Hi everyone, and this morning I’m delighted to welcome Suzy Aspley to the blog. Suzy is a crime writer, and resides in Glasgow with her family. As a fellow subbing writer (where you are preparing your very much loved novel for agents), she was kind enough to answer a couple of questions for me.
Over to you, Suzy…
1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there a turning point with any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’
I’ve always loved stories and was a bookworm as a child. I loved Enid Blyton books especially the Faraway Tree and the Wishing Chair ones (was never really a Famous Five fan). I was also a pony mad child, so loved books by Christine Pullien-Thompson. I recall one called Three Ponies and Shannon about a girl who rode around the countryside solving puzzles with an Irish Wolfhound at her side. I imagined I was that character! I think books that made me go Wow came later when I went to university.
2) Did you enjoy English at school?
I loved English at school. I was always writing stories and reading. I remember I even used to write poems on my bedroom wall (my poor parents). My brain has always worked better with words and pictures, rather than numbers. That helped when I went to Northumbria Uni
where I studied modern and contemporary lit and came across books like One Hundred Years of Solitude, House of the Spirits, Beloved and Oranges are not the Only Fruit which changed my reading behaviour again. As well as crime fiction, I love to read books with a magical realist edge too.
3) Do you find that your day job helps you in your writing?
I spent more than 12 years working as a news and features writer on a newspaper, so that definitely helped. I’ve done a few jobs in PR too, although writing press releases is not quite the same. I’ve worked in the NHS for more than 10 years running a communications team and it’s a job I love, but a couple of years ago realised I’d lost touch with the creative part of me that loved writing. I started going to a night class which got me writing short stories again and my partner booked me on a crime writing retreat with some of my favourite authors in the Scottish Highlands. That was a turning point. I spent a brilliant week with Louise Welsh and Stuart MacBride, and Yrsa Sigurdadottir was our guest reader. That was the week I started my first book. An idea given to me during a writing exercise turned on a tap in my head and the book started to flow from that. I remember I was so buzzing with ideas that I had to stop the car on the three hour drive home to write some more of the story. I also made amazing friends that week and we’ve all been back several times together and support each other at events.
4) Are you on the lookout for an agent? If so, how is your submission process going?
Yes, I’m looking for an agent. I’m keen to take the traditional route. 2019 was an amazing year for me. I took part in a national tweet pitch in January and had quite a bit of interest from that. Then with the encouragement of brilliant friends including those authors mentioned, plus Mari Hannah, Alison Belsham and Susi Holliday in particular, I took part in pitching competitions last year. I pitched to Dragon’s Pen at Theakston’s Old Peculier last summer in Harrogate. I’d never done it before and was petrified. But I had such amazing response. The whole panel said they loved the sound of my book and asked to see it when ready. Jacky Collins (aka Dr Noir) gave me some wonderful chances to read at Noir at the Bar events and I then took part in Pitch Perfect at the Bloody Scotland crime fest in September and was stunned when I won it. The week after, my submission to the London Capital Crime Festival, was shortlisted as one of ten DHH Literary Agency New Voices. All of this gave me the momentum to submit, although to date, that has mostly been to agents and publishers who had requested to see my MS. I do need to start sending out to more agents in a more planned way and I’m hoping that this year, I’ll find the right agent.
5) Do you have any plan formed when you come up with ideas? How does your idea generation work?
I get ideas all of the time and in fact it’s become a bit of a joke that I see stories everywhere. Although not a planner, I do have a series of books outlined (mostly in my head) for my MC journalist Martha Strangeways. I’ve already started book two and have ideas for three and four simmering away in my head. I’m often prompted by everyday things. Someone I see on a train, a name that catches my attention, a story I hear about something that’s happened to a friend. My imagination takes over and often quite quickly turns into something dark.
6) Can you name one author that you admire, and why you like their particular style of writing? What is it about their stories that you find so intriguing?
So many authors it’s hard to choose. In fact I can’t! One of the first I read in crime fiction was Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Thoraseries. There’s often an edge of the supernatural in her books, that ends being rooted in something quite ordinary and I love that, as well as the landscape and sense of atmosphere she creates. Mari Hannah’s Kate Daniels books take me back to my North-east roots and I can visualise all of the places she takes her characters to. I love Louise Welsh’s Plague Times trilogy, which seems very present just now and for a complete departure, I adore Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy which is rooted in Russian Fairytales with a very dark edge.
7) What is your approach to planning your novel? Mine consisted of research and note taking (lots of each!)
To be honest, I find it very hard to plan, although I know it would probably make life much easier. Bizarrely, I find that doing tweet pitches is a place to start. If you can boil your idea into the length of a tweet, for me it’s like planting a tiny seed and it just grows from there in my head. I pitched another two ideas in the Xponorth tweet pitch in January again and had loads of interest. I may end up just releasing a book of tiny pitches! The downside is that I need to go back and do quite a lot of reordering and structural work if it’s not been all planned out.
8) What was the last book you read, and did you enjoy it?
I read a lot and recently loved Alison Belsham’s second in her Tattoo Thief series Her Last Breath. A breathless and brilliant read and can’t wait until The Embalmer is out too. A debut novel which I’d recommend is Eve Smith’s The Waiting Rooms published by Orenda. It’s a stunning book about a post antibiotics crisis, which has alarming similarities to how the current pandemic is playing out.
9) When you leave your desk on a Friday, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/on the weekend, what do you do to relax?
I usually ask my youngest son how his day has gone and then take my crazy dogs for a walk in the local woods. The problem is, my main character finds the dead body of a teenage boy with a poem about crows written on his back in those woods, so depending how lonely it is down there it can be anything but relaxing..
10) If you had to choose between Rod Stewart and Freddie Mercury, who would it be and why?
Always Freddie. I was lucky enough to see him perform with Queen at Roker Park stadium in Sunderland in my teenage years and he had such an incredible voice and presence. A legend in every sense of the word.
South Shields born Suzy Aspley started her book after a writing prompt, six human teeth in a matchbox, reminded her of a story she once covered as a reporter. She’s lived in Scotland for more than 25 years and was a journalist on a regional newspapers for more than a decade. After pitching successfully at Dragon’s Pen, she won Bloody Scotland’s Pitch Perfect competition, she was shortlisted as a new writer at the inaugural Capital Crime Festival in 2019. Her debut novel One for Sorrow is currently out for submission.
Thank you for visiting the blog today, Suzy. I wish you all the best with your submission process!