FEMALE SPEAKER: Good afternoon,
everyone. Welcome to Authors at Google. Today we are in London. And I am very pleased to
introduce everyone to author Susan Fletcher, who will be
discussing her latest book, “The Silver Dark Sea.” Susan
is the author of the best-selling book, “Eve Green,”
and a winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award. She will be doing a reading,
and then we will be discussing the book. So Susan Fletcher. SUSAN FLETCHER: OK, hi. I’m only going to do
a small reading. I’ve chosen it because it comes
from the start of the book, so it stands alone and
doesn’t need much of an introduction. But also, I feel it gives
a strong flavor of my writing style. Also, it sets up the novel
quite nicely in that it presents the setting,
which is an island. And the narrator is a
woman called Maggie. And although she narrates the
entire novel, she very rarely talks about herself. And this is one of the few
occasions where she does give a little bit of information
as to her life. So yeah, [INAUDIBLE]. “I was born inland. I grew up where the wildest
water was a puddle or a filmy pond in a park. Stories were harder
to come by there. Trees bowed with the rain, and
I found sparks of beauty in a flowerbed or a pigeon’s
trembling iridescent neck. But it was not enough. I hungered for more always. I sensed there was something
more than this nice life that I was living. And then I fell in love when I
thought I never would, and I came to live on an island so
that the lines by my eyes deepened and my hair thickened
with salt, and ghostly white crabs flitted over my
feet and buried themselves in the damp sand. And every sea was different
from the sea that had come before it, pummeling or silent
or brown-colored and flat. And the man I loved would
tell me his stories. In time, others did. They poured whiskey into my
glass and settled beside me. They opened old books
and said, look. I have known people who believed
absolutely that a bird could talk our language,
and that the souls of their drowned friends could be found
in the rattle and foam. They said, I heard her voice
in the water, I did. Or I felt his hand on my
hand on that board. You have my word. I do have their words, I do. I swagger with the weight of
my wordy priceless stash. And when I retell their stories
now, I know that some people mock me or mock the
island, and they shake their heads at the impossibilities. A fishman? Half-fish, half-man? OK, I understand that, for
I was briefly like them. I too had my private doubts. But so much has been
lost and found. So many things have come to pass
that have no explanation. And I half wonder if you cannot
believe in such stories unless you have lived or stayed
in a house by the sea and [INAUDIBLE] washing to a sea breeze, or
been bruised by the rain drumming on your anorak hood
whilst trying to guide a dingy in, in the blackest of nights,
until you’ve waited for a boat that does not come, or until
that boat is found but its screw is not. It is another way of living,
and not all can stand it. There is the word ‘salt
[INAUDIBLE].’ It comes when hope is lost. So no, you cannot trust the sea,
even now, even with our satellites that tell us where we
are, even with our sonars, radars, and computerized charts,
even with our space travel and vaccinations
and our atom bombs and cloned sheep. And even though we can make a
new human life in a Petri dish, we still cannot
breathe underwater. We cannot decode whale song. We cannot find a body when
it goes overboard. We may know that the human heart
has ventricles and can be shocked into beating again,
but we do not have the words for what immense and
extraordinary emotions it can feel, what heights and
depths together. Love is too small a
word, too small. A woman called Abigail Coyle
used to tell me, we only know the foam, the sweep of
her arm over the sea. And I’d walk home understanding
her. We do not know it all. [INAUDIBLE] tell myself when standing
waist deep in water. When I sat on a boat, I’d think
of what was beneath me, the deep, deep, chasms, the
secrets, and the dark.” FEMALE SPEAKER: Thank you. That was lovely. This book has so many
different layers. I really enjoyed reading it. One of the things that struck
me was all of your depiction of nature. I mean, it is a book
about stories. But the first thing that struck
me is you had so many animals and wind and textures
and smells. Were you ever in this
part of the world? Or is this your own imagination
that’s feeding us? SUSAN FLETCHER: It’s, I think,
that inclusion of nature to the point when nature is almost
a character herself is probably a good example
of me as a writer. My other books have been
quite similar to that. It’s nature and landscape that
I feel most inspired by, that I feel I need to be around in
order to get the ideas. I was living up in Scotland
for a long time in the Highlands on the coast. And whilst, technically, this
book isn’t officially set anywhere, I was very keen to
make sure that the island was a fictional island, and the
country that it was off the coast of was a fictional country
and a fictional sea, it had to be based
on something. So when I was living on the
Scottish west coast within view of the Scottish islands,
that probably was my inspiration. I was really lucky. I lived in this little cottage
