Where next for Sue McDonagh- Author?
Today I'm delighted to welcome back to the blog my good friend and writing buddy, Sue McDonagh. I first met Sue six years ago at a time when I was starting to write my first novel. Since then she has been my constant supporter and motivator, a fellow companion for numerous writing workshops and Conferences.
Welcome back, Sue!
2020 saw the publication of your third novel in your Art Cafe trilogy for Choc Lit., Escape from the Art Cafe. What's next for author Sue McDonagh?
The Art Café was never intended to be a series. Writing just one book felt like a milestone. Deciding at that point to write a series would have terrified me. And yet, Meet Me at the Art Café, novel two, grew from my curiosity about two minor characters in that first novel. Jo, competent and sensible single mum, and Ed, handsome and charming and yet incapable of sustaining any of his many and legendary romances.
The perennial author’s question, ‘What if?’ lurked in my mind and demanded attention. Unlike many of my writer friends, I don’t have hundreds of ideas whizzing around my head. My books grow out of one idea that won’t let go.After writing two heroines who grew in confidence, I wondered about the emotional journey of a feisty heroine, who already had more confidence than she knew what to do with. I worried that readers wouldn’t like her, and I wondered how her character arc would end in the story. What would she have learned about herself? How would she have changed? I didn’t want her to lose that confidence and become a quiet, constrained version of herself. Intrigued already, I started writing her story, wondering just where she was going to end up. She turned out to be one of the funniest characters I’ve written, and her presence coincided with some huge changes for the Art Café. Without her, it wouldn’t have happened.
I’d always referred to the series as a trilogy, and although I was sad to see an end to the Art Café and its cast, I felt it was time to write a stand-alone novel. I had an idea that, like all the others, had gone from scratching about inside my head to full-on bouncing about trying to escape. And it wasn’t connected to the Art Café!
I began to write it. And then started it again. Got to fifteen thousand words and started again. My two trusted beta readers said they loved it, and it was funny. So why couldn’t I push it along?I downed tools and read instead. I hate to be without a book, but since I’ve started writing, I’ve found that reading doesn’t always represent the escapism that it used to. I can’t read in my own genre when I’m writing, as I find myself somehow morphing into the author I’m reading, and my author voice changes. So I turn to crime and thriller for my kicks – and fell with relief, on the 12th in series from Elly Griffiths, The Lantern Men. I devoured it, as I have all the others, and closed the book with sadness that I had to wait for the next one to be released.
I adore those books. Reading them takes me into a familiar world, where I know the characters. Even as I’m writing these words, I can see them yelling at me, and I bet you can too. It was days before I made the connection. I’ve said often enough that writing the Art Café stories was like going to a great party where I knew everyone. My reviews tell me how much people love the characters in my books as if they’re real people (they are, of course). It dawned on me eventually, that I missed the Art Café!
I had a great new character with this terrible thing happening to her, and I just knew that someone at the Art Café would be around to set her right, make her a cuppa, tell her to get a grip and sort her hair out. And apart from the characters, I missed the sea and that big beach. It was actually visceral.
Our world at the moment is uncertain, and strange, and I’m escaping as much into the world that I create, as into the worlds I read in the pages of other books. I miss having a spontaneous coffee with my friends, and oh, those hugs that were so much a part of our lives. Without realising it, I’d cut my character off from everyone. I set her in the wilderness of the Brecon Beacons, amongst dark hills and rain and I hated it. She was living in the metaphorical darkness of my lockdown life and I hadn’t even noticed.
I opened a new document, and I began again, this time in the Art Café. And the words flowed, and in my head the sun is shining, the sea is sparkling and there’s a little family of grandparents, parents and kids digging holes in the beach and paddling in those warm shallows. I feel happy. I might not be able to zoom around on my motorbike, but I bet Lucy and Flora are out on theirs.
The new story is unfolding. My new character still has her woes, and it’s going to take a while to unravel, and just when she thinks she’s got it right – well, that would be a spoiler – but this time the supporting cast of the Art Café are around to help. Or hinder, you never quite know…
Book 4 of the Art Café series will be out Spring 2021, hopefully. I’ve got everything crossed!
Thank you, Sue. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's thrilled to know that we'll be able to visit the Art Cafe again next Spring. I was fascinated to read how you were compelled to extend the trilogy into a series. The fact that your characters are so real to you is probably why I, for one, think the characterisation in your novels is a real strength.
My career as a policewoman in the Essex Police was interrupted when I was twenty-four by ovarian cancer. A year of surgery and chemotherapy meant a successful recovery, which led to a convalescent year in the Essex Police Press Office. This suited me as I’d always fancied being a journalist, and meant that I could play with joined-up writing and stationery.
When I moved to Wales to marry a man widowed by cancer and became an instant mum to his two little boys, I used my Press Office skills and wrote press releases and eventually, blog posts for the various clubs and organisations I was involved with.
Art evolved into a full-time occupation and I made a living teaching and sketching portraits on the spot at agricultural and seaside shows, moving into more considered work as time went on and appearing on Sky TV in 2014 in the regional finals of the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year.
I now work almost exclusively to commission, but also give demonstrations and talks to art societies and other groups, which I enjoy.
In 1982, following chemotherapy, I cycled from John O’Groats to Land’s End in ten days, fundraising over £8000 towards a cancer scanner for St Bartholomew’s Hospital, where I was treated.
When my second hip needed replacing, I thought about commemorating it with a further bonkers fundraising idea, but to everyone’s relief, found my excitement in writing.
Ten years ago I learned to ride a motorbike, and now help to run Curvy Riders, a national, women only, motorbike club.
I live in Wales, a mile from the sea. My Border terrier, Scribble, comes to work in my open-to-the-public studio/gallery with me, and thinks the customers only come in to see him. Sometimes, I think that too.
When I’m not writing, I’m painting or on my eBike or motorbike.
I belong to a local writing group and the Romantic Novelist’s Association. My novels, Summer at the Art Café and Meet Me at the Art Café have been published as digital, audio and paperbacks, and also published in The Netherlands. My third novel, Escape to the Art Café, was released on 30 June, 2020.
Thank you for reading. Writers, have you felt sad when writing the last book in a trilogy and, like Sue, felt compelled to write more in a series?