It's Tuesday yet again and it's author spotlight time - the seventh in my series of author interviews!
Today we have Cheshire born writer, Sue Millard, who has an endless passion for horses as well as writing, of course!
Okay, it's time to learn more about
this fascinating lady, so let's roll with it!
This is a picture that someone took for us in 2021 for our 45th
wedding anniversary - at the pub where met, with STRING OF
HORSES which is based there. It was the first time we'd been
back there since we married.
Eva: Welcome, Sue! Thank you for agreeing to take part in my series of Author Interviews! Let us get started. First of all, tell us all about yourself (as in, a bit of a biography).
Sue: Thank you Eva and hello to you all! I’m Sue Millard and I'm British; I was born in Cheshire and moved to Cumbria in 1975 where I live with my husband Graham in “a very small hamlet at the end of the world”.
I have worked as a pony-trek leader, a barmaid, a designer of embroidery canvases, a maker of competition carriage driving harness, and a farmer; with a postgraduate degree in Multimedia Computing I became a University lecturer, then a website manager, editor and writer.
I am a Council member of the Fell Pony Society. I edit its Magazine and look after its web site. When I’m not working I enjoy carriage driving, local history and botany, and playing the harp (the Celtic small harp, lever harp or clarsach). Graham and I have a sheepdog x Jack Russell called Mickey Wippitt, a black oriental x cat called Sooty, a retired bay Fell pony mare called Ruby, and a borrowed grey Dales gelding called Eric (there are lots of British comedians called Eric; he wasn’t named after any of them but he should have been!)
In 2005 I published an award-winning account of the Fell pony breed, Hoofprints in Eden. I write fiction, poetry and non-fiction.
String Of Horses is my sixth novel and the follow up to Hoofprints is A Century of Fells.
How many books have you written up to now? Are they published or self-published? What genre are they?
6 novels, ranging from teenage/YA to trade fiction, historical and modern-day, and a children’s fantasy based on Greek myth.
4 non-fiction, two about Fell ponies and their background & history, one a cartoon book about them, and one a series of articles and anecdotes about my life in Cumbria with the main emphasis on carriage driving.
3 books of poetry
I started off in 1987 with the cartoon book One Fell Swoop, which was published by Sun Studios, a local small press that later folded; then I reprinted Swoop myself (twice) and am still selling it 35 years later. My first novel Against the Odds was taken by a large equestrian press in London, J A Allen in 1995; they were bought out by Robert Hale a few years later. Non-fiction Hoofprints was published in 2005 by another local press, Hayloft, who are not now taking any new work. My first poetry pamphlet, Ash Tree, was published by Prole Books; they have beaten the jinx of publishing me, and are still running!
All the subsequent books are self-published. You can probably guess why.
Of all the genres there are, is there any genre/s that you feel you wouldn’t be able to write and why? Is there any genre that you really wish you could write, but feel you wouldn’t be able to do it justice?
I’d like to be able to write police procedurals, but I just don’t have the background, although I have as a friend and neighbour a very well-respected Home Office pathologist (retired) who knows more about murder and forensics than I care to think about, and on whose toes I would not dare to tread.
I occasionally write short stories, but am never sure I really hit the spot with them. I am impressed when I read shorts by people like Dorothy L Sayers. She could be nearly as uncanny as MR James. But I ought to read more modern examples to find out what works for the current market. I know I can’t do womag type stories.
Do you have any favourite ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ words that you like to use in your books? What are those words? Also, what words used by other authors irritate you more than they should?
I am not sure I have any favourite words, though I occasionally catch myself using “bright” a bit too often in prose. I do have to fight against some sentence constructions in which I use “but” or “so” too much. Then I change the order of clauses, or chop the sentence into two, to avoid them!
It isn’t so much individual words, as lackadaisical grammar that bothers me. I strongly suspect this is due to spelling and grammar checking by the word processing program which sometimes can’t see that (eg) “a book of stories” needs a singular form of a verb and not a plural one. Also I really dislike run-on, comma-joined sentences, please don’t do it… I would rather have a full stop / period between the two; or even that unfashionable thing, the semicolon.
Do you sing at all, be it karaoke, in a choir or have done so professionally? Whether you have or not, have you ever written (or had the urge to write) any song lyrics? Have those lyrics been used at all?
