In 1946, George Orwell articulated the reasons why he put pen to paper in an essay entitled Why I Write.
In this Web series, authors talk about their literary habits and reading preferences,
and examine Orwell's question that lies at the heart of being an author—why they write.

Susie Gordon

Unsavory Elements


Shanghai-based writer and journalist Susie Gordon was born in the north west of England in 1981. She moved to China in 2008, and writes for many of the city’s English language publications, specialising in business and culture. She has published three guidebooks about Shanghai and Beijing, and is currently working on a novel.


Susie Gordon is a contributor to Unsavory Elements (Earnshaw Books, 2013), an anthology of essays about foreign expats in China.


Why I write
For a lot of reasons. To tell stories – my own, and other people’s. To rework and reword the world; to entertain, and to commentate.


What sort of writing habits do you keep?
I write late at night, but not every night. I don’t subscribe to those trite “advice for writers” rules that prescribe writing every day, to a certain word count, at dawn or whatever. If you’re not in the right frame of mind, I don’t think there’s any point in forcing it. And every writer is different. When I start to write, I carry on until the scene is finished or the idea has been expressed. I then email what I have written to my friend, who is a better and more experienced writer, and she tells me if it’s any good.


Describe the physical domain of your writing space…
I write at home – the top floor of a lane house. The walls are painted (somewhat patchily) dark red, and my desk is by the window overlooking the lane. On it there are books, papers, usually a bottle of something, an ashtray, a map of Old Shanghai, and a photograph of my muse.


Worst source of distraction and best source of inspiration?
The Internet, and Shanghai.


How often do you get writers’ block and how do you overcome it?
Rarely, until I began the third draft of my novel. It comes in two forms – either a difficulty in formulating ideas for the character or plot, or an inability to get something down on the page. It’s like insomnia: the more you fight it, the worse it becomes. Sometimes I force myself to write something, but the results are never any good. When I’m blocked, I tend to re-work my chapter plan and re-read what I’ve written so far, until inspiration returns.


Do you ever doubt your own ability as a writer?
I think every writer has quivers of insecurity. There’s always room for improvement.


When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Before I even knew what a writer was, I think. Until I could read and write, I used to narrate stories to my father and he would put them down on paper, sewing the pages together with cotton. Then, when I learned to read, the world I found in books was so fascinating and consuming that I never considered doing anything else but write some of my own.


How did you get started writing?
I’ve been writing in various forms for as long as I can remember – the usual juvenilia. My poetry collection “Peckham Blue” was published in London in 2006 by Penned in the Margins, and I was part of the Royal Court’s young playwrights’ scheme before I moved to Shanghai. I had several short stories published here in HAL’s anthologies, and my first non-fiction essay appeared in Unsavory Elements earlier this year.


You look back at the first thing you had published and think…
Actually not too bad. Could have been worse. Could have been better.


Does writing change anything?
It depends on who wrote it, and who reads it.


Contemporary writer in any medium you always read?
A. M. Homes – an expert in many genres: novels, short stories and memoirs, and a fascinating female voice.


Favorite Chinese writer?
Sheng Keyi. I’m glad that her work is being translated into English so more people have access to it.


Favorite China book?
Lynn Pan’s Old Shanghai: Gangsters in Paradise – historically compelling, and beautifully written. Emily Hahn’s China to Me comes a close second.


Favorite author?
Do I have to pick just one? I don’t think I can. There’s Vladimir Nabokov, Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, J. D. Salinger, A. M. Homes, Donna Tartt, Curtis Sittenfeld, Federico Garcia Lorca, Ted Hughes, T.S. Eliot. But best overall, I think Nabokov, for his scope and talent.


Favorite book?
There are several that I go back to again and again – Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon for its simple savagery, Nabokov’s Lolita for its language and wit, Gallico’s The Snow Goose for its ability to emotionally devastate, and Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye because it’s a rite of passage that you never forget.


The book you should have read but haven’t?
I don’t like that “must read” thing. Read whatever the hell you want, and don’t worry about what you “should” be doing.


What are you working on and when is it out?
I’m working on a poetry collection and a novel, and will look for publishers when both are complete later this year. Writer’s block depending.


Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Leave a Reply

Posted on: August 14th, 2013 by JFK Miller No Comments