Waaay back in April, 2015, I hosted a guest blog by Susan M. Toy, a multi-published and talented writer (if you’d like to read the post, you can find it here).
Susan is back today, this time answering my questions about her writing and her lifestyle, which consists of dividing her time between Canada and the Island of Bequia, which is a Caribbean island and part of the Grenadines (pronounced “Bek-way”). Susan is the author of Islands in the Clouds: A Bequia Perspectives Novel 1; One Woman’s Island: A Bequia Perspectives Novel 2; and That Last Summer: An IslandShorts ebook.
I know I’m not the only person who’s envious of your lifestyle- dividing your time between your home in Canada and your home in Bequia. I’d never heard of Bequia before I started reading your blog. Tell me about the first time you visited the island.
The first time we arrived on Bequia was by ferry (and I was feeling quite unwell after a rather rough hour-long crossing from St. Vincent, the mainland). We were staying at a hotel that was, at that time, the largest on the island, with 25 rooms. The hotel management sent a water taxi to take us to their pier – getting into another boat was NOT something I wanted to do! But it proved to be a very short trip that we could have actually walked, had we known. We came into the island on New Year’s Eve Day (what is known there as “Old Year’s Night”) and we hadn’t realized what a big deal that night is to Bequians. We crashed early, because we’d already been travelling for two days to get there, so we were abruptly wakened at midnight by, what we later discovered to be, boat flares being shot off in lieu of fireworks. We had thought they were gunshots at the time …
We spent three weeks on Bequia, walked a lot, tried as many restaurants as we could, went out on a day charter boat, met many people (some of whom we still know and are friends with to this day), and discovered that we were on to something pretty special when we chose to go there for a holiday. We hadn’t been back home in Calgary for more than an hour before I was faxing back to someone on Bequia, making arrangements for another holiday the next December.
Do you find either of your writing locations to be more inspiring than the other?
Not really, as I tend to write about the characters first and an incident and then see where that leads to as far as location is concerned. As for where I’m able to write best, the stories seem to come to me no matter which location I’m actually situated in. Right now, for instance, I’m sitting in the trailer park Laundromat washing my clothes. I’ve always enjoyed writing in coffee shops and libraries, i.e. public places, and can pretty much tune out everything around me whenever I’m in writing mode. Editing, though, needs to be done in private, for concentration purposes.
Are there places you love to visit besides Canada and Bequia?
I really haven’t been to many other places besides the two. That’s one of the reasons I read … so I can visit places all over the world without having the expense of travelling to them!
I find that weather can play a huge part in many stories. Given the huge differences in climate between your two homes, do you use weather as a plot tool? Which climate do you prefer, or do you like both?
I haven’t used weather as a plot tool, but definitely as a way of describing the place and time when and where the stories are set more accurately, and to make the setting more believable. My novella, That Last Summer, takes place at a cottage in Ontario during the summer of 1965, so I did mention the weather I remember we experienced when we spent summers at a similar cottage. And Island in the Clouds takes place on Bequia over one week during July when the rains haven’t yet started (usually, rainy season begins on June 1st), and the characters comment on how dry the island is for that time of year. Otherwise, the weather does not play, or has not so far played, a big role in my writing.
Can you give us three blurbs about your books Island in the Clouds, One Woman’s Island, and That Last Summer?
Island in the Clouds
Island in the Clouds is a wondrous mystery, set on the lush island of Bequia in the Caribbean. A Canadian with a secret past becomes both suspect and investigator for two murders on the island. Along the way, he shares sharp insights into the history and life of this gleaming gem of a place. Susan M. Toy is a keen stylist who never fails to drive her story forward with a sure hand. As in all well-crafted mysteries, the solution to the crimes is both thoroughly surprising and perfectly logical. Toy shows us the sights and lets us hear the rhythms of the islanders and, cunningly, allows us to peek into the lives of a sexy set of expats.
~ Michael Fay, founder of the Alexandra Writers’ Centre Society (I have also published 5 of Michael’s longform short stories under the IslandShorts imprint.)
