Susan Stairs, author of The Story of Before, recently answered a few questions for our Novelicious readers. Here's our review of her book.
starts around 10am, when the house is empty of all other family members
and I’ve finished a rather perfunctory cleaning of the kitchen. If I’ve been
very good, I’ll have had a walk by that time too. It usually takes me a while
to get ‘in the zone’, but even before I do, I’m thinking about my plot, my
characters, and how I can move on from where I left off the previous day.
Once I get going, I hate having to pull myself away, even for fairly essential
stuff like eating lunch. I generally finish up around 5.30.
When you are
writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
use anyone in particular as inspiration, just other writers in general. I keep
reminding myself that what I’m doing is not an impossible task – hard work,
yes, but not impossible. Sometimes simply holding a book inspires me. Feeling
the weight of it in my hands reminds me that countless other authors have managed
to keep turning the thoughts in their heads into stories between covers, and if
they can do it, there’s no reason why I can’t either.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
Not a question I can readily answer. There are so many books I have loved, I
couldn’t possibly have a favourite. A couple that have definitely lingered long
in my mind are ‘The Lovely Bones’ by Alice Sebold, and ‘The Secret History’ by
Donna Tartt. I do tend, I have found, to favour stories written in the first
person, perhaps because it’s a more natural way of seeing the world.
What is your
writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
of planning and diving in. I usually have a broad outline of the main event around
which the story will evolve, but only a vague idea of how I will get from
beginning to end. Once I create my characters, I find they dictate how the
story maps itself out. Their personalities and the way they think and act drive
the narrative forward. Usually, the way things turn out is as much a revelation
to me as it will be – I hope! – for the reader. I tend to do a lot of revising
and editing as I write – that seems to work for me. But even after I thought I
was finished ‘The Story of Before’, the editing process continued. It went
through, I think, 7 full manuscript edits before it was ready for publication.
your journey to being a published author?
already written and published several books myself on the subject of Irish art
between 1988 and 2004. In 2007, I enrolled in a Creative Writing class in the
Irish Writers Centre and the encouragement I received there gave me the
confidence to apply to do the MA in Creative Writing in University College
Dublin in 2008. I was over the moon when I was accepted and the instruction I
received from the tutors there helped me enormously. I began my novel ‘The
Story of Before’ while I was on the course, submitting the first few chapters
as my dissertation. After graduating, I spent more than a year finishing it and
then, over the course of 9 months, sent chapters to 16 UK agents. Five of those
requested to see the full MS, and 2 offered me representation. I chose Lucy
Luck of Lucy Luck and Associates who has been wonderfully enthusiastic,
supportive and encouraging. She found me an editor who loved my novel, Sara
O’Keeffe of Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books, and – joy! – she offered to
you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That ‘The End’ is not really the end. I’m not sure what
other people think but I had never realised the amount of work involved after
the initial task of actually finishing the novel. That’s only part of the
process – the gestational period if you like. There’s a whole other set of
tasks to be done after it’s been ‘born’!
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their
up. It might sound trite but I can’t think of anything more important. The
books you enjoy reading were written by people who never gave up. You will not
see any books by those who did. Sometimes I wonder now how I continued to write
my novel when I had no idea whatsoever what would happen to it. But in order to
get to the destination, you must complete the journey, however difficult it may
be. If you have a story to tell, tell it. Write it all the way to the end. And
read. All the time. There’s no better inspiration.
What are you
working on at the moment?
My second novel. Written from the point of view of Tim who,
as an adult, is recalling the summer he spent in Ireland as a
fourteen-year-old and how it changed his life forever.