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© 2007  Emma Cole

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September, 2009

David from British Columbia asks: How much of your ending do you usually know before you begin?

Usually I know the basics of the ending (or at least I think I do), but it doesn't come to me in any detail till I'm two-thirds through the book, at least. And then I almost always get it in a single chunk of writing (usually I have to take this down in longhand, as I'm on a train or in the bath, or somewhere inconvenient) and I'll put that in the Plotting section of my notebook, and when I get through my book and write the ending properly that longhand note is pretty much the finished copy. I don't know why it happens this way, but that's usually the way it does. Sometimes I'll write something quite by accident towards the middle of a book that seems to be the perfect thing to echo at the end, so maybe that's why I don't always know the ending fully when I start.




June, 2009

Louise asks: Will Allison & Busby be re-issuing all your previous books?

I can’t promise they’ll get round to all the books, but I do know for certain they plan to re-issue two others besides Mariana...

The Shadowy Horses will be out in a new paperback edition in the UK this September, and Season of Storms (which has never yet been published in the UK) is the next in line to be re-issued sometime after that. As soon as I know the publication date I’ll post it here. I’m really pleased to see the books getting another chance. Can’t wait to see the new covers!
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April, 2009

Muriel from Ontario asks: I’ve just finished reading Every Secret Thing and totally enjoyed it. We are reading this for our Book Club and I will be making the presentation of the book.  Could you please help me come up with some intelligent questions that I could ask the members as it seems a bit difficult to find information on the Internet. This is our first mystery so it would be nice to make it super interesting. Again it was a great book and enjoyable beginning to end and as my husband and I have spent a lot of holidays in Portugal it brought back the familiar towns. Thank you.

Muriel, I'm very honoured that your book club has chosen to read and discuss Every Secret Thing, and I'm so glad to know that you enjoyed it. Hmm...questions you could ask the other members of your club. I've given this a bit of thought and managed to come up with a few (though I don't know whether they can truly be classed as "intelligent" :-):

1. The story is told in two interwoven threads - one set in the present-day, another in the past. Did this approach work for you?

2. Could the past story have stood alone without the modern-day frame?

3. Did you find one story more compelling than the other?

4. Did you have a favourite character?

5. The contribution of the BSC ladies to the war effort fascinated me, as did the women themselves. Do you think modern young women would be capable of working under such secretive conditions today? Could you do it?

6. When I was writing Every Secret Thing I had planned on giving Kate and Matt a happy ending, and my first draft of the novel actually ended with them together. It just didn't ring true, somehow. Kate didn't seem quite ready for it yet, so I rewrote the ending leaving their relationship in limbo, unresolved, to be continued in the next book in the series. In your opinion, did I make the right decision?

I hope these few questions will give you a start, at least. And please do feel free to write back with any other questions that come out of your discussion -- I'll be happy to answer them, if I can.

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March, 2009

The review site Singletitles.com asks: Your novels are a wonderful blend of romance, mystery, history, suspense and emotion. What drew you to writing these kinds of books?

The short answer, of course, is that those are the books I love reading. As children, my sister and I were given free access to our parents’ bookshelves, and when we were bored we could choose any book from the shelves that we wanted and squirrel it up to our rooms for a read. So from a fairly early age I was introduced to the books and the writers my mother loved best: Kathleen Winsor’s Forever Amber; Daphne DuMaurier’s Jamaica Inn; Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice; My Lord Monleigh and Bride of the MacHugh by Jan Cox Speas, The Masters of Bow Street by John Creasey, and all of Mary Stewart’s thrillers. All those books helped shape my own sense of story and taught me the value of strong and intelligent heroines. My parents also passed their love of history on to me, a passion I still carry, and the mystery’s there because I have the kind of mind that likes a puzzle, wants a challenge, thrives on a whodunit. As for the emotion, well, that likely works its way into my stories because I’m so sentimental. Around the time of the 50th anniversary of D-Day there was an ad on television that I still can’t even describe to anyone without going all weepy. (The one with the old man who goes into a vintage clothing store to buy a pair of silk stockings so he can keep a promise that he made in wartime). (You see? Here I go…)

Read the full review at Singletitles.com

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February, 2009

Chadwick Ginther of McNally Robinson Bookstore in Winnipeg asks: One common theme in your work seems to be the past intruding upon the present. Rather than writing a straight historical novel, the events of the past are shown to have ramifications to our modern world. Do you do this to keep a point of relation for readers not necessarily versed in the period of your work?

