Frequently Asked Questions

The following are excerpts from various radio interviews.

Q.  Susanna, how old were you when you began writing?

A.  Six years old. I wrote my first book during World War Two during the bombing of London. We were living in Kent, just south of London. To divert my attention from the fact we could be killed at any moment my father suggested I write a children’s book. So in large wobbly handwriting I wrote a story about a sheepdog I was so thrilled by writing I wasn’t afraid when I heard planes roaring overhead. The experience made me determined to become an author when I grew up.

Q.  Where did you go to school and after?

A.  At Ascot in Berkshire, a very strict boarding school for girls called St George’s where in war time we had horrible stodgy food. When it came to leave school there was a need for people who spoke foreign languages and plenty of work for translators and interpreters and my father advised me to train as an interpreter-translator rather than become an author.
 
Q.  What did you study?

A. I did the Cours de Civilisation Francaise at the Sorbonne, art history in Florence at the Accademia Lorenzo di Medici and Spanish language at the Universidad Complutense, Madrid’s oldest university. My years in  Spain were important ones and it was there that I met Larry Evans who had just graduated in medicine. We lived happily in a tiny basement apartment in Dundas Street in the centre of Edinburgh. When he specialised in psychiatry we lived near Southampton on the edge of the New Forest and I helped him by reading his textbooks for the psychology examinations and making tapes from them so he could listen to them in his car. I learned a great deal from the experience which has stood me in good stead as a biographer.
 
Q.   When did you arrive in Australia?

A. In 1975 as Larry had been appointed professor in the Medical School of Queensland University and from there we went to Sydney when he was appointed to Sydney University Medical School and I worked as Head of Rare Books at Lawson’s. In the 1980s we holidayed at Noosa which I loved as it reminded me of Spain. Years later when married to Jake we bought a house at Sunshine Beach, Noosa where I wrote Blue Ribbons, Bitter Bread which I had begun writing in the Greek village of Ouranoupolis, near Thessaloniki, near the monasteries of Mount Athos.

Q.   You’ve written fourteen books, which is your favourite?

A. Blue Ribbons, Bitter Bread, the biography of Joice Loch, Australia’s most decorated woman. I spent three years researching that book. Blue Ribbons has raised  $8,000 for refugee programmes.  Jake and I wrote the sequel To Hell and Back together. It is the story of Joice’s husband, Sydney Loch who fought with the 2nd Battalion at Gallipoli. This wonderful couple saved the lives of thousands of Greek and Polish and Jewish refugees so we are delighted we have been able to write both their stories.

Q.   Sometimes I see books by Susanna de Vries-Evans, as well as Susanna de Vries. Are they both you?

A. Yes, they are both me. When I first started writing I used Susanna de Vries-Evans, as I was married to the late Professor Larry Evans. After he passed away, I began writing under Susanna de Vries.

Q.   What books have influenced you as a writer?

A.  Those of  Somerset Maugham whose short stories have a twist to the tail. Maugham as a doctor had a profound knowledge of human nature, something I find very important in a writer. My favourite travel writer is the late Eric Newby.   I love the plays of Garcia Lorca. When I was young I loved the historical novels of Jean Plaidy. In fact I wanted to be Jean Plaidy and in my own books I aim for her kind of vivid writing but with all the historical sources detailed in end notes, so if necessary teachers can use them or anyone doing an assignment on womens’ history.
Robert Graves Goodbye to All That, one of the word’s greatest anti war books influenced me  when writing  To Hell and Back, which is a profoundly anti war book, as is Blue Ribbons, Bitter Bread. They echo my experience that those who suffer most in wars are civilians and refugees who are the real casualties of war.

Q.  Who are your favourite women writers?

A. Karen Blixsen, Dervla Murphy, the Irish travel writer who I met when I visited Ireland;  Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career,  Mary Wesley, Philippa Gregory, and Fay Weldon. Anna Funder’s Stasisland is a brilliant book and I was delighted to meet her when we were both on a non-fiction panel with Anna at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival

Q. You are known for writing biographies of women. Do you ever write about men?

A.  I’ve written two biographies of men, the life of Sydney Loch, a hero of Gallipoli and a biography of Conrad Martens, Darwin’s artist on that famous ship the Beagle.

Q.  What do you enjoy most when writing biographies?

A. The feeling of discovering a pattern to someone’s life. When writing or reading the biography of a woman there is always the joy of experiences shared. Most of us experience similar things on life’s journey, falling in love, rejection, acceptance, having children or even miscarriages, dealing with depression or even suicidal feelings, caring for and losing a parent, a lover and/or a husband.  Having spent sixteen years as a doctor’s wife I’m fascinated by human nature and behaviour patterns.

Q.  What do you do for recreation?.

A.  Walk our dogs and read a great deal, mainly biographies, travel and art books.   I enjoy gardening, love browsing in bookshops, listening to classical music with Jake — Mozart to Mahler and Spanish guitar music. In summer we swim every day in the pool and I love overseas travel and book promotion tours which some authors hate. But since 9/11 I find flying much more stressful than it used to be.

Q.  Where can students find your manuscripts and research notes?    

A.  My earliest manuscript drafts are archived in the Australian National Library in Canberra. The MS of Heroic Australian Women in War is archived in the John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. The latest MS and research notes are held by the Fryer Library of Australian Literature at the University of Queensland.

Q.  What organisations and charities are you involved with?

A.  The Lyceum, an international club for women; I support the RSPCA who do wonderful work with animals that have been abused and maltreated, Austcare and their refugee programmes and the women’s fistula treatment hospital run by Catherine Hamlin near Addis Abeba. I wrote about Dr Catherine Hamlin’s fistula hospital in my book Great Australian Women. Dr Hamlin she works among some of the poorest and most disadvantages women in the world and needs financial support from other women to undertake this work which brings young Ethiopian women living miserable lives the chance of a new life. .