Susan Buchanan lives in Central Scotland with her partner, Tony and their baby daughter, Antonia. She has written three novels in the women’s fiction/chicklit genres and is currently writing her fourth.
Time to chat with Susan!
What is your latest book?
The Christmas Spirit. It’s a short novel, of just over 50,000 words which tells the story of four people who are not looking forward to Christmas, for various reasons, and a fifth person who comes into each of their lives to try to enrich their lives and instil in them the magic of Christmas again.
Here’s the blurb as a little taster:
Christmas is coming, but not everyone is looking forward to it. Rebecca has just been dumped and the prospect of spending the holiday period with her parents is less than appealing.
Eighty-two year old Stanley lost his beloved wife, Edie, to cancer. How will he cope with his first Christmas without her?
Jacob’s university degree hasn’t helped him get a job, and it looks like he’ll still be signing on come New Year.
Workaholic Meredith would rather spend December 25th at home alone with a ready meal and a DVD box set. Can anything make her embrace the spirit of the season?
The enigmatic Natalie Hope takes over the reins at the Sugar and Spice bakery and cafe in an attempt to spread some festive cheer and restore Christmas spirit, but will she succeed?
Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?
I generally write scenes in order, but in The Christmas Spirit, the opening paragraphs were actually changed to almost the last page. That said, I don’t always know what scenes are going to pop up. I start off with a chapter plan where I write a paragraph of what’s going to happen in that chapter, and sometimes three chapters later I discover that didn’t happen at all. Sometimes the characters develop in a different way to I originally intended them, or I might have a better idea!
Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?
Not always. As The Christmas Spirit is a feel-good story, yes, I knew the ending with that, but with The Dating Game, I didn’t know who Gill would end up with. In fact I had imagined a character and a scene, which in the end I didn’t create at all! The title is more important for me, as once I know the title, I will write that book! With Sign of the Times I knew that I didn’t want a conventional ending, but that was as far as it went, until I actually was writing the book. I already know the ending for my fourth book, What If.
Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?
Hmm, well, for Sign of the Times and most of The Dating Game, I redrafted and had my work edited by my editor Fi Broon. However, due to Fi’s other commitments, this time I wrote the whole novel from start to finish and then redrafted it five or six times, before letting my beta reader read it.
In hindsight, although we had a lot of fun doing it the way we did for the first two books, it was too labour-intensive and with all the books in my head that I want to write (I already have another seven planned) economy of time is very important. I think the more you write and the more you edit, the better you get at it, and, in theory, the better you write, so you shouldn’t have to do quite as heavy edits. I know many writers add a lot in the edits, but I tend to take away. You reach a stage where you are simply only changing the words and not making any major changes. Sometimes you have to know when to stop, otherwise you could be changing great to something good!
How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?
To be honest, when I am writing a new book, sometimes the names just jump into my head, as happened with The Christmas Spirit. In the past, I have always been very careful to ensure those names were plausible for Scotland around the time the characters were born, but in The Christmas Spirit, I’ve gone off piste a little with the names!
I’ve twice changed names. In The Dating Game, one of my beta readers found the fact that two of the four girlfriends’ names began with L, confusing. So, I changed Laura to Debbie, and retained Lisa. In The Christmas Spirit I kept writing Sophie instead of Sylvie, so by the time I was three-quarters of the way through, I decided she was more of a Sophie than a Sylvie and changed it. By the way, the name Sylvie came from a new beautician, Sylvia, I used the week before!
I used up all the good names with Sign of the Times! I didn’t know I was going to have a baby at that point, so I started calling all my characters names that I liked. As it turns out, there is an Antonia in the novel, who, I hasten to add, bears no resemblance to my cherub! But, Holly for example, a name I love, and Lucy, these were just names I really liked.
Do you dread writing a synopsis for your novel as much as most writers do? Do you think writing a synopsis is inherently evil? Why?
Ugh! Yes, it’s the spawn of the devil. When I was submitting Sign of the Times to publishers, I drove myself round the bend trying to fit the lowdown of the twelve characters and what tied them together into a few pages. Plus, publishers and agents don’t agree on length of synopsis, or even what it should include, which I find bloomin’ annoying, so you have to write several. I need to do one soon for The Dating Game, which I have never tried to go down the traditional publishing route with. I’m not looking forward to it.
Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?
