Susie Steiner has graciously consented to an interview!
She shares some of her thoughts on the writing process, her inspiration for her great new novel “Missing, Presumed“, AND has given me many more titles to add to my own TBR! Thanks a bunch Susie!
F: You’ve been making a living by the written word for some time now, first as a journalist and now as a novelist. At what age did you begin writing?
SS: I first began writing as a teenager, when I became an obsessional journal writer – mostly melodrama about my heightened emotional states, how much I hated my family, my latest social mishap, not having a boyfriend etc. etc. It wasn’t quality, but there was definitely quantity.
F: Do you prefer to set your novels in locales with which you are familiar? Do you think an author can do justice to a setting of a novel if they have never been to the place about which they write?
SS: I’m not familiar with Cambridge and Huntington actually. I visited for research, but I have no personal connection to those places. I think places in novels often have symbolic resonances, or they are psychic spaces in which psychological dramas unfold. Cambridge has all sorts of intellectual connotations for example, and an atmosphere of rarity, whereas Huntington is quite pedestrian and provincial – an English ‘every town’. Those oppositions are important in the novel.
F: Manon Bradshaw has a relationship with a young mixed-race boy who has no family. Have you ever worked with youth?
F: Loneliness is a predominant theme in “Missing, Presumed”. Have you ever experienced real loneliness? Do you think you can be lonely even if you live with another person?
SS: I think every human being has experienced loneliness, haven’t they? Unless they are androids… I think one of the purposes of novels is to bridge that loneliness and to talk about the inner life, the hidden life. So loneliness, in some endemic way, is at the heart of all novels. We read to make contact and to talk honestly to each other about the human experience of living.
F: If someone reviews your book unfavorably (perhaps this has never happened?) do you feel personally insulted, or do you just take the bad with the good and consider it part of the writing experience?
SS: It’s never a good sign if an author is scrolling about on Goodreads or Amazon too much – that way madness lies. But everyone does it.
The response to “Missing, Presumed” and to Manon in particular has been warm and positive and this has given me great pleasure. I think I have a mixture of responses to the negative reviews. Sometimes I think ‘Oh well, you didn’t like it, not everyone is going to like it.’ And sometimes I think, ‘that’s a fair enough criticism. I can see I didn’t get that quite right.’ You always try to work on those weaknesses in the next novel.
F: Writers are also avid readers. What type of book do you like to read for pleasure?
SS: I read contemporary fiction mostly. I recently loved Rush Oh, by Shirley Barrett, about a whaling station at the turn of the last century. And I’ve discovered Helen Dunmore, in particular Exposure, a real page-turning spy novel. I love Curtis Sittenfeld’s work, especially American Wife and Eligible. Of the British literary ‘big beasts’, I’d say my favourite writers are Kate Atkinson and Ian McEwan.
F: If you could sit and enjoy a chat and a glass of wine with another crime novelist – who would it be?
SS: Lucie Whitehouse, author of Keep You Close and Before We Met. And in fact, we did enjoy a glass of wine together, only last night after doing a bookshop reading together. I think we’d both enjoy it if Gillian Flynn joined us, as we are big fans.
F: Your novel, “Missing, Presumed” reminded me of one of my favorite British crime dramas “Scott & Bailey”. Do you watch crime television? If so, what are some of your favorite shows?
SS: I adored Scott & Bailey and thought about it while writing “Missing, Presumed” so you’re bang on the money. I especially enjoyed the way female friendship was depicted in that show. Strong but not sugary.
We love ‘box set’ dramas like Homeland, The Night Manager, Broadchurch, Happy Valley and Line of Duty. My husband and I watch those shows addictively and with great excitement and I think some of that sheer pleasure is what I wanted for “Missing, Presumed”.
F: I so enjoyed the character of Manon Bradshaw and have read online that she will feature in your next novel. Can you divulge anything without spoiling the enjoyment of your next book?
