An Interview with Sue Bently, author of We Other
Tell me a bit about your writing history so far.
A personal favourite from my other published works – it’s difficult to choose a favourite as I also write sparkly books about magic animals for kids. Very different, to We Other! But if I had to choose a title – it would be A Summer Spell, the first title of this series of books for ages 5-9 years, also written as Sue Bentley.
My first novel – well there were a few turkeys! But I learned a lot from the mistakes made when writing them. I had high hopes for Mooncaste, an historical novel inspired by an iron-age, hill-fort close to where I live. I hand wrote it in three notebook. It was never published, but I did get an agent on the back of that book.
Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?
I work best when writing to commission. A dead-line is wonderfully motivating. My children’s series were written in concentrated bursts of energy, but each book was quite short. I haven’t been commissioned by a publisher for a while. The publishing world has changed a lot. We Other was a much bigger undertaking. It’s a complex novel, aimed at an older readership. I did a lot of research before beginning to write, made notes about the main characters, and wrote a detailed plot outline. I find it works for me to live with characters for a while before diving in – maybe for a few months. But when the urge to write is too strong, I’ll begin. It would be easy to be seduced by doing research, which I love, but I have to force myself to call a halt. We Other probably took around 3 years to write, all told.
I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?
I’m lucky enough to have a room of my own, where most of the writing is done. I write directly onto my desktop. I scribble notes on bits of paper, which pile up on my desk. I also take notebooks and research books with me to cafes and sit writing in longhand, which I type up later. I like writing with a pencil. There’s something about the way ideas flow, but I couldn’t write entirely in long-hand. I’m a perfectionist and do a lot of re-writing as I go along, so any piece of paper would soon be unreadable with all the crossings-out and notes in the margins.
Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?
I have close writing friends who will read and comment on work in progress. I do the same for them. Over time I’ve developed a good instinct for when a passage is working. I also know when it isn’t right and will re-write as many times as I need to, before finishing a first draft. There are usually cuts and more edits to make before I finally show it to my agent or publisher. And then more to do when working with an editor.
I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?
I’ve always loved everything about books, their smell and feel. Opening a new book is such a pleasure – better than a box of chocolates. I enjoy browsing bookshops – especially small independents. Haye-on-Wye, a small town in Herefordshire, is my favourite place to go as it’s full of bookshops, cafes, and vintage shops. But I also enjoy browsing larger bookshops like Waterstones and Foyles. I buy books online too, and can’t resist looking at the shelves in charity shops. I’m also a regular user of my local public library. I’m never without a book in my bag.
I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and do you have a favourite author who sticks in your mind from your different life stages?
Historical. I started with these, as I enjoy being lifted out of the every day. But I also like fantasy, magic-realism, gritty dark fairy fiction, gothic and dystopian fiction. I enjoy crime now and then. A good psychological thriller with a fantasy or historical setting can be good. From childhood, I enjoyed traditional fairy tales, some sword and sorcery stuff, anything unusual. The works of BB. A local author who wrote some fabulous books about the last gnomes left in England, rich with details of the natural world, made a huge impression on me as a child. As did Jane Gaskell and Michael Moorcock, when I was growing up. I’ve been inspired by Diana Norman, Tanith Lee and latterly Teri Windling, Holly Black, Stef Penney, Carol Birch, and so many others.
Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?
Social Media is a mixed blessing. For authors it’s a great way of bringing your work to the attention of readers and it’s great to keep in touch with other writers and friends. Writing is a solitary craft, which is fine most of the time as I’m comfortable in my own company. I sometimes use social media for research, but it’s easy to become distracted, when you ought to be working. At the moment I manage my own profile, which can be very time consuming. I try to limit posting on FB, Twitter and Goodreads to the evenings, but don’t always succeed. Two or Three hours can go by without me noticing. I’m presently about to have a major overhaul of my website and I’ll then write a regular blog. I’m constantly learning how to make the best use of social media.
Answering interview questions can often take a long time! I try to make my questions as interesting as possible, is there anything else you wished I had asked? And tell me honestly… Are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next?
This Q and A session – the questions were interesting and stimulating – thanks Rosemarie! Yes it takes a while to answer all of them. Makes you think hard – which is no bad thing. Was I tempted to recycle my answers from one interview to the next? Yes and no. Yes – because it would have been less work and some of my answers may have been of interest to readers. No – because it’s a privilege to be asked to contribute to a blog and I’m grateful for the opportunity and the time you’ve taken with this. The least I can do is try to be honest and provide full answers. I hope your readers will enjoy reading this interview. It’s been a pleasure.