Susan Roebuck - Horses and Romance in a Portuguese Setting
Sue Roebuck has five books published, the last three are all set in Portugal where she lives. She's British but was exported by her husband who's Portuguese. She lives overlooking the mighty Tagus River and watches the cruise ships coming and going into the harbour (and is pleased she's not on them). As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her latest book, Joseph Barnaby.
Please give us a short introduction to what Joseph Barnaby is about.
Joseph Barnaby is a well-thought-of farrier in the UK horse-racing world until the day he makes a decision that affects the rest of his life. The book alternates between two timelines: before and after the event that caused Joseph to seek refuge from his unhappy memories and the overwhelming sense of guilt that haunts him. The island of Madeira is the location of that refuge although, as he admits himself, it could have been anywhere as long it was away from England and the trauma of his recent experiences. As it happens, Madeira and more particularly the Quinta owned by Fernando turns out to be the perfect haven for Joseph. Its remote location, accessible only by boat or a precipitous path, means he can hide himself away from the outside and the discovery he fears. Fernando’s wife, Maria, and niece, Sofia, are the only other inhabitants of the farm… if you don’t count Joseph’s new friend, Ed the donkey.
What inspired you to write about a horse farrier who lost everything because he stood for his principles?
Well, here lies a strange tale. I know nothing about farriers. One day a friend of mine, who
is an expert in genealogy, kindly gave me information about my Roebuck family which went
back to the early nineteenth century. I discovered that many of my ancestors were
blacksmiths and farriers from Lincolnshire, UK. In fact, one of them changed his name to Farr. Now, when I wrote “Joseph Barnaby”, I wasn’t thinking about that at all and it was only afterwards, when the book was well on its way to publication that I connected Joseph’s job to my ancestors. Our sub-consciousness is stronger than we think.
Why did you pick Madeira, a small Portuguese island, as the backdrop for your book?
I do love the island. My husband was born there and we visit the place at least a couple of times every year. It’s a mysterious and mountainous region and many places are inaccessible (rather like the “fajã” where Joseph ends up). I believe there are still areas that have been unexplored, and local stories from the past that are still unexplained. The island is small but it’s a huge curiosity.
Tell us more about Joseph Barnaby. What makes him tick?
Joseph is loyal and talented. He’s well-liked and respected until his fatal decision that makes him the object of a vicious vendetta against him. At first he fights back, but his haters are too much for him and he fears for his father’s safety. He believes that the only way to protect him is for him (Joseph) to disappear, away from public view. The whole episode, though, shakes his self-confidence to the core and he vows never to touch a horse again. All he wants is to go to the ends of the Earth and be forgotten.
Sofia is not your regular heroine - she is deaf. Why did you give her this disability?
I don’t know why I do these things . I often write about characters with disabilities – I think I want to show how people can overcome their hardships and that, mostly, they don’t want people feeling sorry for them. In my first book, “Perfect Score”, Sam Barrowdale had dyslexia and a stutter. In “Hewhay Hall” Jude the firefighter had lost a leg. In “Rising Tide” Piper’s mother had been in a coma since Piper’s birth, and in “Forest Dancer” one of the characters had cancer.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I paint . Not very well, but I do like to dab on the acrylics. I’m trying to work out how to
use a spatula in my paintings at the moment. But I paint much like I write: smear on a bit of paint, take it off and paint over it. As I mention in one of the other questions: I write a page and then delete it before rewriting it again.
Where do you get your best ideas?
They often come to me when I’m walking along the beach, which is close to where I live. It usually means that I come rushing home while the idea’s still hot. I need to go on a few more walks because I want to set my next book in Lisbon (I live in Portugal – perhaps I should’ve said that before) and I’m a bit blocked at the moment.
Which of your characters has been the most challenging to write for?
Joseph Barnaby wasn’t difficult. The whole store seemed to flow out of me. I think the book that took the longest to write was my first: “Perfect Score” is set in the US (I’m British!) in the 1960s. So there was a lot of research to do in terms of the way they spoke, they way people thought and behaved. It is an LGBT book – the two main characters are men. At that time gay people had a rough time of it, and so many kept their lifestyles hidden away like guilty secrets – which is such a shame. Also, one of the characters had dyslexia – a condition that wasn’t really known about at that time, so he was considered stupid and had suffered most of his life because of it. Corruption in the pharmaceutical business was also one of the themes – and that required research too.
In your mind, what happens to the characters after you write their final chapters? Do they continue to "live on" in your imagination?
No. I live and breathe with them while I’m writing about them, but once the story’s finished I’m afraid that stops. Maybe the reason is because if I think about them too much after the book is published, I might decide I could have written some scenes differently. I don’t think I’d ever be able to write a series.
Your characters are so relatable and real. Who inspires them? Are they people you know?
Thank you! I often look for quite well known public figures to get ideas on how they look. For example, I chose actress Hayley Bennet as my inspiration of Sofia in “Joseph Barnaby” and when my editor knew that she said that was exactly how she imagined Sofia.
Do you have any interesting writing habits, what's your average writing day like?
I take a long time to write a novel. I really do need a lot of inspiration and I want to write about Lisbon for my next novel. So at the moment I spend a lot of time procrastinating on Facebook or Twitter, or writing a page which I’ll later delete (I spend a lot of time deleting too – I can’t imagine how authors wrote before the computer). However, once everything is in place in my head I’m off, blissfully unaware of the world around me, and the hours just whizz by. I’m hoping for that stage to come along very soon now.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I love hearing from readers, I really do – so feel free to contact me.
My Facebook is: https://www.facebook.com/SuRoebuck
My Twitter handle is: @sueroebuck.
Do come and visit me.