I’m very excited to have author Sue Russell on the blog today! I was absolutely captivated by her book ‘A Vision of Locusts’ and am really pleased that she could share some of her faith journey and writing life with us today.
Tell us a little about you and how you became a Christian.
I was born in 1951 – that makes me oldish. I was never an atheist, but for a long time I wasn’t a Christian either. A devastating bereavement in my twenties – my younger brother and only sibling was killed in a car accident – set me on a search to understand a universe that contained both love and death: a search that resulted, through long and tortuous ways, in a meeting with Jesus.
It’s always great to have fellow writers come on the blog and share a bit about their writing life! How did you become a writer?
I hope it doesn’t sound puffed up but I think I’ve always been a writer, or at least a potential one. From an early age I devoured stories and made up my own. But it took a group of friends telling me to stop complaining and get on with it that kick-started the process of writing my first novel, finished in 2001 at the age of 50, published in 2009: ‘Leviathan with a Fish-hook.’
You describe your genre as ‘realistic contemporary British Christian fiction for adults’. Can you share how you came to write in this unique genre? Does your faith shape your writing, and vice versa?
My description of my genre is accurate but rather long-winded. Recently the commissioning editor of the publisher I am currently with gave me a much snappier one: ‘contemporary drama.’ This covers a lot of ground! Faith shapes my writing hugely in that I write without apology for God’s glory and hope and pray that something may reach someone, somewhere. Even if I didn’t write stories with a Christian content I guess it would still seep through! However, I seek to entertain, inform, absorb, delight, provoke – not convert. I’m not sure that writing shapes my faith, though.
Your writing is compelling, page-turning and relatable to the contemporary world. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen to each believable character in your novel ‘A Vision of Locusts’. How do you come up with your characters?
If I need to dream up a character I find that giving him or her a name is a vital first step. From then I think about them, create their background, write a biography, decide what has shaped them, imagine how they speak, walk, laugh; what makes them angry, how they relate to others, and so on. Bit by bit the character becomes real and fleshed-out and I know broadly speaking how they are likely to react to a given circumstance.
Do you find you have a particular process that you follow for writing a novel?
Each of my novels seems to have followed a different trajectory. The first three are a trilogy and writing the last title in that series (though it was not originally planned as such: it just grew) was a breeze, because the plot and most of the characters were already in place. The next three began with an image in my mind, and gradually a plot formed around it.
I always start with research, because even if there is nothing obvious that needs it I always find there is a great deal I don’t know, and getting the small things right is important if credibility is to be maintained. My latest novel needed a lot of research and I really enjoyed doing it and gaining, even if on a superficial level, a whole new world of knowledge. The same applies to the one I have in mind at the moment. The temptation is, though, to read just one more article, one more book, and not get started on my own!
What are the main challenges that you encounter as a writer and how do you overcome them?
One of the biggest challenges I am facing at the moment is getting started. I wonder if it is because I know more than I did at the beginning and am more aware of potential pitfalls. One way I try to overcome this is to ask others – in particular my friend and writing buddy – to nag me and if necessary aim a hearty kick in my direction. But the story has to be ready to be told.
Who inspires you as a writer? Where does your inspiration to write come from?
I have been inspired by many people, including writers. I continue to be an avid reader, especially of fiction, and this is a great source of inspiration. Where the inspiration to write comes from is a bit of a mystery.
In March 2020, your next book ‘The Healing Knife’ will be released. Can you tell us a little about it? How can we find out more and stay updated?
‘The Healing Knife’ is the story of an ambitious, work-obsessed female heart surgeon (yes, lots of research was necessary!) whose life is turned upside down by something horrible and unforeseen (you’ll have to read it to find out what!) It’s due out in March 2020 but can be pre-ordered now. I usually post something on social media or on my blog (suerussellsblog.blogspot.com) as the time for a book’s emergence approaches.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers and also to fiction writers in particular?
If someone has an itch to write they should get on and do it, even if circumstances seem less than propitious. Listen to advice, but believe in your own vision. Practise your craft. Read. Listen to other people’s conversations (not too obviously.) There’s an enormous amount of information and advice in books and on the internet about writing. By all means read some of it and take it on board (I have) but be selective. If you have a great idea go to it whole-heatedly and don’t let self-doubt hold you back. Rather it should make you self-critical, but in a positive way. No one’s perfect. But no one can tell your story except you.
Sue Russell read History at Durham University and subsequently after a period abroad taught children with severe learning difficulties. She has written seven novels (one awaiting publication) from an unequivocal Christian world view but neither pious nor triumphalist, aiming rather to offer a compelling page-turning read about real people with recognisable lives. Her books include the trilogy Leviathan with a Fish-hook, The Monster Behemoth and the Land of Nimrod, followed by three stand-alones: A Shed in a Cucumber Field, An Iron Yoke and A Vision of Locusts.
She is an amateur singer and a church organist. She lives with her husband and her dog in Kent, and sometimes in France.