Writing World: Susan Flanagan

Writing World: Susan Flanagan

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The multi-talented and delightful Susan Flanagan tries her hand at novel writing, making her books something you can’t put down. But then, why would you want to?

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Susan Flanagan is someone you’d want as your bestie. Intelligent, generous, genuine, a good listener, a grand orator, and funny to boot; Flanagan, God bless her, is also mother to five. And a talented writer? Heck yeah! 

Novel writing skills 

Flanagan worked as a freelance journalist for 30 years and her yarns of non-fiction works have appeared in Canadian Geographic, Canadian Running, Newfoundland Quarterly, Atlantic Business and Saltscapes, to name a few.

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Flanagan has since flexed her novel-writing skills with two hitting the shelves in 2021: Supermarket Baby, winner 2019 Percy Janes First Novel Award (Flanker Press), and her first young adult novel, The Degrees of Barley Lick (Running the Goat Books & Broadsides). She is currently working on her third, Digital Detox, set in Battle Harbour, Labrador.

As if all that wasn’t grand enough, Flanagan also worked as a columnist for this very publication. We sat to gab about her latest creation, Supermarket Baby. 

‘Make people laugh’

Henry is the star, but there’s other elements in this novel that stands out, and that’s the Newfoundland backdrop and the humour. “My direction was to make people laugh. In the past year that we were immersed into with the doldrums of snow and a pandemic, every time I went back to tweak something, I’d say, ‘I got to make this funnier.’ My goal is to bring people out of humdrum and sometimes stressful lives and make them forget.”

There’s more!  “You know, I also wrote it for those who also might have a scatterbrain partner,” she added with a chuckle.

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Oh? Do tell. “Oh, I wouldn’t have a scatterbrain partner and say that. At Flanker, they call my husband Chris, Henry.”

More laughter. We switch direction easily and talk about life’s path. Flanagan offered, that when she turned 50, things changed. “Even though I didn’t mind turning 50, you tend to reassess your life at some point, not necessarily 50 for everyone, but I asked at that point, ‘what do I really want to accomplish? What would make me happy?’ And I knew that having a novel published was the biggest thing.”

Flanagan began to use visits with her mother, Theresa Marshall, as her sounding board. “I started actively reading this novel out loud to my mother, who’s now 92, but at the time she was 90. I used to go every lunchtime to her house. Sometimes your success in writing comes as much when you’re away from the computer as when you’re on. When your mind is relaxed and it’s free to work out plot lines or just come up with something you’re having difficulty with, well, that can happen when you are out for a walk, or in my case, sitting with your mother.”

‘Mind all refreshed’

The two sat together, having lunch and reading The Telegram. 

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“There were all these stories and they ended up making their way into the novel. Things about parking meters or Chase the Ace. I remember all the stories and reading them sitting at the table with my mother in her house and it was such a relaxing time.”

When she returned home, it was writing time. “My mind was all refreshed but somehow these stories I had read about worked their way into the fiction.” 

We ask if, after a lifetime of writing for pay, does it feels like work? 

She paused. “Writing to me is work, but the finished product brings me great, great joy,” she shared. 

We switch gears and chat about family. Flanagan is a mother of five and, like most parents, she’s had some interesting experiences. “Our ‘surprise’ child is now 13. He came 15 years after our first of the first four children. It threw such a wrench into my plans. Suddenly, I had this infant. So it all became almost overwhelming to think about writing and marketing a novel and so I shoved that novel literally in a file box in the basement and didn’t take it out.”

Real life imitates art

When Supermarket Baby was picked up, she remembered the novel in that basement file box. “I dug it out of the box and touched it up a bit and now that (The Degrees of Barley Lick  – Running the Goat Books & Broadsides) will be published as well. After all these years of waiting, I think 2021 is my year.” 

Flanagan is certainly blessed, and she knows it.  “I’ve got a 28 year old, a 27 year old, a 25 year old and a 23 year old, and then a 13 year old. It’s a beautiful thing, in retrospect. But whatever plans I had had, having a baby really threw me into a tizzy and I put my fiction hopes and dreams on hold for ten years. But, it all feels right.”

We ask if there’s any sneak peaks into her own family we can see by reading her fiction.  “The children and my family certainly made it into the book. No matter what anyone says, all novels will be semi-autobiographical. Autobiographical because you have to have experience to write.”

From forgetful partners to video gaming,  it’s all in there, she teased.

“Henry is trying to survive a Newfoundland spring and everything for him goes sideways after he goes to that supermarket to pick up eggs and ends up coming home with an infant. His life just goes into free-fall,” she said.

Does Flanagan give credit to anyone for her love of writing? She grew reflectively quiet for a moment before answering. “I guess my mother is the one who I credit for giving me the love of reading and writing,” she shared. At the age of 11, 1979 was the International Year of the Child and the Newfoundland Library Association put out a book  filled with the submissions from school children. One of Flanagan’s pieces made it into that book.

“I think right from that time, seeing my name in print alongside something that I had written that had come out of my head, well, it left a lasting impression. I think journalism was a natural career choice for me and now novel writing is a natural progression.”  

For information on Susan Flanagan and much more, visit susanflanaganauthor.com

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Pam is the Managing Editor of The Newfoundland Herald. As the mother of two, she proudly writes about a life lived simply at home on 'The Rock.' When not interviewing or writing about NL's finest, Pam can be found spending her time in the great Newfoundland outdoors.

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