My mother was a trained soprano (I can remember her singing Brahms’ Lullaby when it was my bedtime, now there’s posh if you like) and sang a lot, all the time, possibly as an outlet for her frustration at being just a housewife, and not a very happy one. So, I’ve always sung and always known how to use my voice well, if not to a professional standard. I have sung in quite a few choirs since school, and in amateur dramatic/operatic companies, in chorus lines and as a soloist. For a while I was in a folk group and I still like folk music, English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh, and I like to play the melodies on the harp. I’ve recorded some of them, and my own lyrics, and posted them on YouTube during the Covid lockdowns. Folk ballad poems (which I find easy to write) often don’t translate into pop music because they require a more regulated vocal line. Conversely, I think pop and country lyrics look utter crap when I read them on the page, though I must tip my hat to Dolly Parton’s witty lines such as “pour myself a cup of ambition”.
What question would you like to pose, (if you were to ever interview your favourite author), which never seems to get asked in author interviews? And who is that favourite author?
“What makes you carry on writing?” - to any of the authors who write series, especially crime dramas. I think I would get bored. How do they avoid that? Does writing end up being a production line?
Also, a question that only occasionally gets asked of modern writers (I’m thinking of, for instance, Philip Pullman) is “how do your beliefs influence what you write?” and “do you write because of your beliefs?” I am not sure
20th C writers such as CS Lewis, Dorothy L Sayers or JRR Tolkien were ever asked. The beliefs of Lewis and Sayers were extremely plain in much of their writing so perhaps these questions weren’t necessary then.
If you were to ever write a children’s book, (and those of you who already do) would you/do you do the illustrating yourself, make use of a family member or friend’s talent or pay an illustrator? Do you solely write or do you have any other creative pursuits?
It would depend on the age range. I would expect a publisher of children’s books to have a couple of preferred illustrators anyway (aren’t we advised in things like W& A Yearbook not to submit drawings with a children’s MS?). However, my first novel that was accepted as a YA does in fact have my artwork as chapter heading illustrations, and cover.
Yes, I draw and sing and play music, just occasionally well enough for other people to enjoy!
Of all the characters you have created, who is your favourite? And why?
Whichever one I am writing about at the time… but George Davenport in Coachman, and Sian in Against the Odds, are two I like very much. They are braver than I am with horses (and have more helpers in order to be so!)
Have you ever killed off a character in your books (I’m sure you have)? If so, was it because…it fitted nicely into the storyline? OR…Did you start to really dislike the character and, with too much work involved to re-write without that character, think it the easiest option to have that person die?
Ohhh yes. I wanted to kill off one male villain, whom I had given some particularly unpleasant characteristics, but I found it more satisfying for the storyline to have him meet his comeuppance in other ways.
On the other hand, I’m about to kill off a male character’s wife just to jolt him out of what is otherwise going to be a settled and rather boring domestic life. “Put your hero up a tree, take away the ladder and throw rocks at him.”
Are any of your characters based on family members or friends? Have you kept their characters totally true to life or have you given them bonus traits that you wish they possessed in real life?
I think it would be wise for me to plead the Fifth!
Relationships/family life aside, what are your TWO main regrets in life?
One regret from my youth is that I was never light enough to be a good, professional rider of horses. I might not have continued, though, as I might well have got stuck in posts where the boss’s ethos was at odds with mine. I can’t view people or horses as disposable, for a start. (I won’t go down the generalisation route of “all farmers and landowners are inherently conservative” as I do know some who are not.)
Another is that my father wouldn’t let me sit the Oxbridge exams, so when I left school, instead of going to Oxford or Cambridge I ended up in a local city college. It was en route to becoming a university. I loved my time there, but I sometimes wonder where I would have gone if I had been Oxbridge educated. I certainly wouldn’t be living on a farm in Cumbria. But I don’t regret how my life has turned out. Husband, kids, horses, dogs, cats, life in the country, and the freedom to write.
What was your passion as a child? Did that passion stay with you during your adult life OR did you, as you grew up begin to detest what you once enjoyed?
I haven’t grown out of my childhood passion for horses. That’s lasted 68 years. But I have many other passions, possibly too many, so I shift from one to another as the seasons and the years come and go. It saves boredom, to have harp playing to do if the weather is bad and I can’t go out with a pony, or if the writing has gone a bit sticky.
