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Q&A: Writer and teacher Susan Powell

PUBLISHED: 16:17 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 14:48 20 February 2013

Susan Powell

Susan Powell

Writer and teacher Susan Powell, 55, tells Hannah Gray about her dream of being a guest on Desert Island Discs and her Bishop's Stortford comfort zone

Where do you live?
Sawbridgeworth. I have lived there for nearly 30 years.


Tell us about your career.
I have 30 years of teaching experience, which, until very recently, was immensely rewarding and fulfilling. Parallel with this I gained two MAs and a PhD in Shakespeare Studies, being very fortunate in having as mentors professors Stanley Wells and Andrew Motion. During this time, I also became increasingly committed to writing. I left my lecturing job last summer to have more time for people and for writing, both books (the current work-in-progress is Mr Handel's Soap) and scripts for performance. For eight years I have written for Figur'd Shade, an arts/education group. Its home base is just across the border at St John's ARC, Harlow, where we have a remarkable and very loyal audience.


Who or what inspires your creative writing?
I think greatness in others, by which I don't just mean the famous. I am intensely responsive to the spirit of place, too.


Where do you go to write?
I make notes and jottings wherever I am. I compose from these at my desk or table, which are downstairs - I like to be in sight of the shifting nuances of the garden. In the summer, with the patio doors open, I feel really connected with the outdoors. I write detailed drafts longhand and use the laptop to edit and refine them.


Have you ever written about Hertfordshire in any way?
Not specifically but it appears in many things I write, especially my observations of the natural world and those more affectionate passages of my descriptive writing.


How do you relax?
The company of family and friends is always a great tonic and revelation, and I read, or listen to music, or observe birds and creatures in my evolving garden. I watch murder mysteries.


What is your favourite song or piece of music and why?
This is difficult. Choral music (I'm Welsh) and solo female vocal music move and excite me most. To name a single example would feel like a betrayal of the others unnamed. A piece of chamber music I find extraordinarily profound and moving is the so-called Hymn of Gratitude from Beethoven's quartet Opus 132. It takes one to some deep and mysterious place way beyond human knowledge.
What is your favourite book?
This is also difficult to categorise. Having read, then studied and taught literature for most of my life, to choose just one book is actually impossible but Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice never fails to give new delights and unique joy every time I read it.


Where are the best views to be had in Hertfordshire?
Two prospects which always fill me with pleasure and wonder are Hatfield Forest, with its gorgeous seasonal variations, and the stretch of countryside between Bishop's Stortford and Sawbridgeworth - moving across this space feels like breathing again after being held too long underwater.


What is your favourite town in Hertfordshire and why?
As far as towns go, Bishop's Stortford is my comfort zone. I feel at home pottering around the shops and market or having lunch with family and friends in one of the two arborial restaurants at either end of the town. I enjoy going to Waterstone's for a browse among the books and glance at my Mozart's Sister on the shelves. Then, up to Costa's for a coffee and to reflect, read, observe and jot down ideas.


Describe Hertfordshire in one sentence.
Green lungs between west and east.


Where do you see yourself in five years time?
Health permitting, I hope to still be enjoying the company of those I love, striving to do more good in the world, writing even better and for an increasing audience - maybe answering these kind of questions on Desert Island Discs.

Article taken from July issue of Hertfordshire Life


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