where there was a garden, and then a gate at the end of the
garden, and then there was the beach and the sea. So it was pretty easy to go
down in the morning and actually pick up muscle shells,
and I would see seals and otters in front
of my house. So something like that, when
you’re as lucky as I was to live somewhere like that it
has to go into the book. It gets infused and soaked up. And I went to lots of the
island as well, and kept diaries when I was out there. FEMALE SPEAKER: So do we read
anything into the idea that the island’s name is
Parla, kind of like a play on talking? SUSAN FLETCHER: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. The main theme of the book is
storytelling, and why we may choose to tell stories, how
storytelling can be a very powerful thing to do. So the fact that the island is
called Parla is exactly that. And various other islands have
names that also are a play on the different ways
that we speak. There’s an island that features
called [? Merm ?], and it’s an island on which
life is cut short. The last few inhabitants were
lifted off and moved away. And [? Merm ?] felt– you’re one step away
from a murmur. It’s like you can
no longer talk. The island’s stories are
virtually gone because the inhabitants have gone. And there’s very few people left
to tell the stories about [INAUDIBLE]. So I wanted the name to reflect
that, to be almost a word that means to talk, but it
got shortened because the stories are gone. So I have been playing
around with names in that respect, yeah. FEMALE SPEAKER: And so when
you’re talking about stories, the pivotal story in this book
is that a man washes up, and how the inhabitants of this
island choose to view him. And one of the constructs in
your book that I thought was fascinating is that you provide
a family tree of your characters in the front
of the book. So you open up the book, there’s
this family tree, but then it’s not until you’ve
actually– or at least for myself– finished the end of the
book, you go back to kind of see what the relationships
were. And then the entire tone of
the book changes when you realize that it’s two sisters,
or a boyfriend and a girlfriend, or a widower,
or older folks. The story that you read
then transmutes. Was that on purpose? Did you do that? Or is that just something
that came out of the art of the writing? SUSAN FLETCHER: No, that’s
something that probably just happened organically. For a long time, there wasn’t
going to be a family tree. But I needed one to
write the book. I had my map of my fictional
island on the wall, with all beaches and coves and who lived
where and where the shop was and where the school was. And then next to it, I had the
family tree so that I knew everybody inside out. And it was only really when the
book was going forward to the publishers that I thought,
there’s 20-odd characters here, and everybody’s
interrelated. It’s one of the important
aspects of the book and the island, is that everybody is
linked in some way, if not by blood, by feelings. It’s a very tight community,
for better or worse. And I thought it’s important
that there’s no doubt in the reader’s mind who’s who. So really, it was practical
reasons that the family tree went in. But I liked the sense that
gave the book, of being perhaps an older book than it
is, almost like a fairly tale, some weighty tome, the old
books, where you would sort of creak the page open and there’d
be family trees, I remember the ones when I was
little that you could sort of pull out bits of papers. They unfolded. And you got a sense, I feel,
when you start a book that has a map in the beginning
or a family tree, you feel a sage is coming. It gives it a gravitas,
perhaps. So I actually was pleased when
we did decide the family tree was necessary. I felt it gave it
extra weight. FEMALE SPEAKER: Would you
ever put the map of the island in the book? SUSAN FLETCHER: I thought
about it. I did think about it. But in the end, it was a
collective decision that probably we wouldn’t, and that
hopefully my language has done enough to bring the
island to life. And I would like to think that
the reader has their own idea of the island and can picture
it themselves. And in that respect, I wouldn’t
want my map to go against what they have conjured
up the island to be, because we’re all different. We all bring ourselves
to a book. So it could be an island the
reader themselves [INAUDIBLE]. So yeah, we’ll see. Could always put it
in later on, but– FEMALE SPEAKER: OK,
the next edition. SUSAN FLETCHER: Next
edition, yeah. FEMALE SPEAKER: Another
aspect of this book is the emotional content. I know we’ve talked about
this earlier. Every time I read this book, I
cry, and to the point where I could only ever read it on the
subway, because that’s a 20-minute ride. And so I could only have 20
minutes worth of emotion in my head at any one time. And then I reread the parts of
the book in preparation for this event, and I still cried. So are you doing that
on purpose? Or is this something that the
reader brings to your book? SUSAN FLETCHER: I don’t set out
to think I really want the reader to cry, because that
would make me mean. But I think it’s a good thing
if I get emotional and if I cry during the writing
of it, and I did. There were parts that I found
