I delighted to introduce you to today’s guest, all the way from the UK! The fact that author Susan Buchanan “made the trip” at all to visit with me here at all is an amazing honor, but that she’s here and also 8+ months pregnant is a total testament to just how cool this lady is! (I remember how “friendly” I felt when I was 8 months pregnant…)
Not only is Susan, or “Sooz” (as those lucky enough to communicate with her often call her) a fantastic writer, she’s also a strong supporter of other authors. She reviews regularly and interviews authors on her blog. She’s also amazing with Twitter, which we’ll get into a bit. You definitely want to follow, like, and subscribe to Sooz. Here’s how:
1. I really enjoyed The Dating Game (here’s my review) and Sign of the Times is on my TBR. Are you stories inspired by events / relationships in your life? If so, how do you change things around. If not, where do your ideas come from?
Sign of the Times is much less of my life than The Dating Game, although The Dating Game doesn’t relate to me much either. Let me explain. Sign of the Times has 12 main characters. Holly, the first, is Sagittarius – I started with Sagittarius, as I am Sagittarius. However, apart from sharing some of my traits, eg: loving travelling and being a bookworm, we don’t have very much in common.
As Sign of the Times is about 12 people whose personalities, careers and attributes are related to their particular star sign, I researched that quite deeply. Some of the places in Sign of the Times, are places I have been and love, eg Glencoe, in the Scottish Highlands, which was actually where I met my other half. Bibbiena in Tuscany where Holly goes to research her book is where I went on a villa holiday with seven friends the summer immediately before starting writing Sign of the Times. It had such an impact on me, I chose that as the setting for my travel writer’s exploits. Lucy goes to Lucerne in Switzerland – I also went there and loved it. So the travel detail is taken from my real life, but the rest is fiction. Occasionally, some of the guy stuff I take from anecdotes my other half has shared with me, but it’s harmless stuff like getting drunk and playing ten pin bowling with beer cans.
The Dating Game came about, as a friend of mine had recently joined a dating agency for professional people in Glasgow. None of her experiences are related in the book, but some of the format, eg how she received profiles, the etiquette of turning down dates, was taken from her experience. The travel aspect in Barcelona I took from my having lived there and also three trips I made in the past 5 years or so, once with my auntie for her 50th and twice with my other half – to visit the wine festival and the Mercè.
2. There’s travel involved in The Dating Game, and also in Sign of the Times, and also of plenty of delicious food descriptions. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you made a career in “fine living” marketing. (Maybe you could make it a side career!) Have you done a lot of traveling? And if you have, do you consciously weave it into your writing, or does it end up there?
I’ve been very lucky in that I actually used the degree I went to university to study. I worked in European and International Sales for 15 years and travelled extensively for those roles, plus I like to chuck in a holiday or two, including one long-haul destination each year (about to change somewhat I feel with having a soon to be new baby!) I also love food – which I think is pretty apparent! Fine living – that sounds like a great job. Believe me, a lot of it wasn’t glamorous – lots of hotels, meetings, airports. Sometimes I would forget where I was, especially in the US, between connections!
Yes, I’ve visited 45 countries in total so far, ranging from Azerbaijan to Brazil, Romania to Sri Lanka. I love finding out about new cultures and people and traditions. Plus I am quite adventurous with food, although I have had a few bad experiences in Korea and once in Spain! I even had crocodile in Kenya in a white sauce once – won’t be making that mistake again! Bleurgh!
In Sign of the Times, Holly being a travel writer, meant she had to go somewhere, and Bibbiena was the perfect place. I like reading about other countries in books, so it was natural for me to include it.
In The Dating Game, initially there was no Barcelona section, at planning stage, but I had such amazing feedback from readers telling me how much they enjoyed the travel element of Sign of the Times and that they felt transported to the places I wrote about, that I couldn’t not. So that was definitely a much more conscious decision. And in my new book, What If, out hopefully in November, it will feature a Scottish island and also Hong Kong – the latter I’ve been to three times – twice for work, once for vacation.
3. Do you have any special writing quirks you can share? Do you need absolute quiet? A special chair? Do you have a pair of writing socks? An essential pen?
Not really, although I do need no-one to be home, so I can get peace. My pet hate is the TV on – can barely read when the TV is on, never mind write! I also like listening to classical music when writing, although it’s not essential. I find it helpful and unobtrusive. It’s a different case if I am doing rewrites though. I need total silence for that. I need my whiteboard and my Excel spreadsheets to keep track of everything, as well as Word docs for each character!
4. You have an amazing Twitter presence. Do you find you sell a lot of books via Twitter? And what are some tips you can share with others to get a stronger Twitter following?
