We’re so excited to have historical novelist, Suzy Henderson, here on the POTL Blog today. Her debut novel, The Beauty Shop, sounds fantastic and we’re deciding which of us gets to read it first. Suzy agreed to sit down for an interview and we’re proud to introduce her. Take it away, Suzy:
- Are you a plotter or a pantster?
In the beginning, I was a pantster, but I soon realised it was impossible to work that way and to expect to be able to draft a complete historical novel. The research for my debut was huge and took a considerable amount of time – I’m talking many months. So, I began writing this as a pantster which, looking back now was ridiculous. When I ran out of steam, I was left frustrated. I knew what I wanted to say, but I didn’t know how to say it. That was when I relented and began to plan. The structure worked very well, eradicated the writer’s block while bringing in a flood of fresh ideas. It helped me complete the novel and revise it – several times in truth. I’ve since written a contemporary romance and decided once more to be a panster, only to stop and plan half-way through. So, a plotter I am.
- What is your least favorite part of the publishing /writing process?
Marketing my book is my least favourite part. I think that once I have the paperback format, I’ll enjoy arranging book signings and talking to the public about the book. That’s something I know I’ll love, but it’s the ‘behind-the-scenes’ work I dislike. Well, the problem is that it takes away your writing time which is so precious. Writing the next book is vital, and so I think it’s essential to strike the right balance.
- What are you working on now? What is your next project?
Well, I’m staying with the WW2 period for the time being, and I have a novel which is almost complete. I can’t say too much about it yet, but there is an SOE theme with a slight difference, and it’s mainly set in France.
- What is your writing process?
I’m not sure I have much of a process as such. I get up and write, or I don’t write – it all depends on the day and the work revolving around marketing the recent book. I love writing early morning and late in the evening when the house is quiet and calm, and my writing flows so much easier. I do try to write every day, even if it’s simply to jot down random thoughts – it doesn’t have to be about making a certain word count each day, not to me. I write verses too, anything goes.
- Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you?
Hilary Mantel gave me the courage to be a writer. Not only do I love her writing style and her books, but her beautiful memoir, Giving up The Ghost, is a frank account of her early life and her journey into writing. In it, she talks about how she always knew she could write well, but she had never written fiction, and so she had to learn. Well, that was my turning point. I suddenly thought if she can do it then so can I. Also, Pat Barker inspired me with her Regeneration Trilogy, novels that were so relevant to my writing.
- If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Without any hesitation, I’d love to be able to go back in time – and you can guess where I’d go. That would be the ultimate journey, although I may just be tempted to remain lost in the past.
- Where is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been before?
France, especially the Pyrenees. It’s beautiful and intriguing, and I’d love to see the museum for the Maquis and the various memorials. The area is steeped in history and is remarkable.
- What’s on your bucket list (things to do before you die)?
At the top of that list is my ride in a B-17 Flying Fortress. For that, I need to make a trip to America as it’s not possible here in the UK. I can’t wait, and I just know I’ll be in tears – happy and sad. Next, I’d love to fly in a Lancaster Bomber – again, the only place I can do this is in Canada. I recently decided I’d also love to take some flying lessons. I’ve always been too nervous in the past, but I think I’m growing bolder as I grow older! That would be so great.
- What secret talents do you have?
Music has always been a passion ever since I was a child and I play the flute.
- Do you drink? Smoke? What’s your vice?
I don’t smoke and, rather bizarrely, I’m sensitive to alcohol, so I no longer drink. My vice is snacks – sugar ultimately and that’s pretty bad when you’re a writer, and you sit for long periods. So, I’ve banished most of the bad treats, and I drink a lot of water. So far so good and no cravings after six weeks.
Title: The Beauty Shop
Author: Suzy Henderson
Genre: Historical Fiction
England, 1942. After three years of WWII, Britain is showing the scars. But in this darkest of days, three lives intertwine, changing their destinies and those of many more.
Dr Archibald McIndoe, a New Zealand plastic surgeon with unorthodox methods, is on a mission to treat and rehabilitate badly burned airmen – their bodies and souls. With the camaraderie and support of the Guinea Pig Club, his boys battle to overcome disfigurement, pain, and prejudice to learn to live again.
John ‘Mac’ Mackenzie of the US Air Force is aware of the odds. He has one chance in five of surviving the war. Flying bombing missions through hell and back, he’s fighting more than the Luftwaffe. Fear and doubt stalk him on the ground and in the air, and he’s torn between his duty and his conscience.
Shy, decent and sensible Stella Charlton’s future seems certain until war breaks out. As a new recruit to the WAAF, she meets an American pilot on New Year’s Eve. After just one dance, she falls head over heels for the handsome airman. But when he survives a crash, she realises her own battle has only just begun.
