Today my guest is Sue Barnard, whose latest book, Heathcliff, (yes, that Heathcliff) examines his missing years from Wuthering Heights.
Sue is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet whose family background is far stranger than any work of fiction. She’d write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.
Megan: Sue, thanks for joining me. Can I get you a coffee?
Sue: A skinny flat white please. And an Anzac biscuit too, please, if you have any. I know I shouldn’t, but they are my favourites.
Megan: I'll have the same - who doesn't love an Anzac biscuit? I'd love to hear more about Heathcliff, your latest book.
Heathcliff is a Wuthering Heights spin-off novel which speculates what might have happened to Heathcliff during the three years when he disappears from the original story. It will be officially released on 30 July 2018, to coincide with the bicentenary of the birth of Emily Brontë.
Here’s the blurb:
“It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now…”
Cathy’s immortal words from Wuthering Heights change Heathcliff’s life. At just seventeen years of age, heartbroken and penniless, he runs away to face an unknown future.
Three years later, he returns – much improved in manners, appearance, and prosperity.
But what happened during those years? How could he have made his fortune, from nothing? Who might his parents have been? And what fate turned him into literature’s most famous anti-hero?
For almost two centuries, these questions have remained unanswered. Until now…
Megan: It sounds fantastic as it's a big mystery in literature. What sparked your writing? When did it start?
Sue: If you include those compulsory “Composition” exercises when I was at school, I suppose I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but for many years I never attempted anything more challenging than short stories, articles, poems, or the occasional stroppy letter to The Times. It was only after a life-changing event in 2004 that I began to take the whole thing much more seriously.
Shortly after that, I came across one of those lists of Things You Must Do Before You Die. I’m not planning on dying any time soon, and most of the items on the list sounded pretty underwhelming, but the one which leapt out at me was Write The Book You Want To Read.
I’ve always loved the story of Romeo & Juliet but hated the way it ended, and the book I’ve always wanted to read is the alternative version of the tale – the one in which the young lovers don’t fall victim to a maddeningly preventable catastrophe. Why, I asked myself, should there not be such a book? And the answer came straight back: Why not indeed? And if it doesn’t already exist, then go ahead and write it.
The eventual result was The Ghostly Father, which was first published by Crooked Cat Books in 2014. It’s a sort of part-prequel, part-sequel to the original Romeo & Juliet story, told from the point of view of the Friar, but with a few new twists and a whole new outcome. Originally I was writing it just for myself, but comments I’ve received since it was published suggest that I’m not by any means the only person who prefers the alternative ending.
Megan: I agree with your view on Romeo & Juliet. The ending is tragic and I love your re-imagining of it. What are you working on at the moment?
Sue: I’ve just started working on a sequel to my second novel (Nice Girls Don’t, which is a romantic intrigue about a search for family secrets). One loose end was unintentionally left dangling at the end of that book, and although it wasn’t vital to the plot, it did leave open the possibility of developing the idea into another story.
I also have a long-term poetry project which has been on the go for several years: an anthology of limericks based on the works of Shakespeare. It’s interesting – if challenging – to try to condense the plot of a five-act play into just five lines. Here’s my take on Macbeth:
On the strength of a witches’ conjection
a regicide’s planned to perfection.
But revenge is prepared
by a tree-moving laird
who’d been born by Caesarean section.
My eventual aim is to do the whole lot, but don’t stay in specially waiting for it.
Megan: When do you write? Are you an early bird or a night owl?
Sue: Neither. I’m an afternoon sparrow (in other words, I have a messy nest, I flap around at random and I make a lot of tuneless noise). Mornings are usually taken up with other tasks (such as the day job!), and by evening my creative brain has shut down.
Megan: Of all the characters in your books, who would you most like to have coffee with or least like to have coffee with?
Sue: It’s difficult to choose which one I’d most like to have coffee with, but I think it would have to be Mr Sykes from Nice Girls Don’t. He’s a lovely man – kind, gentle and helpful – and although he’s a supporting character rather than a main protagonist, it’s true to say that without him there would be no story. He’s based partly on my late father-in-law.
Choosing my least favourite coffee colleague was much easier: Brian from The Unkindest Cut of All. He’s a fascinating character, but is chock-full of his own importance and has an uncanny way of making the flesh creep.
Megan: Thanks for joining me and I'll look forward to the upcoming release of Heathcliff, and in time the sequel to Nice Girls Don't and the poetry!
Sue: Thank you.
To pre-order Heathcliff (released 30 July), visit: http://mybook.to/heathcliff
For more about Sue and her writing: