Thursday, 23 November 2017

International best-sellerdom via an unconventional route

My interviewee, Susan Alison, is an artist and author whose first novel, White Lies and Custard Creams shot to the top of the best-seller lists in 2011 and stayed there for weeks. Amazon used a picture of it in their online charts in a promotion to sell Kindles.

I’m especially intrigued by Susan’s decision to self-publish when she could have gone the traditional route. ‘I've always been a self-employed-type-person,’ she says, ‘and this was just an extension of that. It suits me to do it all myself and not have to rely on other people.’

Once she’d gone that route, did she have any regrets? ‘None. I was working to my own timetables rather than waiting for other people. After I'd done it, I wondered why I hadn't done it years before.’

Prior to publishing her novel, Susan was a prolific short story writer having appeared in a variety of women’s magazines. Since that first novel, she has published three more standalone romantic comedies; two in an urban fantasy series; and a collection of her previously published short stories in an illustrated anthology.

In addition to these, she has published six colouring books and two books of illustrated doggerel.
It feels like a disparate collection. It there a common thread?

‘What they all have in common is dogs. There are dogs in all of them somewhere. Oh, except for the cat colouring book - no dogs in there. Just cats... I like dogs. They are straightforward creatures. I like that.’

It’s true. Dogs figure large in Susan’s writing. They bound through the pages of her novels. One of her illustrated doggerel books is about the Corgi Olympics; the other, from the pen of CorgiScribe, is about being a writer. Her colouring books feature corgis, border collies, whippets and greyhounds; and yes there is that one anomalous one about cats.

And does she target specific markets or audiences when she writes?

‘I'm always going to write what I enjoy writing,’ she tells me, ‘rather than what I think is going to sell. Partly because it's difficult to tell what is going to sell and partly because if you're in it for the long haul you need to be able to have some enthusiasm about tying yourself to the desk and keyboard rather than a major reluctance to get on with it.’

How does the art impact the writing and vice versa?

‘The art and the writing are all on the same spectrum except that when I'm an artist I have films showing on the other monitor, but when I'm a writer I have to have complete silence. I do the art in a relaxed fashion, but am running on adrenaline when writing a first draft. I love doing the first draft but dislike editing.’

Currently Susan is halfway through 'Staking out the Goat' which is a sequel to 'White Lies and Custard Creams'; she’s also halfway through book three of her Hounds Abroad urban fantasy trilogy; and halfway through an illustrated doggerel book about a magical corgi.

It sounds to me like she needs a lot of complete silence to keep ahead of all that adrenalin. Time to tiptoe out of this interview.

Follow these links to find out more about Susan, her writing, and her art.


  1. Great to hear from the mouth of someone who has actually done it! Thank you, Penny.

  2. I loved White Lies and Custard Creams. It was so very funny.
    Thanks for an interesting interview. I'm always intrigued by people who can draw as well as write!