I am proud to introduce my good friend (from real life) Suzanne Downes. Suzanne and I met through work and we quickly became friends as we discovered we shared a wacky sense of humour. Suzanne is the author of many books including The Underwood Mysteries, most of which I have read and loved. Her new ones are already downloaded to my Kindle and I have no doubt they’ll be just as fabulous.
You can buy the Underwood Mysteries and Suzanne’s other books on Amazon.
An Interview with Author Suzanne Downes
Tell me a bit about yourself.
A bit about me: I am married to David (second marriage for both of us) and we are rapidly approaching our thirtieth anniversary, and we are happier than we have ever been and enjoying spending time together now that I have given up work to write full time. I have three children, a daughter and son from my first marriage and a daughter with David. I have a grandson and two tortoises. Besides writing, I love reading, sunbathing and very old movies – and I mean really old! 1930’s and 40’s – even though they were made before I was born (I’m not quite that old!) Two of my children now live in Australia, so I now enjoy travelling to the Antipodes, whereas before I loved travelling to places like Rome!
Describe your character in three words.
This was so hard! I only wanted to pick good things, then I felt like a big-head, so I put it to my friends and they came up with, Warm, Witty and Intelligent – I’m very happy with that – and I have lovely friends!
When did you start writing?
I honestly started writing when I was about 11 or 12. Funnily enough I was quite a late reader as I was the youngest of ten and by the time I came along my mum and dad, though great parents, were a bit “over” having youngsters and didn’t pay quite as much attention as perhaps they might, so I wasn’t really read to, so my love of books didn’t happen until I was perhaps six or seven – I started to read to my own children as babies! But then I discovered The Famous Five and I never looked back – reading was a magical escape from the hurly-burly of a busy household. Then my mum suggested I read The Diary of Anne Frank and I suddenly realized that even ordinary kids like me could put their thoughts down on paper – once that revelation dawned there was no going back!
Where do you get the inspiration for your stories?
All kinds of things – I’m a “what if” writer – nothing that I see, hear or read is ever allowed to fade away until I’ve “what-iffed” it and seen whether or not there might be a story in it. My last Underwood Mystery came from the fact that my Australian son-in-law asked if I could include an Aussie character – I said that unfortunately, any Aussie in the 1820’s would probably have been a convict! and suddenly there it was – what if Underwood proved someone had been transported for a crime he didn’t commit and got him reprieved and brought back!
My favourite of your books is ‘The Devil Drives a Jaguar‘ but which is your favourite and why?
My favourite is always the one I’m currently writing – I love the process so much – I find it exciting, challenging, fun! I enjoy every part of the writing – I always choose things I’m interested in to write about, so I even enjoy the research. I love planning the story, creating the characters, imagining the scenes and working out how I’m going to get the story from A to B. I love finding tricks to use as red herrings, and I love the puzzle of working out how the criminal commits the crime and how the detective is going to catch him or her out!
Of course, my favourite character is the witch in the wood in ‘A Troublesome Woman‘ – it has to be as it’s based on me!!! Who is your favourite character? Who would play him / her in a movie based on your book?
Cadmus Horatio Underwood, of course! He’s my ideal man, including his flaws, because no one is perfect! He’s clever, kind, slightly selfish, very upright and courageous and utterly infuriating to his poor wife Verity, who adores him. I know what he looks like, because his looks are based on my favourite film star, Leslie Howard (The Scarlet Pimpernel, 1934) I’ll never forget the first time I saw the film, when I was about 13 and of course the shock when he took off the disguise of an old hag at the beginning and there was the gorgeous, handsome man! I was smitten from that moment! His character, however, is much more like my own darling David Downes! And yes, he is infuriating to his adoring wife! If it was to be filmed now (Leslie died in 1943, so it won’t be him playing the part, sadly!) I would choose someone like Simon Baker (Patrick Jane, The Mentalist) ironically, he’s Australian!
How does independent publishing compare to traditional publishing?
