It's a rare thing indeed to witness the journey of a writer, from a newbie finding their feet to a fully fledged author in the eyes of the world. I met Susie at a Novel Writing Summer School in Falmouth, back in 2006. We worked together in a few exercises, under the guiding hand of tutor Jane Pollard. Over the course of a week we all whipped our ideas into some sort of shape and experienced the familiar flow of elation and deflation that happens when a course of this kind...well, runs its course...and ends.
I can't remember who suggested it (probably Susie), but not long afterwards a few of us decided to meet up at regular intervals - every two or three months - to give a shape to the solitary business of writing and of editing (a joy we had yet to encounter). As our respective novels developed we offered support, commiseration, objective feedback and a sense of shared experience, as we moved forward from the exaltation of the completed first draft to the trench warfare that is editing.
It's a particular pleasure to see a friend achieve one of their goals. Friday, April 27th, The Making of Her is published. Here's to you Susie, you've climbed the peak and can now take a breather!
Naturally, I couldn't resist the opportunity to put her on the spot and find out what the view is like from there, whether her feet have blisters, and her highs and lows of the journey so far.
Set in the pressure-cooker world of television, The Making of Her is a blackly funny retort to a society which values youth over age and appearance over experience.
The Making of Her is the makeover programme that Clara never wanted to produce, featuring the one person she never would have chosen. Add to the mix an errant husband, a barefoot counsellor and a reclusive rock star, and change is inevitable. But does transformation come from the inside out, or from the outside in?
And will The Making of Her prove to be the making of them all?
(Cue sound of spotlight being clicked on...)
(Cue sound of spotlight being clicked on...)
1. What, if anything, has changed in your writing from the way you wrote at the summer school to the published version?
I think the main difference is that I’ve learned not to be afraid of discarding and rewriting. I was terribly precious about writing before I began this novel (and throughout much of the writing of it). It was very late on before I dared to really make the necessary changes - dared to ‘let go’. I have also learned to lighten up – the original version was called ‘The Change’ (I know, I know) and full of gloom, doom and menopausal mentions.
2. What are your views on opportunities that are specifically for women, such as Mslexia, The Orange Fiction prize and Linen Press Publishing? Are they a niche, a response to an industry deficiency or purely a matter of choice for the organisations involved?
I’d say, a matter of choice for the organisations involved. I guess you could also see them in terms of a ‘brand’, which sits easier with me. Linen Press is a publishing house which brands itself as ‘great writing for women - by women’. This allows our readership – mainly women – to find and recognise us, just as The Women’s Press or Virago did before us.
3. What inspired / drove you to write about the themes in your book?
I’ve always been fascinated by transformation since devouring C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories as a child, together with The Brothers Grimm. Fairy tales always feature an element of transformation – Cinderella, The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid – and it seems as if this longing for personal transformation has developed, over the centuries, through various incarnations – alchemy, psychoanalysis, personal development and finally, in today’s youth-obsessed culture, cosmetic surgery. It could be argued that changing your outer appearance is more a matter of changing gold into lead – but I was interested as to whether changing the outside could actually bring about inner transformation. In The Making of Her, one woman opts for surgery whilst the other enters therapy. And both are transformed, in very different ways.
4. Do you see yourself differently, as a writer, now that you have made the journey from first draft to book launch date? And how might this influence your future writing?
I feel validated, after years of rejection. Not particularly estimable, but when people ask what I do, it’s a great relief to be able to answer that I’m a writer, without dreading the inevitable next question: So do you have a book published?
But my confidence as a writer has both grown and diminished – because I have no idea whether the next one will be publishable, or even writeable. And because I’ve opened the Pandora’s Box of publishing, I can never again approach my writing in the same innocent and exuberant way that I did. Although - as in the story of Pandora’s Box - in spite of all the terrors, Hope endures.
5. Was it difficult to say goodbye to your characters?
Yes and no. No, because they each found resolution and redemption, so their stories – at least for now – are complete. Yes, because I grew very, very attached to them.
6. What would you have liked to have been asked?
How did you come to be published by Linen Press? And my answer - apart from writing the novel - would be: because Derek not only sent me Linen Press’s details, but reminded me – as I despaired after a hard rejection from an agent – that everything turns on a sixpence. The day after Linen Press replied, a real sixpence arrived in the post from Derek.*
7. What would you have not liked to have been asked?
How many hours a day do you spend writing? The reluctant answer would be – none. My hours are spent marketing and tweeting. This must change soon!
The Making of Her is available from Linen Press - www.linenpressbooks.com
An ebook version will be available in due course.
Susie Nott-Bower, who neglected to mention that she's a BAFTA winner, is available for talks in the Bristol area. She is currently working on a new novel called Reborn, which is about painting, magic and rebirth.
* Sometimes we're metaphorical signposts for one another, whispers of possibilities unseen but almost within reach. Other times, if we're really lucky, we can be the actual link in the chain for someone else to reach their dream.