In conversation with Susie Bower

Thanks for joining me in cyberspace, Susie. Congratulations on the launch of School for Nobodies, your debut children’s book.  I know you as an artist, an author of adult fiction, and as a lover of carrot and coriander soup (when we used to meet at your flat in Falmouth, as part of a writing group).  I’m aware that you previously worked in children’s television; how much did that experience help you in writing children’s fiction?   

Those were good days, when we all came together to share our work! Working in television – in Schools TV – certainly helped me write children’s fiction. I directed and wrote a series called ‘Rat-A-Tat-Tat’ for Channel 4, aimed at fostering a delight in reading and words. We animated lots of great picture books and I wrote the scripts, as well as some of the songs and stories. I spent a fair bit of time with children and it made me very aware of attention spans and what excited them. And I learned that every single word had to count.    

What was the catalyst for writing a children’s book, or was it something you always wanted to do?

The catalyst was my complete failure to write another adult novel! After ‘The Making of Her’ I abandoned two novels. Then I came across an online writing community called The Novelry, run by Louise Dean. She’d just introduced a new course, The Classic, which was all about children’s literature. Doing The Classic was like stepping back in time to my own childhood – to a magical world where anything could happen. Within a week of beginning the course, I had the idea for School for Nobodies.

Is there some of you in one (or more!) of the characters?

People often ask where writers get their ideas for characters. Mine are mostly drawn from inside myself. For several years I’ve been having Internal Family Systems Therapy – a therapy exploring the many different parts or sub-personalities in one’s system and the way they work. So it’s quite therapeutic to give them expression in the characters I write – especially the crazy, bad ones! And writing for children allows me to re-experience parts of myself that never had expression in my own childhood – in this case, the inner ‘Nobody’. Because we moved so often when I was a child, I was often the newbie, the odd-one-out. Flynn personifies that misfit child inside.
Would it be a stretch then to say that some writers write those unexpressed aspects of themselves in order to, hopefully, achieve greater integration? Or, looking at it another way, do you think we write to give those aspects a fully realised expression to make them whole? 

I can’t speak for other writers, but I guess that’s why I like to write about restoration and transformation – by writing/reading about these processes, perhaps something may be activated towards them happening inside (though I wouldn’t count on it!). I do believe in homeostasis, so perhaps by giving voice and life to these less-acceptable parts of the self, some sort of internal balance can be achieved.

Do you think you will return to these characters or do you have a different book in mind for next time?

School for Nobodies is a stand-alone book – I think the ends are tied up too neatly to take it any further. And I’ve almost finished drafting the next one, another stand-alone – a very different story, which is a mash-up of Pygmalion and The Red Shoes!

Did you approach both books in the same way, and if not how did the creative process differ?

Because I write mysteries (which are like very complex and intricate jigsaw puzzles) I tend to write in a particular way. As a dyed-in-the-wool plotter, I like to have the skeleton or architecture of the book in place before I write the detail, so I’ll spend a lot of time writing what’s known as a Zero Draft – a draft-before-first-draft which is really an extended outline (my present book had a Zero Draft of 12,000 words) in which there is absolutely no craft at all – it’s just ‘getting the story down’. Then I’ll write a first draft (my least favourite part of the process) in which things may change. After that, I’ll edit. I edit rather in the way I paint – I begin by looking at the ‘big picture’, the structure. Does the story make sense? Is it being told in the most effective way? Then I move to the medium ground of character and voice. Finally, the particular, fine detail of the words themselves (though in practice, I’m moving around between all of these – it’s not an exact science!).

Zero Draft is a new one on me. It sounds preferable to my own method (for the past two books) which is to sort of walk around the book until I find a way in! I know what I’m trying to do, broadly, but it’s not structured. Do you see yourself as an author now, as opposed to a writer, and does that come with new expectations?

I love the idea of ‘walking around’ a book. Do I consider myself a writer or an author? Hmm, interesting question! ‘Author’ is sort of static. I guess I can say I’m the author of my books, but I prefer to call myself a writer. ‘Author’ sort of rests on the laurels, whereas writing is an ongoing process. If I call myself a writer, I can’t get away with anything less than actually doing it! As to expectations, I think it’s foolish to have them, particularly now. Hope, yes. How do you see yourself?  

To my mind, an author is a published writer or someone who is acknowledged as the creator of something. It feels like a sales term! Do you find it easier to write 'the next book' or is there a weight of expectation? 

No – the second one has definitely not been easier to write! For a whole raft of reasons – there was so much excitement and so much happening with School for Nobodies – revisions with my agent, revisions with Pushkin, copy editing and so on – that it was quite distracting (in a good way!). Then, more recently, I managed to fall and break one elbow and crack the other, needing an operation, and this was immediately followed by COVID, and the publication of School for Nobodies, which was twice postponed because of it. So focusing on writing the next one has been challenging! The difficulty of writing a second novel is that you are so aware of the process that the previous one went through, and it’s so hard not to compare the ‘shitty first draft’ with the final, polished version of the previous one...and yes, the weight of expectation (mine and others’) sits heavily on my shoulders too.

