As a book reviewer I have made contact with authors from all across the globe and feel immensely privileged to be able to share some amazing work. However, there is always something rather special when a book comes to my attention which has been written by an author in my part of the North of England. So with this in mind I have great pleasure in featuring some of those authors who are literally close to my home. Over the next few Saturdays, and hopefully beyond, I will be sharing the work of a very talented bunch of Northern authors and discovering just what being a Northerner means to them both in terms of inspiration and also in their writing.
Please welcome Northern Writer
Hi, Susanna, welcome to Jaffareadstoo. Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started as an author.
The simple answer to how I got started is that I was a child writer, churning out boarding school stories. Then, as a teenager, I was introduced to Victoria Holt's books by my best friend, and they got me started writing gothic novels. Over time, these naturally morphed into sagas, not because I had read sagas at that point, but because that was just the way my writing style developed.
What I love in particular about sagas, both as a reader and as a writer, is the historical aspect. The characters have to tackle whatever challenges the plot throws at them within the context of the social and legal framework of the time. Sagas are also famous for being regional and The Deserter's Daughter is set in early 1920s Manchester.
I wrote for years without attempting to get published. Then I submitted an early draft of The Deserter's Daughter to literary agents and received rejections all round - though mostly the rejections were personal letters that included comments about what the agents had and hadn't liked. Given that rejections on the whole are standard letters, I was heartened to get personal responses.
In the end it was the fourth draft that was the successful one. I did three email submissions one afternoon, intending to do more the following day, but I never had to do them, as I had a reply from Laura Longrigg at MBA that same evening. She had read my three chapters on her way home and wanted to see the rest of the book. I ended up with offers of representation from two agents, but Laura was at the top of my wish list. I went down to London to meet her and we took to one another right away.
In your research for your novel, The Deserter's Daughter, did you visit any of the places you write about and which have made a lasting impression?
Visit any of the places? I did better than that - I grew up there! The Deserter's Daughter is set in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, a suburb on the south side of Manchester. The River Mersey forms a natural boundary between Chorlton and Cheshire. At least five generations of my family have lived there, which gives me not just a strong sense of place but also of local history. Within fifteen minutes walk of the house in which I grew up are five other houses where previous generations of my family lived, going back to the 1800s.
In 1920, when The Deserter's Daughter starts, Chorlton was a small, quiet township and many of the old landmarks are still there today. Some of them feature in the book, but I was careful not to include landmarks just for the sake of it. Those that are featured are written directly into the plot - such as the Lloyds Hotel, where Ralph holds his auctions; Chorlton Green, where there is a temporary war memorial; and Jackson's Boat, the bridge that spans the Mersey, with Chorlton in Lancashire on one side and Sale in Cheshire on the other.
What did you learn about your writing through using a real location?
There is a fine line between creating a story setting based on personal knowledge and simply luxuriating in that knowledge and sharing it for its own sake. When a novel is set in a real place, readers who are familiar with the locality love the local references; but when I was writing, I was aware all the time of all the majority of readers, who would have no local knowledge and who would simply want to understand the local geography as it relates to the plot and who would want an idea of what important local landmarks look like.
I had a wonderful piece of feedback from blogger Catherine Boardman on her Catherine's Cultural Wednesdays website. She said: "All the action takes place in Chorlton, a Manchester suburb which I have never visited but now feel as if I have. Susanna Bavin describes the streets, rivers and bridges with such feeling that I felt that I was walking the cobbled terraces." I am deeply proud of that comment.
If you were pitching the North as an ideal place to live, work and write - how would you sell it and what makes it so special?
Obviously, as a Northern girl, I'm biased. I live in North Wales now, but my choice to set The Deserter's Daughter in Manchester shows the strength of my ties to my old home.
The North has everything - vibrant city life, beautiful countryside and miles of coastline, plus, of course, masses of history in the landscapes and townscapes. For me, the links with the past are hugely important, and all the more so because of the family history links I have all across the North of England. I think what the North offers is choice and variety in where and how you live. Oh, and it's definitely true what they say about northerners: we are a friendly bunch.
What are the ups and downs of being an author?
The biggest 'up' is the pure joy and satisfaction of writing. I'm sure that other writers will understand if I say that I get grumpy if I don't write for a few days. It is important to discover the self-discipline that enables you to get your work done; and of course the work/life balance is important, just as it is in any type of work. But, as in other types of work, there are times when this is easier said than done - just ask any writer who is working to a deadline!
Writing is a solitary business - how do you interact with other authors?
For me, writing was a solitary pursuit for a long time, then I started going to courses and discovered the pleasure of meeting other writers. I would urge any writer to find ways to hook up with others, whether it's in a local group or by going on a writing holiday. I am a member of the RNA (Romantic Novelists Association) and the annual Conference is a marvellous venue for meeting other writers and generally having a good time together.
Moreover, I am a member of an online group of writers and we chat regularly, not just about our writing but about anything and everything. We are all at different stages in our writing careers and we carry one another through the dark times and lead the cheering when things go well. For example, one of us, Maddie Please, had her debut novel published at the beginning of last week and the rest of us provided lots of support on social media. We live in all corners of the UK (except Northern Ireland) and a couple of times a year, we descend on London to meet for lunch in the real world.
I also have a good friend in Canada, Jen Gilroy, who writes contemporary romance. She kindly invited me onto her blog to have a chat so I could tell her North American and Canadian readers about the British saga. Jen and I are in touch by email several times a week and our friendship makes a real difference to me, especially if I am facing some sort of writing or publishing issue and she says, 'That happened to me too.'
I would urge any writer to meet up with others - and remember, the online friendships and support are as real and valid as those you find in the real world. It is simply a matter of finding the people whom you relate to the best. It doesn't matter how sympathetic or interested your non-writing friends are - nothing beats the sheer delight and satisfaction of sharing with someone whose understanding is based on similar experience and similar dreams.
Discover more about Susanna on her website by clicking here
Follow on Twitter @SusannaBavin
Warmest thanks to Susanna for being our very welcome guest today and for talking about her writing and for sharing her love of the North with us.
I hope that you have enjoyed this week's Close to Home feature
Coming next week : Helen Steadman