Q&A with Our 2019 LoveReading Very Short Story Judges’ Award Winner and Author Susanna Crossman

You may have already met Susanna via LoveReading, in 2019 she was chosen as the Judges’ Winner for our LoveReading Very Short Story Award with Oh, I Do Love A Banana. It was a gentle, incredibly moving yet humorous story, holding a world of emotion in such a short space of time. Judge Elena Lappin felt it was: “a deeply loving story of a lonely widower’s battle with grief as his memory connects him closely with his past but fails him in the present. All this complexity is brought to life with a delightfully light touch". Judge Preti Taneja said: “this quiet piece uses humour and an every-day setting to achieve its piercing effects. The writer movingly captures the circularity of memory, routine and life as a whole”. We have kept in touch with Susanna since she won the award and were thrilled to learn that her debut novel Dark Island has been published in France. We thought it an ideal time to have a chat and find out what she has been up to since 2019.

Did the way you write change at all after winning the LoveReading Very Short Story Award with 'Oh, I Do Love a Banana'?

I wrote my prize-winning story ‘Oh, I do Love a Banana’ over 3-4 days. It was a very rapid process, yet the story had been in my mind for months: the supermarket setting, the old man dealing with isolation and grief. The story changed the way I write in that it gave me confidence in the kind of freshness that exists in writing that matures internally over a long period, but pours out onto the page very quickly. 

What came immediately after the win?

Immediately after the win, I had a lot of interest in my work, was invited to events like the Bloomsbury Festival and Poem Brut, Rich Mix, I had short stories commissioned for online and print journals. My piece Douze, Twelve Stakes From These Dark Ages, was published alongside John Berger’s work in the extraordinary German literary journal Neue Rundschau. ‘Making Thrums’ my short story based in the Tate Gallery was published in the brilliant Welsh journal, The Lonely Crowd. You can hear me reading it here.

I was commissioned to be Lead Writer for Visual Verse, and in 2019, I also began writing my novel, Dark Island, which has just been published in France.

What has your literary and book world looked like since 2019?

My literary and book world has bloomed since 2019. In the past two years, I’ve had fiction included in a number of anthologies such as my short story, Wear the Lace, in the brilliant, We’ll Never Have Paris, Repeater Books, (ed. Andrew Gallix). I’ve done various collaborations, and am currently working with an animation team, writing a science cartoon script about fish. My essays have been published in outlets like the Paris Review, Aeon, and in books such as the excellent lockdown collection Garden Amongst Fires (ed. Marina Benjamin), and the brilliant Trauma book, published by Dodo Ink. The latter have led to my current project for a non-fiction book.

Also I was asked to do a Personal Anthology of my favorite short stories.

When did the story for your novel first appear for you?

The inspiration behind my book, Dark Island, came from an experience, 20 years ago, when a friend negotiated the sale of a beautiful island just off the Breton coast and, as he become the guardian, invited us to the island for weekends. The previous owner had been the infamous, French singer, composer and conductor Léo Ferré. Since Leo’s death, nobody had lived on the island. On arrival, we discovered an otherworldly landscape, the house untouched, Leo’s piano, his belongings: a cardigan, a music score. It was as though he’d just walked out the door. The weekends were strange, mysterious, and disturbing. As the tide rose, everything changed. When the vote for Brexit happened, I became very interested in the idea of islands, landscape, identity, power and borders. All of this led to Dark Island.

Tell us the synopsis for L'île Sombre and where can we currently find it?

My debut novel, l’île sombre, (Dark Island), is a miniature portrait of English society, its excesses and its divisions. In his thirties, Josh, an English real estate agent, is about to close a big deal: the sale of an island. Before the signing, he invites a group of friends to spend a weekend getaway on the island. In the early morning, while the mist still holds back the night, Katherine, Sarah, Kevin, Charlie and Clarice, laden with food, cross the beach that separates them from the haunted fortress-like island. However, they forget to leave the worries, the pains, the grievances that they carry within them on the shore. As the tides rise and fall, the tension is palpable and it quickly becomes clear that there is something rotten in Josh's kingdom. The island reveals its shapes and dark secrets, the horizon blurs, personalities reveal themselves, and masks fall. This is the story of how our presents are haunted by our pasts, and of what happens when boundaries are crossed and frontiers are closed, leading to tyranny, violence and breakdown. Influenced by both Virginia Woolf and Patricia Highsmith, the novel moves from intimate trauma to landscape, questions of power, reveries and dreams.

You can currently find the book online and in all French bookshops.

How did it feel to write about the secrets and darkness that appear in the novel?

A recent review of the book wrote about how the book uses gothic ideas (the haunted house, phantoms etc) but that finally it explores the ghosts within the six characters, their own psychological fears, passions and demons. In this sense, I was compelled to write about secrets and darkness, ‘superstition’ and ‘evil’, as being more about what people do than what they are. The island itself could be considered as a seventh character, a seascape housing it’s own sense of order and justice.

Will L'île Sombre be available in English?

Hopefully the book will be available in English soon, it’s currently being read by UK and US publishers. It’s been well-recieved in France and published with a great translation by Carine Chichereau. I’ve been called “la plus française des britanniques…” “the most French of the British”! Once our confinement is over, this summer, I have a series of book events planned and am thrilled to be a guest at literary festivals, such as the brilliant Quai des Polars in Lyon

Has Covid changed the way you write?

I think Covid has changed the way I write in that I’ve been compelled to take more risks. The pandemic has been an unexpectedly creative and inspiring period for me, despite the hardship as I’ve also been working in hospitals. During the first lockdown, I wrote a 6-part literary baking column dedicated to surrealist artist Leonora Carrington, ‘Riding The Baking Edge’, where I combine stories and recipes. 

In the past year, I have also been very lucky to become part of a thriving international community of writers and artists organizing online events. I’ve been a regular guest performing/reading my work for David Collard’s Zoom Carthorse Orchestra, (originally Leap in The Dark) bringing together extraordinary people, such as prize-winning writers Ronan Hession, Wendy Erskin, musician Helen Ottaway, and writer and Duty Chaplain of Westminster Abbey Marie-Elsa Bragg.

I’ve also become a guest editor for Lucy Writers, with my series The Dinner Party Reloaded, organizing global virtual dinner parties with women writers, artists and thinkers gathering together from India, the UK, the Carribean, the US and across Europe. I’ve been lucky to have literary guests such as writers, Haleh Agar, Sara Collins and Irenosen Okojie, poet Nancy Campbell and more.

What has been your favorite novel to read in the last year? 

I am currently part of a brilliant reading group, led by the amazing author and academic Merve Emre, we’re reading A Man Without Qualities by Musil. It’s brilliant. Another noteworthy novel I read in the last year is Sara Collin’s The Confessions of Frannie Langton, a gothic romance about the twisted love affair between a Jamaican maid and her French mistress in 19th century London. 

What’s next for you? 

I am currently working on a new novel, and a non-fiction book. More soon on these! I also have screen-writing projects on the go, as my short story Edie Bakes Cakes, attracted interest after being selected for Longform. 

Keep up to Date With Susanna Crossman

Website: susanna-crossman.squarespace.com

Twitter: @crossmansusanna

Instagram: @susannacrossman_

If you enjoyed this, take a look at our other Author Talk blog posts. You can also click here to read Susanna's LoveReading Very Short Story Award winning interview. Susanna also appeared in Episode 8 of the LoveReading Podcast that you can listen to here.

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