The Story of Before
Today I'm delighted to welcome Susan Stairs to WKDN. 'The Story of Before', her debut novel, is published today:
Q Welcome, Susan - and congratulations on the publication of your debut novel. How does it feel?
Thanks so much, Kate and thanks also for inviting me to contribute to WKDN. Publication brings with it conflicting emotions. Excitement laced with anxiety! But hopefully excitement will win out and the nerves will take a back seat. It’s also a little surreal. I dreamed this day would come but for a long time it was just that – a dream – so it’ll take a while for the reality of it to sink in.
Q Can you tell us about 'The Story of Before'? I love the title by the way - was it always called this, or did you find coming up with the right title difficult?
Thanks! Everyone seems to love the title, which is great to hear. No, it’s not the original title. After deliberating on many titles while writing the novel, I eventually settled on one which I was happy with. My agent wasn’t sure about it though, so we began coming up with alternatives. After many emails over many days, The Story of Before was one we each came up with separately, so that was a good sign, and we both really liked it.
Q What's your publication story - is this the first novel you've written? How did you get your publishing deal?
I’ve been writing for a long time - books on Irish art and artists – and also two unfinished novels. I began The Story of Before while I was studying for my MA in Creative Writing at University College Dublin and spent eighteen months working on it after I graduated. When I finished it, I began submitting chapters to agents and was fortunate to be offered representation by two of them. I chose Lucy Luck of Lucy Luck Associates and she got me my publication deal with Corvus Atlantic.
Q You worked in the arts for a long time - how do you think this has informed your writing? Do you write very visually?
I like to think I write visually. When I’m reading, I must be able to imagine the setting, ‘see’ the characters etc if a book is to engage me and I hope I’m able to achieve that in my own writing too. I was involved in the arts for a long time – as a child, I was constantly drawing, I studied Visual Communications at art college, opened an art gallery with my husband, researched, wrote and published several books on Irish art – so I suppose it’s inevitable that all that has found its way into my writing. I’m constantly amazed at the power of words – how they can be used to conjure up imaginary worlds that are vibrant and believable. When I’m writing, I like to think I’m painting a story with words.
Q At WKDN we often talk about the constant juggling act between creative work and family life. As a mother of four, what would your top tips be?
It’s different for everyone. I don’t think there’s any magic formula or ‘best’ way to do it. You just have to find a way that suits you, whether that be snatched half hours here and there, one full day a week, or writing when the rest of the house sleeps. My youngest has just turned 18, so at this stage, I don’t have the demands of a very young family. But while I was writing The Story of Before, two of my children were still at school and I had to deal with all that that entails. When you’re writing at home, you’ll find distractions everywhere you look, but you just have to try and focus on the writing and not worry too much about keeping the house clean etc. It isn’t easy when you have dependents. There were many times I was in full flow but had to break off to bring one child to football training, another to a medical appointment or simply to go to the shops because there was no food in the house! If you want it badly enough, you’ll find the time and whether it takes a year or five it doesn’t matter. You get on with it, you keep going and one day you realise you’ve actually written a novel.