A Clash of Innocents is Sue Guiney's second book and as part of the blogsplash to celebrate the publication of her book, Sue very kindly answered a few questions for me.
1. Cambodia is an unusual and interesting setting for a novel and a place that I’ve never visited even though it’s history does fascinate me. Can you tell us what inspired you to write, A Clash of Innocents?
My family visited there in 2006 to work for a couple of charities, building houses for the poor and working in an orphanage. It was an opportunity whose time was right and I had always wanted to visit SE Asia. At the time, though, I had no notion of writing a book about Cambodia. I was still completely absorbed by my work on “Tangled Roots.” But the place took hold of me, and before I knew it, there was a story I wanted to tell about it.
2.Can you tell us a little bit about the main characters in the book, especially Deborah Youngman?
Deborah is a feisty, self-sufficient, no-nonsense American woman of about 60 years old who settled in Cambodia 10 years earlier after working as a nurse for various health agencies throughout Asia. She runs “The Khmer Home for Blessed Children” which she took over from a group of missionaries. She is single, has never been married, and has officially adopted one of her first Cambodian charges, a girl called Sam who, at the time of the book, is just eighteen years old. The idea for Deborah is an amalgam of several women I encountered while in Cambodia, and I started to wonder why someone chooses that sort of life, a life that seems on the surface to be all about self- sacrifice. Especially if their motivation is not religious, and Deborah’s definitely is not, why and how does such a life choice arise?
One morning, an American woman in her late 20’s arrives at the Home’s door wanting to help. Against Deborah’s better judgment, she allows this woman to stay and become a part of the workings of the Home. But who is she and why is she there? And here’s a fun fact: careful readers of “Tangled Roots” will recognize that this woman is Amanda, the woman whose own wedding begins the novel, whose wedding is seen through the eyes of her favourite uncle, John, the physics professor. (I love doing that sort of thing!)
And I must mention Kyle Mackenzie, the irascible, adorable, larger-than-life Australian minesweeper.
3.Do you plan a book before writing it, and if so how much planning do you do before starting your first draft?
I tried something different with “A Clash of Innocents” in the hope that it would take me less than nine years to write (that’s how long “Tangled Roots” took). I used something called “The Snowflake Method” which leads you to completely outline each chapter in exact detail planning carefully where each conflict will arise and timing it all to a tee. Actually, it drove me crazy and I ended up just using the idea of it. So I did outline the entire structure, planning what would happen in each chapter, so I always knew where I was going. I just didn’t know how I would get there. That bit of inspiration I left up to the little writing magician in my head. I did, though, write out details of each character’s life in advance – who they were, where they came from, early lives etc. I do need to know who a character really is before I throw him/her life into turmoil.
4.Can you tell us something about your road to publication? How long it took and how you went about finding a publisher?
This itself is a long, roller-coaster of a story. It started back in 2005 when on a whim I sent the text of a poetry play, “Dreams of May,” to an indie press whose work I liked called bluechrome. He published the poetry and then after struggling in the States to find a big publisher for “Tangled Roots,” I gave up and gave it also to bluechrome to publish. I was luckier than some. My novel was published in both hard and soft covers and distributed fairly well. Alas, I never got any royalties from it because the publisher subsequently went bankrupt, but I did have the invaluable experience of being a published writer.
Fast forward to 2009. I’m chatting with another former bluechrome author, Adele Ward, at the poetry launch of a mutual friend. Adele knew my work and began to cautiously feel me out on the subject of publishing with a new indie house that she was about to form with Mike Fortune-Wood, formerly of Cinnamon. Several weeks of talks followed and I had to decide whether I wanted to throw myself into the maelstrom which is finding an agent (my previous one had retired at the same time bluechrome tanked – talk about bad timing!) and then trying for a big publisher. It was a difficult decision and forced me to think about my goals and the reality of the present market (especially for new literary fiction). But when I did, I realized that it was a great honour to be asked to be a company’s first publication and to launch my book along with Ward Wood. I also know about and trust the business acumen of the two principals. I felt that by joining Ward Wood I was doing something bold and daring, but also sensible. And I’m absolutely thrilled. I know it was the right decision and I know that my work has now found a home. I guess I’m just an indie girl at heart.
5.You lead a very busy life writing not only fiction, but plays and poetry too, so I imagine that you have to be pretty disciplined to be able to fit everything in. Do you have a specific daily writing routine?
I most certainly do, although it’s had to change over the years. The big step for me was announcing to myself and the world that writing was my job. Okay – not a full-time job, but a job nonetheless. That meant I had to find a time when I sat down to do it, whether I felt like it or not, and for me, that’s mornings. The 3 hours before lunch became the time I would go to a specific place and either write, or apply myself to the business of writing. While I still had kids at home, that meant taking a look at my diary each week and finding the 2 or (if I was lucky) 3 mornings for my writing job. And that’s what I did for years and I was able to accomplish an amazing amount just by setting aside time and sticking to it. Now that I am in my second year of being an “empty-nester,” I find I work all the time. And I mean ALL the time. Whether it’s actually writing, or submitting or blogging or writing articles or networking, I’m always at it. And I fold in my work with my theatre charity, CurvingRoad. You see, with no kids around and a husband who has always worked crazy long hours, I do finally have time. But to be honest, I’m doing too much right now and realize that I need to find some balance and down time. It’s especially difficult to turn on my “writing brain” when my “business brain” is in overdrive.
Thank you to Sue for such interesting answers and good luck with A Clash of Innocents, which you can buy from her publishers, www.wardwoodpublishing.co.uk , Play.com, etc. You can also follow Sue on Twitter @sueguiney and her blog can be found here