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Today we welcome Sue Bentley as we travel to Northamptonshire in the East Midlands of the UK. Join us as we discover how Daisy Meadows, the Northamptonshire shoe trade, mixed-media, being self-taught, and Hay-on-Wye contribute to the fairy tale of Sue’s writing life. Get comfortable and slip into your imagination. Let’s go …
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I live in Northamptonshire a County in the East Midlands of the UK, where I was born. I write in different genres. My series of children’s books are contemporary. But my books and short stories for Young Adults and Adults can have contemporary, historical or fantasy backgrounds – or a mixture. I enjoy a certain darkness and suspense in the books I read and my own books often contain these elements.
I have written around 80 books, plus a number of short stories, under various pen-names as well as my own – Sue Bentley is my own name. As Lucy Daniels I contributed to the Animal Ark series and as Daisy Meadows I wrote some of the early Rainbow Magic books. Having ‘cut my teeth’ and learned a lot about writing to length and making every single word work for its living, I wrote my Magic Kitten, Magic Puppy, Magic Ponies and Magic Bunny series – around 60 titles. They are all still in print and sell very well around the world.
For the past five years or so, I have been writing novels for Young Adults, which like Harry Potter are read by many adults.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?
Subconsciously I always knew I’d be a writer. I’ve been obsessed with books and reading since, forever. I went straight from school to work in a public library. It was the perfect job for a bookaholic. I immediately read everything on the ‘Restricted’ list! Each book had a big red stamp on the title page – very dangerous and exciting! I don’t think there is such a thing as a ‘Restricted’ book any more.
What does your ideal writing space look like?
My ideal writing place looks like my study would if it were better organised. I love my room – every writer should have one of their own. It’s quite large, with a desk and work space at one end. There’s a reading space and table and chairs at the other end, and far too many books. I still love actual books for research, there’s nothing like flipping pages and making notes – but I use on-line resources too. At the moment books are stacked all over the floor. It drives me mad. I’m constantly in a state of trying to sort them out and get more bookshelves. I will be doing it at any moment…but I have a book to finish writing first.
Do you have a current work in progress?
My work-in-progress (WIP) is entitled Frozen Charlotte and is a Victorian mystery inspired by the shoe trade in Northamptonshire. I am enjoying researching it and spend a lot of time at the local Records Office and visiting people in the shoe trade.
You are about to speak publicly to a group and read from your latest book. What do you do to prepare yourself?
When about to speak publicly or read from my latest book, I’m usually fairly relaxed and looking forward to meeting readers. I scrub up a bit, so I feel I look my best and that helps me feel confident. No one wants to see me in my tracksuit or pyjamas, which I might stay in all day when I’m fully immersed in my WIP. But when appearing at Althorp Literary Festival a couple of years ago, I was suddenly struck by the most awful stage fright. I think it was the weight of history associated with the place. We live fairly close and the whole tragedy of Princess Diana dying was so terribly poignant. I’m not a great royalist, but she seemed to embody something we all related to. I stood by as the funeral cortege passed within yards. I had dreadful anxiety for an entire week before my Althorp event. On the day I took some Rescue Remedy – which I swear by for all kinds of emergencies great and small. Once I was there, I had a wonderful time, meeting readers, fellow authors and Earl Spencer was a most generous, warm and charming host. That year Althorp had their first ever Children’s Literary Festival. My event centred on my Magic Kitten series, and the lovely Bernie Keith from BBC Radio Northampton was my wing-man. The event was voted a great success. Phew – the relief! I’d probably be just as nervous if I was invited back, but would do it again in a heartbeat.
What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?
When I’m not writing or marketing my books, I’m thinking about writing, making notes for the next book or researching it. I love to read for pleasure whenever I can and always learn something new from every book, which I’m sure translates to my own writing. Writing is what I do, and what I am. I’m hard-wired to make sense of the world through the written word. Even in the early days writing was never a hobby for me. I make my living from writing and, like most successful authors, have completed a long apprenticeship. I am entirely self-taught, did not go to university. So I’m living proof that anyone can become a writer.
In a conversation with a published author, he told me he was not going to write any more as he had, ‘other hobbies to take up his time’. I had to resist telling him to, ‘wash his mouth out with soap!’ I’m sometimes asked if I’m still writing – fair enough if I haven’t seen someone in a while – but my pet hate is reference to my ‘little hobby.’ (It’s the ‘little’ that really gets to me) I doubt if anyone ever asks a plumber, ‘You still fiddling with taps and wash basins, mate?’ or a brain-surgeon. ‘Still messing about inside people’s heads?’
I’m also a sometime artist in mixed-media, but I’m a writer first and foremost. I’m sure if I cut myself I’d bleed words – it would be a paper cut, obviously!
What do you miss about being a kid?
I suppose the sense of freedom of living in the present. The lack of worry about this complicated and troubling world. I love children; their innocence, their honesty, the joy they take in every new discovery. I hope I’ve retained some of that. I do find joy in simple things like a butterfly in the garden and along with The Other Half (OT) laugh at the absurdities of life.
What’s your favorite place to visit in your country and why?
I love the UK in all its aspects. I am a very English writer and feel a strong sense of place. I do love the green and pleasant hills and forests of my homeland, Wales, Ireland and Scotland also have such individual beauty. I’m particularly fond of Dorset, with its rolling countryside and Jurassic coast. We visited Lyme Regis recently, a favourite of mine where we scoured the beaches for fossils washed in on the tide. I found one small perfect Ammonite in the wet sand, while the dark cliffs sulked behind me and leaked trails of blue-ish clay onto the beach. Those cliffs are scary and prone to rock falls, but the wild seas, wind and rain are exhilarating. I also love Hay-on-Wye. It’s my perfect town where every shop is either a book shop, an antique/vintage shop, or a café. Bliss. I simply browse for days.
If you could turn into one of your characters for a day, which one would it be and why, what would you do?
If I could turn myself into one of my characters for the day, it would be either Flame the Magic Kitten from my children’s series. Or Aledra from my novel, Second Skin. Both characters have special abilities, so I could have a brilliant adventure travel to the bottom of the sea with Flame or fly beneath moon with Aledra. How wonderful, before I then returned to writing.
My new novel Second Skin, was recently published, Summer 2019. It’s the first book in a new series, entitled Bridge of Fire. I adore its beautiful book cover!
Thank you Sue for joining us on MTA. It’s been wonderful getting to know you through this interview and connecting on social media. My daughter, Lillian Darnell, loved (and still does) the Rainbow Magic books and the other children’s series you mention. I am incredibly inspired by your path to success! Thank you for sharing with us! – Camilla
Book Blurb for Second Skin.
Young-Lady Aledra Jewel-Wing is Drakkoni, one of a race of shape-shifters who rule over Esra, a wild and beautiful continent. Aledra has grown up on a remote farmstead, is about to meet her estranged father; the commander of the king’s army. When attempting to save a life she rises into her fearsome soul-double, and soon becomes a fugitive, on the run from her father and a pitiless bounty hunter.
We Other, published by Endeavour Media is out now. It’s a dark re-working of the fairy-tale tradition. I’m in love with its wonderful new book cover for the Anniversary edition.
Book Blurb for We Other.
Jess Morgan’s life is chaotic. When a shocking new reality cannot be denied, it’s clear everything she believed is a lie. Life on a run-down housing estate with her alcoholic mum and violent boyfriend becomes the least of her worries. A dark and powerful destiny awaits that will test her to the limit.
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