I am delighted to welcome a very special guest to my blog today, somebody who has supported Roma Nova since its earliest days. Sue Cook is one of the UK’s most experienced and popular broadcasters: You and Yours, Nationwide, Breakfast Time, Children in Need, Holiday, Crimewatch and most recently Making History and The Write Lines. Sue’s first novel ‘On Dangerous Ground’ was published by Hodder Headline in paperback in November 2006 and her second, ‘Force of Nature’, was also published by Hodder Headline in 2009. She is currently adapting ‘On Dangerous Ground’ for a film of the same title and writing her third novel. She is an Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust and a patron of the Rainbow Trust, the Children’s Liver Disease Foundation and the British Wireless Fund for the Blind.
Welcome, Sue. I’ve recently read On Dangerous Ground – a very enjoyable read with a clever title! What led you to pick Vietnam as the setting?
I wanted to set a story in Vietnam ever since I spent most of 1972 as a singer with a band performing around US navy bases in Spain. The Vietnam war was in full spate at that time and I we met so many young men aged 17 or 18 who knew they were going to be sent off to fight in Vietnam and desperately didn’t want to go.
I’ve often wondered since what happened to them; the carnage they witnessed, whether they killed people or were themselves killed. And so when I decided to set my first novel, On Dangerous Ground, in an exotic country, Vietnam immediately sprang to mind. I created my main male character Ben as a war veteran who has gone back, forty years on, to try to help make amends in his own way for the terrible damage his countrymen did to Vietnam and its people. Like most of the surviving American soldiers he fought alongside with, he has to live the rest of his life with the memories of the terrible things he saw and was involved in during those years.
My first visit to Vietnam in 1998 to research the novel revealed my instincts to be right – many US veterans of that war were forging new links with the people they were once forced to treat as enemies, and trying to compensate by putting something back. One man I met in Saigon had worked tirelessly to raise the money to build an orphanage and, having established it, now spends four months every year living and working with the children there. Another was training youngsters to be athletes, in the hope of making Vietnam a serious Olympic contender one day.
Another impressive man was addressing the problem of the many babies who are born, even today, with deformities and disfigurements as a result of the war-poisoned land. He persuaded the Ford Motor Company to lend him a car once a month to transport box loads of prosthetic limbs from the manufacturers at Ho Chi Minh City Hospital to children in the outlying villages who need them desperately but can’t afford the long journey into the city to have them fitted. It was this last man on whom I decided to base my character Ben.
I’m so glad I chose Vietnam as the backdrop for my book. There’s so much I was able to drop into the story that most of us don’t know about the country and its extraordinary resilient people who refuse to look in any direction but forward.
You’re known as one of the UK’s most experienced broadcasters. If you had to choose now between presenting a high profile series that would top the ratings or the life of an international best-selling writer which would you choose and why?
Well… this is a tricky one, because you’re asking me to choose between success and success!
Chance would be a fine thing! I think I’d have to choose the broadcasting job. I have to admit that I adore the buzz being in a TV or radio studio – particularly when the show is broadcast live.
It concentrates the mind, gets the adrenalin going and… well. it’s the job I did for more than thirty years and there’s no pleasure like knowing you are doing a competent job.
Writing is so much more subjective. Is what I’ve written good? Will it strike a chord with the reader? Or does it lack something? Does it just miss its mark? And of course, unlike TV presenting where team work is vital to get a programme on the air, writing is a solitary business. I do prefer to be part of a wonderful chorus than a lead singer out front.
Being a best-selling writer would involve travel, which I adore, but I could still do that with my TV earnings! I think what I’m basically owning up to here is that writing is a much more difficult job, and I’m choosing the easier option!
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, especially about my second question!