Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with YA, short story author and poet Susan Moffat. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Susan. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Susan: Hi Morgen. My name is Susan Moffat and I live on the outskirts of Preston, Lancashire with my husband of 27 years, two kids (aged 13 and 11) and our bonkers boxer dog, Dexter. I originally come from County Durham in the North East of England, and my family are ardent Newcastle United fans!
I feel as though I have always been a writer, even in those periods when I haven’t written anything down, I’ve always had stories floating around in the great expanse of emptiness in my brain.
In 2010 I decided it was time to go back to University (Aged 41) to get the degree I’ve always wanted, and I am fortunate that our local university (UCLAN) offers degree courses in Creative Writing, so I am currently half-way through a Combined Honours Degree in Creative Writing and Screenwriting.
Submitting creative pieces and having them critiqued by Lecturers and fellow students (thankfully favourably) has given me the confidence I needed to take my writing more seriously.
Morgen: I’ve described you as a “short story author and poet”. Is there a genre that you generally write?
Susan: I suppose I’m trying out different genres in my Flash Fiction and Short Story writing. Most of my stories are based around women or issues relating to women and I also write poetry on similar themes. One of my WIP’s is a YA book which I suppose would come under the ‘supernatural’ umbrella (not a vampire or werewolf in sight though).
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Susan: I’ve had several flash fiction pieces published online. My Flash Fiction story ‘Patience’ was published on the 1000words.org.uk website during May / June 2012 as part of their ‘Flash Fiction’ month celebration. I was also part of ‘Writing on the Wall’ ‘End of the World’ Flash Fiction event. I am also a regular contributor to www.fresh1nk.wordpress.com and have recently had a poem listed at www.ariescottrell.wordpress.com/appreciate-the-lady. I have also contributed a two-minute script to the London Screenwriter’s ‘50 Kisses’ competition and was included in the ‘Near Kisses’ list.
I’m currently working on a collection of 31 Flash Fiction stories featuring women and our lives and issues, which I am hoping to self-publish as an eBook in the Autumn.
Morgen: ‘Near Kisses’ I love that. You’ve self-published – what lead to you going your own way?
Susan: I think, predominantly, fear of rejection is prompting me to self-publish my forthcoming short story book. I’ve always wanted to see my writing in print, and I will still hold on to this ambition and submit to conventional publishers in the future, but I think I want this collection to be handled by me, my way.
Morgen: Compared with novels, few short story collections see their to print. As a short story author (predominantly) myself, it’s a real shame. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Susan: I was always a ‘paper all the way’ girl, until I got my Kindle for Christmas, then I switched allegiance! I’m a bit of a book gatherer (our house’s walls are starting to bulge), so for the sake of our spare room (and my marriage) eBooks have to be the answer! As far as publishing my book, I intend to do it all myself (along with my IT expert husband!)
Morgen: Always useful to have. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Susan: I think my favourite character is the woman in the Flash fiction piece I’ve submitted to you, ‘Autumn Preserves’. http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/2012/08/24/flash-fiction-friday-049-autumn-preserves-by-susan-moffat She is nameless, as many of my protagonists are, but she has hope, even though her future is bleak and this is something that I admire.
I guess she’d have to be played by a young woman with believable strength of character…maybe Keira Knightly?
Morgen: It’s a great piece. I was delighted you sent it to me. Which authors would you compare your writing to?
Susan: Hmm. I’ve quite eclectic taste when it comes to reading. My Kindle sports short story collections from Hemmingway and Chekov while my bookcase is full to bursting with Jodie Picoult, Steven King and Alan Bennett and Irvine Welsh. (Oh, and yes I’ve read 50 Shades, and no I don’t think it’s the best thing ever written!)
I suppose I take influence from the authors I read. I enjoy the emotiveness of King and Welsh, the everyday drama of Bennett and Hemmingway and the earthy plots and female protagonists of Picoult. Would I compare my writing to these authors? No. I would never presume to do so. I’ll leave any comparison to others!
Morgen: 🙂 Did you choose the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Susan: Because I’m self-publishing I’ll be doing it all myself! I think titles and covers are very important, even for eBooks, and I’ll be spending a lot of time making sure I get it right! I always judge a book by its cover (not really) but people are drawn to a pretty cover aren’t they?
Morgen: I’d say so, yes. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Susan: I still have some work to do on my short story collection but hopefully that should be finished in the autumn. After that I’ll be back at University and will have another portfolio of poems and short stories to submit as well as some feature length scripts. Then, in my spare time(!), I’ll be working on my supernatural novel for Young Adults / Teens.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Susan: When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing! It’s a 24/7 kind of job isn’t it? Most days I manage to write something. I even have a white board in my kitchen that I scribble on while I’m making tea! I think the beauty of short story writing is that you can switch things up and write in different genres and different voices. If I’m ever struggling to find the words for one story I can put it away and write about something else. There are loads of places on the internet to find visual prompts which usually trigger something in my brain!
