Saturday, 10 January 2015

I Talk to Karen King...

Recently my friend, the writer Karen King, interviewed me for her blog.

Karen King
Karen: What was the first thing you had published?

          Sue: The first book I completed: The Devil’s Piper. I wrote it when I was fifteen, typed it on an ancient iron typewriter, and illustrated it myself, in biro pen.(Not a good idea or a success.)

     One of A M Heath’s agents, Osyth Leeston, took me on — and
The Devil's Piper by Susan Price
sent the book to Phyllis Hunt, who was then children’s editor for Faber — and a wonderful editor. Phyllis said she would publish the book if I could rewrite it to the standard she required. She sent me a ten page letter of comments on why the book didn’t work as well as it could, and how it could be improved.

     Looking back at this from over forty years on, I’m incredulous. I don’t think this would happen today. Publishers in those days took more care of their eco-system — they knew they had to be growing authors up to replace those they were going to lose. And, of course, both Osyth and Phyllis were extraordinarily kind and encouraging to me. Phyllis once said that she thought she had ‘brought me up’ as a writer — and I wouldn’t argue with that. 

     I’ve no doubt there are people just as kind in publishing today, but I don’t think they would have the time or the leeway to help a novice along as I was helped. — Or perhaps I’m completely wrong, and just indulging in a senior moment of ‘things were better in those days?’ If so, please let me know. 

Karen: What do you like writing most? 

          Sue: Something that sells millions, gets turned into a film and makes me rich! 

     It’s a question I find hard to answer seriously. One of the comments made early in my career by my fairy godmothers, Phyllis and Osyth, was that I wrote a lot of different things, and was hard to categorise. I’ve written ‘kitchen-sink’, historicals, full-on fantasy, folkloric retellings, science-fiction, short stories, ghost stories… I’ve written for pretty much every age-group too, from babies to adults. As you can see, on my Amazon page.
      And the book I’m working on now is different again: set in the present day, with a truly evil, heartless main character who enjoys tormenting other people and looks on murder as business.
I enjoy writing it all. 

Karen: What piece of writing/work are you most proud of? 

          Sue: The Ghost World Trilogy, certainly. The first one, The Ghost Drum, won the Carnegie Medal. That was a surprise — but as soon as I finished the book, I knew it was the best thing I’d ever written.
          I went on thinking that until I turned all three into e-books (since they’d been allowed to go out of print, and no publisher would reprint them.) This meant scanning them into my computer and re-reading and proofing them all over again. While doing this, I came to the conclusion that the second book, Ghost Song, and the third book, Ghost Dance, were both, in their ways, better than the first.
     The books don’t form a classical trilogy, with each book
Ghost Song by Susan Price
following on from the one before. In fact, Ghost Song is a prequel to Ghost Drum, and is, I think, more lyrical. Then Ghost Dance is a stand-alone book, though set in the same world. It’s much more sinister than the first two, and has a more complicated plot.

I’ve written a fourth book in the series, Ghost Spell, which I may bring out as an ebook one day.
     I recently turned the first two, Drum and Song, into paperbacks, available through Amazon. People who’d read the books when young kept asking me where they could buy paper copies. I’m quite proud that this book is now selling to a second, even third generation!

          You can find the e-books here.
           And the paperback editions here.

      But I’m also quite proud of my Sterkarm books — The Sterkarm Handshake, A Sterkarm Kiss and, soon, I hope, A Sterkarm Embrace. They have probably been the most successful of my books. Recently, I was in a school giving a talk in the library. The talk ended, the class left — but their young teacher doubled back, stuck her head round the door and said, ‘I didn’t realise it was you, but I just want to tell you that when I was 13, Sterkarm Handshake was my favourite book.’
The Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price
     Maybe this is why:— Mary Hoffman, the Book Maven, awarded my Sterkarm hero the Number 2 spot in her ‘Ten Hottest Teen Heroes.’ 
     Per Sterkarm in The Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price. It’s pronounced “stark-arm” and is the name of a family of 16th century border bandits. Per is the only and most beloved son, whose pretty face gets him the nickname of “the May” or maid. But he’s a useful man in a battle, a lusty lover and one who inspires devotion in everyone from his father, to his hounds, to the 21st century time-traveller Andrea. 

         The books are a mixture of science-fiction and history, with the 16th Century Sterkarms clashing violently with the 21st Century time-travelling ‘Elves.’
          The Sterkarms are on their third film option at the moment, and I’m just hoping they’ll gallop home with it this time. I’m also hoping that soon I’ll be able to tell people that the first two have been republished, along with the third.

Karen: What’s your favourite poem? 

          Sue: That’s a tough one. Robert Graves said that you know poetry when you read it because it makes your hair stand on end – and the first time I read Shelley's Ozymandias, I certainly felt my hair rise. I love Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress too — possibly the greatest knicker-dropper of all time!
     Despite being an atheist, I love U A Fanthorpe’s religious poems, particularly Joseph. And I’ve loved the old Border Ballads since I was a teenager — all human passion and crime is there: every kind of ‘cide — patri, matri, infanti, fratri. Some wonderful phrases too, as when Edward’s mother asks him what — since he’s determined to ‘set his foot in a bottomless boat’ — does he leave to her? He answers: The World’s room/ To beg your bread/ For all the lies you told to me.’ 

Karen: What do you like to do to relax? 

          Sue: Read! — And watch telly. And walk over the hills. I like shooting with my longbow — though only at targets! My partner and I love island-hopping by Cally-Mac ferries. Earlier this year we got up at 3am and drove madly north for 8 hours to catch the noon CallyMac from Oban to Barra in the Outer Hebrides. We’re planning to go to Barra again, but this time make our way up the Hebrides, via ferry and causeway. My partner’s an ex-Met-Office weather observer, and very good at avoiding the worst weather. 

Karen: That must come in handy! - What do you like to read? 

          Sue: All sorts. I loved the Game of Thrones series. I only meant to pass the time by looking into the Amazon sample of A Song Of Ice and Fire, but was hooked and read all seven without a break. Then watched the TV version (very good, but the books were better.)
I love Minette Walters and Sarah Waters. I love legends and mythology. I was stunned by Mantel’s books about Cromwell – so good - and I read and re-read Terry Pratchett all the time. 

          Thanks for talking, Karen!
           Karen's website and blog, where she talks to many other writers, can be found here.
          You can read about her activities as Patron of Reading to Edward Oldcorn College in Worcester, all about her books. She offers teaching in Creative Writing too.


Juliet said...

Great interview, thank you. Just to say,also, I would LOVE to read the third Sterkarm book. The first two have been firm favourites for years.

Katherine Langrish said...

I second that. And the Ghost books are three of my all-time favourite books - so beautiful and so powerful!

Susan Price said...

Juliet and Katherine - thank you!

Nick Green said...

Ghost Spell and The Sterkarm Sh... ahhm, Embrace cannot come out soon enough for me. What I also find astonishing is that these two series, brilliant in wildly different ways, are by the same person. One would never guess, except perhaps by the macabre elements in both.