Thursday, 10 April 2008
AN INTERVIEW WITH SUE GUINEY
Any writer starting out can take enormous heart from poet and novelist Sue Guiney. She is sitting in Chez Gerard near Victoria Station with me, smiling broadly, enjoying a rather delicious lunch, very fired up at the thought of the readings and marketing initiatives she will be involved in for her forthcoming novel. (Tangled Roots, Bluechrome Publishing, May 2008).
Sue and I met last year by chance at Anam Cara Writers’ and Artist’s Retreat in Ireland. We enjoyed each other’s work and decided to keep in touch after our stay was over.
So Sue has a novel on the chocks… but her journey to this point has not been smooth. She’s here to tell me about the ups and downs of it all.
But above all she's telling me that she did not take a couple of knock backs to heart and give up. If anything they seem to have fired her up to do more herself!!
Sue is American, but has lived for many years here in London, with her family. When she wrote her first novel, An Unlikely Guru, she decided to find a publisher in New York. Much of the novel was set in Brooklyn, and it seemed obvious to do so. An Unlikely Guru had as its main character an elderly woman who relates stories about her own life to Brooklyn strangers who find validation of their own lives in her words.
I asked her to tell me what the novel was about thematically, and what happened.
“It’s about moving forward,” Sue said, sipping her glass of wine. “It’s about what happens after tragedy. About coming to terms with events….For six months, the novel was with a well known publisher in New York. They were very involved, loved the novel, analysing it, asking for me to do substantial edits. And of course I worked on it to make it what they wanted. Then out of the blue they decided that it was not for them. I was devastated.
But I was already working on the sequel, A Variable Constant. This related some of the events from the first, but from the point of view of the woman’s son John, now grown up. He is not a spiritual creature like his mother… he’s a professor of Cosmology, a Physicist. There’s a real tension between the realities inherent in what he is and does, and the spiritual nature of his mother’s legacy…and this book is about resolving this conflict.”
Hey, hang on… so one book is effectively rejected and you still have the bravery to continue with the sequel?
“Yes. My idea was that I would find a publisher for Variable Constant, and Guru would then be published subsequently. But the best laid plans…a good friend who I listen to carefully, always, said I was really writing the same novel, only a different facet.
That was extraordinary. For a while I fought that suggestion, but once I relaxed into the truth of it, I was off! I double-checked with several people whose opinions I trust, among them, Sue Booth-Forbes of Anam Cara. So both novels became intertwined, and the final product deepened, became far richer and more complex as a result.
John is a kind of Everyman, exploring his roots, tangled roots going back to a different culture, complicated inheritances. Hence the title, Tangled Roots. It’s about one’s inability to escape the past, and having to come to terms with it.
I approach the work through Judaism, as it is what I know. I hesitate to call it a purely Jewish book. But one of the main strands is religion and the role spirituality plays in our lives.
Judaism these days is full of people who may not even believe in God but who still call themselves ‘Jewish’. I wanted to explore what that meant. John, Everyman, is fighting the conflict between the modern secular age and spirituality. He’s angry with himself, angry with his mother and angry with God. He has to untangle himself.”
Wow. This is extraordinary stuff. Out of the ashes of a rejected novel and a portion of the second, Sue has resurrected a far stronger entity, something that has taken on a life of its own. It is going to be a very important book, I am sure, and I cant wait to get my hands on a copy…The project took five years to complete in the end, and is now on the verge of publication. It is very exciting.
But almost a year of her agent talking to new York publishers was enough. Sue decided to bring the book home, and it's being published here by Bluechrome.
The launch party is at The Science Museum… hey, that is fantastic!
So, I wanted to know, how did she come to choose Bluechrome?
“That was easy! They had already published my poetry play, I knew how lovely they were, and I just felt the need to bring my novel home here. Bluechrome was my first writing ‘home’. My agent agreed. Anthony Delgrado at Bluechrome tried to dissuade me at first, saying that Tangled Roots might well hit at a mainstream publisher… but my mind was made up… if he was happy to publish it, so was I.”
Now one thing I am busting to find out is Sue’s hiring of a literary PR agency… how is that working?
“Well, small publishing houses are very stretched when it comes to marketing… they don’t have a big PR budget… so I thought hey, I’ll support the venture myself. Bluechrome gave me the names of a few agencies and I settled on Midas. They have both large and small clients… overall an impressive client list.
So far they’ve been dong the spadework, and it’s beginning to pay off. I was interviewed on Meet the Author, for example, and there are readings and magazine articles arranged… I’m delighted.”
Yes. I can tell. Tangled Roots is an exciting book, with depth and resonance. I know Sue’s writing… it will also be a very strongly written work.
I wish Sue every good luck with the novel. And it was a very very good lunch!!!