Susannah trained as an actor in Paris under world-famous clown, Philippe Gaulier. Back in Australia, she chalked up film and television roles; played Frutti in Tutti & Frutti, two singing Carmen Mirandas on roller blades; created a sketch comedy for Arena TV, Foxtel, as part of the trio, The Girls; not to mention starred in the occasional Nurofen commercial. She now works as a freelance writer and her first novel, romantic comedy Loving Lizzie March, was released by Pan Macmillan in June 2021.
Susannah and I met at New Authors Collective, where I have the joy of being her editorial coach.
What were the top things you learnt from Philippe Gaulier?
I had an amazing experience studying with Gaulier. He is known for being brutally honest as well as wickedly funny. In class, particularly in the Clown stage, we had to get up and be funny. And he was tough. If you did something boring, clichéd or just un-funny, he’d let you know. Some days it was hard to keep getting up on the floor! He spoke about finding the joy in performing that a child has playing – they’re totally in the moment and committed to it.
If you went with his method of teaching, it was challenging but worthwhile. And if you had a breakthrough – if you did something funny or interesting, (which occasionally I did!) he’d coax it further out of you.
Gaulier had a massive influence over me and my work, and as a result, most things I do as an actor, and now a writer, lean towards the comic side.
How did you end up as a Carmen Miranda on roller blades?
After my training, I settled in Melbourne and did some TV guest roles and ads. But as an actor, you need to create your own work to pay the rent. One of my projects with a friend was Tutti & Frutti. We did corporate gigs, festivals and street performing in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. We also performed in Taiwan, an awesome experience.
Later, I co-created a business called Leap into Language, which offered drama workshops to schools in French, German or Italian. Basically, we used drama techniques to practise a language, making the process more fun, practical and less intimidating. Students felt less shy speaking French if they were wearing a costume or performing a scene in a café. I continued this business for about ten years.
I then co-created The Girls, a comedy trio about three characters and how they interacted as friends. My character was Brigitte (this was in the days before Bridget Jones). We performed on radio, wrote a full-length play and were commissioned to create sketch comedy for Arena TV, Foxtel. I was always writing and always creating something.
Despite these projects, the acting industry can be up and down, so eventually I decided to find another source of income (that didn’t involve waitressing or phone sales). I’d always loved writing, so I took some courses at the Australian Writers’ Centre and started working freelance, creating feature articles, content and copy.
How did your character Lizzie March evolve?
I loved writing for Brigitte, so when we stopped The Girls, I kept working on my character and performed solo. At first, I didn’t want to write a book, I had young kids at the time and could only manage feature articles a maximum of 1000 words! But when I decided to give it a go, I used this character as a starting point, and she became Lizzie March. The original character was funny on stage, but wasn’t well-rounded, so I had to give her depth and weave her into a story.
Can you please share the book blurb for Loving Lizzie March?
Life is not going to plan for failed fashion designer Lizzie March, until she finds herself pregnant to super-hot bad boy Jake Wheeler. Convinced that he’s The One, all she has to do is make him realize that she is The One for him!
But is it possible she’s been looking for love in all the wrong places? Maybe everything she has ever wanted is right under her very own stilettos.
How long did it take to find a home for Loving Lizzie March?
I finished writing the manuscript, worked with a mentor, had it edited, and in 2017, I started shopping it around. While I had good feedback, I was told romcom was hard to sell in Australia. I pitched it at the Romance Writers of Australia conference and while there was interest, nothing came of it. I’d already started my next manuscript so focussed on that one instead, thinking maybe that would be the one.
I was told having an agent might be a good idea, and I found Michael Cybulski at New Authors Collective. He was so positive that I signed with him. You (Andrea) and I worked together, and in 2020, Michael started submitting Loving Lizzie March at height of Covid. Then it all happened very quickly. Within six months, I’d signed with Pan Macmillan Australia.
So many times, I’ve found that things only work out after you’ve let go of them. The minute you buy an air ticket or book a holiday, that’s when you land that acting part.
I find Loving Lizzie March laugh-out-loud funny. How hard do you have to work to create the humour, or is that naturally your voice?
I try to write things that make me laugh and hope others find it funny too. Lizzie is full-on, with a torpedo approach to her love life. She’s the sort of character who gets into situations where readers think ‘thank god that’s not me’, but at the same time, they might also relate to her. Humour is often about pushing extremes and trying to say things a bit differently. It’s about not holding back, letting go. You can always cut it back.
Is the book all fun and laughter?
While this is a romcom, it also has poignant moments about pregnancy, relationships and work. I use humour to deal with those more serious subjects. One of the themes is that to get through the hurdles Lizzie experiences, she has to let go of her preconceived ideas. Through this, she gets everything she ever wanted, it’s just not how she expected. Letting go can lead to true happiness.
Do you have any tips for authors?
When I was told romcom doesn’t sell in Australia, I wished I hadn’t written one. But now it’s been picked up. Trends change. Stick to what you like.
I used to make excuses for why I couldn’t write – I had babies, I was busy. But everyone has commitments and time restraints. Other people with jobs, kids and mortgages were churning out books, so I had to make it work. Nobody cares if you write a book or not. Just write something. Start today.
Get a great editor on board. Let it sit. Go back to it. It’s not over when you’ve first written it.
Don’t compare yourself to others. Sometimes it seems that everyone else is getting published, but you just have to stay on your own path. You only need one publisher. Right time, right place.
Can you share any hints about what your next book is about?
The next one isn’t about Lizzie, although I’d like to write more with her. This one is an enemies-to-lovers romance about an actress who’s been living in LA, but finds herself back in Sydney house-sitting and dog-sitting with someone she can’t stand.
You can follow Susannah on:
Facebook: Susannah Hardy Author
Find Loving Lizzie March at your favorite bookstore, or here: Amazon Australia
Next time: Sarah Hawthorn on Writing a Thriller and her debut, A Voice in the Night.