Sue Lawson has been a teacher, radio announcer and producer, an attendant at the MCG, swimming teacher, shop assistant, nightclub DJ and babysitter. She now spends most of her time doing what she’s passionate about – writing, reading and being with young people.
What authors/books did you read as a child? When did you first discover your love of books?
My grandmother was an English teacher and my dad an avid reader, so I don’t remember ever being without books. Stories were my escape and education. I can remember weekly visits to the local library with my mum, brothers and sister where I’d borrow as many books as I was allowed. Some of the books I remember vividly from my childhood include:
Sun On The Stubble - Colin Thiele
Hill’s End - Ivan Southall
Preep - Milton Shulman
A Wrinkle In Time - Madeleine L’Engle
The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton
The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
Farewell to Shady Glade - Bill Peet
Displaced Person - Lee Harding.
I also read books by Patricia Wrightson, Enid Blyton, Carolyne Keene... I’ll stop now or I’ll just keep going!
When did you first realise you were a writer? What do you hope your readers will take away with them from reading your books?
Gosh it took a long, long time for me to realise I was a ‘real’ writer – probably not until after my fifth book was published. I am still very much learning the craft and feel like a bit of a fraud saying I’m a writer, but if I’m asked, I do say I’m an author. I hope readers come away from my books with a sense of hope and a stronger sense of empathy for others. I hope readers will be moved in some way – either to laugh, cry or be angry – and that they will have felt for my characters.
Do you find it difficult to read purely for pleasure? Does everything you read come under your ‘writer’ microscope?
I do read for pleasure, but since I’ve been writing, I find myself stopping to admire a sentence, to ponder a twist, how a story is constructed or simply to marvel at a writer’s skill. I’m more appreciative of what goes on to create a book these days, and so probably approach reading with a little more reverence.
Do you have to avoid reading certain types of fiction while writing your own? Does what you read while writing have an effect on what you write? In what way?
Generally my reading life and writing life are separate. I write middle to young adult fiction, but read whatever appeals to me – adult, junior, middle, YA fiction, non fiction, magazines, and newspapers. Books influence me in that I may find a technique I would like to try, or they may show me a different way to approach a story. Newspapers, magazines and non fiction books can be a source of ideas – an image, idea or question may buzz around my brain like a mozzie, weeks after I’ve read about it. I know that deserves attention.
Name five authors or books that have influenced or inspired your own writing in some way.
There are so many! I’ve picked out five that impacted directly on my work, either in terms of inspiring me to write or to challenge the way I write. They aren’t in any particular order.
The World According to Garp - John Irving. When I finished that, I sat at my Olivetti portable typewriter and wrote pages of a story.
Tim Winton's Dirt Music. He paints such vivid images with such an economy of words.
Jodi Piccoult’s Song of the Humpback Whale. It is written from two points of view – the mother’s and the daughter’s, but one starts at the beginning and the other the end, with the threads crossing over in the middle. Wow!
So Much to Tell You – John Marsden. The first YA novel I read as an adult.
The Outsiders – SE Hinton. I’d hate to think how many times I read that book when I was a teenager. I loved those characters with a passion!
If you were travelling and were told you could only take one book with you, what book would it be and why?
One book? That would be too cruel. Hmmm. Probably The Lord of the Rings (yes it’s a trilogy, but I’m counting it as one!) or To Kill A Mocking Bird.
What makes a book ‘too good to put down’?
Great, believable characters, a strong voice and an original idea.
What makes you put down a book without finishing it?
I rarely put a book down without finishing it – but I will if the characters don’t grab me. If I don’t care about them, I find it hard to connect to the story. Having said that, I didn’t like the characters in The Slap much but finished the book and the story has stayed with me long after I completed it.
Do you have a favourite author? Who is it and what is it about their writing that draws you to them?
Again with the one? So hard! ;) Tim Winton (and Robert Drewe.) I love their style, voice, imagery and …everything!
If you had to list them, what would be your ‘top ten’ reads of all time (excluding the classics) and why?
No classics? Are you kidding? Boy that’s tough. Okay, here goes.
Dirt Music – Tim Winton
Black Water – David Metzenthen
The Shark Net – Robert Drewe
Our Sunshine – Robert Drewe
The World According to Garp – John Irving
The Sound Of One Hand Clapping – Richard Flannigan
Atonement – Ian McEwan
The Bone People - Keri Hulme
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
The True History of The Kelly Gang – Peter Carey
Ooops – that’s 11! I know the moment I walk away from the computer the list will change… My favourites are very much a fluid thing.
What was your 2010 ‘best read’? What was it that made it number one?
Another toughie that I can’t keep to one…
Six by Karen Tayleur. Six is complex, yet simple, clever and confronting. Look, just read it!
The Hunger Games by Susanne Collins. What a brilliant idea and terrific characters. Loved the first two books, but not as keen on the third. Sinister, frightening and thrilling.
What do you think of the non-traditional publishing methods – eBooks etc? Do you think the new technology will encourage more people to read? Do you think there’s a future for print books?
I’m a dinosaur and love books. I would hate to think there would ever be a world without them. To quote Jerry Seinfeld – ‘A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking ’
As I write this, The Little Bookroom has just opened its new branch in Degreaves St Melbourne yet the Borders and Angus and Robertson chains have gone into voluntary receivership. How’s that for a strange pairing of events? I think it shows that books have a place but the way we buy them is changing.
As for eBooks – I have nothing against them or their growth, but I prefer to hold a book. I find my eyes tire of reading the screen, so I can read a book for longer.
Do I think the new technology will encourage people to read? Yes I do. Kids are so computer wired now, I can see them preferring it, but I can’t see the total demise of the book either. A picture book on the screen just wouldn’t be the same.
Sue runs fun, positive, fast-paced workshops for students, teachers and adults. Her books include the re-released 'Diva' series and young adult novels, Dare You, After, Finding Darcy and the award winning, Allie McGregor’s True Colours.
Find out more about Sue at www.suelawson.com.au