Now that I have an 8-month-old baby, I am a ‘write whenever she is asleep’ writer, so even though I am a morning person (not 4am though!) I am now writing at all sorts of strange times. Basically, as soon as baby Antonia naps, I down tools, sod the housework, make myself a coffee and start writing! I’m going to have to try and get better at writing in the evening. It’s not my thing. I had to go to a coffee shop at the weekend whilst my other half watched Antonia and I rattled out parts of The Christmas Spirit. No distractions. Usually I need silence to write, although I have discovered I can write, if pressed, with the TV on, and I feel tired or in need of inspiration, I put Classic FM on. I love classical music!
How would you define your style of writing?
Humorous, chatty, relatively informal, international. I favour dialogue over lengthy descriptions. I studied Balzac at university and he makes Dickens look frugal. I take great pains to ensure my facts are correct. I was surprised to discover many authors don’t, even traditionally published ones and I know a few who have admitted serious mistakes because of this. I had always just taken it as a given before that facts were corroborated.
Apart from The Christmas Spirit, my books all have a travel theme. Sign of the Times was partly set in Italy and Switzerland; The Dating Game – Barcelona, and What If will feature chapters in Hong Kong. There is however a nod to the international even in The Christmas Spirit.
Do you miss spending time with your characters when you finish writing them?
Most of them, yes. I am really looking forward to writing the continuation to Sign of the Times, which I hope will be out for Christmas 2014, otherwise Spring 2015. I miss a few of the guys from The Dating Game and Lisa, funnily enough, who is not the main character.
Have you ever started out to write one book and ended up with something completely different?
Well, not completely different, but What If has taken on a bit of a life of its own. It should be out in Spring/Summer 2014. The first paragraph introduces us to a whole new major theme, which I hadn’t envisaged when I originally conceived the book.
What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?
Sorry to be clichéd, but it’s chocolate and I’m a big fan of Green & Blacks, especially the ginger one – I bought two bars today! And I love Cadbury’s chocolate buttons.
That aside, it would have to be pasta. I think I must have been Italian in a previous life. I have Italian friends who eat pasta as a starter every day and I envy them!
Least fave without a doubt is celery – it is disgusting – unless it’s in soup and hidden by all the other ingredients. But, come across a piece of raw celery in a salad? Makes me want to scream for my mummy!
If you could be invisible for a day, what would you do?
Ha ha, that would be telling. But let’s just say I’d pay actor Rupert-Penry Jones a visit, for starters!
What’s the coolest surprise you’ve ever had?
When The Dating Game launched last November, I was busy tweeting away like a mad thing, five months pregnant, and the doorbell rang. It was a delivery of the most enormous bouquet of flowers, and equally gigantic box of chocolates, to celebrate my launch from my Other Half, Tony. He’s a typical Scotsman and not known for doing the hearts and flowers thing, so I actually cried!
What are the most important traits you look for in a friend?
Honesty, reliability and they need to be a good listener as I talk a lot(!). Oh, and punctuality ( I hate people being late, it drives me nuts. I am having to reassess this now, though, as having a baby in tow makes you late regularly, even when you plan to leave 15-30 minutes earlier than you need to!)
Care to brag about your family?
Of course, but now with the arrival of baby Antonia, I have two families to brag about! I could write an entire book on how amazing Antonia is and I am sure most mums are the same. I never tire of complete strangers coming up to me in the street and telling me how beautiful she is, or how her wee smile just lights up the world. Today I discovered she has a determined chin when concentrating. She almost makes it jut out – had me in stitches. Watching your baby grow every day is pretty special.
Tony works in Medicine and he ‘saves lives’ for a living. Well, he is instrumental.
My parents and siblings are very down-to-earth, we all live within twenty miles of each other, although I’ve lived abroad a few times. Growing up my two sisters were closest to each other and my brother and I were the same. He’s the baby. My little sister has three boys, so the arrival of baby Antonia meant the first granddaughter in the family. My nephews are fantastic – funny, gorgeous and cheeky as hell! I am sure my daughter will end up a tomboy with three boy cousins!
What makes you angry?
This list could take some time! – people with no manners, people swearing around children, smoking around children, drivers not signalling thank you when you let them into a lane, when you hold a door open for someone and they don’t say thank you, those who park in Mother and Child only spaces, but are interestingly without any vestige of a child or car seat. Poor customer service – actually, that should be top, it riles me so much! Liars. Thieves and rogue tradesmen (like those who scammed my elderly uncle in Glasgow a few weeks ago)
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