Today on Meet the Author, we’re talking to the lovely Susan Handley 🙂
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I’m happily married to John, am kept entertained by three cats and live in rural Kent in a small hamlet where the definition of congestion is three tractors coming down the lane at the same time.
I was born and grew up in Stoke-on-Trent but moved to Birmingham to study chemistry in my late teens and early twenties, and then headed even further south to Kent, where I qualified as an accountant and worked for many years in Local Government. Despite working in a number of different jobs, I never really felt like I belonged. Which is where the writing came in – it was my way of escaping.
What inspired you to start writing?
I loved to read as far back as I can remember and first dipped my toe into the murky waters of crime fiction with the classics: Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ngaio Marsh and Georges Simenon; later moving on to more contemporary (at that time) authors such as: PD James, Ruth Rendell and Colin Dexter. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties (studying for a chemistry degree) that I attempted to write something myself. My mum had been amassing Agatha Christie novels for years and had recently completed her collection. I had this hair-brained idea of writing a book in the style of Agatha Christie for her next birthday. I bought an old Olivetti typewriter from the local free-ads and set about creating my masterpiece. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of focussing too much on the plot and gave little thought to the characters. Needless to say, it was pretty dreadful. I still have the typed, heavily edited pages in a box in the loft somewhere.
How many books have you written and published?
I currently have two full length novels on Amazon: A Confusion of Crows; and Feather and Claw; as well as a collection of short stories: Crime Bites Volume 1.
Although I attempted my first novel many years ago, a couple of decades passed before I got bitten by the bug again, then spent years juggling writing with a full-time job in a pressured environment. It was one of my greatest achievements to see that hard work pay off when I published A Confusion of Crows in 2017.
My third novel (title to be released) is in the editing stage at the moment and is due out later this year, as is my second collection of short stories, imaginatively named Crime Bites Volume 2. With a fair wind behind me, novel four in the DC Cat McKenzie series will follow in 2020.
Which book, out of all the books you have written, is your favourite and why?
Out of the first two, Feather and Claw is my favourite. It’s set in Cyprus, which gives a great backdrop to the story and allowed me to create a good level of intrigue. I also like it because by the time I came to write it, my protagonist, DC Cat McKenzie, had become a much more rounded character. In the first novel it was like we’d only recently been introduced, but by the time I finished Feather and Claw I really felt like I knew her; especially as the story revolves around events that happen while she’s on holiday, out of her normal work environment. It was interesting to see how she would behave when she had no authority and was out of her jurisdiction.
How do you choose the names of your characters?
With difficulty. I have an image in my head of what they look like and their characteristics and I try to match that with a name. Invariably I change a lot of the names of characters as the book progresses and I get to know the characters better.
Which of your characters would you want to be stranded on an island with, and why?
Great question! It would have to be DI Alex York, he’s a bit of an all-round good guy (and very handy with his fists, just in case there’s any protecting needs doing).
Who is your favourite author and which of their books is your favourite, and why?
It sounds so cliched but it’s got to be Agatha Christie. I love a lot of contemporary writers and they are my main reading fodder most of the time, but I still find myself, every once in a while, picking up an Agatha Christie and devouring it in one sitting. I just love the characters and the evocative images her stories conjure up.
As to which one is my favourite, that’s difficult, so many are good on so many levels, though I have to say, one that I got a lot of inspiration from was her autobiography. It made me realise there are no excuses. It doesn’t matter what life throws at you. If you want to be a writer, you need to write.
What is the first thing you can remember writing?
A poem for my English Literature O level class. It was in the eighties, at a time when the threat of nuclear war felt very real. I remember having very strong feelings about such an act of global violence and sought inspiration from the first world war poets. It was the first piece of poetry I ever wrote. I still enjoy writing poems now, though I’m not very good at following the rules!
What other jobs have you done other than being an author?
Many and varied is the answer. I’ve pulled hydraulic presses in factories, pulled pints in pubs, and pulled meaning out of a list of numbers as an accountant. Somewhere in the middle I worked as a research chemist… a far cry from the alchemy required as a creative writer.
If you could get in a time machine and had one chance to travel, where would you go? (Backwards or forwards!)
I would go back thirty years and begin my writing career earlier than I did. Every day is a learning experience and I wonder where I’d be now if I’d taken that first book I wrote and tried to knock it into something worth reading, rather than push it to the back of the drawer.
If you could have one conversation with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
A common answer amongst crime authors I expect, but I would love to share a cream tea with Agatha Christie and talk to her about her travels to the middle east with her archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan, and to try to gain some insight into her fortitude and stoicism that enabled her to produce such great stories no matter what life threw at her.
What are your favourite things to do?
I love being outdoors and try to keep active as much as possible, not only does it keep me out of trouble when I’m not busy writing but I find the best ideas flow when I’m doing something physical. I can regularly be found out and about in the lanes where I live, running or cycling, and for most of the year, I’m busy in the garden or tending my veggie patch.
What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you?
I had a horse-riding accident when I was in Cuba on holiday and fractured my skull. After being in a coma for two weeks I finally came around and they decided to fly me back to the UK. As I was still quite unwell, they gave me some drugs to sedate me for the flight, only they didn’t just make me sleepy, they gave me hallucinations. I remember being in a small room, waiting to board, and looking down to find I had no feet. I just kept saying “where are my feet? Who stole my feet?” I really did think someone had made away with them!
If you could give your younger writing self any advice what would it be?
If you want to be a writer, you must write. But if you want to be a good creative writer you must also give yourself the space to create. I used to think just tying yourself to the keyboard and battering out words was enough. It isn’t. I need time away from the desk to think creatively.
Name one book you think everyone should read?!
I found Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ a go-to book when I first started writing, and still delve into it every now and then. The anecdotes are inspirational and the writing advice pretty solid too. I know everyone has their own way of doing things, but there’s enough in there for everybody to get something useful out of it.
And finally, tell us about your most recent book and where we can find it?
Feather and Claw is my most recent published novel, having been launched just before Christmas 2018. You can find it on Amazon.
It’s the perfect choice of reading material for those summer holidays. Even if you’re only dreaming of heading somewhere warm, sit back, relax and let yourself be transported to the sunny shores of southern Cyprus, where detective Cat McKenzie is taking a well-earned break. Or she should be, only following the death of a fellow guest, Cat’s instincts tell her all is not as it should be and she finds herself drawn into a dark world inhabited with arsonists, illegal pickled birds and a cold-hearted killer. On foreign shores, surrounded by strangers, not everyone is what they seem, and the question is, can Cat sort out her friends from her foes and solve the mystery in time before she has to return back home?
Thank you so much Susan for taking part in my series. Feather and Claw sounds fantastic and I’d love to read it one day! Absolutely loved you answers and it’s good to hear you’re a fellow resident of Kent too!
Any questions for Susan, give us a shout out below.
Have a great weekend!