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Sunday, 20 March 2016

Susan Moody



Interview

Lynne Patrick talks to Susan Moody


Susan Moody is a woman of many parts: born and brought up in Oxford, she was first published in the 1980s as a historical novelist, then more recently and prolifically, as a crime and suspense writer of several crime and suspense series and standalones. There has even been an occasional foray into romantic fiction. She runs courses on crime writing, reviews crime novels – and finds time to be a stepmum to her second
husband’s family. 
Susan spent two years as creative writing tutor at Bedford Prison and is a former chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association and world president of the International Association of Crime Writers, and was elected to the prestigious Detection Club. She is also one of the moving forces behind Deal Noir, a crime writing convention held in Kent in early April. 

Lynne: Susan Moody, Susan Madison, Susannah James... Several pen-names, and not one of them your own name. Is there a reason? Do they represent different sides of your writing life? Or was it just something that happened?   
Susan:  It's a longish story!  Susannah James was originally used for my first two books, which were historical novels – A Distant Shore and Lucia's Legacy. I also used it when I was commissioned to write Love Over Gold, the story of the Gold Blend couple in the NescafĂ© instant coffee ads. Love  Over Gold made the Sunday Times best seller lists, and I've been kicking myself ever since that I wrote it under a pseudonym because I thought (perhaps conceitedly?) I would be writing bigger and better books.  
Susan Madison came about because the German publishers of my big break-out book, The Colour Of Hope, had already published a couple of my books to no great acclaim, and wanted to launch me as a new author. I was in California at the time and my agent rang me at 5 am to ask me to produce another surname immediately. I knew it had to be somewhere in the middle of the alphabet so as not to be sidelined at the top of the bookshop shelves, or the bottom. I used a map of the United States to pick somewhere that sounded good and Madison made the cut.  But only two books were published under that name.   
Susan Moody was once my real name, in that I was married to a Mr Moody when I first started writing. I kept it when I remarried because by then it was my professional name.  

Lynne:  There certainly are different sides to your writing life: as well as two crime fiction series and a number of standalone suspense thrillers, you started out writing historical novels, and you’ve even been shortlisted for a Romantic Novelists Association award. But you run courses on crime fiction, you’ve chaired the CWA and more recently, you’re the driving force behind Deal Noir, a small but perfectly formed convention happening this month. Do you see yourself primarily as a crime writer? Or... what?   
Susan:  Yes, definitely first and foremost a crime and suspense writer. After writing my two historical novels, I decided I needed to write something more contemporary. At the same time the Sunday Times held a competition to find a new female protagonist, since the only one anyone could think of was Miss Jane Marple. I dreamed up Penny Wanawake, a gorgeous six-foot black woman, and although I didn't enter the competition, I was on my crime writing way. (Incidentally, the seven Penny novels are being re-issued by a new publishing house called Williams & Whiting.) Basically, I write crime because I love setting myself a puzzle, and then finding the solution.    

Lynne:  You’ve been around the world more than a little, and not just as a tourist: you’ve lived in France, Tennessee and Tasmania. Do you subscribe to the theory that travel broadens the mind? Has it broadened your horizons as a writer?  
Susan:  Nearly every experience broadens the mind! There's a big difference between travel to a foreign country and actually living there. I've found my sojourns in various places have indeed provided scenes and settings, not to mention local details, and have been a great source of inspiration.  On the other hand, large parts of Playing With Fire were set in Istanbul (as was A Distant Shore) and written some time before I finally visited the place. I was extremely pleased to see how accurate I'd been in describing the sights, sounds and smells of that fabulously beautiful city.    

Lynne:  Another theory: writers are born, not made. Have you always been a writer? Or did something happen to turn you in that direction?   
Susan:  My parents used to say that I came out of the womb holding a pencil and some paper!  I've always known that I was (or would be) a writer, always. I cannot conceive of being anything other than a story-teller. And I strongly believe that writers are born. As mentioned, I've run many courses on crime writing, but I always emphasise that I can only stimulate the imagination, try to set the creative juices flowing. I can't – nobody can – teach people to write. That gift comes from inside. 


Lynne:  Tell us about Deal Noir. How did it come about?  
Susan:  I was in Reykjavik, attending a crime conference called Iceland Noir, and in one of the coffee breaks, found myself moaning to one of the other delegates about the way my career seemed to have stalled. ‘Start a crime conference,’ he said briskly. So I did. With a little help from my friends. And hugely successful it turned out to be, too. So much so that after it was over, we had writers actually approaching us and asking if they could take part in this year's Deal Noir (April 2nd 2016, folks!).  Has my career now unstalled? We'll have to wait and see!
Lynne:  How large a part does writing fiction play in your life?  
Susan:  It is my life.   

