I am so pleased to be able to interview Suzanna Burke, an author who I’ve gotten to know a bit over the past few years. Suzanna is from Sydney, Australia.
Jeff: In the last twenty years or so, we Americans seem to have rediscovered Australia. What’s one thing Australians roll their eyes at that we completely misunderstand? And, what’s something about Australia that you wish we knew?
Suzanna: I think the most common misunderstanding stems from the enormous size of Australia. I lost count of the numbers of folks that suggested that they might visit Sydney, and drive to ‘the outback on a day trip, returning the next day. We Aussies tend to stir the pot as well which doesn’t help matters at all, with the wags amongst us, and there are many, going along with the misconception and adding fuel to the problem by offering day trip suggestions, such as um … why don’t you popup to Cairns for the day, watch out for the crocodiles though they’re nasty bastards when they’re hungry.
The drive to the outback would take at a minimum eight days each way; on some of the roughest terrain in the country. And that time frame wouldn’t allow for staying at some of the most beautiful places we have to offer, during the road trip.
We don’t have superhighways connecting the big cities to our far flung inner heart, we certainly have them connecting city to city, with some in between old highways just to add to the experience. And as for Cairns by road … allow an absolute minimum 10 days, each way. Depending on the season. The wet season is much more difficult as roads are often cut by floods.
As for something about Australia that I wish you knew, one of the funniest things is the use of the word pissed. I have actually had a conversation with a lovely American guy, he said he was pissed, and I replied ‘Wow, really? You sure don’t look pissed, you carry it well”. He scratched his head and asked what I meant. I responded with, “Well … you’re walking straight, and not slurring your words at all” It was then that he asked, “What do you Aussies mean when you say someone is pissed?”
I replied. “Pissed? Are you serious?” One look at the confusion on his face told me he was. “Um … pissed is being drunk as a skunk. Fall down, throw up, drunk. You know, let’s all party just ‘cause we can and wake up still pissed”
I gave him a look that said, what the hell else could it mean? He roared laughing and kindly explained that in The States if someone says they are pissed, the mean really ticked off, angry as hell etc. I laughed in turn … because here in Oz we say we are really pissed-off, if angry. So close and yet so far.
J: I know your first two books, Empty Chairs and Faint Echoes of Laughter were non-fiction and very personal, talking about the unbelievably horrible abuse you endured as a child. I’ve read that you took great solace in reading and learning. Could you talk a bit about that?
S: I had started school at age eight, and left permanently aged almost eleven, so my reading skills were very limited, I only began to read once I hit the streets, aged eleven, as it was not permitted at home. So when I was out of there and free; I began going to the public library. It was air-conditioned which was the initial attraction for me, and then I discovered a whole world of books. Wonderful, glorious books. I would stay all day just looking at first, and then when I found I could read the books free of charge as long as they didn’t leave the library (I had no address so could not borrow) I became addicted to learning. My lack of reading skills caused confusion for quite a while, but the librarian was a wonderful lady and she happily answered my unending questions about pronunciation and all manner of things. I still smile at the fact that I write just about everything in American English. The books I was drawn to were predominantly by American authors. One of my earliest favorites was and remains ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee.
I had a thirst for knowledge that was and remains unquenchable. Looking at maps and even discovering a globe of the world which was my first experience of thinking of the planet as round. Things that most kids know very early I did not.
Then I discovered discarded newspapers. Wow what a minefield that opened up! Plus they were handy to sleep on when I had done reading them. I still hunger for more information. My memory isn’t as sharp as I’d like it to be these days, but learning something new each day will hopefully stimulate it for a while to come.
J: Being subjected to such terrible abuse can often destroy a young life. How were you able to find the determination to keep going and find a better life?
S: Was it determination? I guess maybe that word covers it .I think I was also very lucky. Right place, right time scenario. I watched television in the house I had lived in. It was an escape from the ugliness. I figured that not all these shows were purely make believe. They showed me a world where kids went to school, where education was rewarded, and exploring the world was a rite of passage. I am pig-headed, stubborn and a dreamer as well, when you combine those things and toss a little unhealthy skepticism to the mix you get what? Apart from confusion that is.
I guess you get the multi-faceted person that is me. I still believe I have things left to accomplish. My life is good these days, but my bucket list is still endless. Guess I’ll be adding to it till I’m too old to care anymore.
J: You’ve mentioned the refuge of reading and learning, the taking in of information. When did you first become interested in writing, and telling the story of what you had endured?
S: I had never considered becoming a writer. It never entered my mind that I may have something of interest to say, or enough intelligence to create a whole new book of fictional characters. My writing started as a way to reach a darling little girl named Jenny. You think I was young to be on the streets at age eleven? Jenny wasn’t certain how old she was, but the rest of us guessed at about six, maybe seven, and no older than eight. Jenny was so badly damaged, she didn’t want to be touched. She would scream if someone got too close, and she cried herself to sleep every night. I got in the habit of telling her stories where she was always the Princess, she was always the victor and never the victim. She could slay dragons and sleep in Angel’s wings for comfort. The others used to listen as well. Jenny memorized the stories and began asking me for a particular one. She would become distressed if I didn’t remember exactly how the story went. So I took to writing them down on paper bags, the borders of newspapers, and finally in an exercise book that one of the other kids got for her. Then I would read them to her. She began to lose that haunted, hunted, look. The advent of a baby doll in her life given as a Christmas gift by one of the dockworkers, saw Jenny sleeping at last without crying herself to sleep. It gave her something to love that would never change.
I made a promise to the woman she became. I promised her that someday I would write down our story, the story of our lives in the place we called ‘The Palace.”
Jenny took her own life before I had honored that promise. I wrote’ Empty Chairs’, but too late for her to know. That is one of my greatest regrets. ”Faint Echoes of Laughter covers my time with Jenny and the rest of the crazy bunch that we were.
J: I think people assume this is a cathartic process. Was it for you?
S: No. It was as far from cathartic as it gets … for me. People did assume it was a cathartic experience as I’m certain it is for many folks sharing these types of memories.
For me it was a relentless cycle of pain. Things we block from our memory because it’s too painful and damaging to our psych to revisit them. When I allowed these things to resurface they caused a good deal of damage. I had horrendous flash-backs which I dealt with by drinking. I couldn’t sleep without nightmares. I began to seek out time to be alone, eventually isolating myself almost completely from my family and friends.
I had never been a person that would permit a counselor or psychologist to enter my world, though it had been suggested many times. I had not discussed my past with any but a few close friends who would never betray me. I had experienced periods of depression in my life. But nothing like the depression that consumed me when writing these books. ‘Empty Chairs’ concluded abruptly because I became too ill to continue writing. Then I started getting emails from total strangers telling me that I had somehow helped them by talking so openly. They asked me to please tell them how I was doing now.
‘Faint Echoes of Laughter was written to bring myself and a few kind people some sort of closure. It covered my time spent with Jenny and the rest of the wonderful kids.It was easier to write in many respects than “Empty Chairs”. The memories associated with ‘Faint Echoes of Laughter’ were, whilst still emotional, easier than dealing or rather not dealing with my earlier life.
J: Is there any more of that story to tell?
S: No. I’m done. I’m content these days with writing fiction. I enjoy writing fiction. Besides … I get to kill off all the Sociopaths in fiction. Many of them based on folks I met back then. Retribution in a kind of weird way.
Dudes Down Under is a fond memory. I actually began it before Empty Chairs, and kept writing it during the writing of my two non-fiction works. Dudes was my relief valve. I took the pressure down by creating totally off the wall characters with the craziest humor and dialogue ever. Cyril (The talking croc with great dress sense) will always remain in my heart… Diabolical rogue that he became, he allowed me to cut loose and have a mountain of self-indulgent fun.
Sequel. No, I had considered it, and perhaps one day I will write another book like Dudes. But my love of writing has steered me in another direction, for now anyway.
J: There are also rumors of an upcoming psychological thriller?
S: Yes indeedy! The book is complete and with my publisher Thorstruck Press, to be edited and released in the near future. ‘Acts Beyond Redemption’ is the name of the book, and I am so damned excited about this one. So; what do you get when you have a jaded FBI task force in search of a serial killer; where the body count stands at sixteen? Then, you toss in one serial killer who is not exactly who or what she appears to be; mix with that a government that knowingly unleashed biological warfare for a price; plus an unrelenting series of deaths that includes one of the highest ranking men in the U.S.A.? “What do you get?” You get, “Acts Beyond Redemption” Book One. I anticipate a three book series with this one. It’s a thriller, it relies heavily on my knowledge of Sociopathic behaviors. I hope it’s an enjoyable page turner. I really hope so, ‘cause I sure as hell enjoyed writing it.
J: Do you have any specific genre of writing you prefer?
S: So far, the Psychological thriller has been the most enjoyable. But I have so many other genres that I’d like to try to see if we are a good fit. About the only genre I wouldn’t consider at all would be science fiction. Even with a great deal of research I doubt if I’d have the talent to make it readable and feasible. I enjoy reading it far too much to ever attempt writing it.
J: What has your writing and publishing journey been like? Was it anything like you expected?
S: I can say very little about the publishing journey without it sounding like sour grapes.
Let me just say that I’m forever grateful to Taylor Street Publishing for publishing my first three books. I have made some wonderful friends as a result of my time with them.
Having my books withdrawn from publication eighteen months ago with very little notice, stunned me. I got over it, and am utterly delighted to be now with Thorstruck Press.
‘Howz that for a non-committal comment? I should be a damned politician.
As for the writing experience I love the whole process, (excluding editing) If my muse isn’t in a great mood I can’t write a single word; but those times when the muse is happy I can barely type fast enough to keep up with the thought process. I’ll read over what I’ve done and discover characters that have expanded well beyond what I had intended. I don’t have a plot pre-planned, just a basic outline; the muse fills in the details.
J: What’s something you’ve wished interviewers would have asked you about (but haven’t) that you’d like to talk about?
S: I can’t think of anything offhand, Jeff. The stuff I’m passionate about has little to do with my writing. I could write pages on Cyber bullying, abuse, alcoholism and the recovery from addiction. All large topics and not really suitable for the interview process.
Let me say a big thank you for having me here. The questions you asked were great; I hope the folks will enjoy reading the interview as much as I did whilst responding to them.
J: Suzanna, thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. This was fun and so very interesting!
Suzanna is on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StaceyandSuzie?fref=ts
Her blog can be found at: http://sooozsaysstuff.blogspot.com/
Her author profile on Thorstruck Press can be found here: http://www.thorstruckpress.com/suzanna-burke.html