Susie Taylor almost shudders to think about the answer when asked how long she’s worked on her debut novel, which is due to come out later this month.
“I almost don’t want to think of that,” she said with a laugh, seated in the living room of her home in Harbour Grace.
All the hard work is finally paying off for Taylor. “Even Weirder Than Before,” a work of fiction built on family, friendship and sexual awakenings, hits bookshelves May 30 through publisher Breakwater Books.
“It’s a very surreal feeling. These characters you’ve been living with, these imaginary people that have been taking up so much space in my life are suddenly going to exist outside my own head in the real world.”
Taylor’s move into the world of literary fiction was somewhat unexpected for her. A trained visual artist with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, she initially expected to continue painting when she moved to Harbour Grace (Taylor was born in England and grew up in Ontario before she moved to Newfoundland and Labrador in 2002).
“I had written a few short stories, but I realized what I was really wanting to do was write a novel,” she said.
Work started on “Even Harder Than Before” about six years ago. An early draft of the story won the Fresh Fish Award for emerging writers in 2015, which came with a $5,000 cheque plus $1,000 for professional editing services. After getting her money’s worth out of the latter prize, Taylor started pitching the book to publishers and found a home with Breakwater Books.
While the story is a work of fiction, its setting falls within the time of Taylor’s youth growing up in Ontario. There are hints of author in Daisy, the book’s main character, informed by Taylor’s experiences as a member of the LGBTQ community.
“I’d been thinking a lot of what it was like to grow up queer before that was socially accepted,” she said. “Homophobia was very socially accepted. You grew up without really knowing what gay and lesbian were. They were words that didn’t even exist in the dialogue. I think a lot of what the novel is based on is my memories of that time and that period, and thinking just about how much has changed, and having some nostalgia for that period of my life, but also thinking of how amazing it is anyone managed to come out under those circumstances and managed to discover themselves later on in life when we were so repressed back then.”
While the story does come from a personal place, the process of writing allowed the characters to take on a life of their own.
“There’s certainly times where I felt a huge deal of empathy for my characters,” Taylor said. “But I think they’re just walking around in your head and then you’re writing those things down on the page.”
In a blurb featured on the cover of “Even Weirder Than Before,” acclaimed Newfoundland author Lisa Moore praises Taylor’s work, calling it “witty, tender, heartbreaking and luminous.” Judges for the Fresh Fish Award in 2015 referred to the book as “a thoroughly engaging coming-of-age novel” and went on to praise Taylor for her writing’s wit and sophisticated use of tone.
Beyond people of an age similar to herself with nostalgic feelings about the 1990s, Taylor believes her novel grapples with universal themes that a lot of readers will identify with.
“It’s about being a human in the world, which I think are what all good books are hopefully about.”
Meanwhile, she already has another book in the works. While working through the edits of her novel, Taylor started writing a collection of short stories inspired by her life in Harbour Grace.
“That’s still very much in the initial phases,” she said.