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20 Questions with Newfoundland and Labrador author Susan Flanagan

St. John's author Susan Flanagan has two books coming out this year including her novel, "Supermarket Baby." BARB SWEET/THE TELEGRAM
St. John's author Susan Flanagan has two books coming out this year including her novel, "Supermarket Baby." BARB SWEET/THE TELEGRAM

Anyone who knows Susan Flanagan can’t help admire her superhuman organizational skills.

Flanagan, a freelance journalist for more than 30 years, is also a mother of five, and a longtime tour guide.

If all that isn’t enough to keep a person flat-out busy, Flanagan runs communications company 48 Degrees, which specializes in corporate media training, emergency response and technical writing.

She’s been published in a slew of publications including Canadian Geographic, National Geographic (maps), Canadian Running and Newfoundland Quarterly.

Flanagan is also president of the board of directors of the Writers Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador.

And she helps raise awareness of children’s and young adult authors in Canada through I Read Canadian Day — in which authors and readers are invited to post short videos in the week leading up to Feb. 17 with bookstores and libraries encouraged to highlight Canadian children’s and young adult authors through displays and activities like scavenger hunts.


This year is extra exciting, literary wise, for Flanagan, who has two books coming out —  “Supermarket Baby,” with Flanker Press on Feb. 3 and the young adult novel “The Degrees of Barley Lick” being published by Running the Goat Books and Broadsides this summer.


Flanagan’s other endeavours include being a member of the marketing committee for Winterset in Summer Literary Festival in Eastport and volunteering for running races such as Cape to Cabot put off by her running club, Athletics NorthEAST.

This year is extra exciting, literary wise, for Flanagan, who has two books coming out —  “Supermarket Baby,” with Flanker Press on Feb. 3 and the young adult novel “The Degrees of Barley Lick” being published by Running the Goat Books and Broadsides this summer.

Over a cup of tea at the east-end home she shares with her husband and two of their five children, Flanagan explained “Supermarket Baby” — winner of a Percy Janes First Novel Award — had its beginnings in a 500-word story she submitted to a Geist magazine contest which was based on a postcard image.

“My postcard had a picture of a woman standing in front of a Ford station wagon covered in thousands of trinkets,” Flanagan said. “The character of Delores (in "Supermarket Baby") came from that short story. Henry and Frank and the others came from short news stories I read in The Telegram. At the time, I was writing “Supermarket Baby,” I was visiting my mother most weekday lunchtimes and we would sit and read The Telegram together. I read stories about the problems with parking meters being vandalized and black bear sightings on the Avalon Peninsula. All these made it into the book.”

The novel’s main character Henry Puddester is a civil service retiree whose life goes awry after a routine trip to the supermarket, where he inadvertently switches his shopping cart with that of a young mother. 

Flanagan said as the primary shopper for her family all these years, she’s ended up with the wrong cart by mistake as it was bound to happen.

“I just thought what would be the weirdest thing to suddenly get when you start pushing your shopping cart away and I thought of a baby,” she said.

Flanagan’s website describes “The Degrees of Barley Lick” as a coming-of-age story that deals with serious issues like kidnapping, the dissolution of a happy family after an unexpected death of a parent and the misunderstandings between youth that can lead to alienation. 

Young Barley uses his championship geocaching skills to help police pursue clues left by a kidnapper.

She’d written it 13-16 years ago while living in British Columbia, and set it aside when her family moved home and she immediately had a baby. When pitching “Supermarket Baby” at a WANL publishers’ event, Running the Goat asked her if she had a young adult novel. She chose one of the versions she had of “The Degrees of Barley Lick.”

“Pitching ‘Supermarket Baby’ led to greater things,” Flanagan said.

Her advice to emerging authors is to never give up.

20 Questions

1. What is your full name?

Susan Mary Flanagan

2. Where and when were you born? 

February 1967 at St. Clare’s in St. John’s

3. Where do you live today?

East end of St. John’s. 

4. What’s your favourite place in the world?

I love the south island of New Zealand, Bruges in Belgium and Split in Croatia, but my absolute favourite place is Torbay Point at the end of Doran’s Lane in Outer Cove. We call it The Klondyke and have been bringing our children there for 25 years.

5. Who do you follow on social media?

I follow God and Keith Richards. I’m always amazed to see that he’s still alive.

