Books Interviews

Distancing Ourselves from Our Fiction

I suppose that could be a metaphor for my whole life…

Ooh, that made me pause for thought!

(The reason for this title will become apparent at the end of this post.)

I’m delighted to welcome back to the blog my friend, colleague and brilliant author. It’s Sue Barnard! Sue’s next book, Finding Nina, will be published in just a week and I decided to ask her a few questions about the writing process.

Finding Nina is ‘part-prequel, part-sequel to the bestselling Nice Girls Don’t.’ Did you write Nice Girls Don’t knowing there would be a prequel/sequel or did the idea for Finding Nina come later?

Nice Girls Don’t was originally written as a stand-alone story, with no plans for a prequel or sequel.  Only after it was published did I realise that a loose end had been unintentionally left dangling.  Thankfully it didn’t affect the outcome of Nice Girls Don’t, but it did leave open the possibility of a spin-off. Finding Nina is in many ways a backstory for one of the characters who barely steps out of the shadows in Nice Girls Don’t.  I enjoyed exploring that particular character in more depth and letting her have her own say.

Was it hard to fit the new novel around the existing story? Did you wish you’d written anything differently in Nice Girls Don’t?

Finding Nina by Sue BarnardI had to make sure that the events of the two books coincided.  The action of Nice Girls Don’t takes place over just a few months (from April to July 1982), but Finding Nina covers a much longer timespan – from 1943 to 2004.  I had to write out a timeline of events covering the entire period, and work from that.

I also set myself the task of making sure that Finding Nina would still make sense to anyone who hadn’t read Nice Girls Don’t.  I hope I’ve succeeded.  The two stories do complement each other, but both can be read in isolation.

How much of the plot did you know before you began writing?

Very little, apart from my original one-sentence premise.  Building an entire story around that proved to be quite a challenge!

Did you write the novel from beginning to end, or did you write scenes and fit them together afterwards?

A bit of both. I tried to work from beginning to end, but some scenes were written out of sequence as they occurred to me, and were slotted in later.

How much of the first draft is in the final version?

In terms of the plot, most of it is still there – although the actual text went through several revisions along the way (including rearranging the order of some scenes following feedback from beta-readers). But one particular scene from an earlier draft didn’t make the final cut, because I realised that it didn’t add anything to the story.

Did you write any of it in longhand or was it all typed on the computer?

It was all typed on the laptop, apart from odd notes jotted down by hand (or on my phone) if ideas occurred to me when I was away from the computer.  It was interesting trying to make sense of them afterwards.

I suppose that could be a metaphor for my whole life…

Ooh, that made me pause for thought!

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Sue. Here’s some more information:

Finding Nina

1943: A broken-hearted teenager gives birth in secret. Her soldier sweetheart has disappeared, and she reluctantly gives up her daughter for adoption.

1960: A girl discovers a dark family secret, but it is swiftly brushed back under the carpet. Conventions must be adhered to.

1982: A young woman learns of the existence of a secret cousin. She yearns to find her long-lost relative, but is held back by legal constraints.  Life goes on.

2004: Everything changes…

More About Sue

Sue BarnardSue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet who was born in North Wales some time during the last millennium.  She speaks French like a Belgian, German like a schoolgirl, and Italian and Portuguese like an Englishwoman abroad.  She now lives in Cheshire, UK, with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.

Her mind is so warped that she has appeared on BBC TV’s Only Connect quiz show, and she has also compiled questions for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as “professionally weird.” The label has stuck.

Sue’s own family background is far stranger than any work of fiction. She would write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.

Finding Nina, which is her sixth novel, is not that book.

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Also by Sue Barnard

The Ghostly Father  Nice Girls Don’t  The Unkindest Cut of All  Never on Saturday  Heathcliff

Sue Barnard - Romance with a Twist

Finding Nina … is not that book.” That’s the sentence that spawned the title of this post. Why do authors need to keep asserting that our fiction isn’t autobiographical? Why do interviewers always expect it to be? Why do I need to say, about my new novel, Cultivating a Fuji, that Martin isn’t me?

Food for a different post, perhaps.

By Miriam Drori

Author, editor, attempter of this thing called life. Social anxiety warrior. Cultivating a Fuji, edition 3, a poignant, humorous and uplifting tale, published with Ocelot Press, January 2023.

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