Not really, no. Unlike those stage directors who think Shakespeare has to be performed in modern dress and out of context for a modern audience to “get it”, I’ve always trusted that my readers – even those who may not know the history when they start a book – are smart enough to grasp the parallels themselves. My blending of present and past likely comes from my own fascination with history, and my personal belief that the past does intrude upon the present, that you cannot separate the two, that we are what and who we are because of where we come from. The British psychologist Havelock Ellis once said that “Man’s destiny stands not in the future but in the past.” I’d agree with that, just as I’d argue that what we do now will have lasting effects that we cannot foresee, in the future. So my mysteries are most often rooted in things that have happened before, and my characters have to dig deep and look back for the cause of a present-day conflict before they can find its solution.

To read Chadwick’s entire interview with me, click here.

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January, 2009

A fan from Ontario asks: When you’ve stopped work on one book to write something else, like you’ve done with the sequel to Every Secret Thing, how do you keep the characters and plotlines active in your mind so you can finish the book later?

Actually I’ve stopped work twice now on the sequel to Every Secret Thing to write Susanna Kearsley books – I set the sequel aside to write The Winter Sea, and then went back to it again for almost a year before the urge to write my Cornish novel grew too strong – so I can safely say with some experience the characters and plotlines seem to keep themselves alive all by themselves. I keep a binder for each book I write (or plan to write) and that way even when I’m not actively working on that story I have a place to jot down all my thoughts and ideas for scenes, and of course because of the visual way my mind works I still get “glimpses” of the characters from time to time (like little daydreams that come when I’m washing the dishes or taking a bath) so I know they’re still there waiting for me to get back to them. When the time comes to take up their story again I’ll most likely re-read what I’ve written so far, just to get Kate’s narrative voice firmly in my mind, and then I’ll simply carry on and hope I finish it this time before getting sidetracked by something else!   

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November, 2008

Darlene from Ontario asks: When you write your books, do you have an audience in mind or does the story just pop up?

I must confess I really don’t write with an audience in mind. My stories play like movies in my head and I just write them down, and try hard not to worry what a reader’s going to think of what I’m writing. My mother and a close friend are the only ones who read the books in progress, read the chapters as I write them in first draft, and I suppose that they each represent a segment of my “audience”, but while I always listen to their comments I don’t write the book to please them, not in that way, and I know they wouldn’t want me to. The writer Susan Isaacs says, in one of my old writers’ guides: ‘I never allowed myself to worry: What will my mother think? The minute you write to please someone, not to offend someone, or to take big bucks, or to be taken seriously, you’re gazing outward, not inward, and you’re doomed to lose sight of what is unique and true in you.’ I would agree.   

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October, 2008

Chadwick Ginther of McNally Robinson Bookstore in Winnipeg asks: Even before you wrote Every Secret Thing, many of your historical novels also featured a mystery element. What made you decide to fully enter the genre pond?

I was already writing suspense novels with an historical element and a romantic thread and Something Strange going on in the background (which gives all my publishers headaches when they try to market my books since I never fit tidily into one genre). But when I got the idea for Every Secret Thing, I knew I’d have to take a slightly different approach to it, making it move a bit faster because it is really one big long extended chase, so I went back to the thrillers I’d loved as a teenager, pitting an ordinary woman against hardened spies: Catherine Gaskin’s The File on Devlin, Evelyn Anthony’s The Tamarind Seed, and Anne Armstrong Thompson’s Message from Absalom, books like that, and I looked at the structure they’d used for their stories, and I thought I’d try my own hand at it, see how it worked, since it seemed the best fit for the story I wanted to tell.

To read Chadwick’s entire interview with me, click here.

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September, 2008

In an interview last May at the Whitby Public Library, broadcaster Ted Barris asked me whether we had seen the end of Emma Cole...

Here’s my answer, via YouTube.

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August, 2008

Marijana from Australia writes: To date I have not managed to spot a copy of your Emma Cole book in Australian book stores despite it being available for sale for some time via Amazon.

