It’s been a little while since I’ve done anything personally at Sheffield’s brilliant Off The Shelf Festival (I was there, last night, listening to Brett Anderson talking about his latest memoire, which was brilliant – as anyone who really knows me will know, Suede have been an integral part of me for many, many years (and there was an awful lot of Suede being played, certainly, while I was writing my second collection, nearly ten years ago).
I met Susan last week at a thing. An important and brilliant and very-close-to-my-heart thing which you’ll all be hearing about in good time. And, as the universe is filled with brilliant synchronicity, Susan has a new book out which I’m thrilled to have her here to talk about. She’s at Off The Shelf THIS SUNDAY with Helen Mort (all the details here).
First, I’d just like to say thanks to Nik for inviting me to do a guest post on this blog.
My fourth novel, The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood, is a little darker than my previous novels, but it’s the book I’ve always wanted to write. It’s out in paperback – the hardback came out in February, with a very different cover. The paperback cover is great, but I have to say, I think the hardback jacket is beautiful, and the merging of the woman’s face with the crow works perfectly for the story, (you’ll have to read it to see why!)
Cornelia Blackwood started life over 15 years ago in a short story called When the Bough Breaks, which came close to saying something I wanted to say about early motherhood. I was working as a magazine journalist at the time, and I’d been wanting to do something on maternal mental health for a while, but the magazines weren’t keen – they liked to present a rosy picture of serene and smiling mothers with serene and smiling babies. So I’d decided to explore the topic in fiction.
When the Bough Breaks was placed in a couple of competitions and received lots of great feedback, but it wasn’t quite there. I kept thinking about it, and I knew I wanted to go deeper, so a few years ago I tried reworking it as a radio play, but although I was pleased with the result, it didn’t get picked up for broadcast. Again, I put the idea aside.
Fast-forward a few more years and I’m working on the outline for a new novel, struggling to understand my central character’s motivation – why was she doing the things she did? Why was she thinking these thoughts? Suddenly the answer drops into my head. I know who this character is! This is Cornelia Blackwood, and she’s finally ready to tell me her full story.
I wrote the first draft in four months, which is incredibly fast for me – a first draft usually takes me a year – and I actually enjoyed the process (I usually find it agonisingly difficult!). There was lots of rewriting to do, of course, but I’m pleased with the result. I was nervous about the book, because it is quite dark, but the reviews have been wonderful and I’ve had some lovely personal emails from readers with whom the book has struck a chord.
I’m so happy that The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood is helping raise awareness of maternal mental health. For many new mums, those first days are filled with sunshine and remembered with joy, but for others, new motherhood is a time they find dark and frightening and bathed in shadows.