Jun 18th, 2017
I just got back from vacation yesterday, and in fact spent fourteen hours in the car, with my hubster at the wheel. I read two books on the way home, one of them The Beauty Shop by Suzy Henderson. I started this book and just couldn't put it down. Her characters are so well developed, and the history expertly woven in.
Suzy Henderson was born in the North of England and initially pursued a career in healthcare, specialising as a midwife. Years later, having left her chosen profession, she embarked upon a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing at 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 in her WAAF service uniform that caught Suzy's imagination many years ago. Her grandmother never spoke of her war service and died in 1980, taking her stories with her. When Suzy decided to research her family history and her grandmother's war service, things spiralled from there. Stories came to light, little-known stories and tragedies and it is such discoveries that inform her writing today.
Having relocated to North Cumbria, she has the Pennines and the Scottish Borders in sight and finally feels at home. Suzy is a member of the Historical Novel Society and her debut novel, â€œThe Beauty Shopâ€� was released in November 2016.
Q: What is your favorite childhood book?
There were many books, including Road DahI's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, but I think my favourite was probably Black Beauty. As a child, I was horse-mad! Other than that, I loved Enid Blyton's Famous Five books and still have the entire collection.
Q: How old were you when you decided to become a writer?
I was actually in my thirties and studying for a literature degree when I decided to include some creative writing courses, which turned out to be life-changing. Prior to that, I'd never really thought about it. Shortly after my graduation, I decided to write my first novel and still did not consider myself to be a writer until I came across articles by several other authors who clarified the status quite well. If you write stories, then you're a writer, whether published or not.
Q: What genre do you write and why?
My preferred genre is historical fiction, in particular, the 20th century period. I have an obsession with WW2 for some reason, although I do read historical fiction novels set in other periods, such as medieval and the Tudors.
Q: When do you write? Do you have a set schedule, or do you write when the muse hits you?
I prefer to write early mornings as for some reason I'm at my best then, even when half-asleep! Several cups of tea usually assist, and I've found that is my most productive time of the day. If I don't write first thing, then that's it for the rest of the day simply due to my daily routine and life - so many other things to be done. On saying that, I have found that late at night is often another productive time for me, providing I'm not tired. Perhaps it's something to do with the house being quiet, and everything and everyone winding down.
Q: Any particular music you listen to when you write?
I adore music - all types. What I choose to listen to depends on what I'm writing and my mood that day. So, I may listen to a classical piece by Beethoven, or it may be a modern take on a piece by 2Cellos for instance. Music is amazing. It helps me create, and it's very rare that I write in complete silence.
Q: What are you reading right now?
Well, I'm reading a wonderful biography again which is purely for checking my research for my present book, but I'd best not say just yet as I don't wish to give the game away! Aside from that, I'm reading a wonderful book called The War Lover by John Hersey - only just started. It was hailed as one of the best WW2 novels, and it's another of my second-hand acquisitions, complete with a slightly worn dust jacket. You can't beat old books - I love them.
Q: Do you hire an editor or do you edit your own work?
Well, I hired an editor for my first book and shall be calling on her again shortly. She's amazing and has taught me so much - more than any creative writing course. Thanks to her skills, I feel more confident to tackle my writing. Once I have the final draft of a novel, I go through it one chapter at a time, editing, polishing, and proofreading. I try to ensure that there are no plot holes or mistakes and do the best I possibly can before submitting the novel for the final professional edit and proofread.
Q: Tell us about your process? Are you a panster or a plotter?
I'm a plotter. The problem with historical fiction is that you have to acknowledge the historical facts, which includes specific dates, for instance, the sort of things you need to make a note of, otherwise you can end up in such a muddle! There are so many things to keep track of, and I find that as I edit, I continuously go back to my notes and plan to double check things. As well as the research, there are all the usual things such as character traits, descriptions, etc. and so you end up with quite a lot of information, and I find it's far clearer to have a working plan to keep me on track.
Q: Is writing your full-time job?
Yes, it is and has been for the past three years. I find it can be a blessing and a curse being at home. One of the problems is that my family see me at home and therefore I can't possibly be working! The other problem is motivation. It's so easy to have an off-day and consider having time out, but when you have an editing deadline, you can't afford to do that. So, I physically force myself to sit at the computer and work. If it's of any help to others out there struggling with motivation, I've found that by writing regularly, it becomes a habit and quickly part of your daily routine and therefore it grows easier over time.
Q: Tell us about your most recent book.
My debut novel was published in November 2016 and is loosely based on the real story behind the Guinea Pig Club - a club formed by burned and injured servicemen during WW2. The club exists today, and of the original 649 members, numbers have dwindled to 16, I think.
My novel features real-life plastic surgeon, Archibald McIndoe, who is struggling to care for these badly burned men, mostly airmen and pilots. He becomes a pioneer of plastic surgery as he experiments with skin grafts and other forms of treatment in his quest to â€˜fix the boys up' as he'd say. His methods are unorthodox and include keeping beer on the ward (burns patients require extra fluids) and recruiting pretty girls as volunteers.
The story touches on the darker side of the after effects of war, and on those affected by PTSD and depression. Many of the airmen in Archie's care had been the stereotypical handsome fliers one day and then burned to a crisp, completely unrecognizable the next. Often these young men thought their lives were over until Archie came along. He always said to each of them, â€œI'll fix you up.â€� In doing so, he gave them fresh hope.
The second protagonist is US bomber pilot, John Mackenzie. He is plagued with fear and doubt, struggling morally with the bomber's war and is torn between his duty and his conscience. When he meets pretty English WAAF, Stella, he falls in love. However, nothing is certain in love or war. When John survives a crash, he is badly burned and ends up in McIndoe's care, and becomes one of the infamous â€˜guinea pigs' as the men called themselves. Now, he must face an entirely different battle.
Book Blurb: The Beauty Shop by Suzy Henderson
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 â€˜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, 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, â€œThe Beauty Shopâ€� is a moving tale of love, compassion, and determination against a backdrop of wartime tragedy.
Here's Suzy's contact info and buy links. Until next week, my dears, go forth and read!
Buy link: MyBook.to/TheBeautyShop