One Woman’s Island
One Woman’s Island beautifully captures the spirit of being on the island of Bequia. The author’s ear for local dialogue is faultless. Besides its lush and exotic setting, however, the book accurately and with pathos reflects the end of an unsatisfactory marriage for main character Mariana who is constantly searching for something meaningful to take its place. She takes a young girl Verity and her two children under her wing and hears about her folly in no uncertain terms from one of the die-hard ex-pats who lives there. With its complex characters, fast-moving plot, authentic setting and the underlying seriousness of the questions it so skillfully raises, One Woman’s Island is a book that should garner a wide readership, one far larger than those who are familiar with Bequia. ~ Felicity Harley, author of The Burning Years (Felicity is a fellow-Bequia author)
That Last Summer
In the summer of 1965, Rachel Wainstaff is uprooted from her life in Toronto and her boyfriend to spend a reluctant summer with her family at their secluded cottage at Lone Pine Lake. In this story of self-discovery and young love, Rachel’s joys and disappointments are inextricably tied to making new friends and meeting a special boy, all while dealing with the irritation of her younger sister. Still, the true heart of this piece lies in the complicated relationship the teenaged Rachel has with her mother and father. That Last Summer is a poignant love letter to the lazy, sun-soaked days of an Ontario summer at the cottage.
~ Kim McCullough, author of Clearwater (Kim is a Calgary author I first met at the Fernie Writers’ Conference)
The Bequia Perspectives Novels
There seems to be a huge character quietly looming across your book series: Bequia, the island herself. Each book, even though different, reveals more and more about her as a character and a force. Quite cool.
~ Karen Parker, Galveston, TX (Karen is a blogger I met online – Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge)
Of the recipes that you’ve included in One Woman’s Island, do you have a favorite?
Two, actually, but only because I created them myself: Sue’s Cinnamon Buns and the Island in the Clouds Cocktail.
Which came first for you: novels or short stories? I’m curious because I gave myself a goal of finishing my first short story by July 1st and I found it very hard to write.
I first began writing a novel, but only because that’s what the story I wanted to tell had demanded it to be. I’m a great believer in the story dictating its terms to the writer. I did enter many writing contests early on though, and took classes in short story writing, and have a slew of short stories and novellas to show for all that. Two of those novellas have since morphed into novels (that I have yet to publish) and a couple of the short stories have been published. One of the contests I entered a number of times was the 24-hour short story contest in which we received a prompt at noon on a Saturday and had 24 hours to write and submit a story that was within the required number of words (sometimes 800, sometimes 1200, usually no more than 1500). I found that was a great way to focus my storytelling in order to produce something within the contest parameters. My stories never won anything, but this way of writing trained me to concentrate and just tell the story with as few characters and side-plots as possible. Also, I entered the 3-Day Novel Contest four times and finished and published That Last Summer as a result.
What do you like to do in your spare time (if you have any)?
I have ALL spare time now, as I am officially retired from paid work. I’ve always been a big reader, but now I am reading even more than ever, and using the libraries as much as I can (the bonus of being able to borrow books online, even during the winter when I’m living in the Caribbean). And I continue to promote other authors. I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but that’s not just a hobby, because I love to eat and figure that, since we have to eat to live, we might as well eat the best meals we can all the time. I’m catching up on watching DVDs while I have access to the local Ontario library’s collection of movies. So that’s not really spare time as much as … my entire life right now!
What’s the best thing about Alberta/Ontario?
Alberta – the mountains and those long vistas looking towards the mountains from Calgary. And I would be remiss not to include all my book pals I met while living there, and whom I miss incredibly whenever all I want to do is just sit down with a like-minded friend, enjoy a coffee, and talk books.
Ontario – the memories of having grown up here, and the physical access to libraries, as well as the sanctuary my trailer provides me with. It’s a great place to read and think and write.
But not the snow or winter, in either province! They never were the best things for me!
What’s the best thing about Bequia?
My cats, and the house, and Dennis are there! And that view of the ocean to the west of the island is really pretty incredibly stunning from our verandah. That’s why our house is named “The View.”
Living within a completely different culture has given me a better understanding of the world and other people. (And I believe everyone should step out of their comfort zones and live somewhere different, even if just for a short while. Not as a tourist, but an actual resident. I think this could change everyone’s attitude for the better and would go a long way towards acceptance of different ideas and ways of living.)
And no snow or winter – ever!! Bonus points for Bequia on that!
If you’d like to learn more about Susan, you can find her blog and purchase her books here.
Until next time,