Women In SFF Author Spotlight – Susie Williamson
Susie comes from Yorkshire and has a varied background of support work and teaching. After four years living and working in the Sudan then South Africa, she settled in Exeter, Devon, and got serious about writing. She lives with her wife, Kate, close to the river Exe and a bike ride away from the sea. Not forgetting Mia the cat, her writing partner of many years. Published by Stairwell Books, she loves dreaming up magic systems and worldbuilding, and incorporating contemporary social issues into the SFF genre. When she’s not writing, Susie can be found out tinkering in the garden, working with a local LBT women’s group, or painting canvases to steadily fill the white-washed walls of home.
Welcome to the Hive, Susie. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor. Phoenix is a genetic experiment, a SpeciMen, kept in Manhattan’s Tower 7, until she breaks free, unleashing her powers as she heads out in search of answers. It’s a journey that takes her to Ghana and beyond. As with other books I’ve read by this author, I love the authentic African settings, her inventiveness, and the complexity of issues she fearlessly tackles.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
Yikes, I’m not a D&D player. From limited knowledge, I’d say a dagger-wielding druid, though in a monster-infested dungeon, I might rely on the natural weapons of my beast forms. If all else fails, a spider or other mini beastie might make a narrow escape. But what of my party!?
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit?)
Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
I love the idea of background music while writing, but it doesn’t work for me. At most I can deal with the window open a crack to let in quiet birdsong, but when the seagulls start nesting on rooftops, even that’s got to close. Always I’m in my small writing room among bookshelves and treasured possessions. Once I start, I get lost in it, so try to stick to a routine to prevent living in my PJs. I started out handwriting, living abroad and travelling meant pen and paper were my only tools. When I settled in Exeter and acquired a permanent front door, that door soon got filled with scribbled-on post-it notes mapping out plans. Now I type, and still plan, all on the computer, although I am considering returning to the post-its. Or should I say, I plan flexibly, meaning the plan isn’t always in depth before I start writing, leaving room to adapt and change as I go. In the end it all comes down to the rewrites. And when in doubt I remind myself, you can’t edit a blank page.
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
Ursula Le Guin’s books have been with me for a long time. I adore her work and think of her as a pioneer for inclusion of social and political themes. The haunting tale of Tombs of Atuan stays with me to this day: I loved Tenar’s storyline, a girl with the courage to reclaim her identity, to leave everything that is familiar and step into the unknown. More recently I’ve come to love Nnedi Okorafor’s work. As I mentioned before, her stories relate to Africa, and I love the insight she captures of the settings she writes in. Having spent time in Africa, some of her work feels familiar. She is fearless in what she tackles, giving voices to marginalised or misrepresented people. I would love to work with her, just meet her, although I am sure I would be dumbstruck.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
Spending time with well-loved characters can be like settling under a comfort blanket, and is one reason why I reread books, and re-watch TV/films. The X-files’ Mulder and Scully comes into this category, along with other prominent characters – loved the chupacabra episode. Last night’s viewing was the last episode of the last series, and left me wondering, what happens to William?
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
It would depend on the weather, and whether my lovely wife is given the same extra day. But options include, a day long curry cooking session with Billie Holliday playing in the background, canvas painting (I have an African seascape on the go), cycling down the river Exe to see the sea, or packing a picnic and setting out for a day trip somewhere in this lovely Devon county.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
I’m working on my epic fantasy series, Blood Gift Chronicles. The first in the series, Return of the Mantra, was published in 2018. The second, The Warder, will be out this year. I’m in the end stages, the final back and forth with the publishers, fine tuning. I look forward to its release – of course – but also so I can get back to the third book which I haven’t sat with for a long time.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Least helpful, don’t write what you would want to read. My response: what else would I possibly write? Most helpful, writing is rewriting. Just get the words down. It’s all in the rewrites.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
I write every day, except weekends, and have a time schedule: start time and finish time. If motivation is poor, I stick with the time schedule and tell myself not to focus on the outcome, just start somewhere, anywhere. The more I get into it, the more I want to stick with it. By the end of the day I generally find that something has been achieved. Everyone has to find their groove. When I started out, I used word counts, but in the end I found that method distracting in itself. It wasn’t flexible enough, and at times meant I was setting myself up to fail. In the series I’m working on, some parts of the story just trip off the tongue, and by the end of the day reams of pages have been written. Other parts require more emotional investment and mental energy, and the day’s word count is comparatively small, though the effort was greater. Be kind to yourself and keep going.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Mexico City, 1940s, in particular, La Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo’s childhood home that she has just moved back into. We would drink tea, (or in her case, maybe tequila!), she would show me her artwork, and, surrounded by parrots and spider monkeys, I would listen to tales of her fascinating life.
Who are your favourite female characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of female character you enjoy writing?
Favourite female characters, I have lots.
Princess Mononoke: ‘I’m not afraid to die! I’d do anything to get you humans out of my forest!’ Say no more.
Analise Keating from How to Get Away with Murder: multi-layered, powerful and flawed, just when you think you’ve got to grips with who she is, another layer is revealed.
Arya Stark from Game of Thrones: travelling alone through Westeros, armed only with her kill list.
Poussey Washington from Orange is the New Black: a testament to the significance of fictional characters. I love that this character’s story arc inspired the creation of The Poussey Washington Fund, supporting advocacy groups focused on criminal justice reform.
As for my writing, I strive to write unlikely heroines with storylines that reflect society, and have a soft spot for queer women.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
I’m not sure I can say it’s underappreciated, but I love Blackout by Kit Mallory, and look forward to a copy of the just-released sequel, Sparks, winging its way to me. Blackout is set in a dystopian UK, where a wall splits the country in two, and follows the story of Skyler, a Northern refugee, known as the South’s best hacker. Loved the feisty young woman MC, and LGBT+ rep.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
Blood Gift Chronicles is a character-driven epic fantasy. In Return of the Mantra, a young woman, Suni, searches for justice and her own identity, fighting back against an oppressive regime in a desperate bid to discover her true heritage and restore the natural world. In The Warder, the story follows three main characters, Suni, Wanda and Luna, who each possess unique abilities that connect them to the land and each other. It is a race against time to identify the historical power that threatens them, to save each other and their homeland. Themes include social injustice, marginalisation, LGBT+ and environmental concerns.