TweetSuzy Henderson was born in the North of England and initially pursued a career in healthcare, specialising as a midwife. Years later she embarked upon a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. That was the beginning of a new life journey, rekindling her love of writing and her passion for history. With an obsession for military and aviation history, she began to write.
Suzy is a member of The Alliance of Independent Authors and the Historical Novel Society and her debut novel, The Beauty Shop, was released in November 2016.
Time to chat with Suzy!
What is your latest book?
Having released my debut novel in November 2016, The Beauty Shop, I’m now writing the next book that I hope to release early 2018. Once again, it’s historical fiction, set mainly in France and covers the mid-1930s to 1944. I’m frantically in the middle of rewrites and edits, and as usual, my main character is shaping the story her way.
Great question. I think it’s fair to say that the historical fiction genre chose me. It all began with my passion for history, mainly military history. Of course, like so many people, there is also a family connection to both world wars, with grandparents, great grandparents and great uncles who served in both conflicts. It’s such a fascinating period, rich in undiscovered and little-known stories and with such remarkable people. I’d like to think that those of us who create within this genre are helping to keep history alive as well as providing exceptional stories for readers.
When I first encountered the story of the Guinea Pig Club – a club for severely burned airmen, and the plastic surgeon who cared for them, I knew I had to write it. I find that I’m drawn to such real people in history – what drives them to do what they do. I’m intrigued by their choices in life and going in search of the answers often uncovers many intriguing facts. For me, I wanted to know what led Archibald McIndoe to do what he did for the burned and injured airmen in his care. Why did he engage pretty girls for his ward, encourage relationships between nurse and patient, allow beer to be freely available and so many other things? His methods were unorthodox, raised many eyebrows and caused many problems within the hospital establishment.
He battled many people to get his own way, which in his mind was the only way. His objective was simple. The men in his care faced a lifetime of ridicule, discrimination and the loss of a previous way of life. He had to change people, society, and attitudes to disability and disfigurement and of course, this is an ongoing issue although times are improving gradually, thanks to people like Archie McIndoe. For a young, handsome pilot to have his whole life ahead of him one day and to feel almost finished the next when his entire face has been burned away, is simply unimaginable and so I found myself compelled to delve into the archives in search of a story. Hence The Beauty Shop was born. The title was the nickname for Archie’s ward at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead. As the men used to say, “it’s where they send you to make you up again.”
How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?
It happens all the time, irrespective of how well I’ve planned each chapter. Just when I think I know where I’m heading, a character takes me on a little detour and it’s always interesting and often useful, becoming an integral part of the story. Usually, it’s my main characters who quite literally take over and re- shape the story, as has happened with my current book, and I found myself having to do further research, covering an area I hadn’t envisaged at all, although I’m so glad of it.
What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?
I think I prefer the editing stage, which may seem odd. Planning and writing the first draft is enjoyable but equally frustrating, especially when the writing is not flowing. Things don’t always go to plan as characters have a way of evolving during the written stage, and sometimes more research is required, which hinders my writing. Once I have the complete draft, the real work begins, and that’s the greatest stage for me. I enjoy the shaping and fine polishing phase, but I must admit I’m not so keen on proofreading.
Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?
The title is not important right at the beginning just as long as I have one in time for the design of the book cover. As for endings, well I do like to have the beginning, the middle and some idea of the end at the planning stage, but like everything, it’s always open to change. Right now, I have three alternative endings for my current book.
We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?
The cover is vital – it’s the first thing people will notice in the book store or the Kindle store on Amazon. It must fit your story, look fantastic, and it should stand out. It’s all part of grabbing the reader’s attention. Often, it’s the cover you spot before you read the title, author’s name and certainly any blurb. I’m not a graphic designer or an artist and certainly not competent enough to design my own covers, so I have a professional to do that.
Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?
I know many writers who edit as they go, but I simply can’t do it. For me, having tried this, I found it broke my flow and hindered my writing. I prefer to draft and then rewrite and edit afterwards. The first draft is like a free write in a sense – like turning on a tap and going with the flow. I feel it’s where the true story emerges from, and I have no wish to interrupt that.
Do you have any secrets for effective time management?
