Emerging writer and self-confessed clever pumpkin Susan Bennett knows how to stir the pot, blogging her mix of politics and food at Fudging the menu. Co author of The Cook’s Toolkit by Clever Pumpkin, Susan is currently working on the intriguingly titled Trial of the Romance Novelist and her novel, Grace, the premise for which came to her under the influence of exercise: ‘I was stair-training when the Pink song ‘So What’ came on … filling my head with images of The Sopranos women whacking The Sopranos men’. Susan chats with us about her short story Daylight, published in this edition of Overland.
Was there a catalyst for writing Daylight?
Unfortunately, yes. My relationship was in its death throes and my partner and I had reached that absolutely filthy stage which two people who love each other should never reach. In the heat – or more accurately in the cold blood – of one thoroughly unlovely discussion, he accused me of belligerence. To my immense discredit, I came within a hair’s breadth of challenging him to spell it. I don’t know what stopped me – maybe a last vestige of love, maybe remembered empathy, or possibly because I knew he’d laugh and it seemed such a violation to make him laugh against his will at his own expense when he wanted to be angry. I bit my tongue and headed upstairs to the bedroom where I was sleeping alone. Halfway there that old devil sublimation kicked in and a story was born. These one-liners kept coming to me and I’d write them in the notebook I kept beside the bed – sadly the same notebook my partner gave me one Christmas to help me write, but I had no story.
Then bang, out of the blue one night, the line about Frankenstein jumped into my head and I knew I’d write a satire of the teenybopper saga Twilight – what happens after Dopey finally sinks the fangs in, they’ve been married for twenty years and the romance is well and truly over. Shortly after that, I woke up one morning in a motel room in a strange country town on what felt like the worst day of my life, up to then, anyway. I had nowhere to live, no place to go and I was seriously ill. Faced with such urgent practical considerations, I started writing – two very different stories that came from the same place, Daylight and The Red Pot. There’s nothing like being a motel room to help you write. Well, that and personal tragedy.
As a writer, what inspires you?
Music. When I write, I’m trying to write music. When ever I get off track, when I know I’ve made a wrong turn, I think of a line from the Big Audio Dynamite song Rush – ‘(The only important thing these days is) rhythm and melody, rhythm and melody.’ The path becomes crystal clear; I slash and burn. To really gee myself up I’ll listen to Nina Simone, not so much for Simone but for her drummer, Bernard Purdie. Everything a writer needs to know about voice is in the drums of Bernard Purdie. Nobody drums like that man. If I could write like he plays, I’d die happy. I don’t even know how to begin to describe what he does. If you played me a thousand songs and he was drumming on only one of them, I swear I’d know it was him.
Simone’s voice intrigues me too. I think that she, and Bono, are good examples of singers who perhaps technically don’t have great voices, but who do incredibly interesting things with them, far more interesting than singers who have wonderful voices but only ‘sing scales’. Simone and Bono use their voices as a paintbrush and that fascinates me. Then there are the singers with wonderful voices who also do interesting things with them, like K.D. Lang and Chris Isaak. I like to torment myself by listening to them and pretending I could ever write as well as they sing.
Where are you now, with your writing practice?
I’m going through a stage where I want to give up. I’ve had enough of rejection and I’m clean out of bravado. I’m starting out much later than most writers do and that comes into it. I’ve spent years of my life chasing after something that’s trying to run away from me; immortality is not an option and as much as the only thing I’ve ever wanted from life was to write, ‘later’ has arrived. I’ve worked seven days a week for seven years and I’m not laughing any more. It’s disheartening to live in world where The Da Vinci ‘Turd’ can make it into print. If that book was edited at all, I’ll go hee.
Some of my work is mainstream, some of it has literary leanings. I’m not sure in these publishing times that you can do both, when the mainstream publishers are always bellowing at writers to aim at a market and make no secret of their desire for us to fashion our work on another’s. On any given day the deals on Publisher’s Marketplace read ‘pitched as Bridget Jones meets Silence of The Lambs’ or the like. For this, agents and publishers blame readers. And yet, recently in a bookshop I noticed there were little signs hanging from the shelves to draw attention to books with ‘original voice’ – that seems to suggest that readers are attracted to originality. I don’t think big publishing cares to know readers, preferring to treat them only as a market to be exploited (and then they wonder why bookshops go belly up). I don’t fit there, but nor am I a literary writer. I don’t write the sort of stories that win contests and I don’t want to. I’m not sure if there’s a place for me. I was surprised recently to hear one of my stories described as experimental. That was news to me.