Sue was born in Wales some time during the last millennium.
After graduating from Durham University with a degree in French, she returned to Manchester (where she had spent her formative years) and got married, then had a variety
of office jobs before leaving the world of paid employment to become a full-time parent. If she had her way, the phrase “non-working mother” would be banned from the English language.
Sue has dabbled with writing for most of her
life. Her first success was at primary school, where she won a competition run by Cadbury’s which involved writing an essay about chocolate. Her prize was a tin containing a selection of Cadbury’s products. She
still has the tin to this day, and keeps it as a reminder of her humble writing origins. The chocolate is long since gone, but the tin is now home to her supply of pens and pencils. In recent years she began to take writing more seriously
and studied a series of writing courses with the Open University. As well as having work published in Best of Manchester Poets (Volumes 2 and 3), her achievements have included winning a T-shirt for writing a limerick (which summed
up the plot of Macbeth in five lines) and winning first prize in Writing Magazine’s 2013 poetry competition for new subscribers. In 2013 she joined the editorial team of Crooked
Cat Publishing, who also published her debut novel The Ghostly Father (a new interpretation of the Romeo & Juliet story) in February 2014, and her second novel Nice Girls Don’t (a romantic intrigue set in
1982) in July 2014.
Sue’s mind is sufficiently warped that she has also worked as a question-setter for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz – a phase of her life which caused one of her sons to
describe her as “professionally weird.” She lives in Cheshire and Anglesey (thought not at the same time – she isn’t THAT weird) with her husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE JOURNEY – the path to publication
Way back in 2008, I
did an online Creative Writing course with the Open University. It was called Start Writing Fiction, and lasted for about three months. As part of the course the students were set two tutor-marked assignments, one of
which involved writing about an emotion.
The choice of emotion was left up to us, but were advised by our tutor that it was much easier to write convincingly about a negative emotion (such as anger) than about a positive one such
as happiness or contentment. Having tried both, I very quickly discovered that she was right; my attempt at a “positive” piece sounded trite and shallow, whereas the “negative” emotion produced a powerful passage which was
so toe-curlingly harrowing that I still cringe whenever I read it. But the tutor did give me full marks for it, so in that respect at least I must have done something right.
But for a very long time after that, I found I couldn’t
write anything which wasn’t dark, or brooding, or in some cases downright depressing. This wasn’t, I hasten to add, because of any serious angst in my own life – it was purely and simply because I’d got into the mindset that
the only way I could write anything “serious” was by going over to the dark side. Even when, a couple of years later, I made a tentative start on writing a full-length novel, I still found it very difficult to shake off that doom-laden
Then, in January 2012, I chanced across an advertisement for an online workshop run by the romance writer Sally Quilford, on the subject of writing Pocket Novel romances. Romance writing was something I’d never
had the courage to tackle, but this six-week course looked interesting, manageable and affordable – and I desperately needed to learn how to lighten up my writing. Despite (to my shame) knowing next to nothing about Pocket Novels, I signed
Before the course began I bought and read a few of the DC Thomson Pocket Novels, which are published fortnightly by My Weekly and The People’s Friend, and sold alongside the magazines in supermarkets and newsagents. It
didn’t take long for me to realise that a Pocket Novel offers a lovely dose of escapism, and is usually intended to be read in a single sitting – ideally whilst either lounging on a sunny beach or curled up in front of a roaring log fire. I
ought to be able to write something like this, I thought. After all, how hard can it be…?
How naïve of me.
I very quickly discovered that writing a Pocket Novel is nowhere near as simple as the
experts make it look. As I’d found during the OU “emotion” exercise, easy reading makes for very hard writing. The story needs to be light but not bland, readable but not simplistic, and with likeable and credible characters
and enough action and conflict to keep the reader’s interest until the last page. Not easy, when the Pocket Novel Rulebook is (or at least was at the time) a long list of Thou-Shalt-Nots. All plots need conflict, but
how on earth can a writer produce a convincing plot when so many of the usual sources of conflict (crime, infidelity, divorce, death) are totally off-limits?
And yet, under Sally’s expert tuition and kind encouragement, I gradually
began to learn that yes, it is possible – if one regards conflict in terms of a problem that needs to be solved. This can take the form of (for example) fear, or insecurity, or separation – all of which can be tackled without recourse
to any of the traditionally more traumatic themes. As one of the rules for a Pocket Novel is that the Happy Ever After ending is non-negotiable, the story is all about the journey towards it, and how those problems are overcome along the way.
By the end of the six weeks I had a title (Nice Girls Don’t), a hero (Carl), a heroine (Emily), a few secondary characters, a basic storyline and a selection of scenes. Plus a whole new set of friends and writing
buddies – all of whom are every bit as valuable to me as everything I learned during the course. It took me another few months to produce the rest of the book – during which time one of the characters completely floored me by saying
something which went on to change the entire course of the subplot. Until then I had no idea that my fictional creations could take on personalities and ideas of their own! Clearly I still had a lot to learn.
that learning curve included one of the hardest lessons of all: rejection. Nice Girls Don’t was turned down by both of the DC Thomson outlets – probably because it didn’t tick all their very stringent boxes.
So Emily and Carl discreetly withdrew to the murky depths of my hard drive, whilst I turned my attention back to the novel I’d started a couple of years earlier. This was a retelling of the traditional Romeo &
Juliet story, but a version in which the star-crossed lovers didn’t die. At that stage I was writing it mainly for myself, because it was the ending I wanted. But now, armed with the knowledge I’d gained during the workshop,
I was able to go back to the rough first draft with a fresher and more critical eye, and a better knowledge of what a publisher might look for. As a result I was able to fine-tune the manuscript and eventually submit it to a publisher. The Ghostly Father, published by Crooked Cat Publishing, was officially released (very appropriately,
given the subject-matter) on St Valentine’s Day 2014.
After Crooked Cat accepted The Ghostly Father, I was inspired to resurrect the manuscript of Nice Girls Don't, give it a few tweaks, and submit it to them.
Once again, they were brave enough to take me on as an author. Nice Girls Don't (a romantic mystery set in 1982) was officially released
in July 2014. We are now halfway through November, and it still hasn't fully sunk in.