Sue Featherstone talks about her writing partnership with Susan Pape.
1. Tell us more about your new novel, A Forsaken Friend.
To sum it up in a nutshell: character-driven contemporary women’s fiction, more diva lit than chick lit, that follows the lives of best friends Teri Meyer and Lee Harper as they navigate the ups-and-downs of their friendship whilst also juggling men, careers and family.
It’s a sequel to A Falling Friend, my first novel, also co-authored with Susan Pape, which left both Teri and Lee in a bit of a pickle. We’d intended to leave the story on the resulting cliffhangar but so many readers wanted to know what happened next that we decided to find out.
2. How did you come up with the plot?
Because it’s the second book in a trilogy we’d already established the main characters and knew then well enough to know how they’d respond to whatever we threw at them. We don’t plan in micro-detail as some novelists do. Instead we have a clear outline of where we want the characters to end up, some of the incidents that will happen en route and then we see where Teri and Lee decide to take us. Sometimes they go a bit off piste. For instance, one of the minor characters in A Forsaken Friend ends up in the spotlight after he’s diagnosed with a serious illness. This wasn’t part of the original plan but came about almost spontaneously as we were writing.
In other words, a character got inside our heads and took over the plot.
But once it had happened we sat down and talked about it. ‘Did we want the story to go in this direction?’ Yes, we decided because our novels are character-driven and the unexpected plot development offered scope to illuminate different aspects of the personalities of both Teri and Lee.
It’s good to allow our characters to drive the storyline: so long as they remember our hands are on the steering wheel.
3. Do you have a favourite part or scene? Could you tell us why you love it?
It’s very difficult to pick out just one favourite scene: there are lots of bits that I really enjoyed writing and some of Teri’s scenes, written by Susan, made me laugh out loud when I read them for the first time. Best laugh out loud moment? The hospice scene where Teri, most reluctantly, takes Lee’s young niece to the toilet – and ends up with a suspicious stain on her expensive designer heels. Two scenes that were fun to write: Lee trying to buy a railway ticket in rural Suffolk from a jobsworth booking clerk; and the car journey from Yorkshire to Suffolk. Lee, like me, is a slightly nervous passenger, who tends to sit nails digging into the palms of her hand, as she begs Teri to slow down, whilst Teri, not unlike Susan, is a fast, competent driver.
The conversation between Teri and Lee echoed many I’ve had in my head when Susan and I have been driving to talks in rural North Yorkshire.
4. Who would you want playing your characters in a movie version of Forsaken Friend?
We were talking about this only the other day! (In the car, as it happened, and yes, I was gripping my seat belt very tightly!) We couldn’t decide who to cast as Teri and Lee but we did think Greg McHugh, a versatile Scottish actor, who has starred in a number of top UK TV comedies and drama series, would be perfect as media mogul Duck’s Arse. Our other star choice was Jack Davenport, who was the stiff upper lip Captain James Norrington in the Pirates of the Caribbean. He’s got just the right gravitas to play Ridings TV presenter Dan Caine. We couldn’t make up our minds about bad boy newspaper editor Declan O’Brien. Perhaps Aiden Turner, who made ladies everywhere swoon when he took off his shirt as Captain Ross Poldark? But this is pipe dream casting – in reality, a story like ours would probably work best with new, unknown actors who could ‘own’ the characters and who don’t come with a back story of their own.
5. Who is your favourite character from all your novels?
Can’t answer that one: it’s too much like asking me to name my favourite daughter. I love both my daughters equally and our characters too.
6. What is your creative process like?
The creative process starts with lunch: Susan and I live around 30 miles apart so, though we chat on the phone and via email regularly, we make it a habit to get together for a bite to eat and an editorial meeting every few weeks. We tend to have our best ideas when we’ve got a plate of nice food in front of us and a glass of white wine on the side.
Both A Forsaken Friend, and its predecessor A Falling Friend, are told from the point of view of two different characters, Teri Meyer and Lee Harper – best friends, whose relationship becomes a bit strained when Teri loses her job as a university academic and Lee falls in love with Teri’s ex-husband.