Lynne:  Take us through a typical day – or week, if you prefer – in your life.   
Susan:  I get up early (5:30 am, usually). At the moment, since I recently broke an ankle and suffered compound fractures to my wrist, I bring a tray of tea back to bed. (Husband has by now been banished to the spare room). The tray-table is set up with computer, mouse, e-stick, notes from yesterday to hand. I glance through the headlines of an on-line newspaper. Check my email. Then I slowly lower myself into the murky waters of the current novel (Quick Off the Mark) and start writing.   

I find being, as it were, imprisoned in bed, trapped beneath the covers and the legs of the tray-table, very conducive to getting on with it. If inspiration fails, I'll play a few hands of Solitaire while my back-brain whirrs and hums, until it produces the impetus to resume. Around two o'clock, I'll clamber out from between the sheets, stiff as a board, and get myself moving: go for a walk, do the food-shop, go down to the library, answer correspondence, make phone-calls – the usual stuff. All the time, I'm constantly thinking about the various ramifications in my book. 

Normally, when not in a state of  fracture, I'd be out of bed much sooner, and working at my desk, but otherwise the routine's much the same   
And that's not counting the invitations to book launches by other writers, the weekend conferences, the conventions where I'm taking part in a panel, the reviews I'm asked to write, the competitions to judge, etc etc. It's a busy old life. 

Lynne:  All novelists – well, OK, most novelists – set out to tell a good story. Do you aim for anything else? Opening eyes and minds? Or do you just want to entertain your readers?   
Susan:  I've always believed that a story-teller's primary function is to entertain. If you can offer insights into aspects of the human condition as well, that's a real bonus, but I think it would be pretentious of me to set out with that in mind. Any good writer should have a sub-text to her/his work, otherwise it would be little more than froth, but the message should be subtle rather than in-your-face. But I feel that I'm verging on the pretentious just by saying that. Writing suspense novels is not about 'messages'. 

Lynne:  How does a new novel start in your mind?   
Susan:  With an idea, a snippet, a possible plot hook, a murder, some questions. Wondering what would happen if…  I've just begun a new series, featuring Alexandra Quick, ex-copper, art historian, divorced from Jack the Love Rat, now a compiler of beautifully produced anthologies of  paintings, based round a theme, such Eat, Drink and be Merry, or Ripe for the Picking. That means I don't have to create a protagonist from scratch, but I do have to imagine her in the scenario which is gradually taking shape in my head.   

Lynne:  Who do you write for? Is there a reader in your mind when you embark on a novel? 
Susan:  Not so much a reader as a nebulous being who loves my story and wants to know how it ends. And there's me too, of course. I also want to know how it ends.  

Lynne:  Is there anything you wouldn’t write, any line you wouldn’t cross?  
Susan:  Not many. I'm not averse to writing a scene of torture, blood and guts, but I can't imagine inflicting it on a fictional child or an old lady (is that because I'm becoming one, as the years go by?), and certainly not in graphic detail. The psychological and physical torture that is inflicted on children in real life chills me to the bone. But sometimes, occasionally, every now and then, it's necessary to demonstrate how vile people can be. I'm constantly staggered by man's inhumanity to man. As for the cruelties perpetrated every day, everywhere, in the name of religion… Words aren't sufficient. 

Lynne:  How do you go about it? Detailed synopsis, character sketches, storyboard ? Or do you just jump in and let the story unroll?  
Susan:  I'm more excited about the story than the storyboard, the characters themselves, rather than sketches of them. So I usually jump straight in, let the characters develop for a while, find out who they are, then go back and perfect the plotting.

Lynne:  Do you know how a novel is going to end before you begin?
 

Susan:Usually, yes, in that I know whodunit and why. It's the stuff in between that has to be figured out as I go along. 

Lynne:  What next? Tell us more about the new novel in progress.   
Susan:  As mentioned above, I'm currently engaged in writing the second in my new series, featuring Alex Quick.  I should add that I consider myself a lucky woman in that I spend my days doing what I like best – and am fortunate to have publishers still willing to produce my books.   

The story so far: Susan’s earlier titles: 
 

The Penny Wanawake series:  
Amateur detective Penny is a beautiful 6ft black photographer and the daughter of a UN Ambassador.
Penny Black  
Penny Dreadful  
Penny Post  
Penny Royal  
Penny Wise 
Penny Pinching 
Penny Saving 


 The Cassie Swann series: 
Cassie Swann is an expert bridge player in England.
Takeout Double (Also published as Death Takes a Hand
Grand Slam 
King of Hearts 
Doubled in Spades 
Sacrifice Bid 
Dummy Hand 
 
Standalones:
 

Playing With Fire 
Hush-a-bye 
House of Moons 
Misselthwaite, a sequel to Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden; (published as Return to the Secret Garden in the USA). 
Falling Angel 
The Italian Garden 
The Colour of Hope 
Touching The Sky 
Letters From Kirsten (Denmark) 
Losing Nicola 
Dancing in the Dark 
Loose Ends 
A Final Reckoning 
Quick and the Dead 

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.






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