The Gift of Truth Telling


Truth

Image by TW Collins via Flickr

How important is telling the truth to you?

For many writers, they tell the truth about emotional subjects and difficult tales through their stories. They may change a few names around or they may base a character loosely on themselves. I believe all fiction does carry something of the writer‘s experience and emotional map about it. But there are those writers who are called to write a story that will make people question their world views. Their stories make the reader confront the truth. As we all know sometimes the truths in this world can be ugly and destroying. But sometimes there are those rare individuals who can use trials and torments to rise above their circumstances and use that very pain to bring comfort and nurturing warmth into all whose lives they touch. Then you go a step further and meet those same individuals who use their stories of pain as a looking-glass mirror where, through the naked reflection of their pain, they offer others in the same circumstances a way out, a way paved with hope and resilience. Tonight I have the honour of having such an individual and such a writer in the Dragonfly Scrolls studio with me. I am not going to digress anymore because tonight she is going to share her amazing story with you. So I am going to take a step back and let you be inspired by a woman who, like myself, believes in not only seeking the truth but in telling the truth in all its naked complexity. This is a story of a true survivor. Listen to her and have hope no matter how hopeless your world may seem right now.

Firstly thank you for joining me in the Dragonfly Scrolls studio…

Let us start by you introducing yourself to us…Who is Suzannah Burke?


Of all the questions I am ever asked this is perhaps the most difficult to answer. Who am I?  I am an Australian woman in my fifties.  I wake before sunrise and go back to bed after midnight.  I love to walk in the rain, and read in the sun.  I watched Toy Story 3 and cried; I sat with my 30-year-old daughter and watched the entire first series of Glee in one sitting, snuggled on the sofa with enormous amounts of munchies.  On her next visit, we watched the entire first season of Trueblood together.  I live alone on the northeastern coast of Australia in a small fishing village.  I am a friend, a neighbor, an acquaintance, an ex-wife, but my favorite title is mother. I am a writer fortunate enough to have had a book published.  I love my animals, my solitude and my life is as perfect as it’s going to get right now.

Tell us about your background in writing.

I didn’t really begin writing as more than a hobby until 5 years ago.  Like many people my friends said, “Hey, this is good stuff.”  I joined an online writing site and to my delight, they agreed with my friends. I wrote my first complete fiction novel for Nanowrimo in 2009.  I completed another fiction novel for Nanowrimo in 2010…and in between, I wrote “Empty Chairs”

I know that you have a book called Empty Chairs out.  Can you tell us a bit about it?


Empty Chairs is my biography from age three to age 11.  It covers the early years when I was subjected to horrendous abuse instigated by my mother and the pedophile ring she was a pivotal member of.  It covers the abuse and moves quickly on to my life living on the streets at age 11. I hope that people will see within the pages that the results of abuse can be life threatening and certainly life altering.  However, it also made me understand that I had a core of strength inside that simply refused to be broken.  I had a dream of something better and nothing would stop me striving towards that dream.

Now it must take great courage to write about painful events in your life but yet you have.

What was your inspiration for writing this story?

When I first hit the streets, I met and ultimately shared my life with a group of street kids.  We were together for 5 years, and some of us remained friends for over 4 decades. One of the gang was only 8 years old.  Her name was “Jenny.”  I was not the youngest at 11, which in itself will shock many people.  Jenny and I grew close and over the years maintained our bond.  Jenny had asked me to write about our lives on the street.  I used to write {for want of a better term} I wrote stories for Jenny when we were together, normally in the columns of newspapers that we used to sleep on.  I made Jenny the hero in all the stories; she was the Princess who always managed to save herself from whatever monsters I conjured up.  Jenny loved those stories.

I had made her a promise, that “One day” I would write it all down. I promised her I would tell everyone what is was like to live on the streets as we did. Jenny committed suicide on September 1st 2009.  I hadn’t kept my promise.  When I began to recover from my anger and sadness at her death, I made the decision to honor the promise that I had made to her. Empty Chairs is the result.

I have heard that for the month of April all the profits received for your book will be donated to ISPCAN the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.

That is quite a contribution. Can you tell us a little about ISPCAN?

The International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, founded in 1977, is the only multidisciplinary international organization that brings together a worldwide cross-section of committed professionals to work towards the prevention and treatment of child abuse, neglect, and exploitation globally.

ISPCAN’s mission is to prevent cruelty to children in every nation, in every form: physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, street children, child fatalities, child prostitution, children of war, emotional abuse, and child labor.  ISPCAN is committed to increasing public awareness of all forms of violence against children, developing activities to prevent such violence, and promoting the rights of children in all regions of the world. ISPCAN invites you to join forces with its members around the world to protect children in need: their bodies, minds, hearts, and rights.

I think this is a very worthy cause. Can you tell readers where to get a copy of your book in April?

