Long Barn Books Interview
Posted on 02 June 2006. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
WriteWords talks to editor Jessica Ruston and author Susan Hill, who together run new publisher Long Barn Books
Tell us all about Long Barn
It all began with Virginia Woolf ! I have admired her since I was 14 not only as a writer but as a very practical woman and a hands-on publisher, who not only founded the Hogarth Press, with Leonard, but did everything, even the printing with a machine they bought and installed in their dining room ! She not only chose the books to publish, she received and fulfilled orders, packed parcels – brown paper and string in those days – the lot. I had always wanted to have a go and in 1997 I thought – put up or shut up. I was looking out of my bedroom window at our long barn and then a piece of serendipity came about; as often, I dipped into Virginia`s diaries and the book opened at the page that said ‘Just back from staying with Vita at Long Barn.’ It was meant to be !
How do you find writers?
Books have come my way by being offered to me, or I have an idea and commission a book. I started with non-fiction and that is the way it has been until this year when I have published one first novel and later am doing some children`s books. Agents don`t send me things much because we are a very egalitarian firm and everyone, no matter who they are, gets the same advance of £1,000 and the same royalty contract – agents, of course, like to push for huge advances which I can`t and won`t pay, so They don`t make much out of Long Barn.
What excites you about a piece of writing-
SUSAN: Style, confidence, an air of the writer knowing what they are doing, something exciting and unusual in the opening paragraphs – quite simply, a story that makes me want to go on reading.
JESSICA: As Susan says, that tug that catches your interest and perks you up, makes you want to find out what happens next. Writing that’s evocative, that takes you somewhere new.
and what makes your heart sink?
SUSAN: The word I in the first line, the first person narrative present – ‘I walk across the room and I feel like death. I am sick in the basin.’ That sort of thing. Me-books. The novel as therapy. Detailed and graphic descriptions of sex and drug taking and masturbation in paragraph one.
JESSICA: Too many exclamation marks. Therapy novels. People who haven’t spell-checked or tidied up properly – if you haven’t done basic editing it says to me that you haven’t worked hard enough on it in other ways. ‘Issue’ novels, or novels where there is no real story or interesting characters, just a relentless ‘message’.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
SUSAN: Too many but Dickens, Graham Greene, Virginia Woolf, Joseph Roth, Penelope Fitzgerald, Hardy, Carson McCullers. John McGahern. Style and substance, wonderful evocations of place and investigations into the human heart. Prose to die for. And stories, stories, stories..
JESSICA: Anything by Patrick McGrath – Asylum is one of my all time favourite novels. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski – it’s one of the strangest, most complex, most exciting and multi-layered things I’ve ever seen. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Douglas Kennedy, Jay McInerney, Nancy Mitford, Dominic Dunne.
I am only publishing one FIRST novel a year. Details of entry are on the website. http://www.longbarnbooks.com.
Otherwise, a proposal, sent in initially by e-mail to email@example.com
No science fiction, fantasy, teen fiction. Non fiction – no books requiring large amounts of colour illustration.
And I only publish a few books – no more than half a dozen a year.
What advice would you give to a new writer starting out?
Are you SURE you know what you`re doing ? and write by all means, for your own interest and pleasure but don`t assume you will ever be published – after all, many thousands of people paint for pleasure and certainly don`t expect to sell or even exhibit their work. And if you are published, don`t expect fame and fortune.
Read read read and read again. Read the great writers of past and present, not to copy but to learn from – and be humbled and encouraged by.
Try not to write a me-book. If you are using your writing as therapy fine but never assume your therapy is of any interest to anyone apart from yourself and possibly your therapist.
I would never say never give up because frankly, a lot of people should, honourably, decide they should do just that. If you are born to be a writer you won`t give up anyway.
How did you start writing? Can you give us a potted history of your work/influences?
SUSAN: When I was four. I started my first novel when I was 15 and it was published when I was in my first year at university. I have never done anything else, never had a job, never been employed by anyone – or sacked by anyone, come to that. My best work was done between the aged of 25 and 32. I doubt if I will ever write again as I did then.
When I married and had my family, I marked time doing children`s books, journalism, some autobiographical books – until I could get back to fiction, when I wrote The Woman in Black, to see if I could still do it. I have been a reviewer of books for 45 years, and generally been involved in most areas of book writing, judging, publishing, commenting ..all my life.
I started writing crime fiction two years ago because I wanted to look at the world I live in now, and this is a good genre in which to do so – and for fun. I like having fun as a writer.
But it doesn`t mean I will now only write crime fiction.
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