I wish I did and I’ve concluded that I need to know how to freeze time – that would be incredibly useful but alas I have no superpowers. I think that social media can so easily become a huge drain on your time, especially while you’re at the initial writing stage. I’ve found that I must be strict and limit my time there. I write when I’m most productive which is early mornings and in the evenings. I generally find myself multi-tasking, and I try to keep up with social media during non-writing periods, perhaps when cooking dinner or watching TV. I’ve also begun taking regular breaks away from social media that not only frees up more time but allows you to ‘recharge your batteries’ so to speak. Living in social media can become quite stressful and we all need an occasional rest. You must do what’s right and what works for you at the end of the day.
Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?
Oh, for me it most definitely came later in life. I can recall being in English class and having to write stories about our summer holidays or suchlike and I hated it. The problem for me was that I loved reading, and enjoyed stories, but when it came to English studies, my imagination took a vacation! Maybe I’m one of life’s ‘late bloomers’. One benefit of this happens to be life experience. I have so much more now in my fourth decade than I did in my second for instance and it’s a useful tool that influences and shapes my writing.
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?
I absolutely dread writing the synopsis, which is so ridiculous! The synopsis is essential if you’re pitching your book to agents and publishers. That said, even if you’re self-publishing it’s useful and assists with writing your book blurb for one thing. It sums up your entire book, so if you know what you’re writing about, it shouldn’t be a problem. One benefit of writing the synopsis, I’ve found, is that it identifies any ambiguity and helps you to iron out any niggles with your story and plot.
Have you been involved with the Kindle Direct Program? If yes, do you believe it’s worthwhile?
I’m currently enrolled in KDP, and I believe it is worthwhile even though it means I can’t sell my e-book anywhere else for the duration. However, the benefit of the higher royalty rate and the Kindle lending library perhaps makes up for this. Like many writers I’ve discovered that I get many Kindle reads via the library which is fantastic to see my book being widely read around the world.
Are your characters ever based on people you know?
Sometimes, maybe just a little. I’m probably like many writers in that I observe and listen to people. It’s impossible not to overhear conversations at times, and it’s fascinating to do so. So, the bottom line is that as a writer I’m always collecting information to use later. Sometimes a character may be based on an actor even – I do find movies to be a rich resource and a great writing tool and even the actors themselves, after all, they’re people. There is also a little of myself in my books, which happens to be unavoidable.
If you could add a room onto your current home, what would you put in it?
I would make it a writing room specifically for me so I would have it furnished like a library, with shelves from floor to ceiling filled with books. I’d have my desk, a comfy armchair and a treadmill in the corner – keep fit while I’m creating – I’m a multi-tasker! Perhaps I’d have a coffee-maker too and a lovely wood-burning stove for winter.
What music soothes your soul?
I love music, and I particularly enjoy jazz and classical which I find to be very soothing. Also, different songs or classical pieces fit different pieces of writing and often help set the mood and even aid creativity. It’s amazing how that works and I must say it’s not often that I write without music.
If you are a TV watcher, would you share the names of your favorite shows with us?
Well, here in the UK I’m a long-time fan of a show called Emmerdale. I also love Only Fools and Horses that finished ages ago, so I watch the re-runs. Just recently I discovered the hype over Outlander and became hooked. I watched all the available episodes and am now right up to date and about to begin watching Season 3 – can’t wait!
If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?
I always longed to play the piano but never had the opportunity to learn. Now my youngest son is taking lessons and is becoming quite accomplished. I keep asking him to teach me, and he does try, but I seem to be a slow learner! I used to play the flute, and I can read music, write music even, but learning to play the piano seems to be out of my grasp. It’s going to take time and perseverance.
Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?
I live in Cumbria, right near the top, so I’m within easy reach of the Scottish borders. We have lakes, mountains, literary connections such as Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter and many fabulous walks. Add to that the rich Roman heritage, Roman Forts and Hadrian’s Wall – it’s an inspiring landscape for many an artist.
If I had to move, I’d hope to relocate to either Lincolnshire or Cambridge in the UK simply because it’s ‘bomber county’ where many of the RAF and USAAF bomber bases were during WW2. There are also many old airfields and aviation museums to visit. Aside from there, I’d probably choose somewhere in the south of France. I love the French language, something I excelled in during my school years – I did far better in French than in English!
Thank you so much for inviting me here today, Lisette. I had fun answering the questions, and it has been an honour. I’d also like to say a massive thank you to all who have read my book. Lest we forget.
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