Iain is currently acting as editor and cat-herder-in-chief on a collaborative novel with TEN (count them, TEN) writers. A contemporary story set in a tacky British seaside resort, the Ten To One novel will follow ten characters whose lives intersect that of a mysterious old man…
We thought we’d ask those ten writers about themselves and their involvement in collaborative writing. All ten interviews will appear here over the course of the project.
Today, Sue Barsby…
Who are you?
I’m a new mum who has a full time job and a tolerant husband. A Southerner displaced, I’m a writer, knitter, conker fetishist, grammar nerd, and caffeine appreciator. When no one is watching I like to dance to John Paul Young’s ‘Love is in the Air.’ I also love music, Glastonbury festival, gin, second hand bookshops, pirates, and thunderstorms. I'm rarely seen without loud heels and a large handbag and I'm really good at kissing, handstands, cake making, and drinking tea.
I have written flash fiction, short stories and one and a half novels. (The first will forever remain in a drawer but I have high hopes for the half...) I’m also a regular contributor to Creative Nottingham and blog about creative opportunities and reviews in the city, as well as the occasional literary review for Left Lion magazine.
How on earth can you juggle writing and a family?
I’d pass on useful time saving tips but really it comes down to sheer bloody-mindedness. I work full time hours in four days so my work days are spent in front of a computer and my non-work days are spent entertaining a toddler. Notebooks are essential. I have one by the bed, one in my handbag and if all else fails, I dictate onto the voice recorder on my phone – which I absolutely hate but it’s better than nothing. On work days, I spend my lunchtime in coffee shops with a notebook, and I also find myself thinking about stories on the bus, which can be hard as it’s too bumpy to write sensibly. Then I type things up in the evenings and work on them seriously on days when I haven’t been staring at a screen all day. It’s really easy to drop everything and think “I’m not going to do any tonight” but you have to persevere. When she was very small I’d bang the laptop on as soon as she fell asleep and had a blissful two months of maternity leave where I’d get loads written each morning naptime. Those days are long gone! Nowadays it’s quite possible (right now for instance) to be typing with a small person on my lap. It’s not ideal but better than not writing at all.
I’ve also always written very well on trains. There’s something about the public nature of them – where you feel you have to get on with something in case people think you’re shirking, combining with the rhythm of the tracks and having to shut out the noise of the constant announcements that means I get a lot done. I also write well in coffee shops – I guess a lot of that is for the same reason.
I have no “room of my own” or even a desk of my own at home so I fantasise about a space that I could write in. I think a converted train carriage somewhere would be very useful – with a kettle and an ipod dock obviously. Otherwise I yearn for a lifestyle where I could afford to take train journeys of around two hours, write on the train, disembark, have coffee and/ or lunch, wander about a bit and then get back on the train in time for my girl’s bedtime. One day.
|Sue Barsby - juggling her priorities|
What first drew you to the Ten To One project?
I tried a taster of collaborative working at a workshop (see http://mrclovenhoof.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/notttingham-festival-of-words-running.html) and decided it might be a brilliant challenge for me to test myself and my writing skills. I wanted to feel part of a writing community and see how other people work. Obviously being so busy, I find my writing makes me quite isolated so it’s good to connect in this way.
You were one of the first writers to be voted out of the Ten To One novel.
I’ll be honest – I was surprised. And then upset. My goal, when I started, was just to make it though the first round and I did that so I shouldn’t complain. But I guess you hope other people really like you and what you’re trying to do – I wanted to get the chance to show more of Valerie’s loneliness and craving for approval that was hiding beneath her blackmailing exterior. I’m the kind of writer who develops the characters as I write them more and more so although I did a lot of prep for Valerie, trying to figure out who she was, I feel she could have gone onto better, greater things. On the other hand, doing this got me into a kind of routine, and I’ve been able to continue that to write some new pieces and work on another book. So it opened a door to me to do more and to fit more in.
You’ve been more of a Ten To One judge that you have a Ten To One writer. Was it interesting being a judge?
