Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Q&A with Susan Lewis

Susan Lewis is the author of the new novel One Minute Later. Her many other books include Wicked Beauty and Obsession. She lives in Gloucestershire, England.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for One Minute Later, and for your character Vivi?

A: The story was inspired by a remarkable young man, Jim Lynskey, who at the age of 21 was in need of a heart transplant. His courage, good humor and dedication to raising awareness of organ donation was at once inspirational and deeply moving.

Seeing someone so young coming to terms with the fate life had dealt him opened my eyes to a world of need and suffering that I had barely known existed. Jim features in the book as himself, and interacts with the main character Vivi to build a website which now exists.

The inspiration for Vivi came from one of my goddaughters, a young lawyer, with many beautiful and ambitious female friends she’d met at law school. In many ways their lives are blessed and the opportunities that come their way, along with the glamorous and hectic social calendar created such a contrast to the life Jim was leading, that I could see the potential for drama right away.

Q: Did you need to do much research to write the novel?

A: Most of my research was done through Jim, talking to him at length either in person, or on the phone, and listening to the recordings he’d made of his consultations with cardiologists and heart surgeons. When talking to him they made things very clear using a language that he could easily understand, not burdening him at all with medical-speak.

This was of course perfect for the book – it was also shattering to imagine how I’d feel if I were in his position having the risks and benefits of a transplant explained. On top of that was how long it might take to find the right heart, and how having a Left Ventricular Assist Device was going to impact his life.

Q: Do you usually know how your books will end before you start writing them, or do you change things around as you write? What was the case with One Minute Later?

A: I sometimes have an idea of how I want a book to end, and I will start out writing with a particular line or scenario in mind. I’d say around 90 percent of the time it changes as the story and characters develop. It’s a part of the journey I enjoy immensely, as twists and turns can take me as much by surprise as they can a reader. In the case of One Minute Later I did know how it would end and it didn’t change.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the novel?

A: At the risk of sounding a bit preachy, I hope they realize just how important it is to be an organ donor.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: My next book – Home Truths – deals with a widowed mother and her two young children as life and circumstances overwhelm them to a point where they become homeless. As you can tell I often weave an issue into my stories. I hope that by getting to know the characters you will gain a better understanding and empathy for those whose lives are a struggle for many different reasons – and usually through no fault of their own.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I wish I could answer this question with the news that Jim Lynskey has finally found the heart he needs, but it saddens me beyond words to tell you that he passed away in May 2019. As you can probably imagine his loss was devastating for his family and for all of us who were fortunate enough to know him.

I’m glad to say that he was still with us for the UK launch of One Minute Later and he loved the idea of being a character in a book. He even signed copies for those who were there for the event. You might also be interested to know that he was the inspiration behind Lewis Capaldi’s wonderful hit song, "Someone You Loved."

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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