04 Susan Stairs

Susan Stairs has an MA in creative writing from UCD and was shortlisted for the Davy51jhhGL31OL  SY445 Byrnes Irish Writing Award in 2009. She was born in England, but has lived in Ireland for most of her life. The Story of Before is her first novel. The book has received accolades and attention from media all over Ireland and the UK, but now she's really hit the big time - a spot on Literary Love Fest!

1) What is your name? What is your quest?

Growing up,  I thought my name was unique. But from the internet I've learned there is more than one Susan Stairs in the world –  a few in Canada, actually, where many of the Stairs clan emigrated in past centuries, I believe. My quest – to create stories featuring fully realised worlds peopled with believable characters that readers will care about.

2) Okay, tell me about your book.

It's the story of a perceptive young girl – Ruth Lamb – recalling the circumstances that led to a family tragedy in 1970s Dublin, and her attempt to discover what role her own intuition played in the terrible event.

3) What was the most difficult bit to write?

I found it very difficult when I had to allow a character to do something nasty. I felt very responsible for each character's actions as I had created them and, a bit like you would with your children, I wanted the best for them. So it was hard to see them making bad choices. As a writer, you are in control, but only up to a point. The characters take the reins at times so there's a certain amount of sitting back and allowing them to steer the narrative in a particular direction.

4) What surprised you about writing it?

Lots of things. That it took the length of time that it did. That it was so much work – even when I thought it was finished, there was a huge amount of polishing to be done. That I enjoyed it so much. Mostly, I think, that I actually did it. I started it, I continued it and I finished it. I wrote a novel.

5) First line:

'The others used to say I was psychic.'

6) What's the next project?

I'm working on my next novel. It's set in the early 80s and tells the story of a young boy called Tim who travels from his home in the UK to Ireland to spend the summer with relatives. By summer's end, his life is changed forever.

7) Your three main characters are trapped in a barn during the zombie apocalypse. What's the outcome?

Oh Lord. How do I answer that? I think I'd allow each of them to come up with a solution for a successful escape and end it there, leaving the reader to decide the outcome.

8) Your book's been made into a movie. What's playing over the opening credits?

'Goin' Back' sung by Freddie Mercury under the name Larry Lurex. Written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, it's all about trying to recapture the innocence of youth. It was recorded by many but this version would fit perfectly.

9) When and where is the book available?

Publication day is June 4 and it should be available in, as they say, 'all good bookshops'. Not that there's any other kind.

My two cents: A fantastic book. Vividly atmospheric and descriptive - especially to anyone who grew up in the 70s - without ever feeling slow, The Story of Before manages to be nostalgic, funny, perceptive, suspenseful and chilling all at once. There were surprises at every turn and I was never sure who was telling the truth. It's the kind of book that has you talking out loud to the characters. ('What the hell are you doing? Go back!') My favourite bits were the unsentimental picture of sibling dynamics, and the 70s brought back to life.

And here are those opening credits. I agree that this song goes very well with the novel.

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"...astonishingly good....a juicy coming-of-age story...also an important read." The Globe and Mail

"...poignant...heart-wrenching. This stunning debut will surely appeal to both teenage readers and adults." Quill & Quire, starred review

"Witty, devastating, with a melancholy humour..." Sunday Business Post

"...page-turning, top drawer stuff..." BGE Book Club

"...warm, witty, heartfelt and utterly engaging..." The Irish News

"A stunning debut. I loved it." The Irish Examiner