No comparison! I struggled to be published for over 20 years! The rejection was horrible, and frustrating as I knew I could write and that Underwood especially was a great character – but what can you do? It’s like battering your head against a brick wall! And some publishers are just so arrogant and cruel in their rejection! In fairness some are faintly helpful, but not many! They act as though they are doing you a favour even letting you submit work! Indie publishing means that I set my own deadlines, I decide on what I want to write and I don’t have anyone telling me what to do or how to do it! I love it! And the fact that Underwood especially is selling so well just proves to me that I was right all along – and if there’s one thing I love to say it’s “I told you so!”
What’s the best piece of advice you were given when you started writing? What advice would you give to a new writer?
I was never given any advice in my early writing years – I hid everything from my brothers and sisters – they knew I wrote, but I never let them read it – they would have just found it one more thing to tease me about! They used to call me “Ernie Wise” and talked about the “Novel what Sue has wrote”! I can smile now, but a sensitive teenager found it hard to swallow! i had to find out everything for myself really – trial and error! I read a lot and that helped. My advice to my classes now when they come to Creative Writing is write, a lot! Read, a lot! And don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are not good enough – everyone has the right to write! It doesn’t matter if it is good or bad, if you get published and make a million or never show it to anyone else, it is FUN, so enjoy it! And show those around you that you are serious about writing – if you take it seriously, so will they.
Which aspects of writing do you love, and which do you hate?
I can honestly say there is nothing I hate. I love the whole process from beginning to end, even editing, which I must admit I do as I go along – I never have more than one draft – sorry to everyone out there who does, but when you learn your craft on a manual typewriter, believe me, you soon learn to get it right first time! I plan really well (whilst sunbathing if possible) so that when I sit down to write, I have it all clear in my head where I am going and what I want to happen. I do my research before I start, which I also enjoy and then I’m away.
What does your family think of your writing?
I’m very fortunate that I started writing so young, so that everyone in my life has always know and accepted that I write, even before I was published I was a writer, in my own eyes at least – and as I said before, because I took it seriously, so did everyone around me – even my brothers and sisters and mum and dad accepted that I wrote, even if they secretly thought it was a waste of time and effort. Underwood in particular is a family favourite with my husband, children and close friends, so I can be in the odd situation where everyone is discussing him as though he is a real person – he’s almost one of the family! a bit weird, but really very nice! My children were raised on “don’t disturb Mummy when she’s writing” and I used to hear shuffles and whispering outside my study door while they were daring one another to ask me for something! To be fair, I wasn’t a bad mother – I spent a lot of time with them too! I didn’t earn any money from writing, so it wasn’t my main priority when they were small.
Which are your favourite books? What are you reading at the moment?
My favourite books are crime – but middle of the road, not really violent or gory. I love Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks, and Stephen Booth, who sets his books in the Peak District. I like Kate Ellis, whose books are about a policeman and his friend who is an archaeologist, so the stories flit between past and present. Peter Lovesey is another favourite. I also enjoy the books of my friend Barbara Fagan Speake, also Indie Published and an ex-clinical psychologist, so she knows her stuff! I’m currently reading her latest novel – but on my laptop as I’m helping her to edit it and looking for typos! It’s called “Scared to Tell” and should be on Kindle in August or September – it’s very good!
When you’re not writing, what do you do for fun?
I just like being outdoors really.
What guilty pleasure wouldn’t you want to give up?
I always have Maynards Midget Gems and other sweeties in my study – and handful gets my brain working when I sit down to write – I panic if I run out so usually have a drawer full – even though I need to lose a bit of weight and shouldn’t really indulge!
Which fictional world would you like to live in? If you could be any literary character, who would it be and why?
My favourite books when I was a kid were “The Borrowers” series – I just loved the idea of little tiny people living in the house alongside human “beans” borrowing enough to keep them alive and making their underfloor homes nice. In “The Borrowers Afield” they live outside in an old boot under a hedgerow – my idea of bliss – permanent camping but hidden and secret.
So my favoured literary character would have to be Arrietty Clock – complete freedom, no worries other than survival, no responsibilities, just living from day to day.
And finally, if you could have a superhero power what would it be and how would you use it?
Time travel – I’d love to tell Leslie Howard not to get on the plane that was shot out of the sky by German fighters in 1943!
Thank you Suzanne, I look forward to reading the rest of the Underwood mysteries – I hear my witchy character will be making a come back.
Sylva Fae x