Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit it is via membership or an invite to the tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation with all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers. Over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, I shall be chatting with my guest about their work in progress, or latest book release.
Today, I’ve invited Sue to join me in the tearoom to chat about her writing. Sue Moorcroft is a Sunday Times an international bestselling author and has reached the coveted #1 spot on Amazon Kindle UK. She’s won the Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award, Readers’ Best Romantic Novel award and the Katie Fforde Bursary. Sue’s novels of love and life are currently released by publishing giant HarperCollins in the UK, US and Canada and by an array of publishers in other countries. Her short stories, serials, columns, writing ‘how to’ and courses have appeared around the world. Born in Germany into an army family, Sue spent much of her childhood in Cyprus and Malta but settled in England aged ten. She loves reading, Formula 1, travel, time spent with friends, dance exercise and yoga. Welcome Sue. My first question is what would you like to drink?
Thank you very much, Paula for inviting me. Please could I have some pink champagne 🥂🍾.
But of course. A real celebration. Now the champagne has arrived let’s start by asking you when you first begun your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre?
I suppose I write the same kind of books as I enjoy reading, where love plays a big part in the resolution – but is not the sum of the book. I like real-life conflicts and goals but not to be made uncomfortable by them. I like to feel good at the end of the book and satisfied that I can leave the characters and they’ll be OK.
Tell us a little about latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?
I’m editing Under the Italian Sun, which will come out in May 2021. It’s set in Umbria, Italy (as One Summer in Italy was, too) and is about Zia-Lucia Costa Chalmers, who’s never known much about her dad apart from the fact that he was Italian. Searching for information, she’s stunned to discover two birth and death certificates for her mother, Victoria Chalmers, dated at different times. The trail takes her to finding Lucia Costa, who she believes herself to be named after, which provides one step towards discovering the truth about her mother. Unravelling Zia’s own history isn’t an easy path, physically or emotionally, but it does mean she meets Piero Domenicali, who is joined with Lucia in a fight to save their homes on a plateau in the mountains. The idea is one I’ve been mulling over for a while and suddenly it came to the top of my list. At the same time, I’ve just begun my winter 2021 book, which has the working title of Christmas Now and Then.
How many unfinished projects do you have on your computer?
The two books above and an outline for a writing guide I decided not to write. I waste very little.
Were any of your characters inspired by real people?
In Christmas Wishes, not really, although two-year-old Maria does say, ‘Nooooo,’ a lot, exactly like a little girl I met in Sweden. I often hold images of real people in my mind for the purposes of character appearance but they’re never people I’m close to. It’s more likely to be a person I caught a glimpse of once or barely know. I do steal people’s names, though. I’ve used names from badges worn by bank staff or those who serve me at a shop. Occasionally somebody ‘recognises’ themselves in my stories and I’m always surprised – and they’re always wrong. The connection can sometimes be pretty tenuous, like, ‘I know it’s me because I got a bike for my sixteenth birthday, just like X’.
What did you learn when writing your latest release, Christmas Wishes? In writing it, how much research did you do?
The thing it surprised me to learn when writing Christmas Wishes was how many ‘looked after children’ there are and that fosterers are not all people who have made a decision to foster. I thought fostering was mainly about children needing people to give them a home and the state providing them but the truth is there’s an absolute army of aunts, uncles, family friends and neighbours who step in when a child is in need. When an unfortunate situation arises they put aside their own plans to help. I’m helped in my research by my brother Trevor and he got me the facts and figures then a Facebook friend called Helen who runs a fostering agency helped me with the day-to-day of fostering as well as the ups and downs. As the book is part-set in Sweden as well as ‘my’ English village of Middledip, I went on a great research trip. My British-Swedish friend author Christina Courtenay invited me and she proved a fantastic tour guide, translator, historian and PA. She lined up friends and acquaintances to talk to me about Brits living in Sweden, Swedish education, ice hockey etc and set up a fantastic itinerary. Her lovely mum even opened her home to me.
Do you uncover things about yourself while writing your books whether that be a long forgotten memory, a positive experience etc.
