Author who delves into family secrets and lies

Susan Elliot Wright.
Susan Elliot Wright.

Like many authors, Sheffield novelist Susan Elliot Wright says: “I write what I want to read.”

Her third novel, What She Lost, came out in the spring and she has just submitted the second draft of her fourth, entitled  If I Should Fall.

She doesn’t want to say too much about it but can reveal: “It addresses the tragedy of unfulfilled motherhood and loss and post-natal psychosis. Some of the themes from my early books but I think told in a more dramatic way. The setting is Sheffield and the Peak District.”

Her debut, The Things We Never Said (“it’s now on the Kindle summer sale at the fantastic price of 99p”), interweaved the story of a woman piecing together an horrific event as a young actress in Sheffield in 1964 and a young man in the present day grieving after the death of his father.

That was followed by The Secrets We Left Behind, also a story told through two time frames – the present day and 1976 - about a woman whose past catches up with her.

“Parent-child relationships interest me,” she says and that continues with What She Lost. It is set in south-east London, where she grew up, and a farm commune in Scalby, North Yorkshire,

“And it’s about a mother and daughter who have a difficult relationship because of something that happened when the daughter was little. The truth about that event is buried in the mother’s mind, but she now has Alzheimer’s, so memories are fading.

“Part of the idea for the book came from something I read years ago when there was a terrible tragedy for which a child was responsible. I wondered what was going to become of the child.”

In the acknowledgements she says it was the most difficult book to write. “At the heart of it was the structure of two characters and different time frames.

“After the first draft I had a meeting with my agent and editor and we all agreed it didn’t work. I realised I had to go back over it page by page and ended up using only about 20% of that first draft.”

One bonus was that she didn’t have to research Alzheimer’s as a few years ago she had written a non-fiction book on the condition . “When I was a journalist you had to become an expert on all kinds of subjects and then once you had finished you forgot all about it.”

That was before she moved from London to Sheffield in 2005 to do the MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam University and began work on The Things We Never Said.

A legacy of a career at the keyboard is that she suffers from RSI and now uses voice-activated word processing software.

“It took me a long time to get used to it, but it’s great for emails,” she says, though it has its drawbacks.

“Creating fiction happens through my fingers,” she says. “I type most of my first draft and then go and speak it into the processor.

“The way you often write is as you type one sentence your mind has moved on to the next and there’s a flow. It doesn’t quite work like that when you are speaking it out loud.”

Readers for her novels are mostly women, she admits. “Not entirely, I did get a letter from an elderly gay pastor in America.

“But I was in the doctor’s surgery recently and when they called my name a young woman, said, ‘are you the author? I love your books’. I was really chuffed.”

What She Lost is published by Simon & Schuster at £7.99.