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Author Interview: Sue Featherstone and Susan Pape

December 28, 2016

This is the forth interview of my Author Interview Series.

Introducing Sue Featherstone and Susan Pape authors of A Falling Friend.

susan-pape-left-and-sue-featherstone  a-falling-friend-cover

Imagine if you will a café in the heart of the city. Outside, on the footpath, busy office folk race past, oblivious to anyone and anything around them. Phones pinned to their ears, talking and shouting constantly moving. Inside is a moment of calm. A wine bottle sits open and practically empty next to a bottle that has yet to be opened. Three glasses in various stages of emptiness little the table.

Hi Sue and Susan. It is good of you both to give me a little of your time so soon after Christmas. First up, tell us a bit about yourselves.

Sue: We’re both former journalists and PR practitioners, who later became academics. I taught journalism at Sheffield Hallam University and Susan at Leeds Trinity. I left Hallam in the New Year because I could no longer juggle writing and teaching. Finishing our first novel, A Falling Friend, made me realise that I loved writing more than I loved teaching other people to write – and believe me I loved that a lot! So, looking forward in 2017 to doing lots of writing, swimming, knitting, walking, talking and long editorial meetings with Susan…

Now, tell me about your writing…

Sue: People are always asking how do we write together? And my immediate response is how do other people write on their own? Having a writing partner is great fun – Susan is the only person in my life who really ‘gets’ what it means to have your head stuck in a story. We bounce ideas off each other, support each other and just generally enjoy the partnership. And writing with Susan means I only ever have to write half a book at a time.

Susan: It’s great when Sue sends me some chapters she’s been working on. Often I get a real surprise as she writes things I wasn’t expecting – and I have to reflect and respond in the chapters I write.

What age were you when you started?

Sue: I used to scribble stories when I was quite small and though I didn’t do it as much once I got to high school – didn’t have time – I was always day-dreaming and inventing stuff in my head. At 19, I got my first job as a journalist and spent the next several decades writing very factually until, after producing two journalism text books with Susan, we decided to have a bash at fiction – and after several years (we were both working full-time) we finally finished A Falling Friend.

Susan: Like Sue, I was always making up and writing stories as a small child. People used to say I had an over-active imagination, but that’s exactly what you need when you write a novel.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Sue: I can remember, aged nine, telling my mother I wanted to be a writer when I grew up – wanting to write, enjoying writing, is as much part of me as having green eyes and freckles.

Susan: I remember telling a primary school teacher that I was going to be a writer. She laughed and said wouldn’t I prefer being a librarian as I liked books.

What was your favourite book as a child?

Sue: Far too many to choose just one. The list includes: Ballet Shoes and The Painted Garden by Noel Streatfeild; the Famous Five and Malory Towers books by Enid Blyton; Perry Mason books by Earle Stanley Gardner; anything by Agatha Christie; The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge; King Solomon’s Mines by Rider Haggard; The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy…Basically I read anything I could get my hands on.

Susan: I honestly can’t remember what I read as a child.

I read the Famous Five and Perry Mason too!

So tell me, your favourite book as an adult?

Sue: Same again. I have a list as long as my arm. Agatha Christie (always). The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  Mama Day by Gloria Naylor, God’s Bits of Wood by Sembene Ousemane. The Regency Romances of Georgette Heyer. The Brontes – Charlotte and Emily. Haven’t read anything by Anne.

Susan: Like a lot of young adults, J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye had a huge influence on me, but then so did anything by John Steinbeck, John Irving and George Orwell. I also love Mary Wesley and Anita Brookner.

Tell me a bit about A Falling Friend? How did you come up with the idea?

Sue: After the journalism text books, Susan and I decided we wanted to try our hands at fiction. Susan had the initial idea for A Falling Friend but the actual story evolved as we started writing and we became more confident in our characters.  We each narrate from the perspective of different characters. Susan writes Teri’s version of events and I write Lee’s. Originally, we wanted to be terribly postmodern and tell the story through flashbacks and flash forwards (a bit like The Time Traveller’s Wife) but our editor Kate Foster at Lakewater Press suggested we follow a more traditional chronological format. It was the right decision, the book has a much better flow as a result.

Tell me about the Teri. How did you come up with her story?

Susan: Teri is the woman I would love to be: gorgeous, reckless and totally self-centred. It was great fun writing ‘her’ chapters because I could let her be as outrageous and evil as I daren’t be myself.

And what about Lee? How about her story?

Sue: We decided quite early on that Teri would be the more flamboyantly outrageous character while Lee would be quieter and more restrained. Inevitably, Teri has more of the high drama moments, although Lee’s life is not without its excitements. How did their stories evolve? We had a sort of rough plan for each character but, sometimes, when we started writing the characters took over and went off in unexpected directions – which is what makes writing together such fun. Getting an email from Susan with Teri’s next chapter was always a delight. Often a laugh out loud one too.

I loved both women for their different strengths and weaknesses but admit I really favoured Lee. I think I just related to her better. This is an awful question to ask but… Who do you like better? And Why?

Sue: Lee. Of course! But I liked Teri too – she could be darn annoying but she’d be great company and, in real life, I like people like Teri, who grab life with both hands.

Susan: I agree with Sue.

Have you always wanted to write Contemporary fiction?

Sue: That’s a difficult one. I didn’t know what I wanted to write. As a child I loved historical fiction and growing up I thought that was the sort of thing I’d like to write. But the adult me doesn’t read much historical fiction (The Falco crime series by Lindsey Davies excepted) and it no longer has the same appeal. I think Susan and I ‘found’ our writing voices as we progressed with A Falling Friend and contemporary women’s fiction seems to be the voice that suits us best.

