Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 30, 2011

Meet an Aussie Author: Susan Johnson

Photo: Tom Pridham, courtesy Susan Johnson

I discovered one of my favourite Aussie authors, Susan Johnson, just a few years ago when ANZ LitLovers read The Broken Book.  This astonishing multi-layered book is the fictionalised story of the Australian author Charmian Clift – imaginatively reworked as a would-be writer called Katherine Elgin whose character Cressida Morley was a character in the novels of Charmian Clift and her husband George Johnson.  It is a deliciously complex work with echoes of Johnson’s own struggle with reconciling the creative muse with the everydayness of life. (See Aviva Tuffield’s review and this one by Kim at Reading Matters).

Since then I read and loved Life in Seven Mistakes (read my review and one at the SMH) and more recently a small treasure of an essay On Beauty (see my thoughts about that one here and a Life Matters interview about it here).

Susan’s other novels are now out-of-print (though who knows what will happen to backlists in the digital age, eh?) but Amazon UK has second-hand copies of  Flying Lessons,   A Big Life, and Hungry Ghosts, and also her memoir A Better Life.   Susan has also edited a diverse range of books including Women Love Sex and a short story collection called Latitudes, and you can read more about them on her blog,  A Better Woman.  (Where you can also find links to suppliers of her books in print; Aussie buyers can also click the Booko link in the RHS menu on this blog to find local suppliers.)

Susan’s work has been recognised with nominations for numerous awards.

  • Her first novel Flying Lessons (Heinemann 1990) was shortlisted for the 1991 Victorian Premier’s Prize for Fiction
  • A Big Life (Picador 1993) was shortlisted for the 1994 National Book Council’s Banjo Award and the Victorian Premier’s Prize
  • A Better Woman  (Random House 1999) was shortlisted for the National Biography Award
  • The Broken Book (Allen and Unwin, 2004)  was longlisted for the 2005 Miles Franklin Award and the International IMPAC Dublin Award, and shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Queensland Premier’s Prize for fiction, the Nita B Kibble Award, the Association for the Study of Australian Literature (ALS) Gold Medal Award, the CAL Waverley Library Award for Literature, and the APA Book Design Award Best Designed Literary Fiction Book Award
  • The Australian Financial Review Magazine named Life in Seven Mistakes  as one of the best books of 2008.

Susan was busy coping with the recent catastrophic floods in Brisbane when I approached her for this Meet an Aussie Author series, and she’s also writing her next novel My Hundred Lovers but somehow she has found the time to answer my ten questions:

1.  I was born curious. I’ve always wanted to know everything about everyone.

2.  When I was a child I wrote poetry and stories. I also wrote a fan book  for my fellow fans in The Monkees Fan Club. My favourite Monkee was Micky.

3.  The person who encouraged/inspired/mentored me to write is/was Storm Jameson. Her Journey From The North seemed to be my story. But actually I think Jo in Little Women was a big influence too.

4.  I write in Brisbane, Australia, at a new desk I just bought especially for that purpose.

5.  I write when I can. At the moment that is five am in the morning, when the boys are still asleep, and before I start work. I’ve recently started working in a 9 to 5 job again, full-time.

6.  Research is invaluable. Then you have to forget everything you’ve learned and write everything as if it happened to you.

7.  I keep my published work/s in bookcases all over the house. Books are my house actually. I knew my second marriage was over when we had a fight about me having too many books (other people’s books, not my own).

8.  On the day my first book was published I felt like I had arrived at the hidden destination for which I was always aiming.

9.  At the moment, I’m writing the hardest novel I have ever written, under the hardest circumstances. But, hey, I wouldn’t swap my life for anything.

10.When I’m stuck for an idea/word/phrase, I make a cup of coffee or go for a walk or cuddle the dog. Then I go straight back to work  because that’s the only way you get a book written.

Thank you so much for finding the time to participate, Susan!


  1. Good for her (completing this under such circumstances, I mean)! I’ve only read, and enjoyed, The broken book. She’s a bit under the radar really isn’t she … but I think she shouldn’t be!


  2. I had never heard of this author before but I will make a point of looking for her books in the bookshops. Very interesting post.


    • Just be careful if you go looking online, Becky…there’s another Susan Johnson (American, I think) who writes romance and erotic novels and you wouldn’t want to get them mixed up!


  3. I’m really enjoying this “Meet An Aussie Author” business – it’s a terrific idea. Thanks for implementing it.


  4. I’m glad you like it McC – the hard part is getting in contact with the authors and waiting on a reply. They are all busy of course, writing books for us to read, often in scraps of time between earning a living or running a house as well, so this can only ever be an ‘occasional series’. It depends entirely on their good will.


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