Interview: Susan Holt talks about her novel Catching the Last Tram
Susan Holt is a bubbly and passionate author and actress living in Porirua. She was an administrator. Working through the alphabet of careers is taking longer than she anticipated. After studying linguistics she followed her dream, moved to Sydney and completed a drama course. During that sojourn, she discovered a talent for writing. Now back home, Susan runs both a writing and acting group—for her own nefarious purposes—while trying to get some actual writing done. She talks to NZ Booklovers about her novel Catching the Last Tram.
Tell us a little about Catching the Last Tram.
Catching the Last Tram is Romantic Suspense with a twist of magic. Beth meets Isaac—a handsome man with timeless manners—on an old style tram on her way to work. Their conversations over common interests draws them together. But when Beth asks to meet Isaac off the tram, he pulls away, much to Beth’s surprise and dismay. In fact, Isaac has a dark secret that could jeopardise everything, including Beth’s future. When Isaac—and the tram—go missing, Beth has to figure out what’s going on and overcome hidden dark forces to find her true love.
What inspired you to write this book?
The story came as a dream a few years ago, from beginning to end. It was also during a period when I had packed away my TV. It was extraordinary how many more dreams I had—and remembered—during that time. In this case, I woke at 4am and got up to scribble down nine pages of details. (I admit, I might've had a fever) When I woke in the morning the story still made sense and played around in my head for quite a while before I decided to fill it out.
What research was involved?
I had to research trams, of course, their history and how they work. Wikipedia is brilliant. Did you know some of the earlier streetcars were drawn by horses? Wellington used to have trams. My mother told me about riding them in her childhood. The closest I got were the trolley buses from Seatoun in MY childhood. (Yes, I did have a collection of tickets) Unfortunately, Wellington is getting rid of them now. Most cities in the world got rid of their trams in the middle of the twentieth century, but quite a few are going back to them. I also used to flat with a woman who was a tram driver in Melbourne. One interesting fact: if a driver was involved in a fatal accident with a pedestrian, the company gave them an extended period of leave to recover. Don’t worry, there are no accidents like this in the book. I’d already studied linguistics in university, so that was there to draw from. I was thrilled to be able to use some of the research—the one about Native Americans—from my degree in the story. Yes, that’s from a REAL article I found. Linguistics is fascinating!
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
As I mentioned above, I’d already written a loose outline of the story, but I filled that out further and changed a few pertinent details to fit the time periods and culture before I began the actual writing. The bulk of Catching the Last Tram was written during my first NaNoWriMo. I didn’t ‘win’ that year, but after two weeks extra, using the momentum from that month, I completed the entire manuscript.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
There’s an amazing album called The Jazz Age. Bryan Ferry (of Roxy Music) has re-arranged some of his songs in the style of 1920s jazz and it sounds INCREDIBLE! Did mention I studied music at uni as well? I played piano. This album made me want to learn the saxophone and clarinet.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?
Beth would be Jennifer Ehle. Love her twinkling eyes. That’s who I had set up in Scrivener, anyway. I adored her in Pride & Prejudice—the BBC version, of course! As for Isaac, the picture I have is of Tom Hiddleston, but of course, Colin Firth would be awesome, too. I can dream… and try not to drool.
What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?
Trying to translate into writing the experience I had of falling in love—and going slightly insane—when I met my now-husband, Robert. We got married in 2010. I was almost totally useless at work during the time and made some dreadful errors. I ended up sending 180 letters to one poor guy. We had to send him a bottle of wine to apologise.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
We went out to our local Polish restaurant, Topor, with some good friends. They have matching vodka for each dish and a ‘dessert’ lemon and honey vodka which comes hot. Twoje zdrowie!
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
I read Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches, the first of her All Souls Trilogy. You can tell she knows what she’s talking about with her medieval history. She’s a scholar and it shows. They are currently making a TV series out of it. I’m looking forward to seeing that.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I’m in the middle of writing my next book (as yet unnamed). The seed idea came from—you guessed it—a dream. I’ve got to pull finger and get it published soon. I’m also recording the audiobook of Catching the Last Tram. It’s sounding pretty good so far. It helps being an actress with some voice training. When I run out of ideas, I'll put my telly away again.