Sunday, 29 November 2015

A second festive chat with Susan Buchanan

I am delighted to welcome back Susan Buchanan to my blog. How time has flown since my interview last year when she told me to ‘watch this space’ about a sequel to The Christmas Spirit!

I asked her, over a cosy cuppa, all about her and how she likes to spend her Christmas, so today she’s taken time from her hectic schedule to chat about Return of the Christmas Spirit, an uplifting and heart-warming sequel to her multi-reviewed 5-star novel. It’s a new place and with new people, all except for one important person to help make Christmas special…

Thanks again for joining me, and I’m soooo excited Return of the Christmas Spirit is finally out! For those who haven’t read The Christmas Spirit (although I heartily recommend you do!), tell me, briefly, what it’s about.

Thanks, Emma, pleasure to be here again. You’re too kind.

Well, the blurb probably explains it best, so here you go! But as an addendum, let me just say it’s about peace and goodwill and community spirit.

Christmas is coming, but not everyone is looking forward to it. 

Rebecca has just been dumped and the prospect of spending the holiday period with her parents is less than appealing. 

Eighty- two year old Stanley lost his beloved wife, Edie, to cancer. How will he cope with his first Christmas without her? 

Jacob’s university degree hasn’t helped him get a job, and it looks like he’ll still be signing on come New Year. 

Workaholic Meredith would rather spend December 25th at home alone with a ready meal and a DVD box set. Can anything make her embrace the spirit of the season? 

The enigmatic Natalie Hope takes over the reins at the Sugar and Spice bakery and café in an attempt to spread some festive cheer and restore Christmas spirit, but will she succeed?

To buy The Christmas Spirit visit Amazon

When you first wrote The Christmas Spirit, were you imagining a sequel?

Actually, no, but everyone seemed to love the characters and Natalie, in particular, was a big hit. I’m hoping her reinvention will be equally warmly received.

I love Star and the idea that we have a guardian angel watching over us. Where did the idea come from?

Initially, I’m not sure I had intended for there to be any magical elements to the book (funny when you think how it turned out!). I’m quite an organic writer, so I have ideas for characters and bits of plot floating around in my head, then I write them all down, and now (having learned the hard way!) I try to map out roughly what each chapter is going to be about, but if that changes along the way, so be it. I just liked the idea that some people who were having a really terrible time, with no possibility of having a good Christmas as a result, would have a helping hand from somewhere, which could turn everything around.

Is Star a guardian angel?

I love that Return of The Christmas Spirit is a sequel but involving all new characters (except one, of course!) and a new place. Tell me a bit about how you develop your characters.

Well, I think to start with they just come to me. I wanted to represent several age groups and both sexes, so whereas in The Christmas Spirit we had Stanley who was in his eighties, in the new novel we have Arianna, who is only sixteen.  Rebecca, Jacob and Sophie were all in their twenties/thirties in The Christmas Spirit, so this time I wanted to have those in their fifties represented. Although we still have thirty-something Daniel! Then I think about their families, their jobs, their personalities. I do know more about them than I ever put on the page. I tend to make quite a lot of notes and jot down when I think of something new to do with the character, to avoid continuity errors. I keep separate Word docs for each character.

Apart from Star, my favourite character is Evan, I rooted for him all the way through as you feel so sorry for the way his life is heading. Who is your favourite and why?

I don’t know that I have a favourite. I like them all in different ways, sincerely. However, if I had to pick one, I’d choose a minor character, and that’s Leo. He’s funny, sexy, sophisticated and a lovely guy.

You tackle the issue of depression and how it can affect not just that person but 
those around them. Did it take a lot of research to deal with it in a sensitive way?

Obviously I hope I’ve dealt with it in a sensitive way. I’ve tried my best. I didn’t want to linger on it too much. It is a Christmas book, after all, so I tried to be subtle. Yes, I researched it as best I could. I always do with any aspect of my writing, but particularly those I know next to nothing about. The two things that struck me the most about depression are that it often goes undiagnosed and that the symptoms are so diverse.

Love is definitely in the air, but so is compassion, hope and new beginnings, so I see it less of a romance novel and more about the human (as well as Christmas!) spirit as a whole. Would you agree?

Absolutely. Like its predecessor, The Christmas Spirit, this novel is about the goodness in each of us and the world in general. Compassion is exactly the right word. Of course there are two romances in the novel, too, but it’s not a romance novel. It’s a feel-good tale about community spirit and  familial, platonic and romantic love.

I have to admit I Googled Butterburn, where Return of The Christmas Spirit is set, but couldn’t find it so assume it’s fiction! Is it based on anywhere you know? I would love to think that the library at least is real!

