Interview with Sue Hann, 2nd Place Winner in the Q1 2022 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Sunday, February 06, 2022
I'm thrilled to interview Sue Hann about her essay, "Notes on a Pregnancy," which won second place in WOW! Women on Writing's Q1 2022 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest. You may remember Sue from last year's Q1 contest where she placed as a runner up. In today's interview, Sue and I chat about visceral writing, incorporating research, her submission process, 2022 goals, and more!

Sue’s work was long-listed for the Spread the Word Life Writing Prize 2020. She won the Diana Woods Memorial Award 2020. Her writing has been published in journals such as Popshot Quarterly and Litro Online, as well as various flash fiction anthologies. She lives in London with a problematic number of books and is currently working on a collection of essays.

----- Interview by Angela Mackintosh

WOW: Sue, congratulations on your second place win! "Notes on a Pregnancy" is a gorgeously written, visceral piece that uses the body as a vehicle to tell the story of a pregnancy, and how our bodies can feel like they're not our own. I don't remember which memoirist said this, but good writing feels like you're zipped into the author's skin. That's how I felt when I read your piece. What was the initial spark or "way in" that prompted you to write this essay?

Sue: First of all thank you for your lovely words in response to my essay; that is so great to hear. I wrote this piece during my pregnancy. I had read the standard medical information given to me during pregnancy which all seemed to cover the well-known topics of morning sickness, foods to avoid, staying active etc. But nothing prepared me for just how strange and weird an experience pregnancy felt at times. I was taking an online writing class with London Lit Lab and writer Tania Hershman on Hybrid writing and the course really challenged me to be playful with this theme that I had been wanting to write about and that was the birth of this essay. 

WOW: Hybrid writing is my favorite, and writing workshops are often where I feel most productive. I'm glad the course challenged you to play with theme. I also love the research you braided into your essay, which helped ground the narrative in your pregnancy journey. Do you often incorporate research in your essays, and what was your method for researching your winning essay?

Sue: The research all came from my own reading up on my body and the changes that it was undergoing while pregnant. Waking up one morning with a very weird looking tongue for example lead me to searching the internet for an explanation. I found it hard to get my head around all the bodily changes and I felt like it was something that wasn’t talked about enough, so I was determined to write about it in some way. I love incorporating research into my writing. I started out writing more research-based pieces in my professional life and then came to creative writing, so this felt like a nice blend of both.

WOW: The line about "geographic tongue" is a powerful opening. So is your second paragraph where you talk about your mouth being a map of the world. Very vivid. In fact, the lyricism and imagery of your essay pulled me in immediately, but the scene with your husband at the end was a powerful punchline, and what stayed with me long after I read your essay. The bit of dialogue where you tell him to touch your belly, and alarmed, he snatches his hand away, preferring to think of the baby as abstract. This tightly crafted conflict reminds me of how our bodies reflect our inner psychological landscape. As writers, we too have a psychological journey when we work on a piece. What did you learn about yourself while writing this piece?

Sue: Yes, I am fascinated by the link between the body and our psychological landscape. I was so struck during pregnancy by how much of an embodied experience it is, and how it was something I was going through alone, and my husband, as close as we are, will never truly understand it. Although we were both becoming new parents, the physicality of the changes forced me into a different psychological place. 

WOW: I remember you emailing before finalists were chosen to say that a longer version of your essay was chosen for publication by another journal, and I said it was okay to leave it in WOW's contest because we accept essays published elsewhere. I'm usually a one-at-a-time submitter, but this year I started simultaneously submitting and ran into a similar issue. In my case, the literary journal asked me to withdraw from all other publications. So I'm curious, do you often submit simultaneously and what is your submission method for targeting contests/journals? You are successful in winning contests, not only WOW's, but you won first place in the prestigious Diana Woods Memorial '20 Contest at Lunch Ticket!

Sue: It was so great to hear back from you that WOW allow previously published material as this is so unusual. I’m not a routine simultaneous submitter, I must admit, as I don’t like to submit indiscriminately in a broad beam way. I prefer to submit to places that I like and enjoy reading, and where I feel that my work will have a good home. WOW is one of these places and I always look forward to reading the essay winners and runners up for each quarter. 

WOW: That's wonderful to hear. I also enjoy reading the essays the judges' choose because they are all wonderfully creative and so different. In your bio, you mention you're working on an essay collection. Are the essays connected by theme?

Sue: My essay collection is about the female body and trying to conceive and the journey through that. My essay that you mentioned won first place in the Diana Woods Memorial '20 Contest at Lunch Ticket is one of the essays that I’m planning to include in the collection. 

WOW: Your collection about the female body sounds fascinating. One of my goals this year is to build a collection of work, mostly essays. Since we're fresh into 2022, I'm wondering if you set any writing/publishing goals for the new year you'd like to share, and if you're a big picture goal setter, a small goals setter, or a word-of-the-year visionary?

Sue: This year brings a lot of change for me so my goals are modest. I’m currently taking an online writing course, so my goal is to complete that and turn in all my assignments. I will continue to submit my work to journals that I read and love. I also plan to keep up my ritual of an end of year audit. At the end of December I like to look back and see how many pieces I have submitted, how many were accepted, how many were rejected. I save it all on a spreadsheet so that I can compare years. I find it very useful to review this way, and what is even more to me than my stats on rejection and acceptance is that it reminds me to take a step back to recognise and celebrate each and every submission regardless of the outcome. Every submission is like sending a little piece of myself out into the world so it deserves to be celebrated!

WOW: Oh, I love that, Sue. We should all celebrate having the courage to put our work out there. Lastly, what's your favorite writing tip or piece of advice?

Sue: I’m lucky enough to be part of a wonderful writing group. We support each other and celebrate each other’s successes. A publication or win is like a win for all of us. Surround yourself with wonderful readers and writers; they will help challenge you and raise your game!

WOW: Cheers to writing groups and literary support! Thank you, Sue, for taking time to chat with us today, and wishing you continued writing success in 2022.


Renee Roberson said...

Congratulations, Sue, and thank you Angela for those thoughtful interview questions! Having had two children myself, you are so correct in that the bodily changes we face during pregnancy are surprising even when we've done all the research. I had a daughter and then a son, and even the changes body changes and labor patterns were completely different between the two. You should be proud of all the success you've had so far and I love your observations about how your writing group considers each individual success as a win for everyone.

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