The kindle version on Amazon is here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004K6MJJK/ref=sc_vs__empty_2520chairs_2520by_

The paperback version on Amazon is here:http://www.amazon.com/Empty-Chairs-story-about-child/dp/1453858520/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_2

The Smashwords edition in kindle or eBook is here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/38452

Question: What is your hope for this book and for this cause Susannah?

I hope that people will read this and begin to understand and acknowledge that Child abuse is not only perpetrated in poor neighborhoods, it is not restricted to the uneducated masses…people appear to have a misconception of Abuse, perhaps to safely distance their thoughts from anything so sordid and difficult to comprehend they lump child abuse in a category. That is a misconception that must change. News flash folks, I came from an upper middle class background. My abusers were pillars of the community.  These pedophiles didn’t drive rusted out cars and wear tacky clothes.  They drove Mercedes- Benz and Porsche. They wore Armani and Dior. There are NO social boundaries when it comes to pedophilia.

Abuse is a terrible crime that humans seem to excel at. I am sure there are many people out there who have no support and no place to run to. For readers who may know of or have experienced abuse, what would you say to them now?

When I was a child, there was no place to turn.  This horror was never spoken of.  Today thanks to the hard work of many wonderful people worldwide and the internet, every hospital has counseling and referral facilities.  Doctors are mandated to report suspected abuse to the relevant authorities if the child is under age.  Police departments have their own departments set up specifically to deal with complaints of this nature.  Salvation Army, Red cross, and most churches have their own teams where a person can phone anonymously to access assistance. I have a very long list of help sites on my blog, covering the USA the UK and Australia. The list is growing daily.  I check all the sites before I add them to be certain they are legitimate and approved.  If you are reading this interview and you have been abused or suspect someone you know may be experiencing it now please speak up.  The avenues will respect your privacy, they WILL believe you.  At times especially with younger folks, it is the fear that they will not be believed that prevents them seeking help.  The people and the facilities out there are now immense, they will help you to take all the steps necessary to either stop the abuse or recover from abuse inflicted long ago.

Looking back at your life through the mirror of Empty Chairs, would you say there was a defining moment that led you to write down your story in this book?

Jenny’s death by her own hand was the catalyst.  She was a precious, marvelous human being, yet her soul was murdered long before she took her last breath.  I was so devastated and angry when I got the call. It took me months before I could calm down enough to write the book clearly without emotional overload.

After reading the sample chapter of this book, I see that you chose to write this story in present tense. This creates a really powerful reality where the reader sees everything through your deep POV (point of view).

This must have been very difficult for you as you would have re-experienced much of the heartache and pain again?

Did you have a support system to help you through the writing of this story?

I told no one that I was writing the book, I didn’t want to inflict what I was dealing with on anyone else. I needed to do it in my own time and without questions when I had almost completed it I posted the first chapter on The Night Publishing site. Tim Roux who is Night Publishing contacted me, and on the basis of chapter, one he signed me to a publishing contract for Empty Chairs.  To say I was stunned would be a major understatement.

What would you say was the biggest challenge in writing a non-fiction story based on your life story?

I had flashbacks and panic attacks during the writing of the book. I often had to stop and take myself outside into the clean air to gain a perspective and continue writing. The biggest challenge in so far as the writing itself was to remain true to who I am now and yet recall how I felt then without hyperbole or drama. I needed to allow the things to unfold as I remembered them. I am aware that it is a difficult thing to read.  My honesty can be daunting.  Yet it is not a subject that can be prettied up for public consumption.  I wrote it exactly as I remembered it.

What advice would you give to a writer contemplating on writing a similar memoir style biography?

Be aware that many people simply don’t want to hear about painful topics.  They label this kind of work as “Misery Memoir” You must be prepared for folks to not want to know any more about a very painful topic.  I am one of the very fortunate few who has a Publisher that has supported me.  If you decide to write a biography remember to be true to yourself every step of the way.  I had one publishing house that wanted to sign the book, but only if I prettied it up for general consumption, I refused.

If you decide to self publish be prepared to do the heavy-duty promotional work required to have people read your work.  My publisher is very supportive but I still have a need to put in the hours to help people learn about my work.  Set yourself a target every day, try, and keep to it.  If you find yourself getting caught up in the emotion of the book it will reflect in your writing: that is not necessarily a bad thing, no one wants to read a book devoid of any emotion, but by the same token people need to be able to read the book without the feeling that they are being preached at or ranted to.  Sometimes you need to put it aside and distance yourself a little before you continue.  Most of all believe in yourself.

Since “Empty Chairs” is non-fiction, will you be writing some fiction/have you written any fiction?