6. What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I have been a tour guide for 37 years. I still lead the odd busload across the island and up through Labrador. I have my Class 4 licence, so I can drive small buses. I also have my motorcycle licence. I harvest my hair for wigs for children with alopecia (Locks of Love makes customize hairpieces for children).

7. What’s been your favourite year and why?

Every year is my favourite year, even 2020 had beautiful moments. Our second son got married in October. I think 1990 was the most special year. That was the year I went to journalism school at King’s in Halifax and met my husband. We moved to Japan after graduating and got married in Tokyo.

8. What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?

Putting my parents in care homes at separate times.

9. Can you describe one experience that changed your life?

Every day, I have experiences that tweak how I live. But when we lived in Japan, my husband and I went to Okinawa where there was still a strong post-war anti-American sentiment. I was pregnant and when we tried to book a hotel room, even though I spoke Japanese, we were turned away from several places because we looked American. At the third place, I was tired and hormonal and cried. But I realized it was an important experience to be discriminated against. It opened my eyes to prejudice and discrimination that some people have to deal with the minute they’re out of the womb.

10. What’s your greatest indulgence?

Reading a book in a sunbeam.

11. What is your favourite movie or book?

Movie: “Mystic River'' and “ET.” Book: “Big, Little Lies” by Lianne Moriarty.

12. How do you like to relax? 

I go for a run or hike or sit in a sunbeam reading a book

13. What are you reading or watching right now?

I just finished "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman. I read a lot of Newfoundland authors as well. In December, I read Jim Case’s “Ananias,” Michael Crummey’s “The Innocents” and Heather Smith’s “Barry Squires Full Tilt.” I read a lot of non-fiction as well. I really enjoyed Carl English’s “Chasing a Dream,” and “More than a Mountain: One Woman’s Everest” by T.A. Loeffler. “Catch and Kill” by Ronan Farrow and “Feeding my Mother” by Jann Arden. I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I enjoy movies and the odd TV series. In December, we watched The “Queen’s Gambit” and “Logan Lucky.”

14. What is your greatest fear?

Losing my mind and dying in deep dark water.

15. How would you describe your personal fashion statement?

I love technical hiking clothes that take up little space and can be hand-washed and hung to dry. I think I may have a hiking boot fetish. When I get dressed up, most people do a double-take and say: “You clean up well.”

16. What is your most treasured possession?

My mother’s wedding band and engagement rings. My father gave my mother the engagement ring Labour Day weekend 1953 and they were married that October. I also have a Joe DiMaggio-signed baseball they picked up on a trip to New York to visit my Aunt Rita in 1952. I like my Ted Blades’ bobblehead too.

17. What physical or personality trait are you most grateful to a parent for?

My parents taught me there is nothing I can’t do. They also taught me to treat everyone, be it the queen or someone begging on the street, with the same level of respect. Until you know someone’s back story, you should never judge them. My biggest accomplishment is that I think I have passed on that trait to our five children.

18. What three people would join you for your dream dinner party?

My maternal grandparents. They got married in Boston in 1914 when the world was on the cusp of war, and my grandmother sent postcards back to her family. I visited the church where they married and followed their footsteps using the postcards, but I would love to sit down and talk to them about their time there. And maybe Percy Janes. Janes is considered by many to have been this province’s first novelist with ‘House of Hate.” He actually lived in Bernice Morgan’s apartment on Shea Street when I moved in there in 1998. but he died shortly after and I never got to meet him.

19. What is your best quality, and what is your worst quality?

If I say I’ll do something, I do it. I sometimes don’t have a lot of patience if things don’t go the way they’re supposed to.

20. What’s your biggest regret?

No regrets. Once though, my husband and I took the children swimming at Sandy Cove Pond on the Eastport Peninsula. I saw a sign that showed a 10-km path to Salvage on The Old Trails and decided to run it. I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit with shorts over, a pair of sneakers, no socks and I carried a water bottle and cell phone. There were supposed to be trail markers every kilometre. I got around halfway and came to a high rock face and had no idea which way to go around. The trail was almost non-existent. I had to backtrack to the last trail marker. There was no signal for the cell phone, my water was gone and I was preparing myself for a night in the woods wearing a bathing suit. Trails have been redone along the coast, they are now well-marked and known as the Damnable Trails.

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