Happy Saturday, everyone! Today’s Sapphic Fiction author interview is with Dr Suzanne Moss, author of Observations on the Danger of Female Curiosity, a very well-received, immersive piece of Sapphic historical fiction that will educate you as well as entertain you. Sue’s background as a horticultural education professional and researcher in eighteenth-century gardens and collections has lent her writing extra dimension, and I really enjoyed reading her interview, as her story is so interesting! Not to mention the fact that she soon has merch available - isn't that exciting?! So I reckon you’ll all enjoy her interview too!
Hello Sue! To start off, tell us a little bit about you - who are you, and what do you do?
I'm a northern-English girl currently living in the south. Horticultural education is my 'real world' job, with a bit of research on the side. My research is technically on the position of gardens as scientific spaces in the 18th century, but recently historical queerness has crept in as an interest too! If I'm not at work, generally you can find me renovating our house, walking the dog or writing.
What made you want to sit down and write your first book?
Good question. I started with the objective of getting my research into the hands of as many people as possible. Research papers are poorly read and an academic book would have been read by about three people. We had done an exhibition at a stately home, so I thought fiction might be worth a go, as there were so many real-life awesome characters with stories to tell. The slight problem was that I could count the number of fiction books I'd read in the past 15 years on one hand, so yes... that was a steep learning curve. On the way I fell in love with sapphic fiction and there's no stopping my reading now. :)
This sounds silly, but it was such a revelation to me that writing a fiction book well is REALLY HARD. The first draft was just awful, the second wasn't much better. The final one was version nine. I learned a lot, and the process for book 2 will be quicker! I have so much respect for authors who write good fiction.
Me too, Sue, me too.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
Another interesting revelation was that I have very little imagination when it comes to plot. Most of the things that happen in the books are adaptations of things that actually have happened to individuals in the past, or are at least inspired by situations, insinuations and experimentations. If I do have to make up plot points that aren't based on real stuff, that takes Difficult Thinking, but it's great that if I am stuck, there's usually a way out by heading back to the lives of these awesome people.
For characters - Thea is loosely based on the Duchess of Portland, and takes her grit and determination. I took some time in the beginning to work through one of those character questionnaires, to prompt me to think about things I may not have otherwise, and it really helped me to round her out as a person. I'm not sure about the others, I suppose they're probably based on experiences I've had and people I've met to some extent. We all know a few Stanhope Grimstons...
Which of your characters do you relate to the most, and why?
It has to be Thea I think - as a new author it was easiest to write a character whose approach and reactions would align at least to some extent with mine. Her anxieties are very familiar to me, but equally the nerdy determination. Obviously I removed all of my awful traits and replaced them with excellent ones :) As I get older I definitely relate to many of Martha's traits and have far less patience with faffing about and rude people.
When I came to write the prequel short story - A Defense of Astronomical Curiosity for Ladies - I was astounded at how much more difficult it was to write from the point of view of Harriet, who is an extrovert (and I definitely am not). I'm not sure I pulled it off really. I have no idea how authors do that and put themselves inside peoples' heads that are so different from their own, it's really impressive!
Has your own writing ever made you cry?
Yeah a little. But then the ending was more gloomy to start with until my excellent editor had a stern word with me and now it's much better.
Does anyone you know in real life read your books?
Apparently so. I find it EXTREMELY alarming but try not to think about it too hard. As the book and its factual credibility is quite heavily wrapped up in my professional research I thought a pen name might not be the best idea. But that means that a lot of my family and colleagues are now reading a sapphic romance with naughty bits.
If I try to be pragmatic about it, I'm quite pleased that there are people reading sapphic fiction who may not pick it up otherwise, and that there's a small section of the sapphic community that knows more about 18th century science. If I'm less pragmatic, it makes my brain want to fold in on itself...
Imagine your book, or one of your books, was made into a film. Who would play the lead roles?
Emilia Clarke has always been Thea in my head, but I've never figured out who Martha would be. Maybe Rachel Weisz? I think Edgar is probably Jim Broadbent.
When you’re not writing, what do you do to relax?
There isn't much time for that at the minute, but lots of the house renovation I do find relaxing. Painting or tiling with an audiobook is pretty good. Gardening, of course, and I like a good bath.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given with regards to being an author?
It really needs a plot, Sue, or nobody is going to read this.
How about in general life?
A cliche, but 'Life isn't a rehearsal'. You get one shot, so do the things you want, not the things that other people think you should be doing. I'd caveat that with the fact that sometimes you need to do those things to achieve what you want. :)
What is a motto you live by?
Don't be limited by what you can do - aim for what you want to achieve.
I'm a strong believer that if you want to be able to do something, and that thing is in your control, you can probably make it happen. It is likely to take learning and practice, but if you want it, go for it!
How can people connect with you?
I'm on Twitter at @DrSueMoss or on email at email@example.com. I'm also on Instagram and Facebook but pretty rubbish at both.
Finally a light-hearted one. If you were a sandwich, what sandwich would you be?
Wow great question. I have no idea (see again the point about no imagination) so had to ask my wife. She says I'd be pastrami on artisan bread with mustard, lettuce, gherkins and emmental cheese. She didn't even pause to think. I think we'll be be spending some of the day unpicking this... :)
If you enjoyed this interview, then make sure you’re following my social media accounts (@kblakemanwriter on Twitter and @katherineblakemanwriter on Instagram) to get all the latest updates! And if you want to support my own Sapphic Fiction journey while you’re here, my new novel The Summer We’ve Had is available now!