really hard to write, and I needed a cup of tea
and a good tissue afterwards, have a good cry. And I think if I had been that
connected to the novel, I’m doing my job. I don’t think it’s possible for
a reader to be moved by a book unless the writer has
really believed in it. When I revert into reader mode
and I’m reading other people’s books, I feel I can tell quite
quickly their heart has been in it, if they care about
the characters. And I just lived with these
people for nearly three years. So yeah, there were parts that
I did get very upset in. So in the nicest possible way,
I’m really glad that you cried, because it makes me
feel that I’ve managed to hand that over. I’ve managed to convey
my feelings. I’ve managed to make these
people real enough for you to be upset by what they
feel and think. And yes, invariably, every
reader brings themselves to a novel, and their experiences. And there could be things in
this book that the reader has experienced themselves
firsthand. So obviously, to them that
would be an incredibly personal experience, whilst
others probably just imagine. But yeah, it is always
good to know if someone has been moved. I feel like I should always
apologize, but also a part of me is very glad when I hear that
someone has cried at what I’ve written. FEMALE SPEAKER: What is
interesting about that and your explanation of it is, when
I read other reviews of this book or of your work,
people hold you to account for that. And then it kind of goes into
that strange discussion about, well, this is women’s fiction. Women writers have an emotional
content that is inaccessible or harder
to access than, say, a man’s writing. What are your thoughts
on that? SUSAN FLETCHER: I don’t really
understand a lot of that viewpoint, really. Women’s fiction, I don’t really
know what it means. There is the argument that women
are more likely to pick up a book written by a woman
and a man is more likely to pick up a book written
by a man. But some of the most emotionally
intelligent books I know are written by men. They can hold their weight
in that respect. Also, there are awful lots of
female writers who can write thrillers, and something
that’s fast-paced and sexy and violent. The cross-over is huge. And I think pigeon-holing
is a mistake. And it confuses me. I certainly wouldn’t want
to think that I only write for women. When I think of who I write
for, it’s gender-neutral. I’d like to think that I can
be enjoyed by both men and women in my writing. So it’s not a label that
I care for much. And you hear it a lot, so
it’s quite frustrating. I wouldn’t want to have my book
just passed by on the shelf because I happen to be a
female writer who’s written about relationships, and I don’t
think that would not appeal to men. Kind of tricky. FEMALE SPEAKER: It is tricky. You were almost selected
for an Oprah Book Club. And sometimes her book listings
have an emotional content that you wouldn’t
necessarily find in, like, the “New York Times” bestseller
list. What was that like, being almost
selected for Oprah? I know it sounds like
a strange question. But did they approach you? SUSAN FLETCHER: No. All I know is that there was a
review in “O Magazine,” and that that’s what we’d
been hoping for. We’d been hoping [INAUDIBLE],
as I’m sure any writers published in the States
sort of hope to that. And the book that was
considered, “Eve Green, my first book, that had been on the
Richard & Judy Book Club at that time, which was/is
sort of the British equivalent. The advantage of things like
that is it just opens you up to a far wider audience. And that, really, I think is all
a writer can ask for, that you get read and possibly
talked about. I mean, I can cope with
bad reviews and people not liking the book. That’s what happens
[INAUDIBLE]. It’s the nature of this beast. But the worst thing is if
something just never got read or talked about and
gathered dust. So really any outlet through
which your book can be pushed so that other people read it
who might not normally have done, that can only
be a blessing. So that’s why I was particularly
grateful for the Richard & Judy episode. And if Oprah had read it, that
would have been amazing. But no, I was just happy to
simply have been reviewed in the magazine. FEMALE SPEAKER: And so the
“Sunday Times” associated your prose with that of
Sylvia Plath’s. How was that day when
you read that? SUSAN FLETCHER: That was
kind of amazing. And I had to sort of think, it
is just the writing, isn’t it? It’s not my life they’re
comparing it to. I’m all right. No, that was great. I mean, somebody you grow up
reading and studying at school, to think that there’s
even one person out there who finds that your work
echoes hers, you sort of pinch yourself. It feels like it’s a huge honor,
slightly frightening. But ultimately it’s one of these
things you put in a box and come back to when you’re
having a bad writing day, when you think you can’t do it
anymore or you’ve made a mistake and you should
do something else. You think, actually, somebody
once compared me to Sylvia Plath. So to one person, at
least, I should probably continue writing. I have little thought box like
that, where I keep the good things, keep me going through
the dark days. FEMALE SPEAKER: Do you have
a process when you write? Do you, like, only write in the