How did you get past that hurdle? (Asking for a friend…!)

Because my second book was contracted, the hurdle had to be jumped. A delivery date is a remarkably efficient incentive! I think I try to address the inner critics, the terror and the expectations in a two-pronged way: first, by sitting down and paying heed to Isak Dinesen, who wrote: ‘Write a little every day, without hope, without despair.’ Second, taking the pressure of perfection away as much as possible by writing a Zero Draft (or No-Craft-Draft) and only looking at the language in the final, ‘beauty edit’ stage of the process. Doesn’t always work, though!

Getting it down on paper / screen makes it real and I think we can lose ourselves without boundaries or form. A Zero Draft sounds like a good way to create boundaries and focus at the very early stage. Do you find that your final version is close to your original vision, or do you welcome deviations as part of the creative process? 

As an inveterate plotter, I find the overall architecture of the novel tends to remain the same. But new characters and situations invariably find their way in during the writing. And revisions – both for my agent and for my editor – can also change things (for the better). During the process of writing and editing School for Nobodies, I lost two characters and gained two more!

Do you have ambitions or dreams for your books, or for yourself creatively? I have always been drawn to the idea of starting out writing something at ‘Point A’ and then, through a series of serendipitous events (which can’t, of course, be planned for!), ending up doing something I had never imagined. Whether that would be seeing one of my novels being adapted for radio, or being invited to work on a collaborative project, I want the journey

Yes, I really relate to this! I’ve always been a dreamer and a wisher and a what-might-happen sort of gal. But it’s very weird – since lockdown, it’s as if the future’s out of bounds, and I’m focusing much more on what is, and what I’m thankful for. So it’s enough for me that I have books coming out for the next three years, hopefully; that I have an agent who really supports my book and a publisher with lots of expertise and experience.

It has been a pleasure to catch up again, Susie. I’d best let you get back to your writing!

School for Nobodies is published by Pushkin Children's Books.

Amazon link: 

Waterstones link:

Thoroughly charming and endlessly intriguing, Bower’s accomplished
debut combines a magical mystery with a heartfelt account of adoption
and trying to fit in. Written with grace and flair, School for Nobodies 
exerts a luminous hold on the imagination from start to finish.

Praise in the New Statesman

Changing Lanes - writing in a different genre

In conversation with serial spy author, Derek Thompson, whose debut crime mystery, Long Shadows, comes out 1st June 2020. 

You’ve previously written five Thomas Bladen spy novels, so why write a different book now. Did you simply run out of ideas?

No, but that’s pretty funny. I have ideas for two more Bladen books but my publisher, Joffe Books, suggested my writing style would suit the crime / murder mystery genre and invited me to write and submit something. Crime is their mainstay and my spy novels have always been a bit of an outlier. Plus, I wanted to see if I could do it.

Was your creative process different for Long Shadows?

Definitely, and in ways I hadn’t anticipated. It’s quite a wrench after five books to set aside characters you have written about and thought about for years. Also, for Long Shadows, the plotting is much tighter and less organic this time, and of course there was a whole new cast of characters to meet. As we’re only one book in, that’s still ongoing.

So you see Long Shadows developing as a series?

Hopefully, yes, I find DS Craig Wild and PC Marnie Olsen, and their working relationship, intriguing. I want to know more about them so I hope readers will too. 

What was the inspiration behind LS?

Aside from the challenge? A friend of mine told me a story, which she insisted was true, about a mysterious death in the countryside. That was the seed for the opening scene and then I did what I usually do, asked myself Kipling’s six questions and wrote wherever they took me.

Describe your protagonist and his circumstances.

Craig Wild was a Metropolitan Police sergeant who over-reached himself in an operation and ended up first in hospital and then on extended leave. His transfer is very much his last chance saloon. He’s approaching middle-age, starting to lose his hair, and his career has plateaued. Meanwhile, his ex-wife is a high-flyer at New Scotland Yard. They only speak through solicitors. He has a passion for darts and for getting the job done. Not so good with people though.

What’s your connection to Wiltshire, where the book is set?

It’s tenuous, apart from fond memories of visiting Stonehenge, Avebury and Warminster. I did have a couple of old friends who lived in Wiltshire, but I’ve long since lost touch with them. I knew the story had to be set in the West Country – Dorset already had Broadchurch, my mate and fellow author Stewart Giles has bagged Cornwall, and Ann Cleeves has claimed Devon!I had a sense of the terrain I was after for Long Shadows and after some research Wiltshire fitted the bill (a little in-joke there, if you can be bothered).

How did you research the police procedural side?

I read up on PACE (I’m saying that now in case it’s not apparent to expert readers!) and I checked out a police online forum for serving and retired officers. Most helpful of all was a visit to a police station. (You have to formally request it – you can’t just turn up!) They were a very generous host and I spent about an hour receiving a grand tour behind the scenes and asking questions – particularly from an IT perspective, as that’s key to the book.

Is it true you were a victim of gun crime?

