Interview with Sue Hann, Runner Up in the WOW! Q1 Creative Nonfiction Contest

Sunday, March 28, 2021


Sue Hann is a psychologist and writer living in London. Her work was long-listed for the Spread the Word Life Writing Prize 2020. She won the Diana Woods Memorial Award Summer/Fall 2020. Her writing has been published in journals such as Popshot Quarterly, Longleaf Review, Multiplicity Magazine, Brevity Blog and Litro Online, as well as various flash fiction anthologies including Palm Sized Press Vol. 3. You can find her on Twitter @SYwrites. 

----------Interview by Renee Roberson

WOW: “Exit Wounds” is a great example of a braided essay. What inspired you to use these two separate events to illustrate the mental and physical anguish one goes through with infertility treatments? 

Sue: Well thank you first of all for saying that. In this short essay, I was playing with the idea of bodies, and the sense of something being done to one’s body, and the body being outside of one’s control. I was reflecting on the different times in my life that I encountered these feelings. I think the body is an endlessly fascinating way in to our psychological landscape. There was something about this childhood incident with the sea urchin that resonated with my experience of infertility treatments, particularly this idea of the medical gaze, so to speak -- being seen as a body part to be operated upon or treated, and as the owner of this body part, one comes second to this. I also liked playing with the motif of a body being pierced in some way, whether that was the sharp quills of a sea creature or a medical needle. 

WOW: Yes, there are so many layers to unravel in the essay and you did such a great job with all the vivid imagery. What has your path to writing creative nonfiction been like and can you describe the first piece of writing you ever had published? 

Sue: I started off with academic writing in my professional life. There, I had the comfort and clarity of expected structures and formats, as well as being able to hide behind ‘academese’. It was a real shift to writing in my own personal voice for creative non-fiction. For me, I had to divest myself of my professional persona and the expectations that come with this. It was only when I let that go, and separated up those roles of professional persona versus private self that I could access a more authentic and vulnerable voice. When I had my first piece of creative nonfiction published, I had such a sense of achievement but also of recognition, that this private self had been allowed out of its box. 

WOW: Although I'm sure it was scary it first I imagine it was a freeing experience for you. “Tips for Giving Feedback in Nonfiction Writing Groups” is an illustrative piece describing how difficult it can be to find a writing critique group. If a writer has a bad experience with one, do you recommend pursuing finding one or going solo? 

Sue: I think critique groups are invaluable for learning as a writer. I have learned so much about how to give feedback and how to receive feedback from the process of being a member of different groups. However, I think giving and receiving feedback on creative non-fiction has its differences to feeding back on fiction. I have had some unhelpful experiences in non-fiction feedback groups which is what inspired this piece of writing. As a reader, when giving feedback it is so important to engage with what the writer is trying to do, and not what you would have done with the piece. I have persevered and now feel very lucky to have a number of wonderful, thoughtful first readers for my work. 

WOW: That all makes sense. What advice would you give to writers interested in writing creative nonfiction but are unsure of where to start? 

Sue: I started off writing flash fiction and then flash nonfiction. I think the flash format is a great place to start because its brevity means that it’s not too intimidating. Starting off studying shorter pieces of writing made it feel more accessible to me and easier to fit in around the rest of my life. Also, because they can be written quickly, it can be great to get positive feedback from others on a complete piece, and entering competitions like WOW can be a great confidence boost, as it was for me. 

WOW: Do you also read nonfiction in addition to writing it? If so, what are some resources/books you can recommend for other writers? 

Sue: Yes, I love reading nonfiction. There has been some amazing nonfiction coming out of Ireland in the past few years. I loved Constellations by Sinead Gleeson, and Notes to Self by Emily Pine, and most recently, I was blown away by Doireann Ni Ghriofa’s nonfiction book A Ghost in the Throat. I can’t recommend these books highly enough to anyone who enjoys reading nonfiction but also to budding or experienced writers of nonfiction as all three titles use different structures and formats to tell a story.

WOW: Thank you for sharing those great titles with us! Congratulations on such a well-written piece once again and we look forward to reading more of your work. 


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--Thanks for doing this interview and for giving us a link to Sue's essay.

Sue--Congratulations. What a wonderful essay. I won't say you were lucky to have had the encounter with the sea urchin, but you WERE fortunate to be able take it and weave it in with moments where you struggled with infertility. They're a natural pairing. In fact, the painful needles of the sea urchin could be paired with so many experiences. A love that ended up in a awful way and left its vestiges under the skin... the heartache ever-present. Horrific things slung at a child from a parent's abusive mouth--verbal condemnation that colors their own parenting decades later. The pain of having a sibling addicted to oxycontin and dealing with every fog-shrouded paranoic lie. The list could go on and on.

Because of you, Sue, I am going to suggest that all writers head to the beaches and search for sea urchins. When they find them, the author-wannabes should taunt and aggravate the sea creatures until they're stung by the countless needles. Then, they will have the perfect fodder to write a powerful piece.

Just kidding, of course. Your piece HAS inspired me to ponder what two events in my life I could braid together. The format intrigues me... and your essay moved me.

Congratulations again. (And I too loved Emilie Pine's "Notes to Self.") Good luck with your future writing endeavors.

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