Posted on 23/10/2012
As the nights draw in and the frosty mornings are upon us, author and Royal Holloway lecturer Susanna Jones will captivate students, staff and the general public with tales of mountaineering in the Alps from her acclaimed fourth novel When Nights Were Cold. Her reading on Thursday 25 October will be the first in a series of six lunchtime events which form Royal Holloway’s new reading series.
Susanna’s historical novel tells the story of adventurer Grace Farringdon and her polar explorations, with the Guardian describing it as “an atmospheric, beautifully controlled account of intense female friendship and ambition”.
We caught up with Susanna to talk about mountaineering in the Alps, teaching young writers and how the Founder’s building at Royal Holloway inspired her.
What was the inspiration behind When Nights Were Cold?
I can't remember exactly now but I suppose a few things I'd been thinking about for a while came together - for instance, a mountaineering experience in the Alps and an exhibition on polar exploration that I went to see. Other ideas and images also started to fall into place once I had the voice of the narrator, Grace Farringdon, fixed in my head. She is a young woman at the turn of the twentieth century who becomes obsessed with the Antarctic.
Can you tell us about the passage you will be reading and why you chose it?
I'll probably read from a scene set in the Alps where Grace and her university friends are climbing. It's a key point in their story because they've worked towards this for years, but it's also where things begin to unravel. I might also read a short section set at the women's college they attend to show their preparation and what it all means to them.
Are you looking forward to the Lunchtime Reading series and having the opportunity to discuss your novel with an audience?
Absolutely. The Lunchtime Reading series is a great opportunity for writers to share and discuss their work. I'm also looking forward to it for personal reasons, as I was a student at Royal Holloway many years ago. Indeed the university, Founder’s in particular, was the inspiration for Candlin College in the book so it will be fantastic to read it on campus.
How does your work as an author feed into your teaching at Royal Holloway?
All the time in our MA workshops I'm using my experience as a writer to help students deal with the many challenges of writing a first novel. It's exciting to work with people at that stage, just on the threshold of making it work and just starting to find their voices. I learn more about writing, and what a novel is, with each book I write and it all feeds into the workshops. Of course, I learn a lot from the students too.
How is your fifth novel progressing?
Slowly but surely! This one is set in the 1930s-1950s, partly in Japan. I have a lot of research to do but I hope to finish it by the end of next year.
Susanna will read from When Nights Were Cold at 1pm on Thursday 25 October, in the Queens Building Lecture Theatre at Royal Holloway. A Q&A will follow the reading.
The event is free and all are welcome. For more information, visit the Lunchtime Reading series webpage.
Susanna Jones is a Senior Lecturer at Royal Holloway’s Department of English. She teaches on the Creative Writing MA. She graduated in Drama and Theatre Studies from Royal Holloway in 1988.