This interview with Susan Barker was first published in December 2006. Susan Barker is the author of “Sayonara Bar” (2006).
What was it that first got you into writing and when did you start writing?
The isolation of living in Japan set me on the path to becoming a writer. I taught English in Kyoto for two years and would go for days communicating only in pidgin Japanese. Because I communicated so poorly with the outside world I retreated into novels and began writing fiction as a way of expressing myself.
Which writers have influenced you most?
I’m discovering new writers all the time. When I was living out in Japan I gravitated towards authors writing about Japan; David Mitchell, Haruki Murakami and Kazuo Ishiguro. In the last year or two books I’ve read by Anne Micheals, George Perecs, A. M. Homes, Micheal Ondaatjie, W. G. Sebald, Sarah Hall, Nadeem Aslam, Jorge Luis Borges have all been really affecting and resonated quite powerfully in my mind.
Where do you stand on the nature v. nurture debate? Were you born a writer or were there factors that enabled you to become a writer?
Some people are born with a more artistic bent than others, but the potential is unexploited if you grow up in an environment where books and education are unimportant. It’s a really bizarre conceit to think that you’re born a writer and not acknowledge the role of upbringing. Most writers are middle class and university educated, because higher education instils in you the discipline to sit down for hours at a time and concentrate on writing. When you come from this background it’s easy to take it for granted. But it’s really tough to write fiction if you haven’t had this sort of training.
How did the Creative Writing MA at Manchester help you become a writer?
I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for the MA at Manchester. It introduced me to other writers and my agent, and allowed me a year to devote myself entirely to writing. It was really valuable.
What are you working on now?
I’m in limbo at the moment as I’ve just a finished my second novel. I have a really strong idea for a third book that needs writing down. I’m taking a several months off in 2007 to live in New York, then Beijing, so I reckon progress on the next book will be slow.
What is your writing day like?
I start writing at 8:30 and finish at 3:30 – 4 p.m. I eat lunch standing up and pacing about the kitchen. Definitely borderline obsessive compulsive.
Where would you like to be in 10 years time?
I can’t think that far ahead!
What’s the most exciting thing about writing for you?
In the rare moments when I write a fragment of prose, often just a few words, that I think is beautiful and captures some sort of truth. It can sometimes take hours of scribbling and foraging about in my subconscious to get there.
What’s the most frustrating thing about writing for you?
The chasm that lies between the ideas in my head and what ends up on the page. I still feel as though I’m in my stumbling apprenticeship stage. Also trying to get the right balance between life and writing is frustrating. I write best when I am completely solitary; when I spend all day writing and my evenings filling my head with other people’s novels. But that’s no way to live.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve had about writing?
I’ve been told not to take it too seriously, which is absolutely right, but very hard advice to follow.