Yes and no. Yes, I was caught up in an armed robbery but it wasn’t just me; there were several of us, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Three people stormed the place bearing shotguns and the fourth blagger stuck a pistol in my back. It happened a long time ago and the only harm I came to was psychological.   

How did you decide on your characters?

From the very beginning of the project I thought about the importance of the outsider – someone who sees things differently, perhaps more clearly in some respects, yet who may still be deceived. I like the motif of an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances so I wanted a protagonist whose main feature was his ordinariness. It was only in the writing Craig Wild that I learned more about his flaws and that helped steer some of the story. Hint: he’s not a ‘forgive and forget’ sort of bloke. Marnie Olsen is younger, ambitious and more of an introvert. She is educated and self-sufficient, and looking for a chance to shine. Their boss, DI Marsh, is partly inspired by a manager I worked under in Glasgow – someone insightful who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, although she doesn’t always get it right.

What’s next for DS Wild and PC Olsen?

I’ve started work on a follow-up novel that will hopefully share more of the spotlight with Marnie. It begins with a body in a car at a public event, where several people had reason to want him dead.

Would you consider a crossover with Thomas Bladen and Craig Wild as they’ve both spent time in London?

London is a big place! The last Thomas Bladen novel, Flashpoint, was set in 2005, while Long Shadows is set more recently. Setting aside the different genres and time frames, I’d consider a walk-on part for Craig in a Bladen novel.

Where can we buy Long Shadows?

UK -

US -

Or the Amazon page for the country where you reside.

My other books can be found here:

One last thing, you’ve previously said that your Thomas Bladen novels are pulp spy novels – what did you mean by that, and do you view Long Shadows the same way? 

Ah, that old chestnut. My take on my pulp novels (I can’t speak for any other author’s books) is that they are written and read for pleasure. A reviewer suggested one of my books made a good holiday read and that pleased me. I’ve said elsewhere that my love for film noir influenced the Bladens – especially some of the dialogue – and while I have included the odd cryptic reference the books aren’t a test! Long Shadows is a self-contained story but unlike the Thomas Bladen novels there is no overarching subplot. That aside, yes, I see Long Shadows as a pulp read. 

It’s the Journey not the Destination - Carol Browne

On 3rd May, 2020, the project of a lifetime was completed at last. My epic fantasy trilogy The Elwardain Chronicles was published in its entirety. When I wrote Book I in 1977, I had no idea I was committing myself to many years of hard work, stress, and disappointment, and a good thing too or I might never have made the attempt. Whether or not it is worthwhile as a work of fiction is not for me to say. There were countless times when I agonised over giving up or carrying on, and there’s no way I can be objective about the end result, but part of me knew I would find no peace of mind if I didn’t persevere. It is only now in retrospect that I can see the real value of what I did.
The trilogy was my teacher! I have perseverance in spades now. I discovered strengths I didn’t know I possessed, whereas before I saw only my weaknesses. I was forced to learn how to use a computer in my fifth decade and to do this largely on my own, not to mention provide myself with the necessary hardware and software on a very small income. It made me very resourceful. I started as a complete technophobe and now have a desktop, a laptop and a smartphone.
In the early days I watched YouTube videos to learn how to use Word, one of those tools of the trade vital to writers. I worked with editors and other authors and they helped me become a better writer. I took a proofreading and copy-editing course and set up my own business. I learned many things about the publishing industry, about submission procedures, book signings, promotion, and marketing, and became active on social media. My horizons expanded tremendously as I encountered people from all over the world and many became my friends. I wrote four more books, two of which are published, and I started blogging.
I learned how to fail and start again, how to bounce back. Publishers came and went.  Years of rejection slips taught me resilience and patience. Authors, publishers and readers showed me just how generous people can be with their time and support. And apart from the realisation that I do have talent and am worthy, I learned that the value of a thing is not measured in terms of financial gain but in the contribution it makes to the world. The enjoyment my readers profess to have found in my books is a reward more desirable than money for all those hours at the keyboard, struggling with self-doubt. It is a great feeling being able to entertain people!
My trilogy made great demands upon me but without it what would I have been? It made me step out of my comfort zone. It brought me out of my shell. It forced me to develop new skills. Odd looking back now how much my characters grew as people as their stories progressed along with my own. How much we grow towards self-knowledge as we travel the path of life is the true measure of our success as human beings. We might not realise our full potential but we owe it to ourselves to try.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and every step after that is an opportunity to learn something new.

Author page -
Author page -

Author bio
Born in Stafford in the UK, Carol was raised in Crewe, Cheshire, which she thinks of as her home town. Interested in reading and writing at an early age, Carol pursued her passions at Nottingham University and was awarded an honours degree in English Language and Literature. However, fated to lose everything and start again several times, it is only in later life that she has realised her dream of becoming a published author. Writing fiction and non-fiction, and now a contracted author with Dilliebooks, she lives deep in the Cambridgeshire countryside with her cockatiel Sparky and uses words to weave tales like tapestries that she hopes will adorn the walls of your imagination. Her watchword is perseverance