It was, though I do feel more of a sense of responsibility than if I’d just done some judging without seeing the other side. It sounds silly but in this I know what the writers have done to get this far and it makes me pay more attention than I might in normal reading and judging. I also chat to some of the other writers on Twitter so it’s more than just impartial reading – I want to do my best by them and make sure I judge them fairly and for good reasons.
I tried to judge writers in terms of clarity, entertainment and character development. We’ve had some moments in Ten to One where the writing has provided really visual scenes and I’m fond of some of the characters and the journey they’ve taken to get this far. So if you make me smile and your character does something new that fits with how they’ve been so far, you’ll get my vote.
Who is your favourite Ten To One character?
I liked Mabel and I do like Nell too. All the women stick together! Mabel had such a traumatic past and was trying to reconcile herself to it so I admired that, and I like Nell – she’s a tough bird. I do also like Mungo – remaking himself over and over again, he seems to be finding more and more layers to himself.
Generally, what is your favourite kind of character in fiction?
One who doesn’t give a shit. Rankin’s Rebus springs to mind. I also like Richard Russo’s characters for this – often they’re downtrodden men who’ve just had enough and no longer care about the consequences. Sully from Nobody’s Fool doesn’t care. It’s one of my favourite books – makes me laugh and offers so much to say about human beings. This is also a character trait that only works for men.
What is your favourite book?
For a long time it was Pride and Prejudice with Jane Eyre in second place. These days I’m inclined to give it to Jane – she’s fought her way to the top of my affections. With 84 Charing Cross Road following close behind.
With Pride and Prejudice I always liked the conversation. I’m not good at verbal sparring in person (although I improve if I’ve been drinking) so the dialogue is the best thing for me. And there’s one line I love: “She longed to know what at that moment was passing in his mind; in what manner he thought of her, and whether, in defiance of everything, she was still dear to him.” It conveys that uncertainty, of wanting to be loved and the trepidation you feel when you just aren’t sure of yourself, especially if you've been a bit daft, as Elizabeth has, but it’s phrased so gently – she was still dear to him. Wonderful.
Jane Eyre I first read when I was 13 and in bed off sick from school. I devoured it in a day. It grows in stature with me over the years. Jane’s fierceness and independence – she’s such a great heroine. And I love Mr Rochester – he’s a very flawed hero. And he knows it too.
84 Charing Cross Road is a book lover’s book featuring my two favourite cities. It’s the true story told through letters of an American English literature lover’s relationship as a customer of a bookshop on Charing Cross Road just after the Second World War. I’d have Helene Hanff in my ideal writer’s gang because I think we’d do well drinking gin and reading things out loud together.
Are you on social media?
Facebook, Twitter (@basfordian) and I blog at thegeriatricmother.wordpress.com (though that’s a parenting blog). I’m also behind the Writing at Rosy’s Writing Group and blog and tweet with that. (@writingatrosys http://writingatrosys.wordpress.com/)
Rosy’s Writing Group came about because a couple of years ago I’d got to the stage where I felt I needed to expose my writing to others for criticism in order to develop and I looked around to find a writing group to join. The ones I found in Nottingham didn’t seem quite right for me at the time for various reasons so I decided to start one of my own. We’re a small group – usually there’s 5 or 6 of us – and mostly all amateur part time writers or hobbyists but they’re a group of people I now trust to give good feedback on my work. We have one member who is a proper writer and I think we all really appreciate his input and comments – he takes us all seriously which was a real boost to our confidence.
We meet once a month in Lee Rosy’s tea shop in Nottingham, and we’ve usually set some kind of exercise as homework so we discuss that and then we might do a speed writing or flash fiction exercise, or critique pieces that we’ve each offered for feedback. I was terrified for the first few meetings in reading my stuff out loud but it really helps you work out what needs improving and what just needs completely deleting! It’s also really interesting to see the range of stories people come up with when we all start from the same prompt or idea. I’ve got so much from the group since we started up.
You, like Sue, can help us shape the final Ten To One story by joining our beta-reader event. Simply click on this link, say you’re attending and start giving your views on the questions on the page. https://www.facebook.com/events/653605708023136/