Monday, October 4, 2010

Featured Author: Susanne O'Leary

Today Susanne O'Leary is our featured author. Writing from Ireland, Susanne's novels have enjoyed international success in print as well as eBook format. When I asked Susan Wells Bennett to pick a book she'd like to review, Swedish For Beginners was her choice. Being a guest reviewer at SBR, I featured Susan Bennett Saturday, and gave descriptions and links to her novels.

Susanne O'Leary is Swedish by birth and Irish by marriage, lives in Ireland and is the published author of four novels. She has lived in Australia, France, Belgium and Holland and her globetrotting experiences are reflected in all her stories. Her website has her bio and bibliography, and is a great example of using the web to reach readers across the globe.

I emailed her a Q&A, and here's her response:

Q&A for Susanne O'Leary:

You mention your first two books as bestsellers. Tell us about those books, and what the publication process was like for you.

  A: My very first novel, Diplomatic Incidents (published by Blackstaff Press in 2001) came about as a kind of satire. I wanted to tell a story, using my own experiences as the wife of a diplomat, turning it into a romantic comedy/ farce. Of course, as some of the characters were based on real people (especially politicians), it created quite a stir in Ireland at the time. The publication process was really interesting, as I learned a lot about how a book is actually finished, from editing, copy editing, proof reading, cover design and blurb. I had no idea that once the author has sold a book to a publisher, he/she has no say in the cover design or publication date.  'Diplomatic Incidents' sold out the first print run very fast and the subsequent mass paperback was reprinted twice. My second novel, 'European Affairs' (now on Amazon Kindle under the title 'Villa Caramel') is set behind the scenes of the European Union in Brussels but most of the action takes place in St Tropez on the French Riviera, where many of the Eurocrats spend their summer holidays.

 What is the writing environment like in Ireland now? I read William Trevor and John Banville, but I understand there are Irish writers we've never heard of in the USA.
 A: There are many hugely succesful Irish writers, most of them writing chick-lit. But due to the depressed economic climate, publishers have cut down drastically on their lists, so many authors have gone indie and doing very well.

What are you working on now?

A: I am at the moment editing a historical novel, based on the lives of two fascinating women in my family. I have also recently completed a co-written detective story with a script writer who has written many of  the episodes of the famous 'Wallander' TV series.

Where are your books available?
A: Mainly on the internet (All Amazon sites among others) in paperback and as e-books on Amazon and Smashwords.

Are your books autobiographical?
 A: Not really. Although I use aspect and experiences from my own life, like all authors.

Who do you see as your ideal readers? Do you write genre fiction?

 A: I write what I would call womens commercial fiction but now that so many men have read and enjoyed my books, I suppose 'general fiction' would be a better description

Do you have an agent?

A: yes. And he supports all my work even though I have self published one of my books.

Anything else you'd like to say?

 A: I might add that 'Swedish for Beginners' has taken off amazingly here in Ireland, with rave reviews in two big national newspapers (The Irish Independent and The Evening Echo), many requests for readings and book talks and sales are great.

Learning The Language of Family
A review by Susan Wells Bennett

I picked up Swedish for Beginners, by Susanne O’Leary, on the recommendation of my grandmother, a devourer of novels who typically finishes five to seven books a week. Her endorsement is a rare thing, so I began reading it immediately.

The adult but recently orphaned main character, Maud, discovers that she is half-Swedish when her stepmother sends her a box of her long-dead mother’s belongings. After her mother’s death in a plane crash, her father, Jack, would never talk to Maud about her. Maud grew up unaware of her heritage or her extended Swedish family.

Upon discovering her Swedish roots, Maud quickly locates a long-lost cousin, packs up her Irish life for the summer, and removes herself to Stockholm. Once there, she begins her journey of self-discovery.
Overall, this novel was very enjoyable, despite a number of typos and formatting issues. The plot was well engineered, though there were a few instances where the timeline was confused (a letter mentioning morning sickness is remembered a few pages before the character has actually read the letter; a man shows up to accompany the main character to a movie despite the fact that he actually hung up before she could issue the invitation).

Beyond that, several of the characters seem to suffer from bi-polar disorder, swinging between moods more rapidly and with less predictability than a rollercoaster. I found myself truly disliking Barbara, Maud’s cousin and supposed friend, though I don’t think that was the author’s intention. And Maud’s romantic interest, Lukas, is a selfish, hateful lout. I was rooting for Maud to dump him.