morning, or only write– SUSAN FLETCHER: I’m best
in the morning. FEMALE SPEAKER: Morning? SUSAN FLETCHER: Yeah,
early-early. So sort of 7 o’clock onwards
is my best time. And then I hit the afternoon
slump, like I think most people do. You get to about 3
o’clock and, nn. And that’s when I try to go out
and do something physical, or be with people, because one
of the huge downsides of this job, there’s nobody else
in it but you. So you can have hours, days,
just you and a laptop. And I choose, personally, not to
really talk about what I’m doing with other people. I find it’s such a personal
thing, writing a book, and it’s so delicate. Really up until the time it
comes out, it still feels like one hard [INAUDIBLE] kick
and it would fall apart. It’s only in the later stages
that I have any confidence that it would survive a grilling
or a bad comment or anything like that. I feel so protective. You know, I want everyone,
keep away. It’s a little baby. No, so I’m really secretive
about what I do, the downside of that being that nobody
gets involved. So it’s a world of one
for a long time. And my easiest writing days, on
the days I’m writing best, is when I do have an
outlet to be with people, a social outlet. I’ve done lots of other work
on the side of writing, so I’ve worked in pubs
and coffee shops. And that’s actually the best for
me, the best routine I can have, because it gives your
writing brain a compete rest. And you’re surrounded
by people. You’re stimulated. You can chat. You have colleagues. You’re meeting people in
the job that you do. So that is, for me,
a perfect balance. FEMALE SPEAKER: It is
interesting that you say that, because one of the fascinating
things about “The Silver Dark Sea” is your spot-on
with how these different characters talk. You have young men, you have
children, you have older people, and they’re not
the same voice. I mean, you really do have an
old man’s voice when you’re writing about the old man, and
you have the child’s voice when you’re writing about
the young girl on there. When you’re working in a pub or
whatever, do you actually, I’m gonna listen to him, I’m
gonna pick up on him? I mean, you might not
necessarily grab the story, but you might pick up
the presence, you might pick up the sense. SUSAN FLETCHER: I’m glad you
said that, because I actually feel that dialogue is one
of my weak spots. The past three books, there’s
been not much dialogue in my other books because I don’t
feel that I can handle it very well. But this book, I knew
there would have to be a lot of dialogue. A lot of very important
information comes out through conversations. So really, for the first time,
it was something that I had to really address. And I do think working in
bars and being in public places a lot helps. You don’t necessarily eavesdrop
deliberately, but things do go in. The child’s voice was easy. I’ve always been able
to do that. I think probably I still,
in my head, still talk like a child. So I just put that out. Writing as a man would
be very hard. You have to get inside
a male brain. How many women can do that? So this, again, was the first
taster I’ve had at trying to imagine how a man would respond
to certain situations. And I hope I’ve managed
to do that. I think, as with everything,
you just need to expose yourself to as many experiences
as possible. And you soak up, knowingly or
otherwise, the information. So being in a male-heavy
pub probably helps. Hearing men talk all the
time probably helped. FEMALE SPEAKER: It’s
interesting. Not to give too much away
about the book. So the man who washes up has
lost all sense of who he is or where he’s from, or
even where he is. And until he gets his voice
back, the other characters interact with him, and
he’s a cipher. I found that thrilling, to have
a male character in a book who doesn’t talk. I mean, so the idea that you’re
talking about, speaking in a male voice, to have a male
character pivotal to the plot who doesn’t speak
was refreshing. SUSAN FLETCHER: Thank you. FEMALE SPEAKER: But then all
the characters kind of imprinted on him what their
experience with the men in their lives had been. So the widower, the people who
had lost sons or brothers saw in him what they had lost. So the idea that he was a
stand-in for their loss or what they felt was missing
from their lives was very interesting. But then when he does recover,
he understands this. He understands what
they have done. But I do find it interesting,
there’s one character in there, when the man who has
washed up starts to become communicative. An older man tells him– what does he tell him? What is it he says? SUSAN FLETCHER: Don’t say–
well, he advises– basically, I should probably
just do a little summary, but the book starts with a man being
washed up, as Kate was just saying, on the beach. And he has no memory. And the beach he washes up on
is known in the island’s folklore as being the place
where, many years ago, the fishman was seen. And the fishman was a merman, effectively, half-man, half-fish. He lived up the waters, and he
would come ashore and grow legs and live amongst
the people at a time when he was needed. And he would restore hope. And then after a full moon’s
turn, he would return to the sea and be gone forever. So this man comes ashore
