I’ve always thought that the best stories are always character-driven: they have a depth to them that plot-driven writing can never match. But for that to work there must be good characters – realistic, vivid and interesting.
Such as Janet Clarke.
Janet has appeared in Sue Russell’s writing before, as a secondary character in her earlier book ‘The Thorn Of Truth’. But here she is the central character, we see life through her eyes, and we quickly realise that this is a strong, capable woman who has overcome enormous difficulties to get where she is – but who still carries the scars from those battles, and who still has her vulnerabilities.
The past never really dies, and as she faces new challenges at work and at home, Janet discovers how powerful the past can be. She also learns that the past wasn’t exactly as she thought it was: forced to re-connect with people she hasn’t spoken to for years, she is confronted with a different view of things, and has to reconsider decisions and attitudes she has lived with all her life.
‘The Wounds of Time’ brings us into her life. And, although Janet is unique and very different from most of us (not many people could match her special sense of style!) there are lessons here for all of us. We all have a past, we all have our own challenges in the present day. What Sue Russell has done in this novel is to invite us to consider how our past might impact on our present. What wounds are we carrying, perhaps unhealed?
The excellent characterisation and smooth flow of words make this an easy story to read and become absorbed in – but it is also deep and sometimes challenging, perhaps leaving the reader with a lot to think about.
Recently I got the opportunity to do a short interview (by email) with the author. It gave me a chance to ask a few of the questions that writers often want to ask other writers if they get the chance!
1) Sue, could you tell me a bit about your background – and in particular, how you came to be a writer?
From the moment I could read, I read voraciously – and I still do. I have an undying appetite for stories. In fact if I am writing my own I put myself on a fiction fast to avoid distraction!
From an early age I wanted to be a writer, and produced derivative plays and ill-researched novels before my teens, resulting in a number of rejections. In my twenties I wrote some children’s stories, all longhand, and a fair bit of poetry. Then it all went a bit blank – not that the ambition had gone, but life got in the way and also as childish naivete began to disappear I became aware that I probably couldn’t make a living by it. The itch never died, however. Fast forward many years, and I was feeling that something very important was lacking in my life. I went away with some friends for a weekend, and I guess they got fed up with my bellyaching, because they challenged me to at least begin the adult novel I had always wanted to write before my 50th birthday. Life was busy – I had two young children by then – but I guess it must have been the right time because I did it with a couple of months to spare. That was Leviathan with a Fish-hook. The first draft was done in 2001, but it took another 8 years for it to see the light of day – years of editing, attending writers’ conferences, submitting, being rejected, rewriting, more editing, learning. And then I realised that it represented only part of the story, so it became a trilogy, with The Monster Behemoth and The Land of Nimrod following in quick succession. By this time I had discovered self-publishing and this was to be my path for the next two books. The sixth book, A Vision of Locusts, was picked up by Instant Apostle, and things started to change.
2) Your last three books ‘The Healing Knife’, ‘The Thorn of Truth’ and now ‘The Wounds of Time’ are all different stories, but they’re linked by location and by characters. Minor characters in one become the major characters in the next. It’s a technique I quite like (I’ve used it myself!) but why did you decide to use it? Do you find any problems developing a major character from a minor one?
I wrote The Healing Knife as a stand-alone. It was based on a very short story I wrote for my writers’ group. I was persuaded to submit it to Lion Fiction, and they liked it. They also asked me to do another one with the same characters, but I felt this would be contrived. As a compromise, with the help of a long-standing writing buddy, we came up with the idea of using the same background, involving already-established characters, but with a different protagonist. The Thorn of Truth was the result and I managed to get a contract for it based on the original request from the publisher for a sequel. The Wounds of Time follows in this pattern. The only problem really is keeping true to what you’ve already said in the previous book!
3) In reading ‘The Wounds of Time’ I was particularly struck by what a brilliant character Janet is! How did you develop her – and (if I may ask!) is she based on anybody you’ve known?
Janet is indeed one of a kind! But no, she’s not based on anyone I know. None of my characters are, although I suppose that they are amalgamations of real people and fictitious ones, plus a dash of sheer imagination. Somehow I felt that behind the little we get to know of Janet in The Thorn of Truth is a story waiting to be told: the trials, struggles and triumphs behind the façade.
4) 'The Wounds of Time' and your previous novel both have a legal background (and I found it interesting to see the legal world from behind the scenes, instead of just having the courtroom dramas). How did you research all this?
As with all research, I did a lot of reading: books, internet articles, and so on. Many were for background interest only and their content proved irrelevant or outdated for the current project. I write about what interests me, so research is never tedious; in fact it can get too all-consuming! I learn so much from research for my novels, and with the last two it’s made me aware of how vital the law is to our way of life. We may take it for granted, but it underpins our liberties.
5) Are you planning your next novel yet? If so, will you be taking another minor character from The Wounds of Time and telling their story?
Next novel? I have absolutely no idea!
Well then, we’ll just have to wait and see!
Finally, as a taster, this is a short extract from the story: a glimpse into Janet’s mind as she faces up to some of her worst fears…
'... that morning I found myself looking around my little office and imagining what it would be like if I had to leave it - and this whole building, and what it meant in my life - and never return. The feeling almost of vertigo, of a great gaping hole opening up before my feet, was enough to remind me that imagining was usually a very bad idea.'