I had already completed a Comedy/Romance novel “Dudes Down Under” before commencing “Empty Chairs” and during Empty Chairs, I added more to the fiction book, and I needed to have the Comedy as a release from the remembering.  I also have a fiction Psychological Thriller “Twisted “completed which I’m currently editing.

Would you say there is quite a large difference between writing fiction and non-fiction?

Oh hell, yes!  There is no comparison.  My non-fiction book does not allow me the luxury of inventing characters, places, and happenings.  Truth is often more difficult to write.  With my Fiction work, I have a wonderful time, developing the plot and inventing and rounding out the characterizations.

What other genres do you write in and why?


I write in so many different genres, ‘Dudes Down Under” is a Comedy/Romance I had a ball writing it, and inventing my pivotal chapter linking “character” of Cyril…Cyril is a 28ft long crocodile who wears Armani, drinks copious amounts of JD loves Al Pacino and Brando, dances to “Some enchanted evening” and whose thoughts on every imaginable topic are only known to the reader. The misunderstandings are rife as the story is set on a brand new tropical island resort catering only to the Hollywood ‘A’ listers. What Cyril does to the croc skin luggage of the stars is not to be missed. I adore the escapism of Comedy, and the fun of the romantic scenes. As for my other novel “Twisted” Phew!  What can I say…I have a ball again in a different way, by killing off folks and weaving in a serial murderer and a conspiracy as well, again escapism. I also submit regular short stories online in contests ranging from westerns to paranormal. The only topics I have yet to tackle is Science Fiction and Fantasy…I don’t feel I have enough knowledge for one and am not comfortable with the other.

Are you working on any new projects now?  Can you share anything about them?

I am currently writing the follow-up to Empty Chairs as so many kind people have asked me what happened then?  Where did you go?  What did your life turn out like?

So, yes…I am picking the book up the day after book one ends.  I am also working on another novel entitled “The inheritance” about a young Australian women who is made Guardian of her wealthy US friend’s 4-year-old child.  It’s developing nicely and will I think be labeled as a romance when I am done exploring all the possible journeys that the characters are taking me on.

What would you like you lasting legacy to be as a writer?

This is a difficult question: I guess with my Non-fiction work I would like people who have bought it to say, “Hey, if she can get through it and have a richly rewarding life, then hell, so can I.”  With my fiction work, I love to inform and entertain; if that is how my readers feel then I would be one very delighted woman.

Can you tell us where to find you on the web Susannah?

Okay…  I have my book review/interview/talk writing site on http://sooozsaysstuff.blogspot.com

My book related site for Empty Chairs is on http://staceydansonemptychairs.blogspot.com

I have a competition that I run every month that is very popular at http://paragraphsofpower.blogspot.com

And….my comedy romance and interviews with a crocodile site is http://dudesdownunder.blogspot.com

Phew, I do have a few.

Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview with me.

I commend your courage in bringing a very real and painful subject to life.

Your story is one that is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit even in the face of great pain.

It has been an honour and pleasure to feature an author with such a worthy message.

I hope that you will come back and visit with me in my studio in the near future and tell us more of your future endeavors.

I trust that Empty Chairs becomes a fast best seller so that you may raise many well needed earnings for ISPCAN.

I look forward to watching your future success and especially to your sequel to “Empty Chairs”. Your’s is a story that had to be written. Thank you for showing the great courage you have by writing it.

I am so appreciative of the time and the kindness you have shown, thank you for the opportunity.

© All Rights Reserved Kim Koning.

For those readers interested in finding out more about the prevention of child abuse, I have added a link to the ISPCAN.

ISPCAN

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6 Comments

  1. Kim, thank you for bringing Suzannah to us. Suzannah, thank you for your courage in sharing your story, in writing your book as you wanted. I especially hope that the message that pedophilia is not confined to certain socio-economic groups or classes will be made known. I wish you success in all of your writing.

    • Thanks for commenting Ree. I think this book and this story has so many messages that must and should be heard. 🙂

  2. Kim, thank you for conducting such a sensitive interview, a testament to the incredible woman who is your subject today.
    Susannah, you are a woman I will admire to my dying day. It takes an incredible amount of strength in emotion, character and heart to admit or recognise the flaws in ones life. It takes much more to Speak out about it. Sensitive issue are too often swept under the carpet because people want a pleasant read… Good on you for refusing to nicefy your work, good on you for standing up for what you believe in. Woman like you give inspiration and strength to anyone who is at the mercy of emotional upheaval whatever the cause.
    It’s so true that even if your experiences shape your life, it is only you that can change it, mould it into what YOU want it to be, by accepting the past and changing your future. It is heartening to know you have a full and happy life, and that reaching out to others only makes you happier and more fulfilled.
    Best of luck and warmest regards, Tee

    • I agree with all that you have said Tee! I do believe that Suzannah is one of my heroines now. Very honoured to be able to feature her and her story. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

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