Susan began her career in book publishing back in the ‘70s for Faber & Faber, publisher of some of the greatest writers of the twentieth century – William Golding, Philip Larkin, Seamus Heaney among them. Moving from there to Australian publisher’s Angus & Robertson as Publicity Manager, she then took a sideways move to become an agent.
After two years as an agent she was approached by Sunday magazine to become their Media Editor, and when the editor moved to Woman’s Own she took Susan with her as Books and Fiction Editor. I was this move that led to her career as a writer.
When she found herself without a appropriate short story to put into an issue of WO, she decided to write one herself. This led to her writing for several other magazines, like Woman and You, before being persuaded by a literary agent friend to work on a novel.
Real Women was sold at auction to Simon & Schuster (1997) as part of a two-book deal. She had already completed her second book, Virtual Love, when the BBC encouraged her to adapt Real Women for television. After attracting an audience in excess of ten million, a sequel was quickly commissioned. The next tv project was a two-parter for ITV called Perfect, about a female serial bigamist, featuring her now good friend, Michelle Collins. Susan has also contributed to several other successful TV drama series, and has recently worked on a film project with Idris Elba.
As well as having several projects in development, for the past five years she has also been a writer on Coronation Street.
Her career appears to have come full circle as she recently launched her own publishing company, Fragile Books, with husband and SF novelist, David Wingrove. Together they have four grown-up daughters and live in north London.
What is a typical day for you?
I get up around 7.30, unless I’m on a deadline, in which case it’s earlier. I’d like to say I then go to the gym but the truth is that, more than often than not, I think about going to the gym but decide I have too much work on. Which is very bad. I stick the coffee on, listen to some news, try to see my kids – two of my four daughters still live at home. Then get down to it. These days ‘it’ is a mixture of writing scripts or whatever.for Coronation Street, working on other writing projects, and running Fragile Books – the independent publishing company I’m launching on 22nd June.
My husband, sf writer David Wingrove, also works from home but our way of working is very different: he’s in and out all day long – writing then out doing errands while he’s thinking – whereas my bottom hits the chair around 8.30 and I work right through the day, with breaks for putting on the washing or whatever. Sometimes I have business meetings out and about, and occasionally lunch with a friend, but this feels very naughty. I’ve started to think I’m a bit of a workaholic.
Generally I’ll stop work any time between 6 and 8 – although, again, this can be dictated by writing deadlines for Corrie. Then it’s supper (or dinner courtesy of Deliveroo!) and a good Netflix box set, which usually means I go to bed far later than I should, around midnight. On a bad night I’ll lie awake for hours thinking about stuff; n a good night I’m off within minutes…until the alarm goes off at 7.30.
What do you feel are your biggest achievements?
I know it sounds like a cliche, but my kids. They’re 33, 30, 27 and 22 and all good, kind people. And they all get on. It’s easy to take this for granted but I’ve come across so many families where the siblings don’t seem to like one another very much. So sad. I guess my biggest achievement work-wise is publishing four novels and having three of my own dramas on British TV. And now starting my own publishing company.
What’s in your handbag/ satchel?
My laptop and charger, a notebook and several pens (you never know when you’re going to get a good idea or hear a good line of dialogue), my wallet, glasses (increasingly essential), perfume (Chanel No5), lipstick and a mirror. Water (I’m trying to drink more). And generally some item of food. And usually a pair of flats – I’m not good in heels!
What are your ambitions in life?
I’ve never been especially ambitious. I’ve been lucky that I’ve fallen into one interesting job after another – from publisher, to journalist, to novelist, to scriptwriter, back to independent publisher. But in fact it wasn’t until a BBC producer encouraged me to adapt my first novel, Real Women, for tv that I wrote my first script and discovered what I really loved doing. As far as the rest of my life is concerned, I really just want the same for my kids: you spend a lot of your life working, so you want to enjoy it if you can.
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?
That being a scriptwriter was an option. I come from a very working class background where both parents left school at fourteen. My school was great fun but academically it was rubbish; certainly, being a writer wasn’t something I ever contemplated. I also wish I’d allowed myself to enjoy making TV drama. When it’s all going on you’re so worried about everything being right you don’t allow yourself to sit back and drink it all in; to enjoy the moment.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
Fragile Books is about to be launched with the first eight books in my husband’s epic SF series, CHUNG KUO. There are twenty books in the series, so that should keep me busy for a few years. Then the plan is to expand the list. I have several film/TV projects in development, and it would be fab if one of those came off. And I’d love to continue writing Coronation Street, which is enormously enjoyable.
What advice would you give a budding screenwriter?
Don’t follow a trend – undoubtedly it will have passed by the time you’ve finished your script. Write about what you know and what you’re interested in: producers are looking for writers with a ‘voice’. Develop a thick skin and be prepared for rejection and disappointment – it happens to all of us and you can’t take it too personally. Getting stuff made is as much about luck as it is about the work.
What’s the best advice you’ve received on motherhood you’d like to share?
To be honest, I don’t recall getting much advice. I’m pretty laid back by nature so just tended to take things as they came. The one thing I’d say to other new mums is just to enjoy your time with your kids – especially when they’re little – it really does go too quickly.
Finally, happiness is…
To be surrounded by a happy family, job satisfaction, a hot summer’s day, gin and tonic and chocolate.
David Wingrove’s CHUNG KUO series was published by Fragile Books on 22nd June