Morgen: For me, it doesn’t take much, often just one word. There are some exercises on http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/exercises but these days I put them (four 15-minute exercises every weekday) on my online writing groups. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Susan: Sometimes the stories seem to write themselves, I sit down at the keyboard and suddenly I’ve written something. I find this happens a lot with poems too. Other times I plan what (or who) the story is going to be about and where I expect the story to go, although I don’t always end up following it.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Susan: I try to write about ‘real’ people in ‘real’ situations. I’m a big advocate of ‘people watching’ (yes I’m the one on the park bench staring and making notes!). I also listen to people’s speech patterns and colloquialisms and if I hear or see something that makes me smile (or frown) I make a note of it and it often reappears in some of my writing. As far as choosing character names, I often give that honour to my kids! They’ve got used to me asking, ‘Give me a girl’s name, she’s about 15…’
Morgen: 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Susan: I do LOTS of editing. In fact, I’m a bit obsessive! One of my Lecturers taught us that it shouldn’t be called ‘Creative Writing’ it should be ‘Creative Editing’ and I’ve taken this to heart. I like to splurge out as many words as my fingers and my brain can manage, then go back and edit (dictionary and thesaurus in hand) and edit and edit! I really enjoy the discipline of writing Flash Fiction because it makes you concentrate your story down to the minimum number of words it can possibly be.
Morgen: I’m Head Judge of a 500-word-max flash fiction competition. You should enter. It’s only £2. 🙂 Do you have to do much research?
Susan: Mostly my stories are developed from something I’ve heard of, or from personal experience. If I feel a story requires ‘fact’ to make it authentic, or to add another dimension to the story, then I will do research. I’ve spoken to people about their experiences in certain situations, and the Internet and the library are great research resources!
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Susan: I usually write either first or third person. Most of the stories in my forthcoming collection are written in 3rd person so I guess I find this the most comfortable point of view to write. I have experimented with second person but I wasn’t pleased with the results (I’m always reminded of the first computer role playing games when I was a kid, ‘You have met a dragon, what do you want to do? A. Kill Dragon B. Switch off and read a book!’)
Morgen: Second person is tough, and an acquired taste; a bit like Marmite. You mentioned poetry earlier, do you write any non-fiction?
Susan: I am studying Poetry writing as part of my Creative Writing module of my Degree. This has so far involved using different methods and techniques of poetry writing, from which I have produced several pieces of poetry, most of which you can read on my blog (http://www.smoffat99.wordpress.com). I’ve also dabbled with non-fiction, but my first love is the short story.
Morgen: I’ve dabbled with novels (six in various stages) but my first love is also the short story. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Susan: I’d like to think that everything I write will be seen sometime in some format in the future, either on paper or electronically. However I do have a 3.5” floppy disk containing some of my earliest writing that I fear will never be seen again!
Morgen: You’re lucky if you have something to play them on. I have a USB 3.5” player in my loft and some discs somewhere. I should see what’s on them (pre- my writing / Mac days, I think). Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Susan: I had rejections from magazines when I first started writing seriously about 15 years ago. On reflection, the stories I submitted were probably not suitable for the magazines I submitted to, but at the time I took the rejections quite hard and gave up writing altogether for a long time. I don’t think I was ready at that time for the ups and downs of writing. These days I just accept the rejections as part of the job, but I still want to self-publish my first collection! (Hmm, psychologists keep your thoughts to yourselves!)
Morgen: 🙂 You mentioned ‘50 Kisses’ earlier – do you enter competitions regularly?
Susan: I’ve entered a couple of online competitions, mostly to get pieces published online and seen by a wider audience.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Susan: I don’t have an agent yet. I think if an author wants to be taken seriously by the big publishing houses then yes, they need an agent. At the moment I’m just paddling in the pond so I don’t need to worry about the big fish yet!
Morgen: <laughs> How much marketing do you do?
Susan: I guess I’ll be marketing myself for now! There are plenty of blogs and articles offering advice on marketing, but the general feeling seems to be ‘tell as many people as you can!’
Morgen: I’d say so. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Susan: I enjoy the feeling of satisfaction I get when I’m finally done editing and it’s great getting positive feedback from other writers. I don’t think I have a ‘least favourite’ part, except maybe that I have less time to fit everything else in! But hey, the hoovering can wait!
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Susan: Write. Write. Write. Then, when you’ve done writing. Write some more! Oh, and read lots! Pick an author you’ve never read before and give them a go (libraries are underused, join today!) Then, start a blog or join a writers’ group to get feedback from strangers (your Mum is always going to think you’re good!).
Morgen: Unless she’s my mum (she’s the harshest critic I have!). If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Susan: Ooh! Good one! I think I’d pick…Roald Dahl because he was a genius, Spike Milligan because he was a genius and Prince Harry because I think he’s be a good laugh!
