Emerging novelist Tabitha Suzuma studied French Literature at King's College in London and has taught English as a Foreign Language. She has also worked in I.T., and has done some translation work as well as worked as a Year 1 teacher in Slough. She wrote her debut novel, A Note of Madness while she was teaching full-time.
In 2003 Suzuma left classroom teaching and divided her time between writing and peripatetic teaching. This gave her time to write three more novels for teenagers and young adults, From Where I Stand (a psychological thriller), Without Looking Back, and A Song for Jennah (a sequel to A Note of Madness).
She is currently working on her fourth novel. She says she decided she wanted to be a writer when she was about six years old. "I remember discovering the magic of books at that age and saying to my mother 'I want to be able to do that.' I then found an exercise book and started writing my first story."
The authors she read as a teenager, particularly K.M. Peyton and S.E. Hinton, also influenced her. "I would write to my favorite authors telling them how much I loved their books and many of them wrote back, encouraging me with my own writing," she says.
It took her six months to write A Note of Madness. "I found writing the whole book quite easy, to be honest," Suzuma says. "I had no idea that it would be published so I was very unselfconscious and just wrote whatever I wanted. I think the beginning of a book is always the hardest, but once you get into it and gain some insight into your characters and your story, it gets much easier."
The writer also found that, in itself, writing was therapeutic. "I loved writing the dialogue between the three main characters. I loved writing about their friendship, and how it evolved. I also enjoyed writing about the hero's experience of depression and mania," she adds. "It was very therapeutic."
Suzuma says she drew on a lot of her own personal experiences when she was working on A Note of Madness. "This was influenced by my love for music, my brother who is a pianist, and my own experiences with severe clinical depression," she says.
The three other novels Tabitha Suzuma has written are due to be published over the next three years. "Each book is very different from the last. A Note of Madness is perhaps the most personal as it is based on so many of my own experiences. My next book, From Where I Stand, is coming out in May 2007. It is a psychological thriller about a deeply disturbed teenager hunting for his mother's killer."
She says that, as a writer, her main concerns are whether people will want to read her books, whether the stories she wants to write will be the stories that people want to read and whether she will ever be able to earn enough from writing to make it her full-time occupation.
"I write gritty teen fiction with a psychological slant. My first book is about mental illness," she explains. "I don't want to be a typically 'commercial' writer but at the same time I need my books to sell well so that I can continue doing what I love."
As a first-time author Suzuma worries about if she will be able to earn a living solely from writing and getting her books publicized. "People won't go into a bookshop saying 'I want to buy Tabitha Suzuma's latest novel' because they won't have heard of me. It is also a challenge writing for the teenage market," she says.
Her books are aimed at older teens and young adults, but in the United Kingdom teen fiction is still under the umbrella of children's fiction and is usually found in the same corner of the bookshop. "A lot of teenagers are understandably reluctant to browse in the children's section, which means that older teens and young adults are missing out on a book that was written essentially for them," Suzuma says.
In an effort to deal with these concerns, the writer tries to do her own publicity. She has approached the press and given some interviews. She has contacted mental health charities about her book and she has created her own website.
Suzuma is now working on a book for adults to keep herself from being trapped in just one section of the writers' market. "The book I am currently working on is a book for adults about a custody battle between a biological and a non-biological father," she explains.
In spite of her fears, and if the success of her debut novel is anything to go by, Tabitha Suzuma is set to become one of the most influential writers for teenagers and young adults.
A Note of Madness, which was published in May 2006 by Random House in London, received glowing reviews and has also just been shortlisted for the NASEN & TES Special Educational Needs Book Award.
Tabitha Suzuma [Interview_2], Conversations with Writers, July 20, 2007