Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The author in my spotlight is ....Susan Beale

I am delighted to introduce debut author

Susan Beale

Author of The Good Guy

John Murray

Susan ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thanks for answering our questions about your debut novel ~ The Good Guy

Tell us a little about yourself and what got you started as an author?

I grew up in Falmouth, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. I’ve spent most of my adult life in the UK, France, and Belgium. My writing career started in journalism and editing and gradually turned towards fiction. A move from Brussels to Somerset for my husband’s job, four years ago, gave me the chance to do the MA in creative writing course at Bath Spa. That’s where I wrote the first draft of my novel, The Good Guy. 

When you first started writing The Good Guy – what came first – the idea or theme, the plot, place or characters?

The Good Guy was inspired by my adoption papers which, in addition to having the story arc of a summer pot-boiler romance – Jane Eyre meets The Scarlet Letter –, provided a fascinating snapshot of life in mid-1960s New England. Reading them for the first time several decades after they were written, I kept thinking about the sexual revolution. Tremendous social upheaval was just around the corner and yet none of the people in the papers could see it. The basic framework and setting for the novel came from those papers. From there, my goal was to create characters who were truly of their time. I gave them conflicting desires and only partial knowledge of key facts so that each character could fill in the blanks according to their perceptions and misconceptions.

In your research for the novel, did you discover anything which surprised you?

Definitely! I’d always thought of my home state of Massachusetts as a bastion of progressive thought, but in 1965, Massachusetts was positively regressive. Its Crimes Against Chastity, Morality, Decency and Good Order (that’s the actual name of the statute) not only outlawed birth control, it effectively outlawed sex education! Other laws meant divorced persons had to wait two years before they could legally marry again, and anyone who tried to get around it by marrying out of state faced harsh penalties.

I was equally surprised by the faith people put in authority. My generation grew up in the shadow of the Vietnam War and Watergate. ‘Sceptic’ is our default setting. In the mid-1960s, though, people genuinely believed their leaders knew best and would always do what was right. 

Have you always wanted to write and how did you get started?

I’ve always wanted to write fiction. However, it took me about 35 years to admit it. My parents are pragmatic, prudent people and they passed these values on to me. A writing life is neither pragmatic nor prudent. I became a journalist because it was a trade, not an art, with a steady (though meagre) pay cheque. I took a career break to raise my four boys. By the time I began considering a return to work, I knew I’d be starting from scratch in an industry that was being thoroughly disrupted by market forces. There was no reason not to go for the moonshot of writing fiction. I had nothing to lose.

Do you write the type of books you like to read and which authors influence you?

I try to. It feels natural to explore in my writing the same themes I’m drawn to as a reader. For me, that’s often about relationships: the daily struggle to understand ourselves and one another, to balance our expectations with our reality, and to square our desires with those of the people we love. Jane Austen is the all-time master of this; Richard Yates, too, though in a darker way. For contemporary writers, Elizabeth Strout, Karen Joy Fowler, and Tessa Hadley are writers I admire and whose books always teach me something.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories?

Empathy, I hope, and shared wonder at the complexity of human nature. I’d like, too, for readers to take note of the progress society has made over the past fifty years, most notably towards gender equality, even if total equality is still a dream.

What’s next?

I’m currently writing about loss and adapting to sudden changed circumstances.

More about the author

Susan Beale’s first novel, The Good Guy, sold to John Murray at auction. It is set in New England in the years leading up to the sexual revolution: a suburban husband and father constructs a perfect double life, but when fantasy collides with reality, he is not the only one caught in the ensuing maelstrom. Based on a true story, the book explores the human capacity for deception, particularly self-deception.

Susan Beale was brought up on Cape Cod but lives in the UK. She is a recent graduate of the Bath Spa MA in creative writing.

Huge thanks to Susan for this insightful interview and also to Ruby Mitchell at John Murray for kindly sending me a copy of the book to read.


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