I’d probably cook a selection of canapes that we could eat with our fingers (and yes, I’d make it all myself) a rib of beef with all the trimmings and a huge home-made pavlova because I love meringue!
Morgen: Roald Dahl is in my three too (the others would be Kate Atkinson, because she’s as quirky as Roald) and my father (who used to take photos and videos for Roald, and I never talked to them together!). If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why?
Susan: That’s a hard one because I’d probably have to pick my wedding day because it was the last special day we had before we started losing parents, (must stop doing that!), but then our kids wouldn’t be there so I wouldn’t want to live it over and over. So I think I’ll choose the day our daughter was born and we introduced her to her big brother for the first time. It was the day our little family became complete, apart from the dog, who wasn’t there…oh no, this is just too hard! Ask me something else!
Morgen: 🙂 Gladly. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Susan: My dad used to say, ‘There’s no point having a party if you can’t be sick!’ and I’ll stand by that!
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Susan: Apart from writing, studying writing and being a school librarian, I used to work at a book distribution company… so books have kind of been my life’s work (so far)!
Morgen: They’re mine. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Susan: When I’m not writing, studying or working, most of my time is spent with my family and my kids’ various sporting activities. I am a black belt in watching Tae Kwon Do, and I’m the fastest Preston Harriers Athletics Club Mum over 1500m (with car). We also have a 2-year-old boxer dog who keeps me going in the cleaning and washing department! As a family we love our annual skiing holiday, followed by my annual trip to physiotherapy and / or orthopaedic surgery!
Morgen: Ouch. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Susan: Hmmm… yours is pretty good. 🙂
Morgen: Thank you very much. :*) Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Susan: I am a regular contributor to www.fresh1nk.wordpress.com which showcases new writers. It is a great way to get regular feedback from other writers.
Morgen: I’ve not come across them before but have added them to my Links page. Feedback is why I set up http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/feedback and http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/online-writing-groups. We can never have too much. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Susan: I think the future for writers is very much dependent on technology. The future of the eBook seems set to soar which presumably will have a similar impact on the printed book that the Internet News Sites have had in the printed newspaper market. It’s presently very easy to set up a blog and get your work read, but as technology advances will it ever be possible to make a living out of writing? If writing follows the same model as the music industry then book piracy looks set to be the next big thing, and actual hard sales will be minimal. Maybe the only writers able to make a killing on the best sellers lists will be those deemed marketable enough to be made into film.
Morgen: That may well always be the case but at least we can share our work without waiting month, years, possibly forever. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Susan: My personal writing blog is: www.smoffat99.wordpress.com It contains some of my poetry and some of the Flash Fiction stories that will be included in my collection…so read them here first for free!
I also have a personal blog www.suzie42.blogspot.co.uk which has more information about me and my general rantings and ramblings!
Morgen: Thank you, Susan.
I then invited Susan to include an extract of her writing and here is the story she shared with my blog back in August 2012…
Wearily she perched on a damp log at the bottom of the garden. The lawn was strewn with the gold and red of Autumn and the heavy mustiness of the end of the season.
Apples from the tree, that had once been heavy with juice, now lay forgotten, nestled the grass, a white decay slowly eating them away.
It was still warm, given the time of year, but she wrapped the crisp blue denim of her new jacket tight around her body, protecting it from the spoilage.
Beside her on the log was a tightly sealed jar of Autumn leaves. A collection of perfectly dry, russet reminders.
They said that she would survive Autumn.
So she kept the Autumn alive in her jar.
Born in 1969, Susan Moffat grew up in County Durham, in the North East of England, during the period of the Miner’s Strike, mass unemployment and the very beginning of the technological boom. She studied Computer Studies in the late 80’s, and worked in IT for a book distribution company for almost 10 years, before taking time out to become a mother. She now work part time as a librarian in a Special Needs Secondary School. In 2010 she started a degree course in creative writing and film and TV sceenwriting.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on the main blog) is free.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have this blog, https://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com, on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
** NEW!! You can now subscribe to the main blog on your Kindle / Kindle app!
or http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008E88JN0 for outside the UK **
You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything. You can contact me and find me on the internet, view my Books (including my debut novel, which is serialised on Novel Nights In!) and I also have a blog creation / maintenance service especially for, but not limited to, writers. If you like this blog, you can help me keep it running by donating and choose an optional free eBook.
For writers / readers willing to give feedback and / or writers wanting feedback, take a look at the main blog’s Feedback page.
As I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t unfortunately review books but I have a list of those who do. I welcome items for critique for the online writing groups, and their associated Facebook groups, listed below:
Morgen’s Online Non-Fiction Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Novel Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Poetry Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Script Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Short Story Writing Group
We look forward to reading your comments.