Thank you for taking the time to visit us here at Urban Girl Reader. We’re looking forward to chatting about your newest release, The Shadowy Horses. Please tell us a bit about it.
Susanna: I’m happy to be here. The Shadowy Horses is one of my earlier books, and I’m so pleased that Sourcebooks is bringing it back for those readers who missed it the first time around. The story is set on an archaeological dig in the Scottish borders, where an eccentric old man who has spent his life searching for the final resting place of the “lost” Ninth Legion is certain he’s found it at last, not because of any scientific evidence, but because a local Scottish boy with second sight has seen a Roman soldier walking in the fields. Writing the book let me bring in my own love of archaeology, museum work, Scotland’s east coast, and the history of Roman Britain. And ghosts.
UGR: If someone hasn’t read any of your work, what book would you recommend that they start with and why?
Susanna: The books aren’t written in any order, and they all stand alone, so there’s really no “right” one to start with—it all depends on personal choice. Having said that, the books that I get the most reader mail about, and the ones that my readers seem to connect with most strongly, are this one (The Shadowy Horses), Mariana, and The Winter Sea, if that helps.
UGR: Was it always your dream to become a published author?
Susanna: Oh, definitely. I always wrote stories, as far back as I can remember, and when I read Little Women and discovered the character of Jo I realized for the first time that people could actually be writers, and could make a living at it. So that was the dream I had. It took me a while to get there, but I was lucky to have a sister and parents who gave me support—my sister by nudging me along and being my one-woman cheering section, and my parents by giving me that all-important “room of one’s own” while I worked on my first books, including The Shadowy Horses. My road would have been a lot harder, without them to help and believe in me.
UGR: Could you tell us a couple of favorite books that inspired you to write?
Susanna: Everything by Mary Stewart—I can’t choose just one of her books, though I’m particularly fond of This Rough Magic and Touch Not the Cat. And the brilliant historical novels of Jan Cox Speas, two of which—Bride of the MacHugh and My Lord Monleigh—most likely gave me my own love of Scotland. Like most writers, I drew inspiration from the books I loved to read, and when I couldn’t find any more stories like those on the shelves, I decided to make up my own.
UGR: When you take some time off from writing, are you a reader? If so, what genres do you read? Do you have any favorite authors? If not, what do you prefer to do in those precious moments?
Susanna: I’m a reader even while I’m writing. It takes me about a year and half to write each book, and I could never give up reading for that long, although I do try not to read books that are too close to the story that I’m working on, or ones by writers with a strong distinctive voice that I might end up mimicking unconsciously. While I’m working on a novel, I read category romances (the shorter ones, with titles that don’t do their stories justice), crime and mystery novels, short stories, and any other books that strike my fancy. At the moment, I’m reading Westward the Tide by Louis L’Amour, and Paris: An Electronic Tour of the Old City, edited by Robert W. Berger.
UGR: Give us a sneak peek into the writing life of Susanna Kearsley and tell us about one strange writing ritual you have.
Susanna: My writing life is not all that exciting, I’m afraid. I have two children, both at school, who both come home for lunch, so that breaks up my writing time and gives me two 2-hour sessions, one each in the morning and the afternoon. So that’s my day: I take the kids to school, come home and write, go out and pick them up and feed them lunch, then take them back to school and write again, until it’s time to pick them up again. Once everyone’s in bed at night and everything is quiet, if I’m lucky I can find another few hours on my own to write a little more, but usually I’m getting tired by then so I’m a little less productive. A great week for me is one in which I actually finish a chapter. As for strange writing rituals…hmm…I’m not sure how strange it is, but I like to surround myself with pictures and objects from the places I’m writing about. I’m a bit of a pack-rat, so my office is filled with odd things like bits of gravel from the path of the rose garden of the manor house I used as the setting for Mariana, and a fragment of barbed wire from the spy camp I used for Every Secret Thing (a reader actually gave me that—the camp itself is long gone, so it thrilled me to receive that bit of wire), and a limpet shell from the Welsh coast where I set Named of the Dragon, things like that. I like to have these things around me while I’m working on a book. Would that be strange enough?
UGR: Could you tell us about any work-in-progress, current projects, what we can expect from you in the future?
Susanna: Well, one of the most important characters in The Shadowy Horses, the eight-year-old psychic boy, Robbie, will be making a re-appearance as the grown-up hero of my next book, coming out in June 2013. It’s called The Firebird, and Robbie (or Rob, as he calls himself now) gets to put his abilities to good use while trying to sort out the truth of a little-known Jacobite intrigue that happened in early 18th-century Russia. The book is a companion book, or sort-of-sequel, to my book The Winter Sea, and follows the lives of the same historical characters, but it stands on its own as a story and the books don’t have to be read in any order. I loved writing The Firebird, and spending time again with Robbie, which is one reason why I’m so thrilled that The Shadowy Horses is back on the shelves. And I’ve just started work on a new book, involving another old Jacobite intrigue—in France, this time—which, if I’m lucky, will be out in 2014.
UGR: Hardcover, paperback or ebooks?
Susanna: Hardcover for keepers, but I’ll read in any format (including audio).
UGR: Bookmark or dog ear page turner?
UGR: Early bird or night owl?
Susanna: Both (sleep is overrated).
UGR: Coffee or tea?
Susanna: Coffee. Unless I’m sick. Then tea.
UGR: Chocolate or vanilla?
Susanna: Vanilla. But French Vanilla.
UGR: Plotter or pantser?
Susanna: Pantser. I’m hopeless at plotting. I just let the characters lead me, instead.
UGR: Thank you for joining us today! We look forward to your visiting with us in the future and reading your upcoming works.
Susanna: Thanks for having me! It’s been a pleasure.
A Little Bit About Susanna
Hailed as “the Daphne du Maurier of her generation”, Susanna Kearsley is the author of several novels of suspense, including the internationally bestselling MARIANA, winner of Britain’s Catherine Cookson Fiction Prize. A former museum curator, she brings her own passion for research and travel to bear in her books, weaving history with modern-day intrigue in a way that, in the words of one reviewer, “tells the story of the past and illuminates the present.”
How Best to Stalk Susanna:
The Shadowy Horses
September 1, 2012 (first published May 5th, 1997)
Mass Market Paperback, 432 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Verity Grey abandons her comfortable job at the British Museum to seek adventure on an archaeological dig in the wilds of Scotland. But when she arrives on site, she discovers that the excavation is being led by a discredited and eccentric old man who has forsaken scientific evidence. Instead, the entire team is following the word of a local boy who claims that he saw a ghostly Roman soldier in the fields.
As she becomes entangled in a subtle web of treachery and danger, Verity begins to believe that there is a Roman sentinel haunting the site. And he’s there to do more than guard the bodies of his fallen comrades…