with no memory. The island is grieving. They’ve lost one of their
own several years ago. And no one’s really recovered
from this loss. He drowned at sea and his
body was not found. So he is a catalyst. His arrival shocks everyone into
having to face up to what they’ve lost. And it’s a question of who
do they want him to be. Do people want him to be perhaps
some guy who fell off a boat and knocked his head and
got washed up by chance? Or do they want him to be a
character out of folklore who was come to make their
lives better? So it’s about projecting,
perhaps, your hopes and what you want from the world. But no, the scene, I know
exactly the scene you’re alluding to. There’s one of the islanders,
an old man, a blind man. He senses that this fishman
knows far more than he’s letting on. And the old man just says, don’t
tell anybody anything. Let people make up their
own minds about you. Keep the truth to yourself. That’s the scene [INAUDIBLE]. And that comes, I think, about
1/3 into the book. So by that point, you think,
right, we know that there is a story here. And invariably, stories
can’t stay untold, really, in a novel. So the climax of the book is
finding out if he is a fishman or not and who he is. FEMALE SPEAKER: Do you read,
or have you read, a lot of fairy tales in your life? Did you read them as a child
and then return to them? Or is this just a structure
that you just always tell? SUSAN FLETCHER: No, I’ve always
been interested in fairy tales and how they
spun the world. Every culture has fairy tales
or its equivalent. And I think an island
community– or from my experience, an island
community holds their fairy tales and myth closer
than perhaps we do on a mainland, because it’s a more
precarious way of life. You’re more willing to be
slightly superstitious if you live in a very hostile
environment, because you have more to lose. So why not perhaps be
superstitious and have odd little rituals, if you believe
it may go some way to keeping you safe? So I knew that in my fiction,
island folklore and fairy tales and strange beliefs would
have more weight and be more credible, in a way. I just find them really
fascinating, and how often they’ll repeat themselves
in different ways in different cultures. There’ll be echoes. And I did quite a few readings
of fairy tales for this book. I wanted it to feel like
I fairy tale in itself. The way my structure is, there
is a chapter, and then a little made-up– on my part– fairy tale from the island, and
then a chapter, and then a fairy tale. And I wanted to suggest, too,
by doing this, that we may think the idea of a half-man,
half-fish coming ashore and growing legs is just impossible
and extraordinary and obviously never going to
happen, but then similarly I think the modern technology we
have these days is amazing. You could argue that how people
survive immense loss or immense heartbreak and they
carry on and continue to be nice people might be just
as extraordinary. But yet in fact, we have
language and imagination, and that our bodies work as
they do is amazing. And so towards the end of the
book, I just wanted to fuse together what exists and is
real and what we might consider mundane and what is
extraordinary and almost magical, and actually blur the
two so that everyday life can be seen perhaps with kinder
eyes, and we give ourselves more credit than we
did previously, if that makes sense. FEMALE SPEAKER: It
does make sense. I was struck when I read the
book that the end of the fairy tale of this story is not
the end of the book. And so did you reach a point
when you were writing this where you go, do I end it here
or do I make it more– I hesitate to say
modern or real. But the full moon comes
and then everyone’s expecting an event. And so the characters have to
decide what event they’re going to provide to the means
of the community. Tell me about that process. SUSAN FLETCHER: I knew
from the word “go” who this man was. And I knew eventually what his
story would be and why he came to the island. What I didn’t know was what his
legacy would necessarily be to the islanders that he ends
up leaving behind, who reacts in what way. And I wanted the island to be a
better place for his arrival and departure, but it was
difficult to know where to end the book. And it was tempting to not have
everybody in a better place for it, the majority,
but not all. But it’s difficult. I don’t want to give
too much away. I’m skirting around
the ending. I feel that I have come to
the conclusion that’s right for the book. For a while, it wasn’t going
to be a happy ending. But then I thought,
it has to be. I’m talking about fairy tales. I’m talking about beauty
of life, really. And I think if I was the reader
and this was somebody else’s book that I picked off
the shelf, I would want my happy ending. I would want things to be OK. And that’s not giving it away,
because hopefully, up until the last page, the reader won’t
be able to really guess at what the happy
ending will be. But I feel that’s
the ending the characters deserved, actually. They deserved to have it
work out for them. They’ve been through a lot. I wanted it to be all right
for them in the end. But endings are always quite
difficult, because as the book progresses, you start to think
maybe it’s not going to be as you originally planned. But in this instance,
