My guest today is Sue Roebuck, whose novel “Perfect Score” was on everyone’s TBR list when it came out and was nominated for an Epic award. Sue has recently released a novel with Etopia Press. Hewhay Hall examines the nature of good and evil and the importance of courage.
Hi, Sue and thanks for agreeing to answer my questions.
Sue: Thanks Elin. Gosh *wriggles a bit* this chair’s comfy, just wish my feet could reach the ground. Never mind, I’ll curl up.
Elin: There are some scenes in Hewhay Hall that I found kept me awake at night. Do you think you have to enjoy the scary stuff to be able to write it?
Sue: I think it’s got something to do with enjoying scaring the living daylights out of yourself. To let you into a secret, I had nightmares when I was writing “Hewhay Hall”.
Elin: Are there any horror stories or films that you would recommend as a ‘must read/see’ list to a novice?
Sue: You know, I’m not entirely sure how to define “horror”. I just like reading and writing what is “out of the ordinary”. I cut my teeth on C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series and Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Then I went onto The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and then Mervyn Peake’s wonderful Gormenghast Trilogy which I adored – and I mean the books, not the TV series – and anything by Terry Pratchett, especially if it features Granny Weatherwax and Death. I don’t suppose any of those are actually horror books, they’re just unusual (and the weirder the better). As an adult I remember being glued to the screen watching Stephen King’s The Shining which led me to read Carrie and Misery. Nowadays, as long as the book has quirky characters and is out of the ordinary, I’ll read it (I just finished Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White which isn’t horror but is populated by unforgettable characters).
Elin: The biggest difference between Hewhay Hall and Perfect Score is that in HH the protagonist is straight while Perfect Score is a male male romance. Which do you find easiest to write?
Sue: The male/male relationship was right for Perfect Score. I didn’t actually set out to write an M/M but Sam, the protagonist, dictated it and I honestly don’t think a girl would have survived what he had to go through as a child in the 1950s. That doesn’t mean I’ll not write another M/M – I already have an idea for one set in Victorian London. So, what I’m trying to say is that I don’t find the relationship difficult to write. It’s getting the plot moving, upping the stakes and keeping the reader wanting more that causes the most work for me.
Elin: Your characters are vital, well rounded and full of life. Do they arrive like that or do you have to tweak them to fit your stories?
Sue: I have them before the plot! I think my stories are character-driven so I keep piling the layers on them until they become fully-rounded. There’s a character in “Hewhay Hall” that’s based on someone I know. It’s Roma and she’s a spiritual medium who piles superlatives on superlatives when she speaks: “Unutterably awful situation darling.” I won’t reveal the person’s name in real life though and I hope she doesn’t recognize herself.
Elin: You’ve covered a lot of different subjects in your stories – music, luteny, pharmaceuticals, the operations of a fire station – do you enjoy research? What is the most interesting fact you have discovered that you were unable to fit into one of your novels?
Sue: I usually try and pile them all into a book, nothing wasted, that’s my motto. But to answer your question, I returned to my old notebooks and had a look through. There was indeed a lot of wasted research: bovine post partem (!) A Cow Ranch Annual Calendar, Psychotropic plants in America, the Cow-Calf Manager, Gay in the 1960s, Scams 101 (I kid you not). I even researched Zachary Smith from Lost in Space but I can’t remember what that was for. So, yes I do enjoy research because it takes me on a true journey of discovery. Looking at that notebook again I think the most interesting fact I gleaned came from Gary’s Texas Cooking: how to make cowboy beans.
Elin: What are you working on at present?
Sue: A book about greed and corruption (surprise, surprise) set in Portugal. It features an endangered fishing village, two fishermen (the guy’s from the US and the girl from the UK) who unwittingly uncover not only plans to destroy the village but also surprising secrets about their family backgrounds. And a rather nasty female bullfighter will swagger around on the pages until you’ll want to smack her.
Elin: So out of all these lovely characters who would you most prefer to snog, marry or avoid?
Sue: Well, I’d snog and marry Sam from Perfect Score, but I don’t think he’d enjoy or agree to it somehow. In that case I’ll snog my brave firefighter Jude from Hewhay Hall before Slater gets him. Do you know, I don’t think I’d marry anyone from my books – they’re all rather feckless – or not interested. I’d avoid Alex’s Uncle Timothy from Perfect Score because he’s a sociopath, and also Mule Palmer because he’s not too keen on personal hygiene, farts a lot and has anger issues a mile long. But If I saw Slater from Hewhay Hall coming along, I’d cross the road, fast. Stuff of nightmares.
Elin: That’s brilliant, Sue. One last question – could we please have an excerpt of something?
Sue: Sure. Here’s the blurb and the start of Hewhay Hall:
An unsung hero’s destiny–Slater’s house of horrors.
Fire-fighter Jude Elliott loses part of his leg trying to rescue a family held hostage during a terrorist attack. He journeys to mysterious Hewhey Hall, where it is told there are wondrous, magical cures.
Little does Jude know that his destination is Slater The Prince of Envy’s lair where demons reside and courageous souls are tormented…
Can Jude escape Slater’s house of horrors, or will he suffer for all of eternity?
Jude stared down the hill at the glint on the water and then across to the fields baked hard by weeks of sun. He’d followed the directions to the letter, so this was the right place. But where was Hewhay Hall?
A row of swallows balanced on a wire stretching overhead, each facing the same way as Jude, who rested against a five-bar gate. They too seemed to be eyeing the fallen tree trunks that littered the overgrown path down the rocky hillside. They were lucky—they could fly, but Jude had to hobble.
The air moved on the other side of the marshland. He didn’t imagine it. A definite ripple, the kind that alters your vision when a migraine’s about to start. Although the shift was fleeting, he had the idea something was down there after all, very faint and hard to describe. The outline of a building? Or maybe just heat haze. Whatever, he’d come this far—he’d go and investigate.
The latch and hinges on the gate were so rusted, Jude couldn’t open it. Nothing for it, then, but to climb over. He propped his crutches against the wooden bars, placed his hands on the top, and hauled himself up so his right leg got a footing on a lower rung. Now he could sit on the top. He bent down, picked up what was left of his other leg, and maneuvered it over until he straddled the gate. It creaked under his weight. As he swung his right leg over, he teetered, tried to grab the top bar but lost his balance and fell headlong into a bramble patch.
Prickles stabbed him as he lay on his back, his whirling gaze locked on a wiggly jet trail in the cloudless sky. Once the world righted itself, he pushed himself up on his elbows and extracted some of the more painful brambles before rolling onto his right knee. His bum in the air, he hoped no one was looking and that he retained a shred of dignity as he balanced on his right leg and wobbled his way upright. As he tried to stand, his knee locked. He was a second away from landing back on the ground but he grabbed an oak tree trunk for support.
Bloody hell. Wasn’t it about time they gave him a prosthesis? He bent to rub his stump, still raw after all this time. Why wasn’t he healing?
Thank you so much for letting me curl up in the comfy chair, Elin!
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