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Meet Susi Osborne, author and Northwich LitFest founder

Susi published her first book at the age of 60 <i>(Image: Sophie Osborne)</i>
Susi published her first book at the age of 60 (Image: Sophie Osborne)

For many of us, the local library was a portal to worlds of magic, mystery and adventure during our childhoods. For Susi Osborne, it was the start of a lifelong love of storytelling

Susi Osborne, who lives in Northwich, was an avid reader as a child, a habit that soon turned into writing her own stories. It wasn’t until Susi turned 60, however, that she turned her childhood hobby into a whole new career – professional author.

Great British Life: Susi writes in the domestic drama genreSusi writes in the domestic drama genre (Image: Sophie Osborne)

“I was always reading and had always written bits and pieces. As a child I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s and would disappear into the attic to play. I think that first inspired me; I’d be there surrounded by old things from the past and would sit scribbling stories, pretending to be Jo March.”

Jo, as those who have read Little Women know, was determined to become a famous author in the face of all that might hold her back as a woman in mid-19th century America. Her own dreams did not come to fruition, instead she gave her life to caring for others. There are parallels here with Susi, though Susi’s ambition was, thankfully, to be realised.

Susi joined the library service (somewhat unsurprisingly) after completing her education, but after 15 years service chose to devote herself instead to her new family. Sadly, her daughter, Sophie, was born with a very rare disorder, panhypopituitarism, which meant she needed full-time care and spent the first 16 years of her life in and out of hospital, often under terrifying circumstances.

“I just did voluntary work during that time,” Susi says, “I couldn’t commit to a regular work schedule. At 16, she was transferred to Alder Hey. They changed her treatment and that changed everything, making an unbelievable difference to her life.”

Susi had just a few years respite from being an almost full-time carer but then, sadly, her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

“I looked after her for 10 years,” Susi says, “so spent a huge chunk of my life caring for people. I started writing my first book at a point when my mother was really very ill. It was a bit of escapism, for me. She died the same year my first book, The Ripples of Life, was published, when I was 60 years old. In fact, my book was published the same week I turned 60.”

Great British Life: Susi's first novel was published 15 years agoSusi's first novel was published 15 years ago (Image: Troubadour)

It's not easy getting a book published, and perhaps even harder now in this new age of self-publishing and publishing houses offering many new authors split deals, where the author co-funds the publication of their book, so limiting risk to the publishing house.

“I sent my book to a lot of publishers,” Susi laughs, “and had quite a few rejections, and then The Book Guild, now part of Troubadour, said they wanted to publish it. They were brilliant and really helped me though it all.”

Susi’s books fall into women’s fiction, but not the light and fluffy beach read often called ‘chick lit.’

“It really falls into the ‘domestic drama’ genre, I think,” Susi says. “I like to have a family where everything is going along nicely and then... disaster. Things all go off in different directions as the characters work it all out.

Great British Life: Angelica Stone is, Susi says, a little darker than her previous worksAngelica Stone is, Susi says, a little darker than her previous works (Image: Troubadour)

“The penultimate one I wrote, Angelica Stone, was a bit different, perhaps – a lot darker. I was quite surprised at myself, at everybody saying how dark it was. I hadn’t really noticed – I just wrote it and what comes out of you doesn’t always fit with what you’ve done before. I just write and the story comes.”

It was perhaps because of this somewhat darker novel that Susi determined that her next book would be lighter, with more humour.

“Happiness is a Thing With Wings has a lot more humour,” she says. “A lot. I wrote during lockdown and wanted something really cheerful and happy. And it worked, really. I was also extremely keen to have a happy cover – something very different from my other books, and I have to say this is my favourite cover I have had. It certainly appeals to people who bring it along to my book signings. It was the first time I had to argue with my publisher.”

Joanna, the protagonist in Happiness is a Thing With Wings, is a woman we can all recognise, and potentially relate to in many ways, too. Approaching her fiftieth birthday and feeling more than a little lost, she consoles herself with gin and chocolate, realising that apart from raising her son she has achieved absolutely nothing in her life. A little overweight, and considerably height-challenged, she is painfully aware she’s stuck in a rut with a husband she doesn’t love. A hilarious incident in a supermarket gives her the impetus she needs to take action - leaving her grumpy husband to enjoy life as a single woman, and all that this entails.

“Joanna was a joy to write,” Susi smiles. “I love character building and she’s my favourite so far. I wish I could say I map my novels out in advance, a lot of authors do, but to me it’s about creativity and flow. I just love getting the characters, and then ask myself – what would they do in this circumstance. Sometimes it’s almost as though they’re speaking to me and the words just come into my head. At the end of the book I can feel totally bereaved, I have spent so long with these people, and now it’s over.”

Great British Life: Susi's most recent novel, Happiness is a Thing with Wings, was a joy to write, says SusiSusi's most recent novel, Happiness is a Thing with Wings, was a joy to write, says Susi (Image: Troubadour)

Susi has just started writing her next novel. Not being tied to a contract which insists she produce a new book within any given time period allows her to enjoy the free time retirement (Susi is now 75) is supposed to bring you. Susi, however, chooses to fill that free time planning and executing the annual Northwich LitFest.

“I started it 11 years ago,” Susi says, “and it runs every June. It started quite small but in the very first year I had Adele Parks, the multi-million book selling women’s fiction author, come along. I approached her directly, and she said she had a new book coming out, called Whatever It Takes, and I thought right, I’m going to do whatever it takes to get her along, and I did. I was really worried we wouldn’t get enough people along, as Northwich had never had a literature festival before, I’d never run a festival before, I had no budget and all in all it was a bit stressful, but she came and 60 people turned up and it was just a brilliant night.”

Adele has agreed to return to the Northwich LitFest in 2024.

“Over the years I have had some brilliant speakers,” Susi says. “115 since launch. Most years I have around 15 events, but in 2023 I cut it back to seven, because it’s pretty much just me and it takes a lot of work. I did think 2023 would be the last one, but Adele would like to come back next year, so I shall do it all again.”

Speakers over the years have included biographer Julia Baird, the sister of John Lennon; Sunny Ormonde (Lilian Bellamy in BBC Radio Four’s The Archers) who has returned a few times since, bringing fellow cast members with her; Carole Matthews; Stella Duffy; Claire Mackintosh, and more. Susi takes a very direct approach to booking her talent.

“I go direct to the person I want to come along,” she says. “I message via social media, or get introductions from contacts, or make the direct approach at literature festivals or book signings. I find trying to go through agent or publisher just makes things complicated – and I don’t have any budget. And they stay in my home, as I can’t put them up in a hotel.”

If Northwich wants to keep their LitFest going, it seems Susi could do with some help.

“If anybody wants to take it over that would be lovely. I do have some help, I have huge support from Davenham theatre for example, and it would be nice to see it continue when I decide I have done enough.”

Happiness is a Thing with Wings 

Northwich LitFest



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