How long did it take you to write A Falling Friend? Given the story has such two distinct voices and stories, what was hard linking the two stories? Did you have a particular process that you followed?

Sue: We spent eight years on A Falling Friend – we were both working in demanding full-time jobs and we’d go for long periods without writing a single word. Eventually, we decided we needed to get our act together so we set ourselves a deadline and finished the book on schedule. Finding a publisher was another slog. The publishing industry is full of would-be writers and I think we were really lucky to happen on Kate Foster at Lakewater Press when we did. On the whole, I don’t think it was too difficult to marry the two stories together. We had a rough plot but we allowed each other the freedom to respond in character to the other character’s activities. For instance, I’d receive a Teri chapter from Susan and think: “I know exactly what Lee would do here…” and I’d go a little off-script with my next chapter. And vice versa for Susan and Teri. Having a rough plot – we had clear central story arcs and a clear end point – meant we could go off piste a little. I think it also has the benefit of keeping the reader guessing – I hate to read a book where the plot is so transparent the outcome is inevitable. I don’t think anyone opening page one of A Falling Friend could predict the ending.

Gosh eight years? How well plotted was A Falling Friend? Did you have it all planned out before you started writing?

Sue: Yes and no. The central characters of Teri and Lee were clearly defined – others emerged in more detail as the book progressed – and we knew where we wanted the story to go but a lot of the rest we made up as we went along. You know in interviews when An Author claims “my characters took over’, I always thought that was baloney. But, actually, it’s true: sometimes the characters do take over. And, sometimes, if it fitted the story arc, we let them.

I understand this is a series? What are your plans for book two? How is that going?

Sue: Book 2 is sitting with our editor Kate right now. She tweeted just before Christmas that she was loving it. Which was a huge relief. Writing a book is a little like giving birth – you hold your breath until the midwife has counted all the fingers and toes. Because of the way Book 1 ended, the two characters have to make a lot of personal adjustments and, though we were happy with where we’d taken both Teri and Lee, we were so glad Kate liked it too. And we wrote this book in eight months rather than eight years – we learned a lot from Book 1 and I think our second Friends outing is tighter and crisper. We plan to start the final book in the trilogy in the New Year.

What else have you written?

Sue: Lots of journalism. Two text books with Susan – Newspaper Journalism: A Practical Introduction; and Feature Writing: A Practical Introduction, both published by Sage. And in the New Year, I’m contributing a short story to an anthology of work by Yorkshire writers.  And, as well the Friends trilogy, Susan and I also have plans for a book based around characters in a knit and natter group.

Susan: I’ve also ghost-written two ‘celebrity chef’ autobiography-cum-recipe books (which was eventful as I know very little about cooking!)

I loved reading about these women, but I kind of wanted Teri to cope a lot more karma for some of her behaviour. Was there anything you didn’t like about your characters?

Sue: Oh, I felt sorry for Teri. She had a rather unloved and uncaring childhood and I think her sometimes selfish behaviour was an attempt to protect herself from further hurt.  Lee had a much happier, more loving upbringing and that’s why she seems the nicer person. But, without giving away the plot, I don’t think she always behaved as well as she could have done.

Susan: I loved all our characters – including the academic in the tank top.

Ha ha!

Finally, what advice would you give to someone wanting to write a book?

Sue: Write, re-write and write again.

Susan: Sit down and do it.

 

Thank you ladies for a fun afternoon. I cannot wait to read book two!!

 

Gosh, as I leave the table I am feeling a little light-headed. Perhaps we should have ordered something to eat to go with all of that wine. I stumble a little as I reach the footpath. There was a Maccas around here somewhere, wasn’t there?

About a Falling Friend

After spending her twenties sailing the globe, making love on fine white sand, and thinking only of today, Teri Meyer returns to Yorkshire—and to studying. That’s when she discovers John Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester, and poet of all things depraved. What she doesn’t realise is even beyond his grave, his influence over her is extraordinary. To hell with the consequences.

Having gone out on a limb to get old friend Teri a job at the university at which she teaches, it doesn’t take long for Lee Harper to recognise a pattern. Wherever Teri goes, whatever she does, every selfish choice she makes, it’s all setting her up for a nasty fall. But Teri’s not the sort to heed a warning, so Lee has no choice but to stand by and watch. And besides, she has her own life to straighten out.

A clever, raw and hilarious character-driven masterpiece that follows the lives of two friends with the same ambitions, but who have vastly different ways of achieving them.

 

About the Authors

Sue Featherstone and Susan Pape are both former newspaper journalists who between them have extensive experience of working in national and regional papers and magazines, and public relations.

More recently they have worked in higher education, teaching journalism to undergraduate and postgraduate students – Sue at Sheffield Hallam and Susan at Leeds Trinity.

The pair, who have been friends for 25 years, have already written two successful journalism text books together – Newspaper Journalism: A Practical Introduction; and Feature Writing: A Practical Introduction.

Sue, who is married with two grown-up daughters, loves reading, writing and exploring the cycle paths near her Yorkshire home. Susan is married and spends her spare time walking and cycling in the Yorkshire Dales and on the east coast, and playing the ukulele.

They blog about books at https://bookloversbooklist.wordpress.com

You can find them on Twitter at…

https://twitter.com/SueF_Writer – Sue’s Twitter

https://twitter.com/wordfocus – Susan’s Twitter

 

If you would like to read my review of A Falling Friend go HERE to read it.

 

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