Yes, to a degree. A book sometimes comes by me reflecting on a memory. The spark for A Christmas Gift, for example, came when my son, who works with children, spoke about a scenario he saw all too often. His words were like a shaft of light illuminating the childhood of someone I went to school with and what must have been going on at his home. I wondered how he came out of it so messaged a mutual friend who he told me this person is OK – hooray! – and it made me want to write about someone like him. Joe Blackthorn’s rags-to-riches tale was born. In contrast, I made my heroine, Georgine, go from riches-to-rags.
I used more personal experience in my summer 2020 book Summer on a Small Island. The small island is Malta, where I was brought up for several years as an army kid. I gave a lot of my background to the heroine’s mum, a secondary character. I sent myself up a bit, making her still in love with Malta, still thinking of it as ‘home’, beginning a lot of sentences with ‘this used to be …’. That book prompted more messages via my website or social media than any other. So many people have been service kids or service personnel. One had even worked with my dad, which was wonderful as I lost my dad when I was twenty-two. Being an author is such a privilege.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing? Do you set yourself a daily word count?
When I’m on a first draft I aim for 2000 words a day. Sometimes I beat that and sometimes I don’t but it seems the right target. I get up at 6.30, I’m at my desk within the hour, deal with social media and emails, then the task of the day. That might be writing or research or editing. Around the time of a book’s release it’s promo. I eat breakfast at my desk and drink tea all day. I usually stop for lunch and some kind of exercise – in non-COVID times I do dance-exercise and yoga classes but now I usually walk, with the occasional dance class if restrictions allow. I work until 6pm and there will usually be some social media stuff in the evening. I work fifty or sixty hours a week, sometimes more.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I’ve never wanted to but I did consider it when an earlier agent suggested it might benefit me because, at that point, a lot of editors had rejected my stuff. I write under my maiden name but I did write a few short stories under Susie Matthews, Matthews being my married name. That happened because a magazine I wrote for didn’t like to have an author name appearing twice in one issue.
How do you select the names of your characters? Do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?
I have baby-naming books and an index of first names. I also make use of the Internet to try and make sure names are appropriate to age and location. If the character has a different nationality to mine I might ask someone of that nationality to check my selections are OK. Getting the correct name for a major character is essential but I’m less bothered about secondary characters if my editor suggests a change. For minor characters I often ask Team Sue Moorcroft, my street team! I’ll say, ‘The character is male, a student in London but doesn’t have to be British’ for example. Hence, in Christmas Wishes, Nico’s cousin’s boyfriend is called Bruno. The street team sometimes chooses place names for me, too – the village of Nelson’s Bar in A Summer to Remember or Whispering Court in A Christmas Gift. I don’t know everything about a character before I begin but I do know a lot. I sit and scribble bios and backstories and look at the central characters through the eyes of other characters. I believe this makes them multi-faceted. That said, sometimes the story just wants to start oozing out so I let it. The prologue and Chapter 1 of Christmas Now and Then has been battling to be born so I’m writing it, even though I haven’t finished working on characters, aims and conflicts yet.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
It’s hard to measure because books aren’t written in a block of time and then left. I write two books a year and several short stories and a couple of serials. The writing, editing, researching and promotion wend around each other. I’m usually working on three books at a time. Right now, I’m promoting Christmas Wishes, editing Under the Italian Sun and planning/beginnning Christmas Now and Then. I’ve just turned in an Easter serial to My Weekly and accepted commissions from them of two short stories, a column and a serial for next year. You could say it takes around six months to write a book but it’s a bit misleading.
Christmas Wishes – Hannah’s lost her shop in Stockholm and her fink of an ex-boyfriend is trying to swindle her. She returns to Middledip village to look after Nan Heather while she decides what happens next in her life and becomes embroiled with the family of childhood buddy Nico. He’s trying to work out what happens next in his life, too. Wishes ar easy to make but it’s harder to have them come true …
Thanks for inviting me to the tearoom! I’ve enjoyed it.
It’s been lovely Sue. Thank you for joining me.
If you want to find out more about Clubhouse Member’s Books don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops too.