Hi, Marijana. I asked my wonderful editor, Lara Crisp at Allison & Busby, about this, and she said your best bet would be to contact their Australian/New Zealand distributors, who would be able to tell you which stores have ordered the books and would have them in stock. The distributers are:

Keith Ainsworth Pty Ltd

PO Box 7059

Penrith South NSW 2750

T: +61 (0)24 732 3411

F: +61 (0)24 721 8259

E: sales@keithainsworth.com.au


Both Lara and I hope this helps!

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July, 2008

Recently I was the guest in a forum discussion in “Gail’s Kitchen”,at Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s web site. She asked me: I wonder if you could talk a little about your approach to planning out plot. How much is planned? How much is surprise for you?

Here’s my reply: When I'm starting a new book I start with a binder (which probably has more to do with my being an engineer's daughter than anything else) and I put down the date that I start, and I have a sort of "writing log" that I fill in each day to keep my honest -- it's easy sometimes to let things slip and go a few days without writing, but the log won't lie! It also helps to give me a sense of progress, even if I've only done a paragraph or two that day because the kids were sick, or I was tired or on tour. In the binder I also have a section for characters, but that stays mostly empty except for their names. I've never been good at writing character studies. I tend to meet my characters like strangers at a party, and I learn about them as I go along. They do their own thing, for the most part, and that makes the writing fun. I also have a section I call "Plotting", but again this isn't very structured. It's where I keep all those scenes and stray ideas that I have when I'm on trains or in the bathtub! I'm not sure where they'll fit in, or if they will at all, but at least in the binder they don't get lost. And I have a place to write down things I need to check, and things that change as I am writing that I'll have to fix in second draft. The rest of the binder is where I keep pages of research, and notes.

And that's it.

I just sit down and start, and the characters move, and I see what they do and I hear what they say, like I'm watching a movie. And then I just write it all down. Sometimes I have a sense of where I'd like to move them, or of what scene might come next, but mostly I just try to let them go. For example, in the book I'm writing now, I know the ending that I want, but I have no idea how I'm going to get there. I'll just have to wait and see.

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June, 2008

Leslie from Ontario writes: I am a big fan of your writing, you are my favourite author. I once told my husband, if a fire was to happen in our house, here are my Susanna Kearsley books on my top shelf; make sure to run quickly and grab these books! I find that your books totally draw me into the story where I don't want to put the book down, I want to savour each line and I don't want the story to end. I was wondering if you had a favourite author(s) that you feel the same way about?

Wow. Thanks so much for your letter. I’m humbled. And I’m pleased we had the chance to meet in person when I came to sign in Burlington last month. In answer to your question, yes, there are three authors, actually, who I feel the same way about, all of them old favourites whose books I’ve loved for many years (and all of them, I’m sure by no coincidence, old favourites of my mother’s). The first would, of course, be Mary Stewart. I still only have to read the first sentence of one of her books and I’m lost for the afternoon, happily elsewhere, neglecting the house and the kids and the dog. The second is Nevil Shute, for the same reason. I’ve purposely left a few books of his unread so I’ll have something that I can look forward to! And the third would be Jan Cox Speas, whose books were likely the source of my own love of Scotland. (I’ll be posting a tribute page to her here shortly). When you’re a writer yourself, it’s a little like working backstage at a theatre - you see all the tricks and trapdoors and special effects, and a lot of the magic is lost, so I treasure those writers who still have the power to sweep me away with their stories, and make me believe in the magic again. And I’m really so honoured and happy if my books can do that for you. Thanks for writing.

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May, 2008

Gwenda from Toronto writes: Dear Ms. Cole, I loved the first 98 pages of your book.  Alas, the 5 copies at my local Bookshop were all defective, and published with pages missing, and/or out of sequence. I am wondering if it was a Canadian printing error and if there has been a correction made and re-printing. My local bookshop refunded my money, but I am left still GASPING for the rest of the story!!! Perhaps you can forward this to the publisher for a reply?

First off, I am happy to report that Gwenda now has a COMPLETE copy of the book! I’ve since heard from one other reader who had something similar happen – in her case thirty pages or so later on in the book were repeated in place of the pages that ought to have been there, so the characters made a great and unexpected leap forward in the plot! These problems seem to be random and relatively rare, and are confined to the mass market paperback edition which was printed in summer 2007. If you are unfortunate enough to have received one of these defective copies, my publisher asks that you please take it back to the store where you bought it so they can return it and get you a proper replacement. You can also contact my publisher, Allison & Busby, directly (their contact details can be found on my “Contact Me” page) and let them know. I apologize to Gwenda and to any others of you who have had this happen – hopefully it’s not a problem we will have again!