Thanks – it’s hard work, though, let me tell you. The funny thing is I didn’t do any social networking before I released my first book less than a year ago. Now I have over 8500 followers. My other half thinks this is hysterical. I would say that the majority of my sales come from Twitter. Unless you are way up those Amazon rankings, eg Top 100 or so, I don’t think you have enough visibility otherwise. I do schedule my promotional tweets via Hootsuite (I also use Tweetdeck). This will be even more important in the future, when I have a young baby to deal with. But I also love to talk about books, in general and spend a lot of time talking to people about books on Twitter, recommending them, telling them what I have recently read and receiving recommendations from them. Sometimes they notice I am an author and end up chatting to me about my books and then buying them.
There is a 80%/20% average of how much promotional stuff you should tweet. I don’t actually adhere to this much. It depends. And of course, I have my blog, which I also tweet about with book reviews and author interviews on it, so I think some people follow for that reason. I also use Tweepi to follow people I think will have similar tastes in books to mine and I use Manageflitter to unfollow some people who don’t follow back. Otherwise, I would get put on following hold!
5. Can you share with us about your current WIP?
What If, due out hopefully in November, as I said above, is the story of Cameron, a 45 year old bachelor who wakes up one day and realises his life is no longer what he wants. He starts to re-examine the choices he made and wonder how the relationships he was in previously would have panned out, if he had stuck with them. Where would he be now? But it’s not just his relationship choices, it’s his career path, his family connections, lots of different aspects of his life. And there’s a HUGE decision he has made which takes everyone aback, but he is determined. So will he manage to change his life to that extent?
I loved writing, again, from a guy’s point of view. There was quite a bit of this in Sign of the Times, which had 5 main male characters, The Dating Game less so, but still Anton, Charlie and the others ‘spoke’ occasionally. What If is quite different in that Cameron is the only protagonist and is male. I will be running some of his chat past my male friends before the release! But I’m told I’m quite often on the money, especially when it comes to Glasgow banter!
BONUS QUESTION: I’m coming to Glasgow! (Well, not really, but we’re writers so let’s pretend.) We’re getting babysitters and raging all night. Where are we going for girls’ night out?
Hmm, well naturally it would have to start with food, but I suppose we could have a cocktail first! Oh, by the way, I went to great pains to change almost all the names of the real restaurants I’d used in The Dating Game, so as not to be advocating product/restaurant placement, only to realise later, that if you weren’t from Glasgow, you wouldn’t realise they didn’t exist! Oh well!
So, here’s for some real names. Cocktails at Urban Brasserie or the Millennium Hotel (for the record, I am probably not the best person to show you round Glasgow for drinks, as I go out mainly for dinner these days, so there are probably more hip places, but bear with me!) Then dinner, depending on what you like:
Italian – Sartis
Scottish food and seafood – No. 16 or Two Fat Ladies – both tiny but their food packs a punch
Thai food – Thai Fountain – this was actually Fountain of Siam in The Dating Game but there are loads!
Then we would have to go to The Butterfly and the Pig pub to listen to some music and stand 10 deep to the bar, with no chance of getting served. It’s always absolutely mobbed. (This was Chrysalis in The Dating Game)
And then, in true Glasgow style, we’d have a pub crawl, after a fashion, where we drink one drink in each pub, until we fall down – ahem, I mean, we call it a night. We’d possibly end up in the Merchant City at the Italian centre, if the weather was good – ie above 15C.
I don’t think I could face clubbing, but I’m sure we could find somewhere with a dance floor and after that many drinks, I’m sure we would take over the floor (I have a tendency to do that, inadvertently spilling people’s drinks, doing lots of apologising and then having to buy them new drinks, only to realise I have forgotten what they look like when I return with them!)
And if you are still standing after all that, back to mine for a house party!
Thanks for having me today, Francine. A real pleasure, and if you do, ever, get to Glasgow, we’ll definitely visit some of those. Sooz
A delight to have you here, Sooz. Thanks for visiting and sharing. And please keep us posted on the status of your latest “creation.” I know you’re going to be a super mom!
Buy the books!
After a few minutes they turned to each other and Gill said,
‘I’m going to have the Homemade Pâté and then the Chicken Breast with Dingwall Haggis, with Whisky Sauce. I can’t see past that.’
Gill was known for her calorific tastes, so Debbie, a bit of a health freak, said,
‘I think I’ll have the Salmon on Herb and Leek Risotto.’ She continued to read from the menu, ‘and for mains, I think I’ll go for Sea Bass Fillet with Scallops.’
‘Sounds fabulous,’ said Gill. ‘You do realise, Mrs Orr, that there probably isn’t a great difference in calories between your choice and mine tonight?’
‘I’m having fish!’ said Debbie, defending herself.
‘Yes, but with risotto and creamy mash and garlic and herb butter? Tut tut!’
‘Yes, well, I work it all off, anyway. Don’t tease me, or I may have dessert, too,’ and she picked up the menu again and said,
‘In fact, Puff Candy Meringue with Honeycomb Ice Cream and Hot Butterscotch Sauce sounds like it might round off the evening quite nicely,’ Debbie smiled sweetly at her friend.
‘Bitch!’ Gill said sotto voce.
Debbie didn’t get the opportunity to add anything else, as their starters arrived. They tucked in greedily, agreeing by unspoken consensus that their chat would have to wait, whilst they polished off their first course.