it mostly was. FEMALE SPEAKER: Many writers
talk about, when they finish the book or they finish the
story, especially if they’re just originally imagining it,
there’s a process of mourning, because you’re in this
community, although it’s just in your head. When you finished this book,
what happened to you? SUSAN FLETCHER: I slept a lot. The strangest part for me was
the final month of writing it, because my deadline was the end
of September of last year. And it got to about
mid-August. And I remember thinking, I have
got to really work hard to make this deadline. And I wanted to. I felt ready to hand it over. So I worked. I sort of cut out my social
life and went to ground somewhat and just had six weeks
of intense work, where I’d really only have perhaps
five, six hours of sleep and then an hour off. I mean, it was really– and towards the end of
September, I just thought they were real. I remember getting in the car
and going out to buy a pint of milk and thinking I was on the
island, and thinking I was going to the island shop. Someone needs to get out more. I went to the pub when
it was over. I handed it in and went to
the pub to have a drink. And I thought I saw one
of my characters there in the car park. Oh, my god. Have a break. So it was an incredibly
intense experience. And then afterwards, when I
handed the book in, there is relief, because you do feel
like you’ve lived with 22 people for three years. You want time away from them. But there is a mourning. You do miss them. I still miss characters that
I wrote in other books. FEMALE SPEAKER: Like who? SUSAN FLETCHER: It’s called
“Witch Light” here, but in the States it’s called “The Highland
Witch.” The main character in that,
I missed her. I really liked her. I liked writing about her. And my ending for that book saw
her in the landscape which I was living in. And I had a very definite idea
of where I was leaving her, out on the moor. And the road to go to the train
station kind of went past where, in my mind,
I’d left her. So every time I drove to the
train station, I’d think what’s where she is, even though
she’s completely made up mentally. But they don’t feel fictional. Strange job. FEMALE SPEAKER: So “Witch Light”
is about 17th-century Scotland and the role of women
in the community as well as the waves of social change that
comes through with the religion or governments or how
things are constructed. What was the genesis
of that book? Because it seems like your
fiction is rooted in a geographic place, even though it
might not be a real place, but you’re writing about
the coast of Scotland. Were you living in Scotland when
you wrote “Witch Light”? SUSAN FLETCHER: Yeah. I’d always wanted to
see the Highlands. Went up the Highlands, and
it was [INAUDIBLE] simply visiting that I heard
about this story of the Glencoe Massacre– Glencoe being this fantastic
glen on the west coast of Scotland. And in 1692, government troops
massacred a lot of the population there. And I knew that much of the
story, but what I didn’t know was– again, it’s to do with
folklore, actually. They say there was a woman
living in the glen at the time who was a witch, and she
predicted the massacre was going to happen. And she ran down into the glen
that night to warn the McDonalds, who were
living there. And whether they heeded her
warning or not, the reality is that there were probably a
couple of hundred McDonalds living in the glen at the time,
but under 40 actually died that night. So a lot fled. A lot did escape and get away. So I put two and two together
and thought, yeah, they did heed her warning, and
she was real. And so I wanted to explore her
and the idea of witchcraft. And marginalized women, people
on the edge of society really interest me, people who are a
bit kooky and different, and area treated accordingly. So yeah, I enjoyed writing
about her. FEMALE SPEAKER: When I read
“Witch Light”, I found it hard to breathe, because the one
character is incarcerated in a terrible, dank prison. And her only contact with humans
for a very long time is that– it’s like
an inquisitor. I mean, they didn’t have
inquisitors in the UK, but he has a religious background. And he comes up and he’s very
anti-woman in a way that seems to fit with the times. But then he grows to appreciate
her intelligence and her capacity for survival. This capacity for survival is
also a thread throughout “The Silver Dark Sea.” People are
surviving beyond what they thought they could, whether it’s
loss or living on this harsh island. Is that a theme that fascinates
you, the idea of surviving life? You’re living it, but you’re
also living through it. SUSAN FLETCHER: Yeah, digging
deep and finding reserves and having to carry on. I think I am really interested
in that. It’s only now that I’ve written
a fourth book that I can see, in all four books I’ve
written, that’s a theme that appears in all of them,
about people who experience real difficulty at the very
least, up to tragedy and heartbreak. And what choice, really, do you
have except to carry on, to find an inner reserve and to
continue to try and see the good in the world and make a
difference to it and carry on? I do find that a really
interesting topic, and hopefully quite a uplifting
one for a novel, this idea that you can go through darkness
