I’m happy to welcome Susan Johnson to Book’d Out today to celebrate the release of The Landing.
Susan is the author of ten books; eight novels; a memoir, A Better Woman; and a non-fiction book, an essay, On Beauty. Several of my books have been published in the UK, the US, and in European translation (French, Polish) as well as in Australia. She has also written for newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Times, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and Q Magazine of The Courier-Mail).
She has lived in the UK, France and Greece but returned to Brisbane, Australia, to live with her two sons in 2010.
The Landing is a funny, delightful and poignant novel that lays out the human condition – looking for love in all of its many forms with secrets, polite lies, desperation, compromise and joy.
“Jonathan Lott is confused. His wife has left him for a woman and he doesn’t like living alone. Is it true that an about-to-be-divorced man in possession of a good fortune is in need of a new wife? Would Penny Collins do, divorced herself, school teacher and frustrated artist? What about beautiful Anna, blown in from who knows where, trailing broken marriages behind her? There’s a lot happening at The Landing, where Jonathan has his beach house, and he’s about to find out how much love matters.”
Please read on to learn how Susan got the idea for The Landing…
Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?
by Susan Johnson
‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ is one of the most common questions asked of writers. I always say, well, it’s like dreaming: how do you get your dreams? How is my dream so different from yours and why is your dream yours alone?
The answer to the question is really that a book – or an idea – comes from everything that makes a writer up, where he or she was born, who they love, what his or her mother was like. In other words, a book represents the sum of the whole, a kind of outcrop of personality.
The idea for The Landing came to me in a rush, following a visit to a friend’s beach house on the Sunshine Coast hinterland in Queensland, Australia. Driving into this little hamlet near a lake, he started pointing out who lived in which house, and all the scandals of the town, how so-and-so had run off with so-and-so and how that guy had gone broke and how that woman was a drunk.
I got home and immediately wrote a scene in which a heartbroken man drives into a little hamlet. Suddenly it was as if the little hamlet was as if on a brightly lit stage, with all the action happening, like a play. It gave me a perfect framing, if you like, a nice fence around the yard: I just had to find out exactly what to put in it!
I’ve lived away from Australia for a long time now – in London for ten years, France and Hong Kong for a couple years more – and returning to Queensland, to Brisbane, the city where I started my young adult life was fascinating to me in lots of ways. I was born in Brisbane, but grew up in Sydney, returning to Queensland to finish my last years of school and to start uni and work as a cadet reporter on the local newspaper, The Courier-Mail. I came back to Brisbane to live in 2010.
There’s been lots of changes since I last lived here in the 80s, and as a writer I was keenly observant of those changes. Soon my little idea started fanning out into a comedy of manners about contemporary Brisbane life – everyone in Brisbane asks where you went to school, for example. I love small English novels – Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Taylor, Penelope Fitzgerald – that take a slice of existence and examine it for its griefs and foibles – while also managing to be funny.
I’m also interested in the idea of shame, and its many impacts. In one of my earlier books, The Broken Book (2004) inspired by the life of the late Australian writer Charmian Clift, I did a lot of research into unmarried mothers, and the shame and grief those women experienced. I wanted to write a bit more about that and, over time, a French character developed, a woman who has effectively re-invented herself, powered by a deep shame.
I guess everything I am goes into a book: my own knowledge of exile, my personal history, and yet a book is never just an autobiographical expression. The act of writing is above all an act of empathy, and so I believe a woman writer can write a male character, or a male writer a woman, a straight writer can write a gay character or else a writer in the present moment can write about a character from the imagined past or the imagined future.
The books I love best tell me something of the great mystery of existence. I want that – something of the pain and grief and joy and wonder of being alive – but I also want to make my dream as recognizable and truthful as your dream. It won’t ever be the same dream, but in the end I hope it resembles yours just a little.
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