Interview The story of the Book
Suzy Henderson – and Madame Fiocca
Q: Can you tell your readers something about why you chose this particular topic to write about? What appealed to you about it? Why do you think it is different and your approach is unique?
Nancy was, like so many of her generation, amazing, determined, and an exceptionally strong spirit. When I first read about her, some years ago, I was quite amazed, just as I was when reading about all of the women who joined the Special Operation’s Executive to carry out clandestine work in enemy territory during WW2. All of the biographies and news articles portrayed her as this fierce Guerrilla fighter and I marvelled at how brave she was, and how dangerous the work was. How cruel war is. But then I went digging and uncovered more of the real Nancy. What I discovered both saddened and amazed me and I was entranced. The main points most people know about her are that she joined SOE, dropped into France, fought and led thousands of Maquisards into battle against the Germans. Half true. I wanted to show her other side, her feminine side and her life before the war. No other novel to date has done that.
Q: How long do you think about a topic before deciding to write about it? Do you have a set of notes or a notebook where you write down topics that appeal before making a decision as to which topic this time?
Deciding what to write about is a good question! I read widely, and my main interest lies in the WW2 period. I’m still not sure why that is, but that’s how it is. So, I retain all relevant newspaper articles for my own interest, as one never knows whether they’ll provide a glimmer of inspiration one day. If a story or a person piques my interest, I will note that down. For me, the process involves making notes, physical or mental, as I go along. Sometimes an idea pops up and it’s something I can make a story from. Sometimes, as in the case of my last two books, the inspiration came from real people and real events.
Q: How long does it take to research a topic before you write? And for this book?
Research can be so lengthy, but I feel it’s a much longer process with the first book. My first novel, The Beauty Shop, took around a year or so to do the basic research, and then another two years of writing, edits and further research.
Writing about real people is definitely a complex process. I have to know enough about the person’s character, their personality, how they spoke, dressed, the list is endless. That takes time. In another period of history, I might have been forgiven for using more creative licence there, but for my time period, the real people in my books have descendants alive today, along with friends and others who knew them.
Q: What resources do you use? In general and for the last book that you wrote?
When writing and researching, I utilise numerous military history books, personal biographies and newspaper articles. I also use Google a lot to conduct research. I also make use of the BBC Archives from WW2 which is a fascinating resource brimming with first-hand witness accounts from the war – locals and veterans. There are also sites such as Bomber Command, the Imperial War Museum and the National Archives where I was able to purchase copies of Nancy Wake’s war records.
Q: How helpful do you find authority figures such as the police, medics etc when you say you want to write about them? Is there a good way to approach them in your experience?
So far in my writing, the only people I have approached for information or interviews have been either related to veterans, or veterans themselves. For my debut novel, I contacted a very helpful person from a museum which is dedicated to the men of the RAF Guinea Pig Club. Everyone has been most generous with their time and help. In seeking help, I have found the best way is to contact via email or letter in the first instance. Occasionally I have made enquiries via a third party who has managed to pass me a telephone number, having gained the person’s consent first. With regards to police or medics, I have never had any need to contact them for research. With medicine, I have quite an extensive knowledge myself as I previously worked in healthcare.
Q: If you need specialist knowledge to write a book, how do you obtain it? For instance, do you interview people? Go to the location? Use Google Earth? Apps?
I’m in the process of completing a contemporary romance, a brief escape from my beloved hist fic genre, but even that has required research. It seems there’s no escaping it. The general advice is write what you know, but if you do that there will still be things you need to research. One can never know everything. However, in search of the story, I’m a big fan of writing what you don’t know. So, a number of writers will blog about their recent adventures in Spain, or Canada, or somewhere exotic, all in the name of writing research. The reality is that unless it’s your family holiday, many people will not be able to make those trips and thanks to the internet, it really isn’t essential. I’ve been fortunate to have travelled to various places around the world, and also within my own home country. So, I’ve found that I can make use of my travels, and my memories of places quite well. As for the locations I use and have never visited, Google Earth is fabulous. I love how you can zoom right in and even drop the wee yellow man onto a street.
Q: Would you recommend self-publishing and building an audience before approaching a publisher? If so, what benefits do you see that it might have for the aspiring novelist?
I would definitely advise any new writers to establish a platform for themselves prior to approaching agents and publishers. I think that if you’re writing stories, then keeping a blog is a great idea. It’s a great base to grow from, and you will gradually discover an audience there. At the same time, set up your social media accounts. For me, I believe Twitter is vital. It delivers and I reach a wide audience. Facebook is useful as even if you don’t find much of an audience there, it’s full of useful groups for writers so it’s a valuable resource of information. Instagram is growing and reported to be a great platform for writers. So yes, do all that before pitching to agents. There is no need to self-publish first if having an agent or a publisher is important for you. Yes, it will bring you more experience, but it also means you have all the financial outlay. No agent or publisher worth their salt will expect this of any writer. They will take you on based on the quality and marketability of your writing. It’s that simple. And even the greatest writers get rejections. In building your platform, you will have a leg-up when you finally have your first book published, and that is so beneficial.
From my own experience, keeping a history blog for a few years prior to my debut release brought me a fair bit of exposure. Interestingly, while I am based in the UK, around 75% of my audience was and still is in the USA. And now the majority of my book sales are in the USA.
Q: Does writing provide sufficient income to live on? And how long did it take before this happened?
Writing and income is such a sticky topic. For me right now, it’s not a sustainable income, but I’m relieved to say that it has at least paid for itself with more left over. My editing bill for each book has been around £900, and then there’s book covers, book tours, set-up costs for paperbacks (if not using Amazon), proofing, advertising. However, I’m thinking positively of the future and I hope to increase the number of books over the coming years and see my income grow.
I know of a handful of successful self-published authors who are not so prolific on social media, but by the power of advertising have a very nice income, in excess of $70,000 per year. And then I know of others with more books than them who make nothing like that. So, it’s quite a fickle topic to speak of as there are so many factors involved. The best advice is not to give up the day job, if you have one.
Q: What is your favourite genre?
Well, that has to be historical fiction. I can’t help it, and believe me, I’ve tried. I read widely but try as I might I have yet to discover a crime novel I can truly enjoy. With historical fiction, I don’t just read WW2 stories either. I read stories about the Tudors, Vikings, and the odd regency.
Q: Which of your books are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of my debut novel, The Beauty Shop, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I was astonished by the real character, Archibald McIndoe, a pioneering plastic surgeon that not only fixed up RAF pilots and crew, when they were badly injured, but he helped them psychologically too. And I was amazed at the camaraderie and support of the club those men belonged to – the Guinea Pig Club. Not many people knew about it, and that was one of the reasons I wrote the book.
The fact that I completed the book, and self-published it, also makes me proud. There were some moments along the way that really did test me, mentally, and it took a lot of courage and foresight to persist, make the book the best I could, and publish it. Had it not have been for my amazing editor at the time, I may not have made it. She believed in me and the book, and she helped me enormously. I learned more from her during the editing process than from any writing event I have ever attended. KT Editing – she is a remarkable person.
Suzy Henderson lives with her husband and two sons in Cumbria, England, on the edge of the Lake District. In a previous life she was a Midwife but now works from home as a freelance writer and novelist.
While researching her family history, Suzy became fascinated with both World War periods and developed an obsession with military and aviation history. Following the completion of an Open University Degree in English Literature and Creative Writing, she began to write and write until one day she had a novel.
She writes contemporary and historical fiction and is a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors. Suzy’s debut novel, “The Beauty Shop”, has been awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion.
Her next novel, “Madame Fiocca” will be published in December 2019.