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Susie Kelly Interview

Posted on 21 July 2004. © 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 author Susie Kelly, whose recent books Best Foot Forward, and Two Steps Backward, document the 'misadventures of an Englishwoman' in France. Susie self-published Best Foot Forward before her Transworld deal.

Tell us something about your background.

For thirty years I had been starting novels, writing a few pages, then losing interest. I could never seem to sufficiently motivate myself to continue, although I very badly wanted to write. In 1998 I had the idea that I would backpack across France, alone, from La Rochelle to Lake Geneva, and that I would record and write about the journey. This worked very well for me; I found that writing about personal experiences was more satisfying than trying to write fiction. The book of that journey was published in January 2003 by Bantam Books, and is entitled “Best Foot Forward – the misadventures of an Englishwoman” My second book, published in June 2004, also by Bantam Books, is called “Two Steps Backward – the further misadventures of an Englishwoman in France” and is the story of how, faced with destitution, we moved from England to a derelict farmhouse in France, together with our collection of animals ranging from horses to parrots. It’s about our struggle to make the place habitable; the wildlife around us; the extraordinary escapades of our fellow expatriates; the kindness of our French neighbours and the daily events that made us laugh and cry. I have just returned from a 6,000 mile journey around the perimeter of France to collect material for a third book.

Who are your favourite writers and why?

That’s a hard one, because there are so many writers that I love. Mary Wesley and Joanna Trollope always tell a good story; for travel it has to be Bill Bryson, who makes me laugh out loud. I like reading biographies of “ordinary” people with amazing stories to tell, and am more and more enjoying writers like Amitav Gosh, Hari Kunzru, Kazuo Ishiguro and Takashi Matsuoko, whose “Cloud of Sparrows” is outstandingly the best book I’ve read for a long time.

How did you get your agent/publisher?

After I finished writing Best Foot Forward, I began sending a synopsis and first three chapters to all the publishers I could find. Although there were many initially promising responses, none of them came to anything, and after a year I decided to publish the book myself. Once I had printed copies available, I offered them to all the French-life magazines for review purposes. All the reviews were very favourable, and I was selling quite a few copies myself, so I [v]made a shortlist of five agents, and approached them, sending copies of the reviews and saying that I really believed that my book had commercial potential. The agent who was my first choice, Maggie Noach, responded quickly, agreed to represent me, and within five weeks had secured a contract with Transworld Publishers.

Best thing about writing?

I love every aspect of the writing process, and the only bad thing I can think of is when the computer plays up. That is why I back up, back up and back up again, so that there are floppy disks laying around all over the place, and I also have two computers in the hope that if one fails, the other will not. None of this is foolproof, though, and I still lose things from time to time, because I get so confused with all the floppies, which I never label properly. I believe that there are spirits living in computers that conspire to make life difficult, and that they have an unerring ability to know how to strike at the worst possible moment. There’s the modem spirit, the scanner spirit, the printer spirit (really malevolent), the hard disk spirit (quite evil), the mouse spirit (particularly mischievous).


There are two things: the most exciting was my first sight of the Bantam Books cover for my first book, Best Foot Forward. The most rewarding is receiving letters from readers saying how much they have enjoyed my books. One letter in particular that meant so much to me was from a lady who nurses elderly people. The old lady in her care was in the last few weeks of her life, and having Best Foot Forward read to her gave her enormous pleasure. She would ask “Can we have a little bit of book?” when she wanted her carer to read to her. I was very touched by that.

How do readers respond to your work?

I get lots of letters and e-mails from all over the world from people who have read Best Foot Forward and Two Steps Backward, and they are very encouraging. Many people who have moved to France say how they can relate to the events in Two Steps Backward, having had similar experiences themselves. When readers tell me that my writing has made them laugh, I’m delighted, because life is not always a bowl of cherries, and if you can make someone laugh, then I feel that you’ve put a cherry in their bowl.

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

Account Closed at 16:29 on 21 July 2004  Report this post
I really enjoyed this interview and it is very inspiring. I like the sound of Susie's books and the titles are quite catchy. I'll definitely have to pick them up and follow some of the points talked about in the interview. Very helpful.


Nell at 18:35 on 21 July 2004  Report this post
A good interview, and it's great to hear about an author having enough faith in their work to take the initiative - and being successful too.

TheGodfather at 01:21 on 22 July 2004  Report this post
As always, I'm inspired reading and hearing about other writer's passions and tips on what makes their writing go. Thanks for taking the time to be interviewed, a process that I'm sure was as enjoyable and redeeming for you as it is for us.


miffle at 15:46 on 22 July 2004  Report this post
I do like the idea of putting cherries back in the bowl ;-) A very real colourful and accessible interview. N

anisoara at 08:00 on 23 July 2004  Report this post
Good interview. I really enjoyed Best Foot Forward and found it a compulsive read. You might like to know that I picked up the copy that I read from some invisible (to me) other reader on the Camino de Santiago, where people regularly leave their books behind as they are too heavy to carry. That means the book has been doing the rounds on the Camino, being read and read again.



tinyclanger at 14:17 on 23 July 2004  Report this post
These do sound like they're worth checking out...In fact it's probably a style/genre well worth emulating because there seems to be an endless appetite for these kind of adventures. I'm off to pack my rucksack...

One teensy thing. Do we have to have the bold bits in the middle of answers? I presume it's suggesting these are the important things, but I just find it annoying, and figure I can pick out the significant nuggets myself....?
Sorry if that's ultra-picky, but I don't see the need for it.

Account Closed at 08:52 on 31 July 2004  Report this post
Interesting interview, Susie and congratulations on combining the two things that you love.

It looks like this is becoming a trend with publishers: letting writers self-publish, then picking up the book if it's successful - no risk there. I recently read about another writer who self published a book called 'Une année de merde' and it has been so successful that a publisher has picked it up with a possible film deal.

Loved your advice -particularly as my hard disk died recently...

Good luck with your new book - I'll look out for it.

AF96 at 19:43 on 08 September 2004  Report this post
Very helpful and encouraging interview - did you use a self-publish company when you published and printed your book yourself or did you just find a printer yourself and organise everything??

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