Susan, first of all many congratulations on your novel White Feathers, which has been acquired by O’Brien Press Brandon Imprint for publication in autumn 2014. We are excited for you and can’t wait to read it! Can you tell us first of all what gave you the idea for the novel, and made you wish to write a story set during WWI?
Thank you! I had been toying with the idea of the white feathers of cowardice a while, trying to write a short story where past collided with present and failing. Then I had this idea: what about telling the story straight, from the point of view of a girl from the period. being pushed towards giving a white feather, and the horribly personalised symbol of institutional violence that carried, and it went from there. I think I’m very interested in female power versus male power and how the former can be very intimate and targeted, whereas the latter is more generally malign. And how in World War One the two got mixed up together.
Above: Susan during her Residency stay
What’s your favourite part of the whole writing process?
I think there are moments where everything coheres in a dramatic point and when you’re writing that, even if it’s for the fourth time, you still have that little lurch of waiting for the other character to open the door and start to speak. Or when the characters take the initiative and lose patience with you! Though you have to put manners on them sometimes.
What would you say have been the biggest challenges in putting the novel together?
Scope. You can start with a very wide-angle view and realise after a while that you just have too much. And when you try and bring down matters to a resolution, you can so many balls in the air that you succumb to a juggling failure, not doing the important elements in the story justice.
This was the novel you were working on during your Residency at Palazzo Rinaldi in 2011. Can you tell us a little bit about that particular stage in the development of the novel, and in what ways you feel a Residency stay benefited this?
I was working on the second draft, which was still very experimental, but helped clarify a lot about the background of my protagonist, Eva. I remember being very, very hot, the heat nearly wore me out. But it was so remote, and beautiful. The scenery that is; Eva’s background is not quite as lovely, unfortunately for her!
Quite a few of our Artists-in-Residence are writers, often looking for their first break. What advice do you have for someone who may be working on their first manuscript right now and dreaming of signing that publishing deal?
Find a story you care enough about and characters you get obsessed with. That makes it easier to keep going. Until obsession kicks in, discipline is the way to go. But I finished White Feathers because I couldn’t not finish it. I had to see this story through.
Finally, when can we expect the novel to be out…and are you already working on your next one?
Publication day is 25 August! I do have a nearly-finished first draft of another one about a dangerous relationship in a dangerous place on the eve of World War II, but I’m still in the grip of the characters of this one…so we’ll see what happens.
Susan Lanigan is a writer based in Dublin, Ireland. She is represented by Svetlana Pironko at the Author Rights Agency.