What was your best subject throughout your school years? And your worst?
English, French, Art, and Music. I loved all four, although I was in fact in a science “stream”. History, as taught in the 1960s, I found boring, though I am fascinated by it now. I really disliked maths. That may have been because the teachers were not as good as those for the arts. (Eva: I too found history boring Sue, but I'm now keen to learn as much as I can about WW2, because my parents were married during that time.)
Tell me about your favourite teacher throughout your school years? Was it a crush you had? Were they just an excellent teacher of your favourite subject?? Or some other reason…kind, fun, generous…?
Top class at junior school was taught by a chap who inspired me to love poetry, to draw and paint, and to be interested in the natural world. The woman who taught French at secondary school reminded me of one of my mother’s friends (I think in reality it was just the shape of her glasses!) so I was predisposed to like her, but she was in fact an excellent, precise and encouraging teacher and gave me such good foundations for the language that I still use them today. Oh yes, I did have a huge crush on the “exchange student” who came over from the Pyrenees to spend a year helping to teach us. God help him, I must have been a total pest.
Did either of your parents ever express a wish to write? Are they supportive and proud of your work? Or do they just choose to not get involved, but they are pleased for you?
They both hankered after writing, but I was published and they never got that far. I’ve used bits of my father’s semi-autobiographical writing to inform parts of my own work. My mother thought of writing her life story, but very late, and she never got anything on paper. I wish I’d recorded more of my grandmother’s life, because her childhood had been quite colourfully international: Canary Islands, Germany, Spain, then working on cruise ships, and later working as a censor for the intelligence services during WW2. They all encouraged me to write, in their different ways, not directly involved but getting small-town newspapers and local TV interested in what I was doing.
Tell us about your ultimate ambition, be it personal, travel, writing, work, hobby related or other?
I’m not sure I have one any more. At 70 is ambition still compulsory? I’d like it if my books were more widely bought and read.
Do you have any phobias and if so, what are they? Have you ever conquered any phobia and if so, how did you do it?
I no longer have my childhood nightmare of walking across rippled wet sand that divided and sank under each step and tried to suck me down. I don’t know how I escaped it. I suppose I just grew up (and moved as far inland as it’s possible to go on this island.) I still wouldn’t walk five miles across Morecambe Bay, but that’s got much more to do with me knowing how fast the tide races in over the flat estuary and how many people through history have lost their lives there.
I don’t think I have any other irrational fears, but there are plenty of things to be genuinely afraid of with good reason. Global climate change, triggering extremes of weather, wars, and population migration, make the writing of fiction seem very small beer indeed. Erm, I think you said Keep It Light, so I’d better shut up.
Most people I know are not happy with something physical about themselves (face/body etc.,) but if you could change anything about your personality, what would you wish to change?
I’d like to be quicker-thinking in confrontational situations… I can write great repartee in scenes I’m in control of in a book, and I do l’esprit de l’escalier after every argument I’ve ever had, but face me with someone angry who makes wild accusations that I don’t understand, and I can’t find a word to sling back except profanity. Not even the stock “I need you to calm down” that TV police dramas seem to rely on (I mean, whoever did calm down when told to?) (Eva: Oh yes! The number of times I've walked away from a confrontational situation and thought to myself 'I should have said this ' OR 'I should have said that'. Too late after the event though!)
What is your ‘go to’ snack, whatever the time of day? And drink of your choice?
Plain oatcakes with cheese, please! And I’ve developed rather a taste for Pepsi Max so that tends to lurk in the larder in quantity alongside my husband’s case of wine.
Cats or dogs? What do you have? Do you introduce any pets into your books?
We’ve always had both dogs and cats, and ponies.
I write about the history of the Fell pony, so my non-fiction is mostly based on animals, but I do put animals into my fiction too – sometimes to be a focus for a defining moment or a character trait in the humans in a scene (eg, bullying vs kindness in The Forthright Saga; responsibility vs recklessness in Scratch).
AND FINALLY, Hit me up with all your Amazon book-links? And the links to your website and social media profiles?
https://www.amazon.co.uk/~/e/B0034PVGQU is my author page
And the links to your website
and social media profiles?
Thank you once again, Sue, for being a part of this series!
Next up on Friday, we have US horror writer, Ron Chapman in the limelight!