Author Corner – Susan Newham-Blake

Susan Newham-Blake is a writer based in Cape Town. For the past fourteen years she has worked as a magazine journalist and editor, editing a number of customer magazines including the Clicks ClubCard magazine.

Susan has been published in a variety of women’s magazines including Marie Claire, Femina and Women’s Health. She has also been published in the anthology Just Keep Breathing (Jacana), a collection of short stories.

In 2013 Penguin Books published Susan’s first book, Making Finn.

Making FinnAbout Making Finn – Susan’s childhood dream of becoming a mother has not diminished with the revelation, alarming both to herself and her bewildered family, that she does, in fact, ‘bat for the other team’. Having made peace with her identity and having finally found a beloved partner, she is now faced with a daunting problem: with no penis around, how the hell do you make babies?

Time is of the essence: at 34 years old, Susan cannot afford to waste another moment. And so begins an unconventional journey to parenthood with some agonising decisions along the way. Should she accept help from a close and willing friend or go the anonymous sperm donor route? What are the legal and psychological implications of her options? How will her child be affected?

Told with disarming honesty, Making Finn is a warm, witty and moving first-person account of two women’s quest to create a family.

Click HERE to visit Susan Newham-Blake’s website.

1. From first draft, to published book, how much editing do you do?

While I was writing Making Finn I would start the day by reading through what I’d written the day before and give it a quick polish before proceeding. After the manuscript was finished I went through the first draft again. I did not do a huge amount of editing, but did elaborate on certain elements I felt were a bit thin, or delete any repetition. Once I was done I gave the manuscript to a trusted acquaintance who also gave me pointers on how she experienced the book. For instance, she felt I hadn’t included enough description of a particular character. I incorporated some of her suggestions before sending it off to Penguin. There were no editing requests from Penguin.

2. What research did you do for your book?

Because Making Finn is largely a memoir there was not a whole lot of research to do. However, I did refer back to emails, documents I’d kept as well as to my personal diary to check facts and order of events. I did a bit of research on the medical aspects of the book – the process of the actual fertility treatment. I also had a clinic sister check that my medical information was accurate.

3. How many words do you write, on average, per day?

When I am in the writing phase of a book I set myself a goal of at least 500 words a day. I can write this amount of words in about an hour so the goal feels manageable. If I write more than this it’s a bonus. I do on occasion write up to 2 000 words in a day but this is not usual for me given the time constraints of my full-time job and young children. I would say that on average I write about 5 000 words a week.

4. Explain your writing process – do you write an outline and then compile the chapters, or do you just start writing from Chapter 1 and let the story lead you?

I usually start writing from the beginning and let the story lead me. While I write, I make notes on characters, which I’ll refer to later on in the book to make sure I’ve got the character’s details correct. I also get loads of ideas on plot development, so I’ll make a note of this too. Sometimes I change my mind about including the idea but at least I’ve kept it. Once the story is written down I go back and I might need to change details depending on how the story has ultimately turned out.

5. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing, and if so, how do you overcome it?

My two biggest challenges to writing are time and self-doubt. I am not able to financially afford to make writing my career (it is unfortunately not well paid) so I really battle to create the time to sit down and write. But I also know that when I am really motivated to write or believe in what I’m writing I find it easier to create the time. So it’s got a lot to do with overcoming self-doubt. While writing Making Finn, I often had the thought: Who the hell would want to read this? And of course this is not conducive to keep writing. So I told myself I was writing the book for my sons which gave me a diversion from the worry that nobody would want to read it.

6. What do you do when you have writer’s block?

When I have writer’s block I find myself on social media platforms following Twitter and Facebook like my life depends on it. Sometimes I write blogs. This makes me feel like I am at least writing, which helps. I’m like those exercise junkies. If I don’t write anything for a while I start feeling grumpy and miserable. But ultimately I really believe that you have to just keep writing. Whether you think what you are writing is good or not, it’s in the discipline of consistently putting words onto a page that keeps the story going to the end.

7. When you submitted your manuscript to a publisher, what information did you include in your proposal?

When Making Finn was finally finished I emailed a one-page proposal letter, a three-page synopsis and the first three chapters of the book to a publisher. I had gotten tips on how to write these online. Penguin replied quite quickly requesting to see the full manuscript.

8. What advice can you give aspirant writers?

In Stephen King‘s book, On Writing, he says: “Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There’s plenty of opportunity for self-doubt.” The trick is to quieten the doubt and keep writing. Write, not to get published, but because it’s a thrill – you love it and it makes you happier than doing any other kind of work. I also write quickly and get that first draft down before I have time to give into the doubt.

Click HERE to like Susan on Facebook, and you can follow her on Twitter – @bbugged


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