Based on a true story, “The Beauty Shop” is a moving tale of love, compassion, and determination against a backdrop of wartime tragedy.
Ward III, Queen Victoria Hospital,
East Grinstead, November 1942
The boy lay swathed in bandages that masked third-degree burns to the face, neck, chest, arms, and legs; the aftermath of a skirmish with the Luftwaffe. It was a miracle he’d been able to bail out of his flaming Spitfire and pull the cord on his parachute, with hands of molten wax, skin that hung in shards like ripped silk, and fingers melded together by the heat of the furnace. Archibald McIndoe inhaled as he hovered in the doorway of the side room and wrinkled his nose against the cloying stench of charred flesh that assaulted his nostrils. It was a nauseating odour he was used to and usually ignored, but tonight was different. Tonight it was especially malodorous and reached into the back of his throat, and he cupped his nose with his hand as he tried not to gag.
He sauntered out into the ward. Music flowed from the gramophone further down, and the upbeat, familiar Glenn Miller sound swung out, a delightful blend of saxophones, trumpets, and strings. ‘American Patrol.’ The volume was unusually low; he sensed that was purposefully done out of respect and his heart contracted. A haze of stale cigarette smoke and the sweet aroma of beer blended in the air to mask any clinical odours or otherwise. With the blackout curtains drawn, the bedside lighting cast a subdued glow around the ward. He stopped in front of the coke stove and held his hands in the wave of heat that streamed from the door. They were still numb from the frosty evening air, even though he had been back inside for a while.
He glanced around. The place looked more like a barracks than a hospital. One airman lay stretched out on top of his bed, reading a newspaper, a smouldering cigarette resting between the first two fingers of his right hand. He glanced up.
‘Evening, Maestro.’ The voice was flat.
Archie nodded a greeting. Three others sat huddled around the table in the middle of the ward, playing cards. Suddenly, an airman in RAF blues sprang up from his chair and grabbed the blonde VAD nurse with the ruby lips and twirled her around, dancing to the tune, which promptly changed to a slower number. Then he drew her close as they waltzed to notes that quivered in the air. He glanced at Archie and grinned. ‘Hello, Maestro. Fancy a beer?’
‘No thanks, Dickie, not tonight.’
His upturned mouth sagged into a straight line, and he nodded, his hand slipping from the nurse’s waist as he moved away – thirty seconds of frivolity anaesthetised by the gathering dark clouds. As Archie ambled back towards the side room, the boys gazed at him with sombre faces, their eyes glazed. Amidst the clink of beer glasses, the chain-smoking, and the banter, they all knew.
Back in the side room, another sound filtered in, a desperate, chilling rasp, and the hairs at the nape of Archie’s neck prickled. He sighed. He had told the boy exactly what he said to all of them when they first arrived. ‘Don’t worry. We’ll fix you up.’ His stomach sank. He’d tried his best, truly he had.
He strode over to the bed. David’s breathing had changed since this morning. He was in the period of transition; the final phase. Archie swallowed. Dear God, why had it come to this? David lay quite still, rattling breaths cutting through the hush, a thatch of golden blond hair just visible above his bandages. Did he have a girl and did she ever thread her fingers through his hair? It was a random thought, plucked from nowhere, silly really, but then this whole event was bizarre and surreal. It shouldn’t be happening – just like this bloody war. The words of his cousin Harold Gillies sprung into his mind: This war will bring injuries never seen before. Archie nodded. ‘Right again, as usual,’ he muttered.
Why couldn’t he have saved him? Yes, the boy had severe injuries, albeit injuries he could have survived. However, the infection that had taken a serious hold several days ago had changed the course of David’s life, bending its flow in another direction. Sepsis had spread, his organs were failing, and there was nothing to be done. Nothing at all, except sit here and wait. The boy sucked in breaths through an open mouth. Archie glanced around and spotted the kidney dish on the bedside table with a mouth swab and water. He gently dabbed David’s dry lips and tongue. At least he could do that.
Suzy Henderson was born in the North of England, but a career in healthcare would eventually take her to rural Somerset. Years later, she decided to embark upon a degree in English Literature with The Open University.
That was the beginning of a new life journey, rekindling her love of writing and passion for history. With an obsession for military and aviation history, she began to write.
It was an old black and white photograph of her grandmother that caught Suzy’s imagination many years ago. Her grandmother died in 1980 as did her tales of war as she never spoke of those times. When she decided to research her grandmother’s war service in the WAAF, things spiralled from there. Stories came to light, little-known stories and tragedies and it is such discoveries that inform her writing.
Having relocated to the wilds of North Cumbria, she has the Pennines in sight and finally feels at home. Suzy is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Romantic Novelists Association. “The Beauty Shop” is her debut novel and will be released 28th November 2016.
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