Susan Sellers was an Escalator winner in 2007-2008 where she completed her first novel, Vanessa and Virginia. She began her second novel, Given the Choice, with her Escalator mentor Sally Cline and the support of an Arts Council Grant for the Arts. It is published this month by Cillian Press. Here Susan blogs on the challenge of writing the second novel, and the importance of having writing support:
I vividly recall when I launched Vanessa and Virginia during my Escalator year in 2008, a friend saying to me ‘of course, what’s really difficult is writing a second novel.’ At the time I laughed and thought ‘how can anything be more difficult than the first?’ But he was right.
I had been researching the close, sometimes turbulent relationship between Virginia Woolf and her painter sister Vanessa Bell for the best part of ten years, and with Vanessa and Virginia I simply plunged in, without thinking too closely about the process.
Given the Choice was different. The pitfalls seemed to announce themselves in flashing neon even before I stumbled into them. There was also – if this is possible – an acceleration in every kind of displacement activity. It remains a mystery to me why all those otherwise tedious tasks – organizing email, dusting, even on one memorable occasion hemming my sitting-room curtains – can suddenly seem so utterly compelling when writing is at stake.
I can honestly say that without the ongoing support I have received from WCN, my Escalator mentors and the other writers who were with me on the scheme, I might never have finished Given the Choice, let alone bring it to the point where it could be published.
I owe part of the inspiration to Sally Cline, who, in an early mentoring session after I had finished Vanessa and Virginia, challenged me to write something contemporary in order to break away from Bloomsbury. One of many surprises about Given the Choice is that the character who quickly emerged was a sassy businesswoman, working in the glamorous and controversial art and music worlds.
I also remember a day when, flushed with the excitement of completing a full draft, Sal wondered whether my ending was the right one. I thought about Charles Dickens and how, when he first finished Great Expectations, he congratulated himself on breaking with convention only to be told by Bulwer-Lytton that his ending was too sad and he should pen a new one. I liked my ending but Sal encouraged me to play around with it. What happened next proved crucial not only in determining the outcome for my characters, but in shaping the book Given the Choice has become.
Find out more about Given the Choice.
Find out more about Escalator Literature Writing Competition.
About Susan Sellers:
After a nomadic childhood, Susan Sellers ran away to Paris. Renting a chambre de bonne, she worked as a barmaid, tour-guide and nanny, bluffed her way as a software translator and co-wrote a film script with a Hollywood screenwriter. She became closely involved with leading French feminist writers and translated Hélène Cixous. From Paris she travelled to Swaziland, teaching English to tribal grandmothers, and to Peru, where she worked for a women’s aid agency.
Susan is a Professor of English and Related Literature at the University of St Andrews. In 2002 she won the Canongate Prize for new writing and, following a year with Escalator, published her first novel Vanessa and Virginia in 2008. Her second novel, Given the Choice, which she began with Escalator, is published this month by Cillian Press.
Susan is hard at work on a third novel, and meets regularly with her Escalator peer group to keep her writing on track and herself sane.
Visit Susan’s website.