Susan writes Teri’s side of the story and I write Lee’s POV but, because both women see the world slightly differently this can sometimes cause problems…They also have slightly different priorities so that something that is a big deal in a Teri chapter will be much less significant for Lee, whose chapters instead focus on those things that are important for her. Very much like real life, where friends dance in and out of each other’s lives.
7. What is your favourite and least favourite thing about writing?
I can’t think of anything I don’t like about writing: I feel immensely privileged to be able to follow my dream. And my favourite thing? Everything: I love sitting in front of the pc and making stories.
8. Who was your favorite author growing up? Has it changed?
I was the sort of child who’d read the back of the breakfast cereal box if there was nothing else available so I had loads of favourite authors. Impossible to list them all but they include Enid Blyton, Noel Streatfeild, Louisa M. Alcott (I cried buckets when Beth died), Susan Coolidge and Agatha Christie – my dad had a couple of her murder mysteries so I was quite young when I started reading them.
He also had a collection of Perry Mason mysteries by Earle Stanley Gardiner, which I also enjoyed. It’s been a long time since I read the Perry Mason books or any of Enid Blyton’s stories but I’ve dipped into each of the others in the last 12 months-or-so.
9. Why did you decide to work together and what is it like?
Susan and I became job share partners almost 28 years ago – we were introduced by her then boyfriend, now her husband, who’d worked with me on a couple of projects and thought we might be a match. We clicked – and for almost five years were joint internal communications manager at a newly privatized utility company.
Although we eventually moved on, we kept in touch and, when we both found ourselves, teaching journalism, albeit at different universities, we got together to write a couple of ‘how-to’ journalism text books – Newspaper Journalism: A Practical Introduction and Feature Writing: A Practical Introduction, both published by Sage.
Like many people with a background in journalism we’ve always wanted to turn our hand to fiction so – over lunch, of course – Susan suggested we write a novel together.
I won’t tell you how long it took us to finish A Falling Friend – it was a bit of a stop-start project because we both had other work and family commitments but it was finally published in 2016. We started work on A Forsaken Friend almost immediately and finished that one a little more quickly. We’re now working on the final book in our Friends trilogy and hope to publish A Forgiven Friend early next year. Fingers crossed.
10. Can you tell us a bit about your plans for the future?
The priority is to complete A Forgiven Friend – we’ve completed around a dozen chapters so it’s progressing well. We’ve also done some work on another story that I don’t want to say too much about at the moment because we’re still thrashing out ideas. But the future is definitely going to include more writing. People sometimes ask if we’ve ever thought about writing separately. Yes, of course, we have – but why would we? It’s much more fun writing together.
No one said friendship was easy.
Things can’t get much worse for Teri Meyer. If losing her job at the university and the regular allowance from her dad’s factory isn’t bad enough, now her ex-best friend has gone and stolen her ex-husband! Well, to hell with them all. A few weeks in the countryside at her brother’s smallholding should do the trick – and the gorgeous and god-like neighbour might help.
But then there’s Declan, not to mention Duck’s Arse back in Yorkshire…
It’s not as if Lee Harper set out to fall in love with her best friend’s ex-husband. But, for once, her love life is looking up – except for all the elephants in the room, not to mention Mammy’s opinion on her dating a twice-divorced man. Perhaps things aren’t as rosy as she first thought. And now with one family crisis after another, Lee’s juggling more roles – and emotions – than she ever imagined. Maybe sharing her life with a man wasn’t such a grand idea.
The Friends trilogy continues in this heart-warming and hilarious hoot as two best friends navigate men, careers, family and rock bottom in this brilliant sequel to A Falling Friend.
Sue Featherstone and Susan Pape are both former newspaper journalists with extensive experience of working for national and regional papers and magazines, and in public relations and, most recently higher education, teaching journalism – Sue at Sheffield Hallam and Susan at Leeds Trinity University. Sue, is married with two grown-up daughters, loves reading, writing and Nordic walking in the beautiful countryside near her Yorkshire home and Susan is married and lives in a village near Leeds, and, when not writing, loves walking and cycling in the Yorkshire Dales. She is also a member of a local ukulele orchestra.