A Little In Love is the tale of Eponine from Les Miserables – an account of her childhood, and of her own role in the events of Hugo’s classic book. The idea was not, in fact, my own: I was approached by Chicken House and asked if I’d consider writing of Eponine for them. But as soon as the idea was shared with me, I loved it. I accepted very quickly – because of all the characters in Les Mis, it’s always been Eponine who I’ve found the most intriguing. She’s complex, feisty, flawed, selfless – and yet she is only peripheral in Hugo’s tale. It has been a joy to spend time with her, and finally give her a voice.
What were the challenges of writing a book around a character that was already so established and well known?
The most intimidating part of the project was the idea that I might create an Eponine that others wouldn’t like – that she might not seem like their Eponine, the one they’d always imagined and loved from the book, musical or play. We all have our own idea of what a character looks like, sounds like or behaves: instinctively, I think, we can be protective of them! I knew who my Eponine was, but would she be other peoples’? I’m also aware that Les Mis has an extraordinary following and fan base; it has inspired passion in so many, and fierce loyalty. All this was quite overwhelming! But ultimately I felt that all I could do was treat Eponine with tenderness and deep affection, and to stay as faithful to the novel as I could.
Is there a fictional character you’d like to meet and why?
The teenaged me had a huge crush on Bronte’s Edward Rochester – despite his numerous and rather worrying flaws that I see much more clearly, now! So him, perhaps. Dickens’ Miss Havisham would be a fabulous (if rather frightening) character to spend time with. And I’d love to say hello to Roald Dahl’s BFG.
What’s your favourite word?
That’s an incredibly hard one to answer! I love learning new words, and I particularly love anything that’s onomatopoeic. I am in London at the moment, and I recently had a conversation with my partner about the best name for an Underground station. I decided my favourite one was Pimlico. A beautiful word! Hard to say without feeling happy. So today, I offer you that!
In short, a lot. For A Little In Love, planning was everything. The fact it’s for a YA readership means that pace and clarity were of added importance and there was no room for a meandering plot or any surplus words. So I planned the structure and plot meticulously. With other novels, the creative process can be a little looser – and sometimes the structure only comes later into the editing stage. With my novel Witch Light, I wandered for a long time. But by and large, a strong outline is a good thing.
How do you approach editing?
Each book is different, I suppose. But the most important thing for me is to remind myself that it doesn’t have to be perfect for the first draft, or second, or even third … The attempt at perfection – the polishing up – comes much further down the line, and what matters is getting everything in the right place. I tell myself not to get bogged down. And to have faith, because the book will emerge in the end.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I am a lover of beautiful notepads and always have one with me. I like to write in them with various colours, highlighted words … There’s something so satisfying and inspiring to have such a notebook to refer to. I also believe strongly in daily exercise in fresh air – even if it’s only a walk to the shops to get more milk. This can be such a sedentary job, after all. But otherwise … no, no rituals. Each book takes on its own pattern and regime.
If there was one point in history you could visit, where would you go and why?
I’d love to meet Shakespeare. I’ve lived in Stratford upon Avon for several years, and his plays have always meant a huge deal to me. So I’d love to meet him, ask him a few things … And 1920s Paris would have been tremendous fun.
Who would you invite to a fantasy dinner party?
The guest list is forever changing! But David Attenborough is always on it. I just think he’s wonderful.
Out of all the books you’ve ever read, which three have made the most impact on you?
I get asked this question a lot but I always find it hard to provide an answer. I remember reading both du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn and Bronte’s Jane Eyre in my teens, and being blown away by them. They really made me want to write books myself. The same applies to Heaney’s poetry, which showed me the true beauty of words and the power they can have. There’s a self improvement book called Women Who Run With The Wolves that I read after a breakup, and it was immensely powerful. It is gorgeously written, first and foremost; it centres on the power and impact of storytelling, which was the perfect thing for a writer to read.
Five tips for new writers?
Firstly, be honest – by which I mean, be honest to yourself. Does your heart and passion lie in mysteries? Then write that. Have you a love of desert landscape? Bring sand and sky to the book. It’s about what makes YOU happy, first and foremost. No agent, publisher or reader wants a book that hasn’t come from a deep, genuine place inside you. Secondly, be disciplined. Easier said than done, and we ALL sometimes pop the telly on whilst the kettle boils only to find ourselves watching it half an hour later. But by and large, discipline is vital. Thirdly, eat well. Fourthly, be kind to yourself. Celebrate the good writing as much as you cross out and edit the bad. I have a tendency to write WELL DONE next to bits I like, and feel happy with; it’s so reassuring and encouraging when reading that section back, later on! And my fifth tip is the most important: don’t be afraid. Every single writer fears failing, or being laughed at. Nobody is ever so secure in their talent that they think each book is good. There will be knocks along the way – people who are too critical, the non-believers, those who think that your plot or style or structure are all out-of-date or too strange for them. And some people are suspicious or resentful of how others might chase their dream. But if you are being truly honest with yourself (see point one!) then you will do well. You’ll produce what you’re meant to. So remind yourself that all of us are anxious wrecks, that words can always be edited out if they don’t work, and be bold. After all, as Goethe said, ‘Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.’
About Susan Fletcher:
Susan Fletcher was born in 1979 in Birmingham. She is the author of Eve Green, Witch Light and The Dark Silver Sea. Her novel, A Little in Love was published by Chicken House in October 2014. It’s available in most major bookshops. Click here to view on Amazon.co.uk.
Follow Susan on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sfletcherauthor