To mark the release of In The Sheikh’s Service, Susan Stephen’s 50th book for Mills & Boon (!!!), we sat down with the fabulous author to grill her on her books, her writing, and her own love story. So pull up a chair and raise a glass as we celebrate this incredible achievement!
Hi Susan! Congratulations! First things first, did you feel any pressure or extra excitement writing your 50th book?
I felt the same excitement I’ve felt from Book 1. There is nothing like sitting down in front of a blank screen and writing Chapter One.
The characters are fully formed in my head, and I love them as if they were real. I can’t wait to find out more about them—how they react under pressure and to the problems I present them with. Even if the hero is steely, and seemingly untouchable, I love to see him change when he realizes that the heroine deserves the best he can be. My main protagonists are going to be better together than apart by the end of the book, and I can’t wait to tell their story. I feel the same urgency every time.
What do you think is the main thing you’ve learned from the writing your first book to In The Sheikh’s Service?
I have more confidence in my ideas, so I don’t take so long setting them down! I know what I love, and what my readers love, and I owe it to them to exceed their expectations every time.
Do you have a favourite book from what you have written? Or any that sticks out in your mind?
I enjoy every one, but if I had to pick a character and a story that still makes me smile, it has to be Beth Tracey Torrance in Desert King, Pregnant Mistress.
Beth is voted Shop Assistant of the Year by her colleagues, and travels to the desert kingdom of Q’Adar to receive her prize from the sheikh.
I could hear Beth’s infectious Liverpudlian accent in my head in every line of dialogue. She’s so young and innocent at the start of the book, but by the end, boy does she give that hot, arrogant sheikh a run for his money. As soon as a child is involved, Beth shows what she’s made of, and she really stands and fights her corner.
We love your story of how you met your husband and the whirlwind romance. Is this the most romantic thing that has ever happened to you or do you have something to top it?!
I’m not sure I can top that story, but I can reinforce it. In the same way that my readers like to know that my Happy Ever After endings are forever, usually by way of an Epilogue at the end of each book to show the hero and heroine several years later, my husband continues to be romantic, with flower and surprise outings, and even a special holiday next year – supposedly to celebrate his significant birthday, but taking me to Malta, to reintroduce me to a country I love, where we first met, and where I gave birth to our first child.
What’s your writing process like now – do you have a particular time of day you like to write?
Early morning! I love early morning when the world is still quiet apart from the birdsong.
I think everyone knows by now that I get up at 5am – sometimes earlier, as I have a big family and they all like to connect with me at some point in the day, so by being an early riser I can get ideas down before the phone starts to ring.
I never refuse a call – family and friends know they can call at any time of day, and I am always thrilled to hear from them.
I walk my dog regularly throughout the day – great thinking time – and I take a siesta for half an hour after lunch to recharge my batteries for the business side of writing, which I like to look at in the afternoon.
How about editing – do you work on that as you go along, or do you like to get a rough draft down first?
I edit the previous day’s work before I get started on the next part of the story. This allows me to re-tune my thinking back into the book, and also gives me fresh ideas of how the story might unfold. I do try to get a first draft down as fast as possible, but it is always fleshed out with new ideas, and sometimes a better choice of words so it reads smoothly. I tend to do 4 drafts. I’ve tried and failed to cut this down!
Do you ever travel for research for your books? Where do you get your inspiration from?
I travel extensively, and research more! But my inspiration comes from tiny incidents every day – a pastiche of characters I meet, a collage of impressions – all five senses are in play when I sit down to write—and sometimes that illusive 6th sense creeps in to supply character details I haven’t even thought of!
We’re so lucky with the wonderful research material we can call up on the Internet at the click of a mouse. The entire world is at our fingertips, and putting our characters into these wonderful settings is surely one of the greatest pleasures in an author’s writing life. The setting becomes a character in the book, enriching the reading experience.
Tell us the best advice you were ever given as a writer. How is this advice reflected in your writing?
Discipline. Writing under contract is a job I love and value, and have never taken for granted. I always give my creative work one hundred per cent. A large team depends on a professional author delivering the best story they can on time, and it’s my responsibility to make sure that happens.
Love your characters: feel passionate about them. Believe in them. Believe in them having the strength to come through whatever you decide to throw at them – and throw plenty!
Most important of all – respect and love your readers. They deserve the very best you’ve got. Bust a gut giving it to them – burn the midnight oil – fret and angst, and rewrite as many times as it takes, because the reader decides, and when readers love your work there is no better feeling possible in the profession world of writing.
Finally, share five things we’d probably never guess about you. Fun, interesting or even embarrassing!
My kids call me the Ninja Carrot because I can be fierce and I do have reddish hair – but it’s only because I care passionately about each of them and their children, just as I care about my books and my readers across the world. I’m a pretty passionate person, in case you haven’t guessed!
I love all music – I was a student at the Royal College of Music, studying piano and opera.
I love dancing – try and get me off the dance floor – but classical music is my passion, and my Masters Degree from York University, is in Early Music.
I love Jazz and Motown too, and on a recent trip to a conference in New Orleans, I ended up dancing the night away with the singer in the band – but before my husband gets upset, I should point out that I had the very best of chaperones in one of my very best bestie’s, the fabulous author Carole Mortimer!
I’m the only non-sporty member of my family. I believe in preserving my body by never using it LOL! Horse-riding’s okay, because the horse does all the work. Skiing’s fine too, because I just stand on a couple of planks and slide down the hill 😉