Behind the Pen with Sue Williams

It gives me great pleasure to welcome Sue Williams back to the blog to talk about her latest release and debut novel, Elizabeth & Elizabeth.

Sue Williams, Author, Journalist, Writer

How many novels have you written and published?

One. Elizabeth & Elizabeth, an historical fiction novel, is my first. I’ve written around 25 other books in total, but mostly non-fiction. I love writing non-fiction but I wanted to try challenge myself and push the boundaries. And it proved a huge challenge. It was so much harder than I’d imagined.

What is your favourite character from one of your novels and why?

I have a real soft spot for Elizabeth Macquarie. She seemed destined for a quiet life of spinsterhood, looking after her sister’s children and keeping house for her brother when she met Lachlan Macquarie, a man 12 years her senior and with huge experience of the world. Casting caution to the wind, she threw her lot in with him, and set off to find a new life on the other side of the globe.

What is your favourite scene from one of your novels and why?

Elizabeth Macquarie is despairing of ever giving Lachlan children after suffering five miscarriages, and having a daughter who died at two and a half months. She feels it is all her fault until Elizabeth Macarthur reveals it’s probably not. Her husband has syphilis, which could account for her babies not going to full term. Her relief still brings a tear to my eye.

Are you balancing a different career with your writing? How do you go about making time for your writing within limited hours?

I also work as a journalist, a travel writer and a university lecturer, teaching travel writing. Sometimes, juggling different careers can be very confusing and frustrating. You get so involved in a scene in a book and then you have to tear yourself away to finish a piece for the next day’s newspaper. Or you might be writing a book set in Australia, but be travelling in Botswana. On the whole, however, they do balance each other out, and there’s some relief when a book’s not going too well, for instance, to knock off a quick piece about property prices. And deadlines are imperative. Without them, nothing would ever get done!

What is your favourite childhood book? Did reading as a child have any bearing on your decision to become a writer?

I loved nothing better than reading books, even though I was told it could lead to blindness (!) My favourite book was A Dream of Sadler’s Wells by Lorna Hill, the story of newly orphaned, Veronica who longs to study ballet but instead must live with unsympathetic relatives in the North of England. It had the most beautiful drawing of a ballerina on the cover, and it began a life-long love of ballet and a dream to be a ballerina. That never happened. My parents said I was too tall and clumsy even to have a single ballet lesson … but it did make me discover that nothing is as powerful as the imagination, and made me want to dwell in that realm and read and write to stay there as long as I could. 

Can you tell us something about yourself that not many people would know?

At one point, I despaired about completing Elizabeth & Elizabeth. I tied myself in knots with the research and timelines and my plot. In complete desperation, I went to a tattoo parlour and had a tattoo on my left arm of a lotus flower – a universal symbol of perseverance and dogged determination in that they push themselves up through the mud. It worked. I realised, when I was thinking one day of abandoning the book, that it would be forever a symbol of failure, unless I pushed through.

How has being Australian impacted on your writing and/or writing career?

I’m originally English but came here in 1989 and fell in love with the country. I think it’s so open and friendly and accepting, it gave me the confidence to try things I’d never before attempted. It somehow didn’t matter so much if I failed. Australians are so ready to give you a go.

If you could go back in time for a year, which historical era would you choose to live in and why?

I’d live in the mid-19th Century, the time of the great European explorers launching forth on expeditions around Africa. They were men like Richard Burton, John Hanning Speke, David Livingstone, Henry Morton Stanley … I would love to have been a part of some of those explorations. Sadly, as a woman, maybe I wouldn’t have been allowed to take part, but I could have disguised myself as a man and then set out on what would have been then the adventure of a lifetime. 

If you were in a fight to the death, what would be your weapon of choice?

My fists. One of my favourite hobbies is boxing. I started when, for a book, I decided to go into Fred Brophy’s outback boxing tent for a bout, so trained for 2 weeks before on how to survive the fight. Although I lost my fixture, I discovered I loved the skills, the fitness and – I hate to admit this – but the outlet for pent-up aggression. As a writer, you sit at books or computers all day, so it’s wonderful to get out and whack a pad or a boxing bag. It’s such a great antidote for stress! 

You can wear one pair of shoes for the rest of your life. What type are they and what colour?

Sneakers – comfort and speed is the key – and I have a pair in a beautiful sparkly silver. They’d carry me from work to the gym to an evening party. Heaven.


Elizabeth & Elizabeth

The story of how two women, who should have been bitter foes, combined their courage and wisdom to wield extraordinary power and influence behind the scenes of the fledgling colony.

‘I’ve waited for this moment so long, dreamed of it, prepared for it, I can barely believe it’s finally here. But it is. And it is nothing like I expected.’

There was a short time in Australia’s European history when two women wielded extraordinary power and influence behind the scenes of the fledgling colony.

One was Elizabeth Macquarie, the wife of the new governor Lachlan Macquarie, nudging him towards social reform and magnificent buildings and town planning. The other was Elizabeth Macarthur, credited with creating Australia’s wool industry and married to John Macarthur, a dangerous enemy of the establishment.

These women came from strikingly different backgrounds with husbands who held sharply conflicting views. They should have been bitter foes. Elizabeth & Elizabeth is about two courageous women thrown together in impossible times.

Borne out of an overriding admiration for the women of early colonial Australian history, Sue Williams has written a novel of enduring fascination.

‘An extraordinary story of female leadership at a time when such a quality was frowned on, and female friendship forged against the odds. Sue Williams’ Elizabeth & Elizabeth brings us a nuanced and vivid portrait of the early days of colonisation. More importantly, it delivers a fascinating look into the relationship between two remarkable women.’ – Meg Keneally, bestselling author of The Wreck

‘A fascinating and evocative story of an enduring friendship between two women who played such an important role in colonial Australia’s history.’ – Caroline Beecham, author of Finding Eadie

Published by Allen & Unwin

Released January 2021


About Sue Williams

Sue Williams is a bestselling author and award-winning journalist, working in newspapers, magazines and TV in Australia, the UK and New Zealand. Born in England, but settling in Australia in 1989, she’s also a travel writer and university lecturer. She lives in Sydney’s Kings Cross with her partner, writer Jimmy Thomson.

Her books include Getting There: Journeys of an accidental adventurer; the story of her travels around isolated Australia, Welcome to the Outback; and a series of other books about the outback, Women in the Outback, Outback Spirit and Outback Heroines. She’s also written biographies of Father Chris Riley, Mean Streets, Kind Hearts; Father Bob Maguire, Father Bob: The larrikin priest; navy diver Paul de Gelder, No Time For Fear; Fred Brophy, The Last Showman; and Australia’s youngest Everest climber Alyssa Azar, The Girl Who Climbed Everest.

Sue’s true-crime book And Then The Darkness: The disappearance of Peter Falconio and the trials of Joanne Lees was shortlisted for the international 2006 Gold Dagger Award for the world’s best crime non-fiction. Her first children’s book was Everest Dreaming.

Elizabeth & Elizabeth is her first novel, borne out of a love of early colonial Australian history – pivotal in the development of the country – and an overriding admiration for women of that era making their own way in life. With both Elizabeth Macquarie and Elizabeth Macarthur having a huge impact on the fledgling nation, despite all the odds, Elizabeth & Elizabeth is the result of an enduring fascination with what might have been.

9 thoughts on “Behind the Pen with Sue Williams

  1. Pingback: Historical Fiction Round Up: January 2021 | Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

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