Dauntless Heroines and Irresistible Heroes

Sue Moorcroft, award winning novelistSue Moorcroft proves that it is possible to follow your dream and carve a career out of your passion. She is a writer of novels, 'how to' books, short stories, serials, articles and columns. In addition she is a creative writing tutor and competition judge. Sue is a long-serving committee member of the Romantic Novelists' Association and was the Winner of the Festival of Romance - Best Romantic Read 2011.

Sue was born in Monchengladbach, Germany into an army family, and her childhood included living in Cyprus and Malta, as well as the UK. Before becoming a writer, she worked in a bank, as a bookkeeper, for Motor Cycle News and for a typesetter.

As a writer, Sue represents a different kind of 'expert' for The NextWomen and to celebrate my new role as Editor, I couldn't resist interviewing one of my personal female heroes.

As a self-confessed bookworm and lover of Sue’s writing, I was thrilled to get the chance to ask her about her journey so far, the challenges of the publishing industry, and what the future holds.

TNW: What inspired you to become a writer? How did your journey start?

SM: I’ve always wanted to be a writer, ever since I learned to read. Fiction is a world I feel comfortable in. Apart from a half-hearted attempt to get into journalism, though, I did nothing about getting published until my children were small. I had never stopped writing but I just threw my attempts away.

When I began to send stuff out to publishers I received a nasty shock. They weren’t waiting for my novels, cheque book in hand!

I began a course, attended workshops and conferences and aimed at the magazine market. Eventually, my record helped me get an agent and my first novel deal. My plan was to get 20 short stories in national newsstand magazines to get a publisher interested in my novels – it turned out to be 87 plus 1 serial but, loosely, the plan worked.

TNW: What are some of the greatest challenges in getting published?

SM: There’s a lot of hot competition. You have to grow another skin and accept rejection as part of your life, much as most people in the creative industries do. You have to find motivation to continue. I’m fortunate to have a certain amount of self-belief and even if rejections used to stop me writing for a while (until I realised what a waste of time that was), that self-belief made me start again.

TNW: Talk us through your writing process. Do you work from a plan or does the story come as you work?

SM: I plan, but messily. I call it the compost heap method. I begin with major characters and write, longhand, about them. I look at them from the points of view of various other characters and I give them quests and conflicts. If I can make my hero’s quests conflict with my heroine’s quests, I feel as if I’m on the way. I use a lot of sticky notes and mind maps to work through ideas and plot points and find good spots for them in the book. I start writing when I feel compelled to.

I like beginning a book. I think of it as being rather like sitting on the grid waiting to begin a Formula 1 race. There’s everything to try for and nothing’s gone wrong yet.

This usually persists for the first 10,000 words, and then it gets harder. I find the ending hardest of all.

TNW: There are a number of female authors that started out by working to conceal their gender (e.g. AS Byatt, JK Rowling). In your opinion is this because there are particular challenges for female writers?

SM: Yes, and especially in certain genres. I believe women crime writers feel that they’ll be more successful with a genderless identity, as some male readers don’t feel drawn to books written by women. But I don’t feel a need to do it. I’m a woman writing books that are mainly read by women and they usually have pretty covers. That’s my market and I’m fine with it.

I am read by men and they send me messages on Facebook or Twitter. More men seem to read the Turkish and Portuguese editions than the English language ones. A male friend of mine in his thirties says he gets interested looks from women when he reads my books on the Tube. I’m thinking of making it a marketing device …

TNW: Having read a number of your books, you have a knack of dealing very sensitively with some very serious subjects. I’m thinking of narcolepsy and acquired head injury for example. How do you go about researching these topics?

SM: Anxiously, to be honest (and thank you). I’m desperate to get things right. I begin with a lot of general reading, and then zoom in on what’s relevant to my character. I like case histories. When I tried to research narcolepsy I found it difficult to establish what the condition was really like so I went onto the Narcolepsy UK message board and asked for help. A guy came forward, called Dominic, just like my character (in Dream a Little Dream), and he gave up a huge amount of time to answering endless questions and read the manuscript twice.

