Tabitha Suzuma – Interview

I recently reviewed Tabitha Suzuma’s young adult novel A Note of Madness for the journal Viewpoint. I thought I would ask Tabitha a few questions about the themes of depression in the novel and her own journey as a writer. Enjoy.
What inspired you to make the characters music students in A Note of Madness?

My teenage brother is a fantastic pianist and student at the Royal College of Music. It was listening to him play that inspired me to write the book. I love classical music myself.

Do you find that passionate art, whether it be music, visual arts, film, or literature is often tied to madness – explain.

Definitely. A Note of Madness was heavily influenced by a fascinating book called Touched With Fire, by Kay Redfield Jamison, which examines the relationship between mental illness and the artistic temperament. I was staggered to discover, through her book, the huge number of illustrious writers, poets, musicians, composers and artists who also suffered from some form of mental illness, often costing them their lives.

Do you hope your novel will help to create awareness for young adults about mental illness and depression?

Absolutely. Mental illness appears to be on the increase. One in four people suffer from some kind of mental illness, 20 percent of all deaths by young people are by suicide, suicide is the most common form of death in men aged under 35 and in the U.K. there are estimated to be 24,000 cases of attempted suicide by adolescents each year, which is one attempt every 20 minutes.

Your descriptions from Flynn’s point of view are vivid, disturbing, realistic. On a personal note, is any of it derived from encounters and experience? Or is it just strength of imagination?

A Note of Madness is very much based on personal experience. Mental illness is something I have experienced first-hand, something I have grown up with, something which came very close to destroying me. I suffered from undiagnosed depression for most of my childhood and by the time I reached university, my depression peaked, and just before I was due to graduate, I found myself walking around campus, looking up at the tallest buildings, trying to work out which one would guarantee me a fatal fall. In the end, I chickened out, wrote a suicide note, and instead went to bed with several bin liners tied over my head which slipped off during the night, sparing me my life. I eventually spoke out and got the help I needed, but I am still being treated for depression to this day.

Can you briefly outline your second novel From Where I Stand? Do you think you will continue with these themes?

From Where I Stand is a psychological thriller. Raven is a deeply disturbed teenager, who, after witnessing the death of his mother, is placed in foster care. The Russells do their best to earn his trust, but only little Ella manages to get through to him. Meanwhile, at school, bullies are making his life a living hell. An unexpected companion comes in the form of Lotte, a classmate bored by her ‘ordinary’ friends. Together, they track down Raven’s mum’s killer, with the goal of exposing him to the police. But their carefully crafted plan goes dangerously wrong and suddenly nothing is as it seems. Everything is falling apart and, ultimately, there is only one, final way out. The themes of mental illness and emotional disturbance are fascinating to me and definitely ones that I will continue with.

Tell us a little of your journey as a writer, and to becoming a published writer.

I declared that I wanted to become an author at the age of 6 and never really stopped writing since. When I was 17, I was in letter contact with one of my favourite authors of YA fiction – K.M. Peyton. She encouraged me to write a full length novel, which I did. She loved it and showed it to her editor, David Fickling. It nearly went to publication but at the last minute some of David’s colleagues got cold feet. However it did mean that I got to be taken out to lunch by K.M. Peyton and David Fickling to discuss my book. For the next ten years I was busy with other things, but I never stopped writing, although I didn’t try to get published again. In 2003 I started writing A Note of Madness and I thought – why not give this one a go? So I sent it off to various agents and editors. It took six months before I found an agent and a further six months before my agent found me an editor. Since I signed the contract for A Note of Madness, I haven’t stopped writing. This year, From Where I Stand is out, next year A Voice in the Distance (sequel to A Note of Madness) is coming out and the year after that, Without Looking Back, a story about a family on the run, is coming out. I have now written two novels for adults: Maya, about an atypical child custody battle, and The Changing Colours of Dawn, a psychological thriller.

See Tabitha Suzuma’s website:

Purchase A Note of Madness

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