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March, 2008

Peggy from  Ontario asks: My sister and I would like to know if you ever think of writing a novel based on the Wrens of our forces during the war.  They were referred to as Jennys and our Mother was one.  Some of her stories were fascinating and very interesting.  One of the highlights of her life before she died was attending the Wren reunion out west.  Some of the duties the Wrens performed were amazing but the average person hears very little about their efforts in the war.  Just an idea!

It’s a very good idea, and I’ll definitely keep the Wrens in mind if Kate’s investigations in the future ever lead her back to WWII. So much of what women contributed to the war effort continues to be unreported and unsung, and I’m always fascinated to learn the details for myself and to share them with others. So in the meantime, I’d encourage everyone who doesn’t know the history of the Wrens to make a visit to their web site. Thanks so much for taking time to write.

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February, 2008

Gail Anderson-Dargatz isn’t just a best-selling writer, she also teaches writing at UBC, and last month I was invited to visit an online forum hosted by her MFA students. Among other things, Gail asked me:

I wonder if you could talk more about what makes a thriller a thriller and so on. How are these different genres different or the same?

A thriller is different than, say, a mystery novel, in that it doesn't have to have a murder in it. Doesn't even have to have a crime - the simple suggestion of one is enough, sometimes. It's the element of real or implied danger, coupled with the sense that in the background there's a clock that's always ticking, and your characters must work against that. As for character development, you can delve as deeply as you like, so long as it's believable within the limits of the plot. My character Kate Murray, for example, is on the run for a lot of the time and distrustful of strangers, so it wouldn't be plausible for her to stop and have a leisured chat with someone, nor would she be very introspective at a time when her prime focus is survival. What's interesting in most thrillers is seeing the change in a character when they're placed under high pressure - what comes to the surface when people are pushed to the limit. What's the same about thrillers and other books? Well, they work best, as all books do, when they are well-written, when the characters are driving events and not just being driven by them, and when the settings are developed to the point where you can see them, feel them, smell them if you have to. And it's nice, too, if they have a point, or leave you with an altered view of something that you thought you understood. In Every Secret Thing, Kate leaves the story with a different viewpoint of the elderly, for example. And after all the research I did for the book, all the people I interviewed who'd worked in espionage in the war, I was seeing them differently, too.

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January, 2008

Several readers recently have asked:

What made you choose to write a series?

Well, it wasn’t planned. I’ve always written what the mystery writing world calls “stand-alones” - each book is individual, the stories aren’t connected to each other, and the characters are different every time (although occasionally a character will wander from one book into another, as some sharp-eyed readers have already noticed). When I started writing Every Secret Thing is was supposed to be a stand-alone, as well, and at the ending of the first draft all the loose threads had been neatly gathered up, the hero and the heroine were happily together, and I thought that was the end of it. But when I moved on to the next book, set in Greece, I couldn’t find a name for my main character. I tried name after name, but nothing fit. And gradually it dawned on me that Kate should be the heroine of that book, too. This was the first time this had happened to me - the first time a major character had stayed ‘alive’ for me beyond the ending of a book, most likely because I hadn’t resolved all the issues she needed resolved. I hadn’t planned to write a series; wasn’t sure I wanted to, but then I remembered that Evelyn Anthony had written a short series of thrillers that followed the same people over a limited arc of their lives, and I thought to myself I could maybe do that - give Kate three books, or four, to take care of the things in her life that she hadn’t worked out yet. It meant going back to my first draft of Every Secret Thing and changing the ending to make it less tidy, but once I had made the decision to do that then everything fell into place, and the Greek book was easy to start.   

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December, 2007

Theresa from Ontario asks:

When will the next Kate Murray book be published, and will Matt be in it?

