Today I'm delighted to welcome author, Sue Wallman, to the blog. Sue's debut novel Lying About Last Summer was published by Scholastic on May 5th, and it has already generated a lot of interest. I can't wait to buy my copy at her book launch next week! Anyway, before we delve into the interview here's a bit more information about Sue herself.
Sue was brought up on the south coast of England. She was one of the first students to do a publishing degree at Oxford Brookes University, and went on to become a magazine journalist. While travelling in South America, she met her husband (he was her tour leader!) They have three teenage daughters and live near London. She is represented by Becky Bagnell at The Lindsay Literary Agency. You can find out more on her website www.suewallman.co.uk or connect with her on Twitter. Lying About Last Summer is available on Hive, and Amazon etc and at all good bookshops.
· Welcome to the blog, Sue it’s a pleasure to have you here. Huge congratulations on the publication of your debut novel, Lying About Last Summer.
Thanks Christina. I first met you at the Friday night critique at the SCBWI conference a few years back, when you’d just announced your book deal, and you were very encouraging. It’s so nice to be here on your blog with a deal myself.
Aw, thank you! It's a thrill to have you here, Sue, I'm so pleased that's it's your book we're now talking about. So…let's get started with the interview:
When the Bookseller announced your book deal it mentioned that Lying About Last Summer started with a swimming pool. It sounds intriguing - please tell us a little more about this.
I did a place/setting workshop with author Lucy Christopher at the SCBWI retreat a few summers ago. She told us that setting is always the starting point for her, and then she introduces a “pull”. In the exercise we did I wrote about somewhere else, but afterwards I kept thinking about swimming pools, especially an outdoor one in the sunshine. The actual setting in Lying About Last Summer is fictional but I love pools. I like how I can either think through something specific or let my thoughts drift, and I enjoy the feeling of being cut off from the world when I’m in water.
Could you go on now to tell us a little about the story itself?
My main character Skye is living a privileged, carefree life until her sister dies in an accident that’s connected to the family swimming pool. A year later, her parents encourage her to go on a holiday for bereaved teenagers. When she’s there Skye starts receiving messages on her phone from someone claiming to be her dead sister. Freaked out, she doesn’t know who to trust, or what this person wants. But she’s forced to confront everything that happened the previous summer.
It sounds brilliant! What emotions will readers be left with on finishing the book?
Hopefully they’ll feel that even though bad things happen, things that can’t be put right, it’s possible to find ways to cope, and even to be happy again.
What was your experience of working with an editor?
It was mostly exciting, but when I first received the editorial notes for Lying About Last Summer, I did have a moment of I hope I can do this to a good enough standard. The best thing was being able to talk to my editors about my characters as if they were real.
What was your reaction when you saw the (amazing) book cover, and who is the talent behind the design?
Relief that it was so good and reflected the feel of the book so well. I’m really proud of it, even though I had nothing to do with it! It was designed by Sean Williams.
How long did it take you from starting out to signing with your agent? How long after this did it take to secure your book deal with Scholastic?
It wasn’t quite as simple as that because after two and a half years I was taken on by an agent, who couldn’t sell the book I’d written at the time, and she didn’t like my next book. A couple of years later I met agent Becky Bagnell and she stuck with me until finally, eight years on from starting out, I received the offer from Scholastic.
A long journey but a worthwhile one punctuated by winning the 2013 Baileys/Grazia First Chapter Competition and being longlisted for the 2014 Bath Novel Award 2014. What was the impact of these successes on for your writing?
They did a lot for my writerly self-esteem. Winning the Baileys First Chapter competition was a huge boost, particularly as I went to the Royal Festival Hall for the awards ceremony, where I mingled awkwardly with the literati and had a glimpse into a different world.
A world with which you'll soon be familiar, no doubt! Moving on, how has volunteering for the Society of Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) helped you in your journey towards publication?
I haven’t done much volunteering. I’ve only organized the Margaret Carey Scholarship for the SCBWI conference. It’s made me realise how much work goes on behind the scenes. What being a member of SCBWI has given me is access to all sorts of ways to improve my writing, and more of an understanding about children’s publishing. The masterclasses in London that Cath Jones and Alison Smith run have been particularly helpful, and they are very good value for money. I’ve met a fantastic writing tribe through SCBWI, though sometimes it was hard to hear about other people’s book deals when I wanted it so badly for myself and I’d hit yet another brick wall.
I reckon every writer can identify with that feeling, Sue. Changing tack for a moment, has your background in professional journalism prepared your for being a published author?
Yes, although I also wish I’d been a teacher too, like you, as I think that must help massively. I suppose I’m used to people saying, “This is good but…” and then having to completely re-write the whole thing – but re-writing a feature involves a lot less words than a novel! I understand that every story has to have an angle. I’m also slightly wary of interviews…
Ah yes, I know what you mean about being interviewed but it's part of an author's job now though I suppose. Let's move on to a little less scary ground: could you tell us a little about what’s entailed in being a Writer-in-Residence at Kingston University?
I’m one of several writers in residence at Kingston Writing School, part of Kingston University – a mix of journalists, authors, screenwriters and poets. We get involved in a wide range of activities. I’ve run courses for adult writers and supported MA students. I also enjoy attending events, listening to visiting speakers and being part of a creative hub.
That sounds fascinating. Returning to your own writing, what are you working on next?
Another psychological drama with one or two creepy characters…
Ooh, I shall look forward to reading that once it's published. Now, as a published author, if you had to give only two pieces of advice to new writers what would they be?
Buckle up – the journey’s probably going to be bumpy.
Join a writers’ group where you give each other feedback on your work. I resisted this for a long time. I’m not sure why. I think I was embarrassed and thought it was a bit weird. But it’s helpful and the mistakes that you spot so easily in other people’s work, you learn to see in your own. Also, the support network it brings is invaluable.
Sound advice, Sue. Now let’s have a bit of fun to round off the interview:
Walking in a gale or trudging through the snow?
I wish I was like the rest of my family and was crazy-happy at the thought of snow. I love looking at it out of a window but I don’t like being cold and trudging is not my thing, so I’m going out in the gale.
Afternoon tea or five-course dinner?
Afternoon tea. Bring it on!
Family day out, or being pampered on a spa day?
Family day as long as no-one is squabbling! I sometimes provide the entertainment – my girls still convulse with laughter about the time I walked into a glass wall in a café by mistake (then acted as if I hadn’t).
Radio or television?
Love them both the same.
Spring or Autumn?
Potatoes or pasta?
Potatoes – more versatile (hahaha – making myself sound like a good cook there)
Fairy tale or scandic noir?
Hmm, I don’t know enough about scandic noir, so I’ll go with fairy tale.
Which is worse, being bored or being harassed?
I hate the anxiety of being too harassed. If I’m bored, I always find something to do or think about.
Loved those quickfire answers! Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions, Sue. I wish you lots of success with Lying About Last Summer and with all your books in the future.
Thank you – great questions!