The women laid their cutlery vertically across their plates, indicating they were finished.
‘So, am I getting to see these profiles or what?’ asked Debbie impatiently. ‘C’mon, hurry up,’ she tapped her fingers on the table, mimicking a drum roll.
‘All right, all right,’ said Gill, reaching for her bag. After some deliberation, she had decided to show Debbie the profiles in the order she had received them. Originally she’d thought it would be best to start with the worst and end with the best, but later decided it might be useful for them both to view the profiles in the same order. Gill wanted to assess Debbie’s reactions to see how closely they matched her own.
‘Do me a favour,’ Debbie said, ‘Cover up the photo first. I want to get a feel for them, without the photo.’
‘Oh, OK. I hadn’t thought of that,’ said Gill, feeling almost shallow for having greedily devoured their photos first. But then, she had been unable to read the profiles, as she had viewed them on her phone and with her poor eyesight, it simply hadn’t been possible to pick out any words. That was her story anyway.
Gill handed over Charlie’s profile, covering his photo with a coaster. Debbie slid the A4 sheet towards her and began reading the text.
“Forty four. That’s good. Surveyor. Probably drives a nice car and has a decent job – likely to be reliable,’ she glanced at Gill approvingly. Lowering her eyes back to the page, she read on. ‘Tall,’ Debbie waved her hand in the air, giving that attribute a large tick. ‘Divorced, though, and he has a daughter. Not a deal-breaker, but something to bear in mind?’ she glanced up again at Gill, who remained silent, waiting for her friend to conclude her assessment and more interested in what Debbie would say when she saw his photo. ‘Seems compatible with you, interest-wise. I say, unless he’s pig-ugly, he’s a yes.’ With a questioning glint in her eye at Gill, trying to figure out how her friend felt about Charlie, Debbie withdrew the coaster, to reveal Charlie’s photo.
‘Oh, hello! He’s bloody gorgeous. What’s he need to use a dating agency for?’ Debbie said flabbergasted.
‘Ahem,’ said Gill pointedly.
‘Well, yes of course, you’re gorgeous too, but I would kick you out of bed. I wouldn’t kick him out of bed. In fact, I might tie him to the bed, so he couldn’t escape!’ confessed Debbie.
Gill laughed. ‘He’s not that good-looking.’
‘Er, yes, he is,’ said Debbie.
‘Well our tastes really must be different then. Personally I’d only tie him to the bed if he was Bradley Cooper, Matthew McConaughey or Hugh Dancy gorgeous.’
‘Well he looks a bit like Bradley Cooper, without the facial hair. Who’s Hugh Dancy?’
‘The boss and Isla Fisher’s boyfriend in Confessions of a Shopaholic.’
‘Ah. Yes, he is quite tasty.’
‘So, if you had to rate Charlie on looks, what would you give him?’
Debbie debated this for a minute then said, ‘Eight or nine.’
‘OK. I think seven.’
‘Yes, but your marks are always lower than mine. Seven is really high for you.’
‘True,’ Gill admitted. ‘OK, here’s the second candidate,’ and again covering up the photo, she turned the sheet of paper containing Ronald’s details towards Debbie.
‘Forty-nine. Older man, eh?’
She didn’t know the half of it, thought Gill.
‘He lives up in Loch Lomond. He might have a house overlooking the loch. Maybe even his own boat? Nice place to have lunch in the summer.’
Gill couldn’t deny that. In Gill’s opinion, when the weather was good, there was no country on earth more beautiful than Scotland, with its diversity of scenery. The drive up Loch Lomondside was particularly rewarding. Pity that good weather came when least expected, without warning, and lasted all of two minutes.
‘I’m more bothered by the fact that he smokes than by his three kids.’
Gill stopped her, ‘OK, I’ll think about that. Move on.’ She had no intention of meeting Ronald, so didn’t want Debbie to linger too long over his profile. She was more interested in knowing what she thought of Anton. She liked the name. Anton, it rolled off the lips nicely – very exotic sounding, a bit like its owner’s looks.
‘Well,’ said Debbie, summing up her thoughts on Ronald, ‘apart from the square name, why not Ronnie, after all, he seems quite interesting. In fact, are you sure he’s not a bit cultured for you?’
‘What are you trying to say? I’m some sort of philistine?’ Gill said indignantly.
‘No, but you’re hardly going to start spouting forth on art history, are you?’
Clearly not. Gill had been to the Uffizi in Florence once, under duress. She had made the mistake of not booking her ticket in advance and had queued for two hours to get in. After being blown away by the first five enormous, floor to ceiling, religious paintings, she was fed up and could no longer marvel at how amazing they were.
‘I’m not quite so sure about him, but apart from being perhaps a little posh for you, I think he sounds OK,’ finished Debbie. She removed the coaster which was covering the photo.
‘Yikes! Forty-nine. There’s no way he’s forty-nine. He looks about sixty-five. Has he had Botox in reverse?’