Posted on July 18 2018
Today, we catch up with Suzanne Hemming - author and publisher of empowering books for girls including She's Not Good For a Girl, She's Just Good! and The Queen Engineer which is released today. In this interview, we discuss her background from engineer to TV Production Manager to now author and publisher at her own company, Theachops. Here's her story:
Bardega: What were you like growing up? How would your parents describe you?
Hemming: I was a lovely kid and I think my parents would describe me as lovely kid too! Seriously, I was a bit shy, I loved pop music, was pretty studious at school, loved watching movies and Saturday morning TV. I was a real worrier, still am, and when I cared about something, I really invested.
I really enjoyed maths and sciences at school, and so I ended up doing Engineering at University. At one point I wanted to be a dentist, and at another I wanted to be a pop star, so I think I was a fairly typical teenager!
Bardega: Can you tell us a bit about your career including highs and lows?
Hemming: Within a couple of years of starting my engineering degree, I think I knew that I didn't really want to be an engineer. So I thought I would use the skills and try and get into the TV industry in a technical capacity. I did a bit of work experience and then discovered that my real skill was organising, so I ended up in the production office, working my way up to Production Manager. Career highs include my very first job which was The Full Monty. To be honest, on lots of jobs, it was always great knowing that I was part of a team that produced something wonderful that people would enjoy watching, and that we produced it on time and on budget.
Career lows include not acquiring a release form for a very well-known song. I had put the request in, and chased it a few times, but never heard back from the record company. The programme went out with the song in it, the artist saw it and wasn't very happy that they hadn't been asked permission! Thankfully the request had been made numerous times, via a good old fashioned fax machine - remember those?! So I had the print out reports you used to get to show that the fax had gone through to the correct number and had been received at the other end. So an agreement was made and it didn't cost the production company a small fortune!! Phew!
Bardega: And what inspired you to write She’s Not Good For a Girl, She’s Just Good? How do you think adding it to family bookshelves can change the experience of young girls?
Hemming: Around the time of my daughter's first Christmas, I was feeling nostalgic and wanted her to have some old fashioned fairytales that I would have read groing up. Once I read them with the eyes of an adult, I was horrified at the completely outdated messages they contained... Passive princesses waiting for their princes. Ariel literally gives up her voice for the man she thinks she loves (who doesn't even know who she is!).
I was also blogging a bit at the time, and wrote about it on there, eventually re-writing a more modern day version of Cinderella, called Ella and the iPhone. She leaves her phone behind at a party and the cool kid has to find the thumb that will unlock the home screen, to find the girl he enjoyed dancing with all night. She turns down his proposal though saying they can be friends and that she's off to uni. I enjoyed writing so much that I thought I would give it a go, and She's Not Good for a Girl, She's Just Good! is the result of that. I hope it can sit on the bookshelves of boys as well as girls, and challenge any preconceived ideas children may have been taught about whether they should be good at something, just because of their gender.
I also hope it starts conversations with parents, so we can ensure our kids grow up wanting to do something because they love it, and not because society tells them it's a girl's hobby, or a boy's job... I think we have to send these message to boys, just as much as girls, otherwise we'll grow up with a generation of strong capable young women, but nothing will have changed in the minds of young men.
Bardega: As well as writing your first book, you also became a publisher, setting up Thea Chops Books - can you tell us what led to this and more about your latest book?
Hemming: I sent an earlier version of the story to a few agents and publishers, and I got the usual rejection letters back that everyone tells you to prepare yourself for when you want to be a writer. At the time, I was also trying to decide what I would do for work once my daughter started school. I'd decided to take some time out when I had her, and knew that sadly I wouldn't go back into the TV industry (I don't think there's a great deal of flexible positions that would've allowed me to take her to school, and be there for assemblies and sports days).
I knew some other authors who had successfully self-published and just thought, I'll have a go! Here we are, a couple of years later, and my first book has won an award for Best New Book in the Smallish Magazine Awards, Andy Murray declared it his "new favourite kids' book", and my new book, The Queen Engineer, is out today! It's a story about a princess, who loves maths and science, and wants to be an engineer when she grows up, but whose father, The King, says the idea is preposterous! So she has to show him that she can do both. Which is reflective of life because we all wear many hats in life don't we? We're not just one thing. Why not be a queen, and an engineer? My husband thinks it's semi-autobiographical!
Bardega: What have been the biggest obstacles you have faced and how did you overcome them?
Hemming: Self doubt! Self doubt is a stinker! How did I overcome it? I think I just really, really wanted to do something that made a difference, having never had the courage to speak up before. And I hope it has made a difference, and continues to do so.
Bardega: What/ who inspires you and why?
Hemming: People who are unafraid to speak up. I rarely put my head up above the parapet, for fear of many things: fear of being shot down; being embarrassed, looking different. And also, people who have that work ethic of "just do it!" I am not a risk taker. I'm sort of amazed that I am where I am now with a second book coming out, as the fear of failure, or of looking silly would normally hold me back from trying. But it's amazing what you can do for your child once you're a parent. I think it took having Thea to really make me look at who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. So, Thea inspires me too.
Bardega: And finally, what advice would you offer a younger Suzanne?
Hemming: Stop worrying so much! It is such a waste of energy and time! Feel the fear and do it anyway because the magic happens when you step out of your comfort zone.