I am really excited about this latest guest post because Susan Last, my guest, is a publisher herself and so we share a very similar passion for books, excellent writing, breastfeeding and creativity. I can also add that Susan is a generous host who can rustle up a great lunch at a moment’s notice! Many thanks to Susan for taking part, and I hope it inspires more creative folk to get submitting their prose to the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize (only 18 full days left to go now!).
Tell us about yourself…
I’ve loved books all my life; as a child I was a voracious reader and as an adult I now read for both work and pleasure (luckily for me, the two often intersect). I graduated in Modern Languages and my first job was as a trainee editor for a history publisher in Gloucestershire. I then spent nearly 10 years at Breedon Books (later DB Publishing) in Derby working on history, sport and biography books, as an editor, commissioning editor, managing editor… Since my third child was born in 2010 I’ve been partly a freelance editor, working mainly for Pen and Sword Books and Pinter and Martin, and partly a director of Lonely Scribe, a tiny independent publishing company that I founded with a colleague.
1. Have you always considered yourself to be a creative person?
No. It took me a long time to realise that the creative work on a book doesn’t begin and end with the author; the editors, designers, proofreaders and everyone involved in the process of publishing all bring their own creative talents to the table. I now understand the value, and the skill, in good editing, from visualising the book in its very early stages, to having a hand in the final details of the finished product.
Away from books I like to knit, sew, crochet, cook – I don’t consider myself an expert or even particularly creative or original in any of these pursuits, but I have always enjoyed them for their own sake.
2. Has motherhood enhanced your creativity? If yes, in what way and why do you think it has enhanced your creativity?
Yes – interests I only developed once I’d had children (breastfeeding chief among them!) have led me down all sorts of interesting pathways in my publishing work. The work I do for Pinter and Martin on their wonderful birth and breastfeeding titles is some of the most satisfying I’ve done in my career to date, and of course I love being at the helm of Lonely Scribe, although as any small business owner will tell you it brings its own challenges!
3. Do you have any tips on how to find time for your creative work amongst the everyday busyness?
For me the answer has been some childcare during the week – I found it almost impossible to find enough time during the day to work when my babies were tiny, and come the evening I was too tired! Now my youngest is three and has regular playschool sessions (my older two are at school) it is so much easier, although school holidays can be tricky! I do find myself squeezing work in to weekends and evenings, and I’m lucky enough to have a husband who doesn’t work long hours so he can take over at home if I have things to finish. I do find that restricted time can be almost a blessing: I am a natural procrastinator and work better under a bit of pressure. (Case in point: I am answering these questions hurriedly before dashing off to my daughter’s playschool Christmas party…)
4. What does breastfeeding mean to you?
I breastfed my children for 11 months, 18 months and 2.5 years respectively; I never imagined before I had children what an important part of my life it would become. I’ve written about my very mixed feelings about my youngest child weaning herself on my blog! I struggled to feed my first baby and that difficult experience is what led me to become a breastfeeding peer supporter, to edit my book Breastfeeding: Stories to inspire and inform, and to develop my interest in breastfeeding generally, which has been genuinely life-changing and has led to all sorts of opportunities. So it’s been tremendously important on every level.
5. Were there any pieces in Musings on Mothering that spoke to you particularly?
I absolutely loved the entire book – when I first saw it I wished I’d published it! It’s a beautiful book and I come back to it often. I remember smiling very wryly at ‘The Cold Cup of Tea’ by Marija Smits – I lost count of how many times I sat on the sofa breastfeeding watching my cup of tea go cold on the mantelpiece, and can even remember sobbing into my husband’s shoulder, after one particularly trying day at home with small children, that I hadn’t even had a hot cup of tea all day! It’s an enduring image of parenthood for me.
6. Are you working on any particular project right now?
Yes, I’m editing a book about supporting parents in the postnatal period, written by a postnatal doula, for Pinter and Martin, and in a totally bizarre juxtaposition I’m also editing a True Crime book for Pen and Sword about John Haigh, the Acid Bath Murderer. I love the variety in my work even if some of the subjects are not my main areas of interest! For Lonely Scribe I’m waiting with bated breath for Milli Hill to deliver her Water Birth book, which will be published in 2014.
7. Is there any one piece of work that you are particularly proud of?
It was immensely personally satisfying to publish my own book. But over the years I’ve been lucky enough to work on many projects that I’ve been proud of for different reasons. Lonely Scribe now publishes The Heart is Highland, by Maisie Steven, which was the first book I edited at Breedon Publishing back in 2000. I’m very proud that it is still in print, and that I am still involved with it, as it’s a real gem.
8. Is there any one person (or persons) that you consider to be a true inspiration to you?
Ina May Gaskin and Gabrielle Palmer spring to mind. Their work has had a big influence on me in recent years.
9. Is there any one piece of art or music, or writing that has influenced you, or inspired you to continue creating?
I met the artist Mary Fedden when I was a student through her association with Trevelyan College in Durham; my favourite painting of hers, of a cat on a rocking chair on a Pennsylvania porch, hangs there. I have a postcard of it, and I often look at it and think of her, her paintings and her studio… she was very inspiring and so productive, even in old age, that thinking of her often galvanises me into action!
10. What would you say to someone who doesn’t consider themselves a creative person, but would like to try their hand at something new?
Just give it a go! You might surprise yourself. Some of the best books I’ve worked on have been written by people who never thought they’d be authors, but who found that when the right subject came along, the words just came pouring out.
Susan’s book Breastfeeding: Stories to inspire and inform is also available to buy from The Mother’s Milk Bookshop – and when purchased through the online store it gains the buyer one entry to the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize, in which Susan Last is the judge of the prose category. What better way to find out what kind of prose she likes!