The truly likeable characters, Maud’s stepmother and her grandmother, received very little attention. However, when the author turned her attention to them, she produced some of the most beautiful scenes in the novel.

I would recommend this novel to most fans of women’s literature. Despite its flaws (or perhaps because of them), it has a lot to say about the true definition of family.#

Neil says: Please take a look at Susanne O'Leary and her novels, and send her a comment or note.

Thanks, Susan Wells Bennett, for the review help. It saved my day. Readers of SBR, take time to thank Susan as well. 

NEW!!!Susanne O'Leary sent me this review from Ireland, From The Independent:
(Note: Any SBR author being featured, please send any newspaper reviews of your book(s) so we can get the word out. Our argument is simple: There are good things happening at, if people know what to look for.)

A lyrically thrilling trip to Sweden

Swedish for Beginners Susanne O'Leary (Matador, €10.55)
Susanne O'Leary's atmospheric and captivating new novel reminds one a little of Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
It's not just the scenery or the wealthy family with the large summer residence on an island or the mystery to be solved. There is also a disturbing sinister presence which runs though the story. But there the similarity ends. Swedish for Beginners is not nearly as violent as Larsson's novel and O'Leary, author of such acclaimed novels as Diplomatic Incidents and European Affairs, has a more lyrical quality to her writing.
When her father dies, Maud Walsh learns that her late mother, the beautiful Eleonore, was Swedish. She leaves Ireland for ice-bound Sweden at the end of winter, to find her unknown Swedish family and uncover a mysterious past, over the course of a glorious Swedish summer.
Her Swedish grandmother gives her a series of letters written by Eleonore when she was very young and living in Australia with her new husband, Maud's father. Maud gets the letters translated by Anders, a handsome young man who becomes close.
At first, Maud is shocked by the Swedish attitude to sex and nudity but she soon gets in touch with her Swedish side, especially when she meets the handsome but moody actor, Lukas.
Her new-found family try to warn her about Lukas, who seems to have a malevolent streak and as the letters reveal that Lukas was in love with Eleonore in his youth, their relationship becomes uncertain. It is only when she reads her mother's final letter that she discovers the truth about her own identity and Lukas' role in her mother's life.
With Anders waiting in the wings and despite occasional clues in the letters, O'Leary keeps the reader guessing on several strands, until the final denouement.
Swedish by birth and Irish by marriage, O'Leary now lives in Tipperary. She has also lived in Australia, France, Belgium and Holland (her husband was a diplomat) and her travels are reflected in her stories.
Buy 'Swedish for Beginners' from Eason


  1. Neil- Another great post.

    Susanne- Very good answers. I'm of Irish heritage and my wife's of Swedish heritage. I agree with you on the excellent writers coming out of Ireland. Adrian McKinty, Declan Burke, and Arlene Hunt are just a few that have great stuff out there. Best of luck with SFB.

    Susan- Interesting review. I particularly like this comment "Despite its flaws (or perhaps because of them), it has a lot to say about the true definition of family."

    If you read this comment would love you to elaborate on it, if possible.

  2. Sean -- What I liked most about Swedish for Beginners were its portrayals of family relationships. Sometimes when we try to describe family members whom we are fond of to friends, the friends can see their flaws a lot more clearly than we ever could.

    As someone with a very small family, I understood how Maud could overlook the flaws of her cousin because she thought it was more important to have Barbara in her life than to call her on her bitchiness. Blood ties can trump likeability.

    Maud's relationship with her stepmother and its evolution, on the other hand, shows how we sometimes "choose" our family -- in which case, likeability trumps blood ties!

    The more I thought about the "flaw" that I saw -- the unlikeable characteristics of Barbara -- the more I wondered about Susanne O'Leary's intentions.

    In any case, the fact that I was still thinking about it days later is a testament to the strength of the novel.

  3. Susan- Excellent explanation and this comment;

    "In any case, the fact that I was still thinking about it days later is a testament to the strength of the novel."

    This is certainly what every author strives for from their readers.

    Thanks for the additional commentary!

  4. My intentions? To show that nobody is perfect and that you CAN love someone despite their flaws, as long as you have the imagination to see the heart and the soul within. And Maud certainly does...