Acquired head injury, for Is This Love? was much easier because it’s far more common. I know people who care for those like Lyddie. I also had a friend when I was a teen with head injury. It was thinking about the way that he got left behind when we grew up that influenced my depiction of Lyddie. She’s a pivotal character in the book.

TNW: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to write and get published?

SM: Educate yourself. For some reason, some people feel that writers are born and not made. But we wouldn’t expect to make our living on the stage with just a GCSE in drama to our credit, so why do we expect writers to progress if they don’t educate themselves past school leaving? That said, I don’t believe that you need a creative writing degree (although some published writers have one). There are loads of books, courses, workshops, seminars, conferences, and writing magazines. I would also say learn about publishing as well as how to write.

And then keep at it. I truly believe that the name for a writer who doesn’t give up will one day be ‘published’.

TNW: The Canadian Professor and author David Gilmour recently sparked a furore in the literary world by admitted that he won’t teach literature written by women. What was your reaction to this and what can we do to elevate women in literature?

SM: Frankly, I’m astonished that anybody could keep a job as a university lecturer when holding such narrow views. And, yes, this kind of thing makes me angry. But, generally, I shrug it all off. I have my own career to pursue and pausing to shake my head over someone’s bigotry isn’t going to put any money in my bank account or help me write another book.

TNW: We understand that as well as write, you also teach a variety of creative writing courses. Do you find that particular genres appeal to / come more naturally to men and women?

SM: A little. There are definitely genres that appeal equally to both, such as crime, horror and fantasy. SF seems frequently the province of men and romantic fiction is often written by women. I’m vice chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and our membership is mainly female. That’s not because we don’t welcome men, just that the romantic fiction genres, however broad, have a certain image. I feel that a lot of romantic books written by men are simply packaged as something else.

TNW: Your latest novel, Is This Love? is just out. What’s next for Sue Moorcroft?

I’ve just sent in the first draft of next year’s book and I’m girding my loins to begin the second draft. It’s a book set in Malta, where I lived as a child and which has a permanent place in my heart. It’s a book about a couple, Elle and Lucas, who have been apart for four years when they meet up again. It’s Lucas’s Uncle Simon’s meddling that puts them in the same place at the same time. He thinks they just need a bit of a shove to get together again, but it turns out to be a lot less simple than that.

It’s a book that currently has no title, although we’re soon going to have to decide on one so that the cover can be done. My latest idea is The Trouble with a Secret Wedding, but I don’t actually like having any negative words in my titles, so that probably won’t be it, either.

I’m also thinking about the book after, which will have characters called Ben Hardaker and Alexier. I got them off gravestones. I’ve got a clearer idea of Ben, who is blond and has a craft gin distillery. He also has something to do with a falcon and I think he’s gone to live in Middledip village because he was driving when his girlfriend was killed and he needed to get away from his old life. My heroes often do come to me first.

TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you but which you’d like to share with our community?

SM: Is this Love? is getting great reviews, which is fantastic. It’s a book about the various kinds and qualities of love. Tamara stays in the village she grew up in because she can’t bear to leave her sister, Lyddie, who’s an adult who needs more care than most, after a hit-and-run accident when she was a teen (unconditional sibling love). She rejects her long-term boyfriend when he wants her to move with him and his new job (not enough love, from either side).

The book begins when Jed Cassius, Lyddie’s teenaged sweetheart, turns up to tell the family who was driving the hit-and-run car. I became really interested in Jed because a lot has happened to him since he left the village. Tamara finds it hard to decide if he’s one of the good guys but desperately wants him to be. Is this love …?

Is This Love? has been shortlisted for the Readers' Best Romantic Read Award 2013. It is published by Choc Lit and is available now in both paperback and on kindle.

Is This Love? by Sue Moorcroft

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