I first met Susan Lewis, one of the UK’s top female writers, in 1987. She was then an aspiring novelist with a dream — to write a bestseller. She succeeded and went on to write 26 more novels and two memoirs. She regularly features in the Sunday Times bestseller list, her books are widely translated into other languages, and she has a loyal following who eagerly pre-order her books.
That is quite an achievement for a girl from a blue-collar background, particularly one whose mother died tragically young when Susan was just nine years old. Just One More Day is the first of her memoirs, detailing the loss of her mother from breast cancer at 33. One Day at A Time is the follow-up, dealing with her father’s grief and her school days at a Bristol boarding school from which she was expelled.
Susan’s life has been as eventful as those of the characters in her books. She has lived at different times in Bristol, London, Los Angeles, Wiltshire, and twice in the South of France. On her website she memorably describes her Hollywood years: “George Clooney was my neighbour, Jennifer Anniston, Charlize Theron and Julianne Moore shopped in the same places, Nick Cage was a guest at my house, and Steve Martin was a regular on our dog walks.”
There were romances and affairs, including one with one of the FBI’s top ten most wanted drug smugglers! While her career flourished, Susan began to feel that real love had passed her by. Then, when she had turned 50 and was least expecting it, love came calling in the form of James, a handsome, newly single television producer.
Susan was living again in the south of France, in a fabulous villa with a swimming pool and sweeping views of the Mediterranean. After two years of saying hello and good bye to James at airports, she left her idyllic Riviera home and came back to England, this time to a beautiful barn conversion in Gloucestershire. James is still in nearby Bristol with his teenage sons. Susan and James are very happy LATTEs (Living Apart Together) while she relishes the tranquillity of her home where she continues to write two novels a year. She has agreed to give an exclusive interview to The Morton Report.
Your two autobiographical books were deeply personal, touching on very sad memories. Were they difficult to write?
Difficult, cathartic, embarrassing, and so many other things besides. I shed oceans of tears and laughed harder then I ever have while I was writing these books. It often felt as though my parents were in charge and writing the stories themselves.
The second one (One Day at a Time) described your time at a boarding school. It sounded like St Trinian's! Was it really that bad and did you, in the end, get anything positive out of it?
It was absolutely b****** awful! These days such experiences might amount to borderline child abuse; thank goodness I got expelled! However, I really did get a lot out of it, far, far more than I ever realized at the time. It taught me how to navigate the English class system; that there was a far wider world than the secure little environment I came from and that people can be as cruel as they are kind.
You have had a very exciting and interesting life. Can we look forward to more memoirs? Your times in the south of France and in Hollywood perhaps?
It would be lovely to think people were keen to read more memoirs from me, and I certainly did have some unusual adventures in both France and LA, but I’m currently committed to writing two novels a year so alas there isn’t the time for any more jaunts down memory lane right now.
Which of your many novels was the easiest to write and which was the hardest?
The easiest was probably The Mill House. It just kept flowing, sometimes with an unstoppable might. The characters were constantly talking in my head, getting me up in the middle of the night and pinning me to my chair long after I might normally have finished for the day. Amazingly, very little changed on the second draft. It truly was as though it had written itself.
The most difficult was definitely Darkest Longings. It called for an enormous amount of research into France during World War II and pulling it all together was quite a challenge. It didn’t help that my dad died just after I’d finished it, so the editing was particularly difficult and not helped at all by my publisher at the time who came close to destroying my confidence in the book. Thank goodness those dark days are far behind me and the book itself has proved to be a great favourite with many readers!
Do you have any particular favourites among them?
Apart from Darkest Longings, which I feel very protective of, I’m quite fond of A French Affair. I feel very proud of the love story in it and I believe (hope) that it brings the richness of the Burgundian landscape, its colours, lakes, vineyards, food, and wines to life.
Could you imagine any of them being made into television dramas or films?
I would absolutely love to see A French Affair as a movie, and the quartet of Silent Truths, Wicked Beauty, Intimate Strangers, and The Hornbeam Tree would make a compelling TV series. Maybe one day - soon!
Would you agree that your style has developed over the years and your books are now less 'chick lit' and more like thrillers?
I don’t think I’ve ever written chick lit, at least not as I understand it. My early books would probably have been classed as blockbusters (whatever that means!). These days the style has changed quite considerably, though hopefully the more emotional storylines are working well for the reader. The sales seem to suggest that they are, thank goodness.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Ideas always come from life and the dramas, tragedies, hilarities, and challenges I see around me. The way some people deal with the issues fate throws at them is inspiring in so many ways.
Your next book is due out in February and you have another scheduled this summer. Do you know what you will be writing next?
I am about to embark on a book that is set partly in New Zealand, so my partner James and I will be flying off in that direction at the end of this week. All I’m prepared to divulge at this stage is that the subject is child abduction.
You can read more about Susan and her books on her website.
Her next book, Losing You, is due out on February 16. One of her previous hardback books, No Turning Back, is also being published in paperback on February 2.