The first part of your question is a bit difficult to answer, since I have to finish writing the book first, and then, assuming that my publisher is happy with it, they will take at least another nine months after that to run it through their whole production schedule - editing the manuscript and setting it in proof and deciding on a cover image so that they can list it in their catalogue and send their sales reps out to persuade bookstores to stock it on their shelves.  Nine months is about the average time for this, though I’ve known it to take longer.  So considering where I am in the book right now, it could be a while before you see the next Kate Murray book on the shelves.  But yes, I can assure you Matt is definitely in it!

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October, 2007

Jennie from Jennie’s B(ook)log asks:

How do you balance the importance of the romance vs. the suspense in your novels? Is it something you consciously manage as you write, or is it more a function of the particular plot and characters in each specific work?

(Note from Me:  Jennie’s blog has long been one of my favourites - not just because she’s done nice reviews of a few of my books (and no, she doesn’t let them pass without a bit of well-aimed criticism!) but because we share a lot of common likes and dislikes when it comes to books and writers, so I invited her to ask me this month’s question.)

Jennie, if you’d asked me when I first got published what my genre was, I would have said ‘romantic suspense’ - meaning that broad genre that included everyone from Winston Graham to Mary Stewart, where the mystery and the love story were intertwined to varying degrees. But as you know, the genres have shifted a bit and the label ‘romantic suspense’ now means something a little, um, steamier, shall we say, than what I write, and I know that my books sometimes disappoint readers who pick them up looking for stories that fit the newer definition of the genre, so when I’m asked now I just say I write ‘suspense’. That said, the love story is an inextricable part of the main story, in all my books (as it is, I’d argue, in most fiction). But you’re right, the balance changes with the book. It’s not a conscious thing I do. As you’ve suggested, it’s determined by the characters themselves. In Named of the Dragon, for example, which I know you’ve just read, the main love story is actually between the heroine and her lost child, and because of the emotional intensity of that, and the short time she has in Wales, she couldn’t realistically do more than start to make a meaningful connection with the hero. The last scene in that book, really, marks the beginning of their romance, and not the end of it. And in Every Secret Thing, the book I wrote as Emma Cole, I have a heroine who’s on the run, who’s just lost someone close to her and has to keep her guard up every minute just to stay alive, so once again she doesn’t have a lot of time to fool around. The main love story in that book happens in the past, and doesn’t involve the heroine herself, although she does meet someone on the run who manages to catch her interest, and who will become a stronger force in later books within that series. At the other end of the scale, you have Mariana, where the love story is the story, and next year’s The Winter Sea, in which the romance between two of the characters rises above the suspense of their story and travels down three hundred years to inspire the romance of my present-day heroine. Everything depends upon the hero and the heroine, and how they interact - what baggage they’re carrying, what constraints their work puts on them, whether they’re outgoing or reserved. And I never know this until the character begins to move on the page and come alive for me. Alex, for example, in Season of Storms, always kept to the background no matter how I tried to bring him forward, as though he knew that Celia should be paying more attention to other things, that she’d get round to him in time, while David in The Shadowy Horses was much more sociable - two very different men who each demanded different levels of attention in the storylines. It isn’t just the men. The women, too, have things to do, things on their minds, goals to achieve. So every story has a different blend of romance and suspense, and I just have to write it down the way it comes, and hope that readers like yourself won’t be put off each time the balance shifts, and that you’ll let me write within the broader boundaries of the genre as it used to be, when ‘Marnie’ and ‘The Moonspinners’ were still considered romance.

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September, 2007

Valerie from Canada asks:

Why did you make Kate Murray a journalist?       

In the beginning, I made Kate a journalist simply because the first idea for my story came from something I had overheard about a man who had arranged to meet a journalist to tell of an injustice he had witnessed in the war, except the man had died before he’d had a chance to tell his story.  So from the start I figured that my heroine would have to be that journalist - I just invented Deacon and the details of the story he was going to try to tell her, and my book was off and running.  It wasn’t till later that I realized how well a journalist filled the lead role in a mystery.  The same traits that make a good journalist make an efficient detective.  Both are observant, inquisitive, able to analyze.  Both work as well on the street as behind a desk, know how to interview people, and deal in the facts.  They can think on their feet, and adapt under pressure, and both share a drive to discover the truth.  And on top of all that, in the course of their work they both run into interesting people and strange situations that could lead them naturally into new mysteries.  I wish I could say I took all of that into account when I chose Kate’s profession - the truth is, I just made a fortunate choice!

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August, 2007

Liz from England asks:

Why do you make references to or include some of the characters in Mariana in some of your books but not all of them?  And why do you choose Mariana in particular?

First of all, you’ve got good eyes - not every reader notices the cameo appearances of characters from other books!  It started innocently enough, with Named of the Dragon, when I needed an author for my literary agent heroine to manage.  And there was Bridget Cooper, who’d been mentioned but not seen in Mariana, as the famous children’s author whose books Julia had illustrated.  Bridget already had a personality of her own (think of Julia’s first encounter with Geoff, when she thinks of what Bridget’s opinion would be of the man), and when I put her at that lunch table with Lyn in the opening chapters of Named of the Dragon, I knew she was right for the book.  A similar process took place in Every Secret Thing, when I needed a vicar for the funeral scene, and it occurred to me I already had the perfect vicar waiting for the job - Julia’s brother Tommy.  And of course, once Tommy got into the story, he required a larger role than I had planned for him...  It isn’t only Mariana, by the way.  Gareth, from Named of the Dragon, has a play opening in the West End at the beginning of Season of Storms, which again seemed a logical thing to be happening, since he wrote plays and that book was about one.  It’s not that I go looking for a way to bring these characters back into other stories, but each time I write a book I add more people to the world that I’ve imagined, and I guess it’s only natural that, as they go about their lives, they’re bound to come in contact with each other now and then.  I never know, when I sit down to write a scene now in a book, who might be sitting at a table near my characters, or coming round the corner...

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July, 2007

Before now your main characters have always been British.  Why is that, and what made you switch to Canadian heroines?      

Actually, the first book I wrote had a Canadian heroine and a Canadian setting, but then I sat down to write Mariana, whose plot demanded that the book be set in England, and it only made sense to me that Julia, the heroine, should be English as well.  Mariana won a British prize for best unpublished novel, and was first published by a British publisher, and from all that I was signed on by a British agent.  So it didn’t seem unusual to me to go on writing English heroines.  My books had European settings (see the Question of the Month for July on my Susanna Kearsley site for an explanation of that) and the voices of my characters seemed suited to the stories they were telling.  But Kate’s voice in Every Secret Thing was something different.  I already knew her grandmother would have to be Canadian, so I decided I’d try writing Kate as a Canadian, too, and she just came to life.  And Carrie, the heroine of my next Kearsley book The Winter Sea, came in speaking with a Canadian accent from the beginning, so that was that.  (When I’m writing I can see and hear my characters as though they’re actors playing in a movie in my mind.  I hear their voices.)  I have been asked if this is the beginning of a trend.  I’ve no idea.  But I do have an idea for a book I’d like to write some day whose heroine could only be a Scot...so we shall see.    

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June, 2007

Why isn’t Every Secret Thing available in the U.S.?

I’ve had several American fans write and ask me this recently, so here’s the short answer:  While a few of my Susanna Kearsley books were published in the States several years ago, my agents and I have had little luck placing my latest books with American editors, who generally find my work too slow and not sexy enough for the market.  The good news is that my British and European editors don’t share that opinion, and my British publishers, Allison & Busby, will be distributing Every Secret Thing into the U.S. this fall, through a company called IPM, so you should be able to order it into your bookstores through them in September.  Sorry for the inconvenience.

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May, 2007

How long does it take you to write a book?       

Well, that depends.  Every book is its own entity, and while I always think I know how long the writing will take, I’m never sure.  Every Secret Thing took me four years to write, though I’m sure that had more to do with the fact that when I started I had one small child and when I finished I had two....  But with this last Susanna Kearsley book, The Winter Sea, I was back to writing at my old speed and had it done in just over a year.  I hope that pace continues!

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April, 2007

What advice do you have for people who want to try writing or want to get a book published?

Believe in your work and believe in yourself.  Don’t listen to voices that say you can’t do it.  Just sit down and start and stick with it, no matter what happens.  And don’t worry about what people might or might not want to read.  Write to please yourself first; write the story that you want to tell, not the story that you think will sell.  In the meantime, learn all that you can learn about the industry, so you can send your book out wisely.  There’s no magic route to publication, but when you’re discouraged just remember what the French writer Flaubert once said:  ‘Talent is nothing but long patience.’  Don’t give up.

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