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Susannah Waters

By Sarah Hutchings

Susannah Waters

Susannah Waters never intended to become a novelist. Before turning to writing, she pursued a successful career as an opera singer.

Born in Kent, she grew up in America where her parents worked as English teachers in Connecticut and later Wisconsin. Books and reading were very much a part of daily life. However, Susannah always loved singing and drama so she attended Bennington College, Vermont where she "fell into" the music department and began to explore opera.

Susannah had kept links with England, spending idyllic childhood summers in Kent. She returned from America to follow a two year postgraduate course in opera at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Next came fourteen years in the glamorous but highly pressured world of professional opera. The continual travelling suited a nature she describes as "very disciplined and very driven". It was in 1994, during eight months living alone in Santa Fe, that she started writing, encouraged by reading Natalie Goldberg's 'Writing Down the Bones'. One of the techniques suggested writing without stopping or taking the hand off the page. Through doing this exercise stories began to emerge.

But writing was still a private thing. Susannah was beginning to see how career pressures could take the joy out of singing and did not want the same thing to happen to her writing. In 1997 her husband entered one of her short stories in a competition. It won, making her at last think seriously about writing. An enforced break from singing during her first pregnancy in 1998 gave her time and space to begin her first novel and it was not long before she made the sudden decision to abandon her opera career. It was a bold leap of faith, but a month later her first commission to write a piece for theatre arrived.

Transformation into a professional novelist seemed to arrive quickly and, with surprising ease, her first novel 'Long Gone Anybody' was published in 2004. Her second book 'Cold Comfort' was launched in February 2006. The urge to write this highly contemporary novel came when she saw a picture of a tilting house in Alaska. She began to research the way of life for urban native Alaskans and became intrigued with the idea of a young person living in a house that is sinking into the ground while the world continues to deny the existence of global warming.

Susannah started a writing group in Lewes, where she lives with her husband and two children, and is a tutor for the Certificate of Creative Writing Course at the Centre for Continuing Education at Sussex University: "When teaching I am only a few steps ahead of my class. I am learning too." She feels her writing technique is improving as work begins on her third novel and insists writing is an easier career than opera singing; nobody sees a terrible first draft, criticism of a published work is easier to take because you have already moved on, unlike singing where judgement of performance is immediate. "As a mature artist I was only painting with one brush as a singer. It all depended on the voice. Writing uses many more artistic brushes and you sense you can keep going until you are 92".

This page was first added to The Deckchair website on 23/02/2006.

This page was amended on 14/01/2012
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