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Long Barn Books Interview

Posted on 02 June 2006. © Copyright 2004-2018 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to editor Jessica Ruston and author Susan Hill, who together run new publisher Long Barn Books

Tell us all about Long Barn

It all began with Virginia Woolf ! I have admired her since I was 14 not only as a writer but as a very practical woman and a hands-on publisher, who not only founded the Hogarth Press, with Leonard, but did everything, even the printing with a machine they bought and installed in their dining room ! She not only chose the books to publish, she received and fulfilled orders, packed parcels – brown paper and string in those days – the lot. I had always wanted to have a go and in 1997 I thought – put up or shut up. I was looking out of my bedroom window at our long barn and then a piece of serendipity came about; as often, I dipped into Virginia`s diaries and the book opened at the page that said ‘Just back from staying with Vita at Long Barn.’ It was meant to be !

How do you find writers?

Books have come my way by being offered to me, or I have an idea and commission a book. I started with non-fiction and that is the way it has been until this year when I have published one first novel and later am doing some children`s books. Agents don`t send me things much because we are a very egalitarian firm and everyone, no matter who they are, gets the same advance of £1,000 and the same royalty contract – agents, of course, like to push for huge advances which I can`t and won`t pay, so They don`t make much out of Long Barn.

What excites you about a piece of writing-

SUSAN: Style, confidence, an air of the writer knowing what they are doing, something exciting and unusual in the opening paragraphs – quite simply, a story that makes me want to go on reading.

JESSICA: As Susan says, that tug that catches your interest and perks you up, makes you want to find out what happens next. Writing that’s evocative, that takes you somewhere new.



and what makes your heart sink?

SUSAN: The word I in the first line, the first person narrative present – ‘I walk across the room and I feel like death. I am sick in the basin.’ That sort of thing. Me-books. The novel as therapy. Detailed and graphic descriptions of sex and drug taking and masturbation in paragraph one.

JESSICA: Too many exclamation marks. Therapy novels. People who haven’t spell-checked or tidied up properly – if you haven’t done basic editing it says to me that you haven’t worked hard enough on it in other ways. ‘Issue’ novels, or novels where there is no real story or interesting characters, just a relentless ‘message’.


Who are your favourite writers and why?

SUSAN: Too many but Dickens, Graham Greene, Virginia Woolf, Joseph Roth, Penelope Fitzgerald, Hardy, Carson McCullers. John McGahern. Style and substance, wonderful evocations of place and investigations into the human heart. Prose to die for. And stories, stories, stories..

JESSICA: Anything by Patrick McGrath – Asylum is one of my all time favourite novels. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski – it’s one of the strangest, most complex, most exciting and multi-layered things I’ve ever seen. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Douglas Kennedy, Jay McInerney, Nancy Mitford, Dominic Dunne.


Submissions policy?

I am only publishing one FIRST novel a year. Details of entry are on the website. http://www.longbarnbooks.com.
Otherwise, a proposal, sent in initially by e-mail to editorial@longbarnbooks.com
No science fiction, fantasy, teen fiction. Non fiction – no books requiring large amounts of colour illustration.
And I only publish a few books – no more than half a dozen a year.

What advice would you give to a new writer starting out?

Are you SURE you know what you`re doing ? and write by all means, for your own interest and pleasure but don`t assume you will ever be published – after all, many thousands of people paint for pleasure and certainly don`t expect to sell or even exhibit their work. And if you are published, don`t expect fame and fortune.
Read read read and read again. Read the great writers of past and present, not to copy but to learn from – and be humbled and encouraged by.
Try not to write a me-book. If you are using your writing as therapy fine but never assume your therapy is of any interest to anyone apart from yourself and possibly your therapist.
I would never say never give up because frankly, a lot of people should, honourably, decide they should do just that. If you are born to be a writer you won`t give up anyway.

How did you start writing? Can you give us a potted history of your work/influences?

SUSAN: When I was four. I started my first novel when I was 15 and it was published when I was in my first year at university. I have never done anything else, never had a job, never been employed by anyone – or sacked by anyone, come to that. My best work was done between the aged of 25 and 32. I doubt if I will ever write again as I did then.

When I married and had my family, I marked time doing children`s books, journalism, some autobiographical books – until I could get back to fiction, when I wrote The Woman in Black, to see if I could still do it. I have been a reviewer of books for 45 years, and generally been involved in most areas of book writing, judging, publishing, commenting ..all my life.

I started writing crime fiction two years ago because I wanted to look at the world I live in now, and this is a good genre in which to do so – and for fun. I like having fun as a writer.
But it doesn`t mean I will now only write crime fiction.



A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.







Comments by other Members



Nick Le Mesurier at 12:38 on 02 June 2006  Report this post
Tough love, all good advice, and oh so true!

EmmaD at 14:19 on 02 June 2006  Report this post
Interesting interview - thank you. I'd agree that great prose written by others is an important, indirect inspiration.

If you are using your writing as therapy fine but never assume your therapy is of any interest to anyone apart from yourself and possibly your therapist.
I would never say never give up because frankly, a lot of people should, honourably, decide they should do just that. If you are born to be a writer you won`t give up anyway.


Both of these are so true. There ought to be other, honourable outlets for writing that has a value to the writer. At the moment the only options are commercial publication, or being judged by oneself or others to be a 'failure'.

Emma

Y-not at 12:02 on 05 June 2006  Report this post
Success in life is down to luck plus ability plus determination, but not necessarily in equal proportion. For instance, there are many examples of people who have become successful mainly through luck, although they usually need determination as well, but not necessarily ability. So I think that determination is the starting point therefore - persistence, desire, and all the other synonyms. Then you just have to hope for some luck. As for ability, talent, whatever you call it, that is completely beyond our control, and also, many people have it but don't have the luck to have it recognised. So I come back to the main thing being determination. If you write 100 stories, one of them might be good!

old friend at 05:36 on 06 June 2006  Report this post
Helpful, sensible and encouraging comments from two experienced ladies who also appear to be very nice people. Thanks.

Len





Zigeroon at 14:39 on 07 June 2006  Report this post

Thought provoking. Perspiration with a dollop of luck and heaps of dedication.

I do think however that all those who draw and paint have a desire, secret or otherwise, for their work to be seen, and paid for. It's just that the advances for writers get such widespread publicity and so seeking publication seems to become a naked desire for the wordsmith at whatever level. It's not the be all end all, but it would be so nice!

Thanks for the insight.


Andrew

Beanie Baby at 07:44 on 23 June 2006  Report this post
I enjoyed this interview and reading it prompted me to contact Long Barn Books about my new children's book. They have asked to see it so fingers crossed. All the best for the future.
Beanie

RJH at 13:46 on 08 September 2007  Report this post
I picked up, almost at random - which is almost always the best way to do it - a copy of 'I'm the King of the Castle' in a secondhand bookshop last week & read it on a long bus trip from Oxford to Leeds (which included a lengthy spell stranded on a wooden bench at Milton Keynes Coachway). It saved me from what otherwise would have been a very boring trip. A tense, scary, creepy and pyschologically insightful story. Loved the 'Dorset Gothic' element of the setting too. I therefore read this interview with great interest.




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