and emerge the other side, possibly even a
[INAUDIBLE] person than you were before the darkness
happened. I mean, it would be interesting
to write a book from the point of view of
someone who doesn’t survive a darkness in that way. But it might not be particularly
happy reading. It might not sell that well. But yes, it is a theme that
interests me, particularly as to a woman’s fortitude and
carrying on regardless. FEMALE SPEAKER: So “The Silver
Dark Sea,” there are 22 people on the island. A lot of these are women. And it’s interesting,
they all have their own type of darkness. Sometimes you read a book and
it’s one event, and it’s terrible and it’s
dark throughout. The women on Parla have
different shades. There’s several flavors
of unrequited love. There’s several flavors of
being at the end of one’s life, wishing that someone had
either joined you or was still with you at the end
of your life. Tell me about creating
that world. Was that something that
just came out? Or is that a point that you
wanted to make, that the darkness is not the same
color for everyone? SUSAN FLETCHER: Yeah, it was
quite a difficult job I had, because I wanted everybody on
the island– even though it was quite a few people– to all to be as real as each
other, and to not favor one person over another. And everybody’s different. Everybody has experienced lots
on this island, mainly because they were all related to or
friends with or loved the man, Tom, who died four years before
by drowning at sea and not being found. So everybody has lost a son,
or a brother, or a brother-in-law, or a husband,
or a child. He was so many things
to different people. And consequently, the different
relationships have left different feelings
of loss. But then I wanted more than
just the loss of him. So there are people who miss
their youth, or feel they’ve wasted it, or people who wonder
if they should ever have got married, or people who
think, I wish I had done, and people who have lost– the
old man’s lost his sight. So he mourns the fact
he can no longer see his wife’s face anymore. So everybody has
lost something, from varying degrees. But yes, the idea of there being
different shades of loss is lovely, because it
felt like that. There’s some people who, when I
think of them as characters, I feel they’ve got this
real black sense of loss, and very heavy. And they were the difficult
people to write about, There’s a more superficial layer that’s
not necessarily a lighter loss to carry, but one
that I can recognize more readily, because I felt I was
more able to describe it. It was less of a challenge to
describe that kind of loss. It was trying to get the whole
spectrum, the whole range, from effectively the death of a
husband or a child, right up to just losing my [INAUDIBLE]
or something. [INAUDIBLE] the whole
gamut [INAUDIBLE]. FEMALE SPEAKER: The book
circles around a lot. So you hear the same story
throughout the book from different perspectives. And I had the perception as I
was reading it of circular movement, almost like
a whirlwind, or a– SUSAN FLETCHER: Tidal. FEMALE SPEAKER: Tidal pool. It went round and round. Was that a construct that
you sought to achieve? Or is that just something that
came out as you told the story from the different
points of view of everyone on the island? Did you say, here’s a story, and
I’m going to provide all different facets of the story? Or it just kind of showed up? SUSAN FLETCHER: A little
bit of both, I think. If you have one big event that
a lot of people took part in or witnessed, then they’re all
going to see this from a different point of view. And I wanted, again, this idea
of being fair to the community, and everybody having
their viewpoint and their chance. I wanted to present all the
different ways this event happened, and therefore, for
the reader, making it feel like a real 3D event. They can see every corner or
facet of it, because everybody is throwing in their
two pence worth. But after a while, it took on a
nature of its own, and this idea of this whirlpool image
that you described. That, I think, was more
organic [INAUDIBLE]. I think, yeah, that
came [INAUDIBLE]. FEMALE SPEAKER: So I know you
don’t like to talk about what you’re working on. So what are you working on? SUSAN FLETCHER: I feel like
I’m a chicken sitting on different eggs, seeing
which one will hatch. I’ve got several ideas that I’m
just starting to feel my way around. And it’s not just about the
ideas I have, but when the time is right for one more
than the other, really. And it’s difficult. You’ve got to work out how long
you think each book’s gonna take you, and one’s
life trajectory. And I think the bottom line
is, the next book I write would just be the one that I
feel most passionate about. I could over-think it
for a long time. Which one would see the
market the best? Or which one do other people
want me to write? Which one is most similar
to the books that are selling well? That kind of thing. But actually, I think you
write what you love. You write what you feel ready
for and you have the appetite for, because it goes back to one
of the opening questions. That will translate through
to the reader. I don’t think, really, that
books get written with that. I mean, invariable they do. But you have to really
