Welcome to the Choc Lit Virtual Book Festival! I’m sharing the day with Sue McDonagh, the author of three books set at the beautiful, fictional ‘Art Café’. As Sue writes arty books and a lot of mine are quite arty too, we are a pretty good match to share the spotlight today.
I took the opportunity to ask Sue some questions about her writing, her art and a perhaps rather surprising (but fabulous) hobby of hers. I had a bit of difficulty finding her, mind you, but finally tracked her down to her camper van!
Hello Sue, it’s great to be sharing this wonderful Choc Lit book festival with you! Now, I know you are an accomplished artist as well as a best-selling author – so which of those creative outlets do you prefer and why?
I give demonstrations to Art Societies and other groups, and so many of them have asked me worriedly, has writing overtaken your painting?
I confess that it’s a tricky balance! When I paint, I think of nothing but what I’m painting. I am completely absorbed – although I can listen to Radio 4 Dramas while I paint. But I am on such a high when a painting goes well, or I find a wonderful juxtaposition of colours. It’s all very elemental and reactive. I wonder sometimes if my hands are simply a conduit for my eyes.
But when I write, my entire brain is focussed on the story. I drive away in the morning and have to U turn to check that I’ve locked the front door. I’ve gone shopping in my house-crocs, the shame of it. Nobody gets fed and only the dog is pleased about me writing because he gets more walks. Walks help me to untangle sticky plot issues.
But painting informs my writing. I’ve always made stories out of paint. Now I’m doing them with words. I’d be hard pushed to separate the two!
Is your fictional Art Café based on anywhere in particular?
It is! It’s based in the Gower Peninsula in South Wales, which was the UK’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1956 – bit of history there!
The actual Art Cafe is based on the bays between Mumbles and Langland Bay, and I confess that I steal parts from both to create my fictional bay, which I’ve never named. I do name other parts of Gower, just to set the scene, and I kind of fudged some of the North Gower names to make it clear where we were.
I paint my own covers, as you know, and I created the cover of Summer at the Art Cafe out of our local headland, Langland Bay and a National Trust property in Devon, plus a good helping of West Wales. I love it when people tell me they know that bay. It means I’ve made it just familiar enough.
I also know you are a member of the Curvy Riders Motorcycling club. Where is your favourite place to bike to and why?
Ooh, favourite biking spot? That’s a tricky one, and I’m tempted to say, anywhere where I can meet my girl friends on our bikes! We like to meet at a place called the Honey Cafe, although it’s really a pub with a restaurant and also sells amazing art. It’s on the edge of the Brecon Beacons and the routes there are always spectacular. Plus the cakes are spectacular!
Who is your favourite Art Café hero (I must admit I do like the sound of Ed from ‘Meet Me at the Art Café’!)
Oh dear. I’m a shameless hussy and I’m in love with them all – but I admit to a definite leaning towards Ash, who was my first hero and based on Gerard Butler. Sigh. 🙂
Ooh lovely! Now, finally, if you could have afternoon tea with three other authors, dead or alive, and have a chat with them, who would they be and what would you ask them?
Oh gosh, only three? The Romantic Novelists Conference allowed me to be a real fan girl and meet so many authors whose books I have adored. But I would love to have met Enid Blyton, for catapulting me into the world of children’s adventures. Richmal Compton’s Just William books continue to delight, and the more your read them, the funnier they become. Finally, I think the late, great Terry Pratchett would be at the top of my list. His wonderful grasp of the absurdities of life have made me laugh aloud so many times. I think the ability to make people laugh is one of the greatest gifts.
Good choices! Yes, only three authors -we have to leave enough cakes and tea for us lot, don’t we? Thank you so much for chatting to me, Sue, and at some point today Sue is going to return the favour and ask me some questions too – I’ll be in the garden if anyone needs me in the meantime!
Thanks for your questions, Kirsty! It’s been a lovely chat XX
It has indeed and you’re very welcome. Sue’s books can be found in all their arty glory right here.