Good morning Sue, it is lovely to meet you. Please have a flapjack and a cup of tea and we can begin our interview.
Did you read many books during your childhood years, if so who were your favourite authors?
Some of my earliest memories are of visiting the children’s section of my local library in Deal, Kent with my Mum. There were not many books at home, but these weekly visits meant I had access to a wide range of children’s literature. I remember I read a lot of Enid Blyton, and the Heidi books by Johanna Spyri, but the first books that made an impact on me were the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. In my early teens I discovered the Titus Groan trilogy by Mervyn Peake, and those are the books that have stayed with me into adulthood, and which I still read avidly every couple of years.
Have you always been interested in archaeology and anthropology?
Yes, but have found these subjects more interesting in my latter years. If I had the chance to go back in time I think I would have loved to have studied archaeology, but I’m afraid careers advice when I left school was somewhat lacking, advice to girls then was nursing or secretarial. I did do a secretarial course, but found office work sedentary and a little dull – however, learning to type, on a manual typewriter, with the keys covered up, and to music, was probably one of the best skills I ever learnt. I love to go and visit ancient sites in the Scottish Borders, where I now live, and a visit to the Duddo Standing Stone Circle was the inspiration for The Cunning Woman’s Cup.
Copyright Painted Lady Press
The Cunning Woman’s Cup is an unusual title for a book, albeit a very intriguing one. How did you decide on this title?
This title came to me from listening to a programme on Radio 4, probably on Woman’s Hour, I can’t really remember. The program was about Healers, and Wise Women, and when I heard they had also been known as Cunning Women, and given that the story focuses on the discovery of an ancient gold cup, the alliterative possibilities were obvious – what else could I call the book.
Can you tell us some background information to the story?
It began life as a short story about two women who meet purely by accident, and how this meeting changed their lives. I particularly wanted to write strong, interesting, mature female characters, as I felt they were sadly missing in contemporary literature, and when they did appear, they were often stereotyped as mad, bad or sad. Although Alice and Margaret’s story was complete, I felt strongly that something was missing, a contrast to the rather domestic contemporary tale of village life. Initially the story of Mordwand, the Cunning Woman was absent from the book. Suddenly, and quite out of the blue, the question came to me – Who was the last person to touch the gold cup and why was it buried with the other artifacts? I wrote Mordwand’s story as a separate piece of writing and researched Tacitus and some old Herbals to make sure it had an authenticity and a ring of truth to it. Then, with the help of my editor, we chopped the story up and set the sections at the beginning of each chapter – it worked, and gave the contrast needed to elevate the story to another level.
Who or what inspires you spiritually and materially?
I think I am quite a spiritual person, but not religious, in as much as I don’t hold to any particular faith. Women I have met throughout my life, strong women with minds of their own, are the ones who have had the most influence on my outlook on life. Alice and Margaret represent a coalescence of these women. I’m not really interested in material things, I do not hold with what society considers to be the outward signs of ‘success’ in society today. I am surrounded by lots of material things, books, bits and bobs, but their significance lies in where they came from, and who gave them to me, rather than in their financial value.
Was it difficult for you to self publish and did you have any support along the way?
I did try and publish via the traditional route, but found it very difficult as I did not have any connections in the literary world. I was fortunate enough to get some support from Clare Alexander, an agent, but she could not take me on as a client on the back of just one manuscript. I was exceeding lucky to discover an editor locally, Chris Foster – in fact she lives in the house my husband and I first rented when we moved to Scotland, and her son is the award winning Cover Designer Kit Foster, and without their input I would never have been able to polish the manuscript to a professional piece of writing, or to prepare it for publication.
Are you a morning or evening person?
Interesting question, both and neither really, it varies. I have to fit my writing around my day job as a housekeeper/gardener on a Scottish Estate, and around my personal life and husband. I grab a few hours to write when I can.
How do you relax?
I read a lot, I walk, I listen to the radio, and drink a lot of coffee.
What was the last book you bought?
What are you working on next?
I have a second novel written and edited, but it still needs some work. I find if I leave the work for a good few months and then go back to it I can usually work out the glitches. It is with some trusted beta readers at the moment, and I am awaiting their responses. In the mean time, I have made a tentative start on a sequel to The Cunning Woman’s Cup.
FIVE QUICK ANSWERS PLEASE!
City or Countryside break? Countryside – every time!
Hot or cold climate? Somewhere between the two, I’m not a sun worshiper, but I don’t like the cold either.
Pop or classical music? Pop, but not Garage or Rock – Van Morrison, John Martyn, Seonaid O’Connor …
Smart or casual clothes? Scruffy, mostly.
T V or radio? Radio
Many thanks Sue, I wish you all the best for the future. I am delighted to announce that Sue is kindly donating a signed copy of The Cunning Woman’s Cup as a prize in a future raffle. Details will appear on the website soon.
The Cunning Woman's Cup can be bought on Amazon.