want to write it. You have to put yourself
into the novel and give it a heartbeat. Otherwise it just won’t come
through to the reader that there’s a heartbeat at all. And there’s nothing worse
for me as a reader to have a cold book. So I just see what my instinct
tells me, and that’s probably what I’ll write. FEMALE SPEAKER: Do you ever
walk away from an idea? Do you say, I’m gonna do
this, here we go, and– SUSAN FLETCHER: Yeah. I have done really recently,
actually, which is really hard. It’s about six months
worth of work. And it’s not been binned. I will go back to it. But it has been put on
the back burner. I looked at it and I thought,
I feel I’ve lost my way. I feel like I’m searching
around almost in a panicky way now. And no good is ever gonna
come from that. So I’m putting it to one side,
looking at my other ideas, And it could be that just thinking
about other ideas takes my mind from that, so that when I
come back to it, I’ll have clear eyes again and I can
see where I went wrong. But it’s hard. It’s hard putting that amount
of time into a project, only to think it’s not
the right one. You feel you’ve wasted
those six months. The reality is, you haven’t. Now, I will be able
to strip that for parts, if nothing else. And hopefully I’ll be a better
write for having walked away from something. But there was a couple of days
where I felt quite sorry for myself on that one. FEMALE SPEAKER: Do you do
other types of writing? Like, sometimes writers will
clear the palette with an essay, or they keep a journal,
or writing just long, long letters to friends. What– SUSAN FLETCHER: I love
writing letters. I’m still a big believer in
the actual letter, not an email or a text, but the nice
writing paper with a nice pen. I write poetry that no one will
ever see, but it’s good for me [INAUDIBLE] my palette cleanser. I don’t tend to write essays. I keep journals. Particularly if I’m traveling,
I’ll always keep a travel diary. I do that almost more
than I take photos. I’m a big believer in
travel journals. So that’s my outlet. It could well be that the time
will come for essays or reviewing or journalistic work,
but I haven’t got to that stage yet. FEMALE SPEAKER: Do you return
to your travel journals? Like, what’s your oldest
travel journal? SUSAN FLETCHER: The one that
springs to mind is when I was 20, and I went backpacking to
Australia and New Zealand. And you look back, and all the
things I was worried about at age 20– you know, for
heaven’s sake, girl. But that’s probably
the oldest. I have some diaries from school
days, [INAUDIBLE] and things. At 15, 16, I kept diaries. When I went to sixth form
and discovered boys, I was keeping diaries. Just kind of laughable now,
but I didn’t write them thinking one day they might be
useful for novel-writing. I just kept then because it made
sense to me to do that. But you look back and, yeah, I
could one day strip that for parts and change names, and deny
all knowledge of it ever coming from me. FEMALE SPEAKER: So [INAUDIBLE]
journals are useful then? SUSAN FLETCHER: They could be. Certainly the travel
ones are, yeah. FEMALE SPEAKER: And when you
do a travel journal, do you sit down at the end of the day
and it’s, dear Diary, today I went here, here, and here? Or is it what you’ve seen? Or just how do you transcribe
a journey into a journal? SUSAN FLETCHER: Some of them are
just bullet points so that I remember when I’m 95 exactly
what I did in that place. But there are ones, too, where
I will just pour out homesickness or just
what takes me. I try not to think about
it too much. It’s just what happens. The one that I kept when I was
20 is hilarious, because I’m just writing about the sandwich
I ate and the number of the bus I took. And then it’s a bit– right, I have to now write
like a proper writer. So I start being more
descriptive about my pages. And then I go back to how I
need a new pair of shoes. And actually, the interesting
part is the everyday frippery, not this attempt at being poetic
about what the blue mountains look like. It was the interesting bit– here’s about waiting at a bus
station, or riding the ferry across Sydney Harbor. That’s more interesting. The small observation of things
I think are the most important bits to get down. And that’s what I would do if
I was traveling tomorrow. I would just, the tiny
observations that I would make, I think bring a
place to life again. FEMALE SPEAKER: Do you have
any plans to travel soon? SUSAN FLETCHER: Yeah. I think this year, I need to. I’ve got itchy feet. It’s been four years
since I went far. So [INAUDIBLE]. FEMALE SPEAKER: If you
could go anywhere, where would you go? SUSAN FLETCHER: Actually,
I would love to see more of the States. I would love to go
up into Canada. I would love to go up to Alaska,
so all that lovely ground, love to do that. India. My mother’s come back
from India recently. I’d love to see India. And I’ve traveled quite
extensively in Africa. And it’s not easy to
do, but I loved it. I felt I grew a lot as a person
there, so I’d like to go back there. FEMALE SPEAKER: All right. Well, thank you so much for
your time and coming. Thank you so much
for this book. SUSAN FLETCHER: Thank
you for asking me. FEMALE SPEAKER: This is
all we have time for. Thank you, everyone.

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