‘I describe myself as a household bard, a woman of stories,
with the washing up to do. I do both…’
This week we are chatting with Suzanne Power, author of novels, poetry, creative non-fiction and short stories. She’s also a renowned editor, who has worked on global bestsellers and community anthologies. A university lecturer, facilitator, and mentor, trained in writing therapies – Suzanne takes ‘a person-centred approach to writers and writing, working with all standards and all levels in the same way – respectfully.’
Q. Welcome to the blog Suzanne! You’ve had, and continue to have, a fascinating career, both as a writer and as an editor – and now you have launched your inspiring website Writing is Life … can you tell us a little about that?
Thank you. I put my heart and soul into it. As I write on the website, writing is the most judged act of any human being’s life. It is graded and confined and it needs acts of reclamation from school systems and from so-called expert opinions. Publishing is full of those. There is a vast difference between a reader and a critic. There shouldn’t be. I have worked with words all my working life and I have been paid. As part of that I have learned how to withstand, and to keep perspective, on writing and publishing. That’s part of what I try to pass on to authors, the tools to be an author-ity of their own stories, and subsequently their writing lives.
I work to create stories, and by investing enough of myself in them to remain independent on them.
When I work with others it is always respectfully in a fostering environment, not a punitive one. The outcomes speak more than I can, in the volumes that emerge.
A great friend, Dori, an emerging author who has also just finished cancer treatment, brought me to create the site, by saying, ’There is a whole bookcase of authors who would not exist if they had not had your encouragement and there are readers who need your books too. It’s not serving those who need you not to have a website.’ Enough said. Then I decided to do a newsletter for ongoing support.
I called it Within Words, rather than About, because good books are never about the most important person in the room, who is rarely the most interesting. Stories evoke what is hidden. I prefer in life, and in characters, the company of the hidden. They’re the people who have lived two kinds of day – good and bad. They have something in their eyes that means they hold yours.
They are writers with stories to tell, and they are the characters stories are about. In my fostering authors, helping to shape their confidence and books, I have seen those very people achieve amazing things.
The work is done in aloneness. The stories win out in the end.
Q. What are the books, out of your own work, that you are most proud of, or fond of?
Two books have helped me survive.
The Lost Souls’ Reunion, a novel, arose as a result of having been bedridden. It is a book from my soul. It is imbued with folk memory, a dark and hard read of some lost people, in life, history and the moment, but who are redemptive through their powerful growth of both foresight and insight. Lost Souls’ brought about the expansion of my imaginative world when my body was so broken I did not see how I would move well physically again. I did and I do.
Now, in the past year I have written Pieta Moments, which comes out in May. It tells the story of how I put words out of my life to hold my family together in a deep crisis, a metaphorical shipwreck. I put my children on the rock and the waves took me under. What happened next is a miracle, still, which brought me back from the brink. My own words were put in front of me. I made a promise never to neglect my words or myself again, and I am living it.
‘Stories belong to everyone…’
Q. You have very interesting thoughts on what defines success as a writer Suzanne- can you share a little about that for the writers amongst our readers?
I know how to get up from my knees and come back from nothing. Words have done that for me. Words are my vitality. Stories, in the ancient manner, represent everyone. I describe myself as a household bard, a woman of stories, with the washing up to do. I do both.
I hold an embodied belief in the ancient rite and right of stories for all. The oral tradition was valued more than the written for almost all of the life of humans and their stories. Illiteracy did not remove stories from firesides, then the word ‘illiterate’ became an aspersion, and stories were corralled into books, losing the thing they were born for and meant to do – hold communities together, provide them with a sense of a past and a vision of future.
Stories belong to everyone. That is why I don’t believe in any kind of literary circle and never subscribed to it, even when I was in one. The centre is often a lonelier place than the margin.
Archaeology is now searching for the remains of the ordinary in place of palaces and the funerary sites of dignitaries. I value that. The digs want to tell the stories of the lost times, not just the power brokers of those times.
So that is what I hope I represent and encourage. The ones who would never think they could do it, and I help them to do it. I am one of those. I was given a sign at eight years old that writing was for me and I held to it. I have hated it sometimes, but I have loved it more.
And I am not a person who obeys unless I can agree. So that means leaving belonging behind, for a creative life that is not always valued by in modern criteria. But I cannot live any other way. I own who I am.
I am listener, which makes me right for some good people and their wonderful stories. I never know more than them about their work. They are the authority. I treat respectfully. Writers are empowered and approach their story with renewed strength, and focus, if they find me right for them and their work.
Q. In your own writing career you’ve been a journalist, author, editor, teacher…I was lucky enough to be a student in your class on the Creative Writing Course in Kilkenny – and never forget your passion and dedication, and your close readings of our work taught us so much about writing. What are your own favourite books, or resources on writing?
Important writers like you found their voices, not through me, but through listening to your talent.
I am a door saddle for writing and writers, but I am not the door. You are that. By pinpointing what is unique and powerful, within the first draft, together, without lashing out opinions; we both work to improve by seeing what is right, what is there to be shone.
When a writer, as you did, works had to get to that, they can not only dodge cannon balls, they can catch them and hold them as if they are powder puffs. This strengthens the writer to withstand the barbarism of ill-considered opinion, chiefly from experts. Because they, like you, produced their best work and grew their stories strong around them. Wonderful writers like you hold their books close, they uphold them, and grow from creation.
That is continuance.
So, I never let myself be taken in by ‘how to’ books, but ‘why to’ books. For me someone that gave me wings was Brenda Ueland, who was knighted by the King of Norway and broke an over eighty international swimming record. She lived her decision to only work against her nature for money, when the hounds were after her, to be among people as well as her words. She loved to inspire, as well as to write herself. She was unique and compassionate in equal measure. Anything by her is worth reading. Now she has strong things to say about criticism. I believe her.
Thank you for sharing your wisdom here today Suzanne. Have you any favourite mottos or inspirational quotes on creative work?
‘Be good to yourself, and to your words.’ My own advice and I have to both give and take it. And – ‘Every day, some words.’ (Zola)
By Niamh Boyce