Ha, ha. Butterburn is fictional. I actually took the name from Buttermere in the Lake District, which is a tiny hamlet, gorgeous, next to hee-haw there, but lovely place to go walking. I then 'scotified' (my own invention) the name to ‘burn’. Fortunately that works too for the north of England where it’s set! I did, however, also have initially in my head the village of Hawkshead in Cumbria, which I am sure I had read about not long before coming up with the name, as being in the top 10 quaint places in the UK. I’d seen the pics and loved it. It was the inspiration for the name Hawksmeade in the book, although Hawskmeade is a town (in my book a fictional one!)

How I obviously visualise Butterburn....

You talk quite a bit about Christmas traditions from around the world, which I found fascinating. Do you have an interest in other cultures and Christmas?

I just love other cultures and countries generally. You may remember until two years ago I was a big travel nut and at last count had visited 57 countries, many of them several times. I love Christmas, so often when I travelled I brought back something Christmassy from the country I’d visited. Many of these are baubles which adorn my tree every year. I have so many now, I am going to have to cull them this year!

I have Italian friends, and they celebrate La Befana on 6th January. Even from very young it has interested me that some people celebrate occasions at different times from us here in the UK. The saint’s day in Spain was something else I used to love – you got an extra present on your saint’s name day. And my other half has Dutch ancestry, so he was brought up knowing about Sinterklaas. In fact, we’re locking horns over Antonia and Luke getting to open their presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, as our family traditions are different! I am, however, putting my foot down!

Sinterklaas, why perm your beard? And what've you done with Rudolf?!

Will there be a third instalment? I can just see Star (or whatever her new name would be) going from place to place secretly spreading more Christmas cheer!

Hmm, I’m not sure. If so, it won’t be anytime soon. I have a few other Christmas books in my head, and I don’t even think there will be one in 2016, as I am working on other non-Christmas projects. I like to leave things pretty open. There might be another tale in the future, but perhaps with the next generation – I think you will know what I mean, having read the book! Leaving that cryptic puzzle there for you anyway!

I Can’t resist a little question about Christmas for you this year. Now you’ve got your new addition, will it be hectic with two little ones or are you hoping for a spot of pampering?

Pampering? Pampering? (sorry, I just spent the last ten minutes rolling about the floor laughing!) No, it will be all hands on deck. Luke is crawling, almost walking, and I fully expect him to be walking by Christmas Day. He already coasts along the sofa very quickly. I am very much looking forward to Christmas, though. Presents are in hand, Santa has been asked to stop at the house. I am shattered trying to prepare for the onslaught of presents. Every time I declutter something to make space, something else appears!  I cannot wait for Christmas morning. Antonia will go berserk. She is a very enthusiastic wee girl. She will be jumping up and down with excitement when she sees all the presents – I can envisage it now. I may have to clear all the furniture out of my living room to make space! And Luke will happily eat the wrapping paper and pull everything out and steamroller over everything in his path. Bliss.

 I might get a bacon roll or a smoked salmon one with cream cheese (Tony, if you read this, take note!) but no pampering. Christmas is for the kids.

I am, however, having a few nights out before Christmas, so I suppose that counts as pampering.

Christmas morning in the Buchanan household??

What’s next for Susan Buchanan – are you continuing your proofreading business and do you have plans for more writing in 2016?

Oh yes. In fact, Perfect Prose Services is booked up for about 8 months! I love this aspect of my life. I read books I otherwise wouldn’t necessarily read, I learn things from other authors, including vocabulary, given the range of genres I’m covering. I love working on US manuscripts too, as I enjoy the differences between US and British English, and even just the different turns of phrase. That will be the linguist in me. And I really think that working on others’ manuscripts helps me as a writer, too.

I have plans to write a book in 2016 which will be pitched at traditional publishers, just to see what happens, and either before or after that, I will work on What If again. It will be odd working on it, having left it for over two years. I’ve never done that with a book before or since.

Plus when I was on maternity leave, I had at least forty ideas for novels, all of which I saved in a file, so all I have to do is figure out which book to write next. Rest assured there are plenty more books to come!

You sound like you've got a busy time ahead! Thanks so much, a pleasure as always. Have some yule log for the road!

You know me, I never refuse grub! Thanks m’dear. Had fun, as usual. Have a fab Crimbo, Sooz x

To download Return of the Christmas Spirit go to Amazon:

Follow Sooz on Twitter @susan_buchanan


  1. Lovely interview. Lovely Christmassy story, too. :)

    1. Thanks Wendy! Really appreciate you taking the time to read it. Sooz is very easy to interview!

  2. I loved The Christmas Spirit and I've just down-loaded The Return, and I'm very much looking forward to reading it curled up on the sofa beside the Christmas tree.

    1. Both books are great! I've read Return and it's just as lovely and festive as book 1, so enjoy (especially with a mince pie)!