SS: I’m nervous about divulging anything, as the book isn’t finished and I have form for doing massive-scale rewrites at a late stage. I’d hate to promise anything that doesn’t materialize. But she will be back.
F: Does your next novel featuring Manon have a title yet?
SS: Not yet, no.
F: Will this just be a sequel, or are you contemplating a series?
SS: This hasn’t been decided yet, though I feel there’s plenty more mileage in Manon.
F: Do you find the prospect of maintaining a series daunting?
SS: I think I might if Manon wasn’t such a pleasure to write. But as she is nice to be with, and rich psychologically, it would be very enjoyable.
F: I am a huge fan of cover art and have been working on a blog series called “Cover Love”. How much input do you have in choosing the dustjackets for your books? (I ask this question because I FAR prefer the British cover over the North American cover for “Missing, Presumed”)
SS: It’s interesting that you preferred the UK cover. I loved the US one just as much. As authors, we are given approval of covers and can turn down any horrors, but my position is that I’m not an expert in marketing and I’m certainly not an expert in publishing, so I think it’s best to let people who have that experience lead the way. Covers need to sit in genres as well as in bookshops and they send messages to readers and I think there’s quite a lot of complex thinking behind positioning, so I feel they are best in the hands of the experts.
F: What inspired “Missing, Presumed”? How long did the writing process take?
SS: It began with this idea of the missing, girl, and the search for her. At first I wondered who could conduct that search – a private detective? But I don’t really believe in private detectives, so I ended up with a police procedural – without intending to go that way at the start. My primary aim was to combine the pace of a thriller with the riffing and depth of literary fiction – this, to me, is the ultimate reading enjoyment. I looked to the Jackson Brodie novels, by Kate Atkinson, as my beacon in this and tried to emulate what she had achieved. The book took me two years.
F: I have long been a fan of the British police procedural – yet I live in Canada. (My excuse is that my Mum was a war-bride from Lincolnshire). Do you find you have more fans in North America than in Britain?
SS: Not yet! But it might be heading that way. The book came out in the UK in February, whereas it only came out in North America a week or so ago. It’s had a lot longer on the shelves in the UK and the paperback will come out here in September. That said, the early response in North America has been phenomenal, so we’ll see.
F: You mentioned that re-writes part of your personal writing process?
SS: Yes, numerous rewrites. I’m all about re-drafting. My first drafts are woeful.
F: What crime thriller novelist writing today do you most admire? Why?
SS: I think Sophie Hannah is super clever, I love Lucie Whitehouse’s writing, I adored ‘Gone Girl’. I love Robert Harris (more the earlier ones, than the Roman ones) and books like ‘Restless’ by William Boyd. He also wrote a great one called ‘Ordinary Thunderstorms’. I want gripping – of course we all do – but I also need something beautiful at sentence level and at sensibility level. It’s not only the destination for me, it’s also the view on the journey.
F: What current novelist do you feel is underrated or deserves to be more well known?
SS: There’s a very brilliant writer called Lesley Glaister, who writes creepy mysteries. Her recent novel Little Egypt is a revelation – beautifully written, dark and psychological, and utterly original. Read it.
F: I’ve just retired from a library career and have known for some time that mysteries/crime thrillers are some of the most read genres of fiction. Why do you think crime fiction is so popular?
SS: I’m not sure. Perhaps television has made us demand a certain thrust to our plots, and what thrillers give you is shape and propulsion. What is exciting is the genre is now very broad and can include quite literary work, while still giving that forward momentum. It’s wonderful. I think whatever genre I end up in in the future, that suspenseful arc is what must be maintained. It’s all about the dynamism of the story.
F: How do you wish to be contacted by ‘fans’? Facebook? Twitter? Your own blog?
I love hearing from readers – it’s a shot in the arm.
Thanks SO much Susie! It has been wonderful having you visit my blog. I urge all mystery lovers to read your novel “Missing, Presumed“.