Q&A WITH WRITER SUSAN CHALKER BROWNE

BY NQ

May 2019

Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I began writing children’s books when my own children were small and have since branched out into books for adults. Mother of the Regiment and Other Remarkable Women of Newfoundland and Labrador is my twelfth book and my most ambitious writing project ever; the entire process took me three years.

What inspired this book?

One evening over a beer, my husband Dennis suggested I write a book about interesting women of Newfoundland and Labrador. Immediately I was captivated with the idea and right away could think of several wonderful women. As I got deeper into the project, it was the five women themselves who inspired me and kept me going.

What was your work process for bringing it together?

I researched one woman at a time, digging out all the material available. Then I assembled the research into separate piles – early years, middle years, death, and legacy. When I started to write I focused on each separate phase, starting at the beginning and proceeding in a linear fashion.

You’ve written both fiction and non-fiction. Does each genre have its own challenges?

Non-fiction is wholly dependent on research, which provides the entire structure of the story, but every detail must be accurate or the veracity of the whole book is called into question. Fiction depends more on the author’s imagination which must provide the structure, details, and ideas of the story, so a deep and rich imagination is essential and the pressure then is to keep that going.

Do you have a work routine?

I find I’m sharper and more energetic in the mornings so I prefer to work then. My office is at home so if I’m stuck on something I’ll get up and do a household chore and often the solution will come to me then. With no interruptions I’m good for a few hours – but often there are interruptions, sometimes I do write in the afternoons, and some days I’m busy with other things and don’t get to work at all.

What artists, not necessarily writers, inspire you?

Three of the women in my book were artists and they truly inspire me. Lydia Campbell wrote a beautiful memoir at the age of 75, having never been to school a day in her life. Elsie Holloway photographed the young men of the Newfoundland Regiment with a sensitivity that still leaps from the images. And Georgina Stirling captivated audiences around the world with her magnificent mezzo soprano voice.

What artists, not necessarily writers, would you like to see receive more attention?

I would like more attention on women artists of the past as many of their stories were never written down for posterity. Life was so much tougher for women at the turn of the last century, with multiple restrictions on what they could do. For those who pushed those boundaries and made a difference, in artistic fields and elsewhere, it is incumbent on us today to make sure they are remembered.

Mother of the Regiment and Other Remarkable Women of Newfoundland and Labrador is available from Flanker Press ($19.95)

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