and working on other author’s works. Love it all.
Least favourite thing would be exhaustion.
What is your advice to new writers?
Don’t rush into publishing. Stay with it, be strong, and edit edit edit. And when your family and friends say it’s perfect, go edit some more. It’s best to have an independent Beta Reader. Then hire yourself a good editor and proofreader. If you miss out the vital steps it may show in your published copy.
Who are your favourite independent writers?
Jana Petken, Khalid Muhammad, Uvi Poznansky… Gosh, this list could go on forever. Indie Writers are blossoming with some very fine writing.
Who are your favourite authors?
Aren’t independent writers authors too? So mainstream would have to be Joseph Heller, John Steinbeck, Louis de Bernieres, Paul Coelho, Jojo Moyes and many many more.
What are your favourite books?
‘God Knows’ by Joseph Heller
‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ by Louis de Bernieres
and anything by Steinbeck and Coelho
What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?
(ebook) Rise to Power by Uvi Poznanski. The first in the David chronicles. Loved it!
What are you working on now?
A book called The BOOK TOUR. I already have another attitude picture of my daughter for that cover.
Tell us about your other books?
When the ROLLER COASTER stops is my new title. It is about a determined young woman, Bethany and her courage in the face of a medical minefield. She has recently returned from a European holiday with what she thinks is a runny gut. When she eventually seeks medical advice, she is not at all convinced of the diagnosis of Colorectal bowel cancer; she is too young: she has too much life to live: she is financially secure and loves her job, almost as much as she loves her friends. Besides, bowel cancer is – well, so not nice.
Get her books here:
JACK just an ordinary dog in the dog house: Amazon.com: http://goo.gl/sfSX5x
MIRANDA BAY: Amazon.com: http://goo.gl/D2tDDx
When the ROLLER COASTER Stops: Amazon.com: http://goo.gl/7HVkI1
Connect with Susan here: