9 DECEMBER 2013
GETTING TO KNOW - SUSAN BUCHANAN
This should really be entitled Getting To Know More about Susan Buchanan as Susan is the first friend I made on Twitter. I last spoke to her in February when she was launching THE DATING GAME - and preparing to have a baby. I know a lot has happened for her since then - not least of which is yet another new book, THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT. So what better time for a catch-up than now.
NED : Last time we spoke you had just launched THE DATING GAME. Tell us what you’ve been doing since.
SB : Well, apart from rolling around like a beached whale for a few months (and that’s just recently! kidding - sort of!) I’ve been busy changing nappies, sterilising bottles, feeding baby Antonia, washing and ironing a gazillion tiny items and all the usual gubbins that goes with having a small baby - oh, and sleeping very little - although she’s no problem now.
I’d been pretty quiet on the writing front until October when I had a Eureka moment one night as I was trying to get to sleep and THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT was born. The book was written in the space of three weeks, then edited several times. Basically whenever Antonia was asleep or when Tony was on holiday or home at the weekends or the evenings, I was writing THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT. I was inspired and also compelled - a lethal combination!
NED : I remember you telling me that your next book was to be WHAT IF? Is that still in the offing?
SB : Oh yes, I just had to put it on the backburner whilst I raced to get THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT ready. It would have been nice to have it out by the beginning of October, as, of course, a Christmas book really only sells in the run up to Christmas (oddly enough!) but since the idea came to me late in the day, I didn’t really have that luxury. I will recommence writing WHAT IF mid-December and hope to have it ready early summer.
NED : What persuaded you to press on with THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT instead?
SB : Well, Christmas was coming up and I’ve always wanted to write a Christmas book. Plus I was already late to the party - for a while it was touch and go if it would need to be a book for next Christmas! Plus I was very driven to write this story - it pretty much came to me fully formed. Of course, I had to add to the bones of the characters, but I knew the beginning and the end, although a few very special touches regarding the end were added later. And, as it turns out the beginning was moved to the end!
NED : I notice the book is dedicated to Antonia, your recently arrived daughter. How much of an influence has she had on your writing and decision making?
SB : Well, on my decision making, loads! She is my number one priority and always will be. On my writing, not so much yet, but there are a few books planned for the future, and which were already planned prior to her arrival, which feature children. I guess I will just have more ammunition and experience, although having three young nephews has always stood me in good stead until now! As regards when I get time to write, she gets the final say!
NED : I sense you have an affinity for all things Christmassy. As a true Scot, I should have thought that you’d have been more inclined to celebrate Hogmanay. What appeals to especially about Christmas instead?
SB : Oh I definitely do. I love Christmas, always have. Christmas was always the big occasion in our house growing up, as there were four children and my parents, although they enjoyed a tipple and parties at New Year, went out of their way to make Christmas special for us kids. Up until last year, when we stayed home for New Year, we always went to friends’ houses for New Year, or hosted people at ours, or indeed rented cottages in the Highlands of Scotland or St Andrews, the former was where I met Tony on Hogmanay 2000 into 2001!
I love the spirit of Christmas, the bustle, the joyousness of the occasion. Probably the thing I love most is how people are generally happier, even if only for a short period of time, before they return to the usual humdrum daily toil. But I love everything - the cards, presents, holly, mistletoe, Christmas pudding, mince pies, carols - need I go on?
NED : And I must obviously ask as to where the story for THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT came from.
SB : Good question. It came to me one night in October, when I was trying to get to sleep and failing miserably. Much as I love Christmas, I realise there are many not looking forward to the season: those who have no money, who have just been made redundant, have lost loved ones, have split up from their partners this year, who won’t be spending Christmas with their loved ones - eg those in the armed forces. And it got me to thinking, most Christmas books are very saccharine - the Christmas spirit is a feel good book, but highlights some important, everyday issues, I feel, too
NED : The book has a clearly defined narrative drive. We continue to read because we want to know who Natalie Hope really is and how will she resolve her chosen people’s problems. Were you aware of that when you began writing?
SB : Well, interestingly, contrary to my other novels, which are largely dialogue based, I was aware that THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT had more of a narrative bent, but I was happy with this and felt that that’s what was called for here. As I said earlier, I moved the beginning to the end, as I decided I didn’t actually want you to know who Natalie is. I wanted the reader to work it out, so I simply alluded to it instead.
NED : You seem to have an infinite supply of characters for your books and THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT is no exception. Where do they all come from?
SB : Ha ha - I have a very active imagination. I will never manage to write all the books in my head - not enough time. I like to try to make my characters as distinctive as possible, but naturally so. Rebecca, Sophie, and Jacob, for example, are all in their ‘20s, but I like to think their lives and backgrounds are so disparate that they could not be confused.
NED : I was particularly intrigued by Meredith as she seems to have the worst problem for Natalie to solve. You weren’t thinking of Miranda Priestly from ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ by any chance? Or was it Ebenezer Scrooge?
SB : I agree. No, it wasn’t Miranda Priestly, actually, more, as you will have seen, Cruela de Vil! But Miranda Priestly epitomises Natalie perfectly. Great comparison. I think and hope what happens to Meredith humbles her and makes Christmas spirit attainable for her again. Not even knowing you are missing out on something is sometimes the saddest thing of all.
NED : And lastly, how will you be spending this Christmas yourself? In a snow globe, by any chance?
SB : Ha ha, well, it’s snowing here at the minute, so perhaps. I’ve already had my Christmas this year - all my Christmases at once, actually. I just moved it to the 22nd March when Antonia was born! She is the best present, Christmas or otherwise I could ever receive.
I can’t wait until Christmas morning when Antonia opens her presents. I intend to space the presents out - one every 15 minutes or so, as children can’t take it all in. Whilst I am playing with her presents - ahem - Freudian slip - she is playing with her presents - OK, whilst I am playing with her presents, she will be crinkling the wrapping paper and chewing on the labels.
Christmas dinner will be with part of our family and Boxing Day with the rest of the family. If baby Antonia sleeps past 7am, I might manage to get downstairs and browse books on Amazon to buy with my vouchers my brother and sister will give me! That’s my idea of Christmas.
Merry Christmas everyone!
My thanks to Susan for getting us into THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT – literally! And for those of you inspired to buy the book, here are the links you will need.
Amazon UK - http://amzn.to/1ewbuRY
Amazon US - http://amzn.to/1dFw0TJ
And you can find Susan online here
Twitter – @susan_buchanan
Facebook - www.facebook.com/susan.buchanan.author
4 FEBRUARY 2013
THE DATING GAME – AN INTERVIEW WITH SUSAN BUCHANAN
In August last year I had the pleasure of interviewing author Susan Buchanan. She promised she’d come back and last week I caught up with her and managed to book a space in her busy schedule. Here’s what she had to say.
NED : Last time we spoke you had just started writing THE DATING GAME. Tell us what you’ve been doing since.
SB : Well, apart from finishing THE DATING GAME and engaging myself in a rather lengthy and I think successful launch back in November 2012, I’ve been working on my next book, WHAT IF, due for release in autumn 2013. WHAT IF is the story of Cameron, who wakes up one day and wonders if he is living the life he should be. I’m quite excited about having a protagonist who is male!
NED : Yes, that should be really interesting. Meanwhile, your main character in THE DATING GAME is Gill McFadden, single, aged 37. Is she a conscious representation of your target audience?
SB : Not necessarily. I engage a lot with my readers, and many of them are married, or in relationships, and of varying ages from late teens through to their fifties. I just wanted to write a chicklit/romantic drama with humour, which was more realistic, rather than featuring handbags, Jimmy Choo shoes, etc, since I have absolutely no interest in those things and I think some of it is a bit airhead-like and dumbed down. I think modern women need something more realistic to get their teeth into.
NED : You told me you did little planning for SIGN OF THE TIMES except for character sketches. Did that change for THE DATING GAME?
SB : Just to go back on that, I did little planning before starting to write the novel, except for researching the zodiac signs and their attributes. Then the characters fleshed out as we went along, as did some of the plot development. That said, it must have been the most revised book in history!
I wrote a chapter plan for THE DATING GAME after I wrote the first three chapters four years ago. I then wrote about 15 chapters then realised I had deviated dramatically from what I had intended to write, but that was OK. I then went back and rewrote the chapter plan and apart from not adding in one more ‘date’ which I had planned, as I felt I had written enough date material, I kept true to the revised chapter plan. I still did the character Word docs and also a spreadsheet of names of all the characters, however minor. I also research the viability of names and other material I use. I am very big on being factually correct.
NED : Gill runs a recruitment agency. She’s also trying to ‘recruit’ a boyfriend. Was the parallel deliberate? Or did it just turn out that way?
SB : Initially, the parallel wasn’t deliberate, but as soon as I started writing about CVs, profiles, etc, I realised how well that could work, but also how I would have to be careful with my comparisons for fear the reader get confused.
NED : Do you have personal experience of either recruitment or dating agencies?
SB : Apart from spending a lot of time dealing with recruitment agencies when I’ve been looking to change jobs, no. I was headhunted once by a recruitment agency for a role, though, and then they offered me a job! I’ve never been in touch with a dating agency. As I may have mentioned in the past, the idea for THE DATING GAME came about because a friend had joined a dating agency for professional people in Glasgow. I didn’t use any of her experiences (hers were far worse than Gill’s!) but the seed was sown.
NED : From a writer’s point of view one of the things that intrigued me was the necessity of having to write a number of ‘first meeting’ scenes. I would find just one a challenge but you obviously had to compile several. How did you go about that?
SB : I’m interested as to why you would find it a challenge. I always relish that kind of thing. Let’s face it, when you meet someone for the first time, particularly through an agency or for a blind date, the majority of first dates are going to be in a pub, cafe, restaurant. The trick was how to make the first dates interesting and diverse enough, but I think I managed to pull it off. Making all of the characters very different helped!
NED : The book is primarily written from Gill’s point of view but you’ve occasionally got inside her potential partners’ heads. Did you find it difficult writing as a man?
SB : No, and in fact, I enjoyed it so much, I decided the third book, WHAT IF, should have a male protagonist. Plus, don’t forget, there were 5 main male characters in SIGN OF THE TIMES - all different. I will, however, be having several male friends look at WHAT IF before it’s published, for authenticity.
NED : While we’re on the subject, what is there about the book that you think might appeal to men?
SB : Well, to be honest, I think THE DATING GAME has less mutual appeal than SIGN OF THE TIMES did. That said, apart from insights into how women feel, what we expect from men, what not to do to impress us, what works with regard to us, etc, I think men might enjoy the humour, plus there are once again a few sexy moments, although let’s face it, Gill is no Lucy!
NED : SIGN OF THE TIMES was your first book. What lessons did you learn from it that you were able to apply to THE DATING GAME? Both from the writing and the marketing point of view?
SB : This would take a dissertation to explain! I have written various blog posts on this and done many interviews on this topic over the past six months, but the main ones were: figure out your word count and monitor it as you go along; get beta readers - invaluable; have your work professionally proofread; be regimented when writing - limit your time on social networks. (Social networking didn’t really exist when I started SIGN OF THE TIMES - my main distraction then was reading!); prepare a book launch at least a month in advance; send your book out to reviewers in advance of publication, but only once you are confident it’s in virtually its final version.
NED : Finally, what do you plan to do next?
SB : WHAT IF will be released in Autumn 2013, probably early November. After which I will start writing the sequel to SIGN OF THE TIMES. I have another three books planned at least after that. I would love to write a Christmas novel(la) as I am a big Christmas fan. It will really depend how much time I have on my hands - new babies take up a lot of time I’m told!
My thanks to Susan and as you may have guessed from her last comment, she’s expecting a baby! We wish her all the best with what’s to come for her in what will be another busy year.
For those of you not familiar with her work – or if you just want to refresh your memory - I’ll be publishing an extract from THE DATING GAME on The Weekly Read this Friday.
And you can find Susan online here
Twitter – @susan_buchanan
Facebook - www.facebook.com/susan.buchanan.author
13 AUGUST 2012
In my blog, interviews with authors are like buses.
You wait forever then two come along at once.
Last week I spoke to Wendy Loveday after her writing marathon.
This week I get to talk to Susan Buchanan.
Having just finished reading her debut novel, Sign Of The Times, I had quite a few questions to ask.
Q : You say it took 6 years to write half the book. Why so long?
A : It took me 5 years to write half the book and then 5 months to write the other half. I then spent 5 months redrafting and editing the whole book. When I wrote the first half, I was working full-time and I knew that I was never going to finish the book at that rate, so I made the executive decision, rightly I think, to give up my very nice, well-paid job and write full-time. Interestingly nobody thought I was mad!
Q : How difficult a decision was that?
A : Not very. I had always said if I had X amount of money in the bank, I would take a year off. Some people travel the world. Well, I had already travelled a lot of the world, so I took a year off to write! Plus the airline had lost my luggage three weeks in a row, on return work trips and I flipped!
Q : Many writers in that position would have elected to take an MA in creative writing to get themselves going. Is that something you considered?
A : I didn’t need inspiration and still don’t. I have no shortage of ideas, I just had a lack of time. So, no, I didn’t consider doing an MA in creative writing. I already have a Masters in Languages. I don’t see the point of giving up any more valuable years to organised study! I did, however, attend a creative writing course, which was useful ,about 11 years ago at the University of Strathclyde. It made me much more open to taking criticism, as at first I was horrified at the thought of reading my work out, but after that, I quite enjoyed it.
Q : Prior to starting Sign Of The Times all those years ago, how much forward planning did you do?
A : Er, is none the wrong answer?! Well, let’s put it this way - I came up with the idea for Sign Of the Times, 12 characters, whose personalities and careers were based on the 12 zodiac signs. After that I researched all of the signs, to see which careers they would tend to have, which traits I needed to give the characters and then each character grew in my mind. I have Word docs with each of the profiles for each character and I just add bits to them, so I don’t forget. But I didn’t necessarily plan certain scenes in advance. A lot of the sub-plots came as I wrote. Often the characters tell you they want to go in a different direction. Basically I knew the beginning, the end and the characters. Some of the more shocking scenes, particularly the tragic ones, only developed as I wrote.
Q : And did things change at all when you went full-time?
A : To be honest, I partly don’t remember, as bear in mind I had written half the book by then, over several years, but also I don’t think the way I wrote changed, I simply had more time to do so.
Q : By necessity, Sign Of The Times has twelve full-on characters. Whether it was consciously or not, did you draw on people you know?
A : No, I didn’t draw on anyone I knew. It’s really funny, as people I know who have read Sign Of The Times, take me aside and ask me, ‘is so and so me?’ to which I reply truthfully , ‘No.’ I can’t tell you how much that tickles me though, as it means I have created characters that everyone can identify with. To me, the beauty of fiction is that it is fiction- you can invent what you like. Whilst there are places and scenes from everyday life and my travels that I draw upon, that is not so with the characters. There are only two scenes, one major and one minor in the novel which can be directly attributed to people I know or friends of people I know. But the characters who act them out, are nothing like the people I know.
Q : I notice you have an 'editor'. How important is it to have someone else reading your work?
A : Essential. Sign Of The Times is a much better book for Drill Sergeant Fi Broon editing it. This time around I am also engaging at least 3 beta readers, as eventually even your editor gets too close to it! When you write, you have phrases you use all the time, that grate on the reader, unless you take some of them out. You wouldn’t always notice similar words in the space of a few sentences when you read your own work. Most importantly, sometimes you think as the author, you have explained something, but it’s still inside your head! Another pair of eyes looking at it, eventually says ‘What?!’ That gives you time to correct it, before your readers read it. I am lucky that my editor is a friend from uni. We have a right laugh editing together!
Q : You’re now in the process of writing a new piece of work, The Dating Game. After your experiences with Sign Of The Times, have you adopted a different approach and if so, how has it changed?
A : The only thing I have done differently is keep a closer eye (sort of!) on the word count. Of course I am evolving as a writer, so some things I will do slightly differently, but overall I am doing things in the same way. I have been involved in a non-writing project of late, but am about to start writing again full-time, so that will make a difference to how I shape my day. What I can tell you is that my third book, which I intend to start in October, will be approached a little differently, and will be more structured, as I will once again be writing full-time and will have all the benefit of hindsight!
Q : Finally, let's talk about Holly, the main character in Sign Of The Times. I have a theory that everything we write is in some way autobiographical - it must be since what we write can only originate from inside ourselves. Is Holly the person you really are? Or the one you'd like to be?
A : Would it be OK if I quashed your theory? Not that Holly doesn’t have some of my traits. She does, but that’s because she’s Sagittarius, as I am. I am quashing your theory on the basis of what about those who write sci-fi, crime fiction and books cataloguing evil? I would be scared to meet those authors, if they are all autobiographical! I also don’t believe that what we write MUST come from inside ourselves, but it is certainly easier. It also depends how good an imagination one has. I’m lucky enough that I have a very good imagination. I never reached the stage as an adult where I thought reading things that can’t be true (CS Lewis, J K Rowling etc) was a waste of time. Plus, I think you can research a novel and write it without putting yourself into it. I was guilty of being indulgent occasionally and putting my opinions across as some of the characters’, but my editor soon sorted me out!
Anyway, back to Holly. We share the fact that we speak Italian, but that was really to make Holly’s trip to Italy more successful. My Italian is a bit better than hers! Also, Italian men do nothing for me! I’m sorry, but it’s true. I tend to go for the paler, Scottish/Irish man. In fact, if it wasn’t for some obvious problems in The Dating Game, I could quite go for Irishman, Sean. Although in The Dating Game, I do have my own favourite, which will probably be obvious to those who read it. And in Sign Of The Times, Ben is my favourite bloke.
But I digress, although Holly is quite impulsive and loyal, too, as am I, being a typical Sagittarian, she is not as forthright as I am. I am forever getting myself into trouble!
Not wishing to get Susan into any more trouble, we decided to leave things there for the moment. Hopefully we’ll be able to welcome her back when The Dating Game is finished. Besides, I’m also a Sagittarian and I didn’t want her giving away any more of our secrets! My thanks to her for her time. If there are any questions you'd like to ask or any comments you'd like to make, please use the box at the bottom of the page.