Susan Furber (’14) published her first novel ‘The Essence of an Hour“ – a story about the coming of age of a young woman in the 1940s – February of this year.
Furber grew up in a small town in the Buffalo area – Grand Island, NY – and knew she wanted to be a writer from a young age.
“I think for me it was quite young, actually,“ Furber said. “I have always liked to make up stories. I am the youngest of my family, but [my siblings] sometimes played dolls with me. And I would say, ‘Oh no, this character isn’t good enough – the character would say this or do that. So I think it’s always been there.“
Developing a love of literature in her childhood, Furber wished to become a part of the female literary tradition.
“I remember in my seventh grade English class there was a banner on the wall that had what was considered to be the greatest in literature and I was like, ‘I’m going to read it all.’“ Furber said. “That’s when I really started to prepare and read Jane Austen and the Brontes, and, you know, really with the focus on women’s literature, and thinking where can I find my place. ? Where can I find my voice in there?“
When she arrived at Saint Mary’s, Furber said she debated between majoring in English or history because she excelled in both subjects as a high school student. In the end, she decided to study English in order to learn more about the craft of writing.
“What I like the most is English literature,“ she said. “I’ve always focused on reading as much as possible and reading lots of stories and… reading stories that don’t necessarily sound like what I’d like to read at all, but I think it serves you well. learn the trade.“
Furber also developed an interest in philosophy after taking an introductory course and decided to pursue a minor in the field. She credits philosophy professor Patti Sayre with having changed the way she sees the world.
“She really saw a promise in me and understood the way my mind was thinking – it wasn’t some kind of logical philosophical mind, but that it was really interested in certain areas and certain ideas – and helped to develop this,“ she said.
In 2012, Furber was the only student to participate in the inaugural year of Oxford’s study abroad program, following Sayre’s suggestion. Furber described his experience in the UK as “revealing“ thanks to the community she was able to form with the other students she met abroad.
Later in his academic career, Furber took a literature course at Notre Dame on the Bildungsroman, the history of coming of age, in 19th century England and 20th century Ireland. After completing the course, Furber brainstormed several ideas she wanted to incorporate into a novel.
“I wanted to talk very specifically about the lives of young women and how young women operate under patriarchy – how women inflict trauma on other women due to patriarchal control and why we hurt each other,”“ she said.
Furber wrote the first draft of what would become “The Essence of an Hour“ within a month when she was 19. After completing the initial manuscript, she stopped working on it for several years so that its protagonist could authentically reflect on her teenage years when she was in her twenties.
“When I wrote the first draft, it starts when the main character is a teenager, and she looks back 10 years later,“ she said. “Sure, it looks like a 19-year-old wrote it, and that natural layer of a slightly older woman’s voice, thinking about it, wasn’t there so well.” So that’s something that I worked on, you know, in the second, third, fourth projects.“
After choosing to put her book aside, Furber graduated from Saint Mary’s, earned a Masters in Publishing from Oxford Brookes University, and settled into a publishing job in England.
As someone working in the publishing industry, Furber said she was very happy to find an editor who valued her craft, but also wanted to collaborate to improve her manuscript.
“[My book] was eventually accepted by a very small Yorkshire publisher called Valley Press, and they mostly do poetry, and that really hit me because I thought, well, they really care about the language and they really care their author,“ Furber said. “So they seemed like a really great match to me… I wanted to work with an editor who would challenge me the same way I like stimulating writers.“
The publication of “The essence of an hour“ was slightly delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the novel was released in February. At the time, Furber celebrated its release with a virtual book launch.
Now that the novel has been out for a few months, Furber has said the audience is more diverse than she initially thought.
“I kind of thought the audience was probably young women who have been through similar circumstances or who are probably interested in this, but older men have also read this and said what reminds you of it. [them] a lot of how [they] thought when [they were] 18,“ she said. “It’s really interesting that it can capture how it means to be young, for anyone.“
Furber is currently working on his second novel and wishes to continue writing on the themes of his first book.
Furber advises young female writers to read a variety of literature that both conforms to and challenges the way they see the world.
“Read as much as you can, I’d say that’s still the best advice… maybe even things you don’t want to read, different points of view,“ she said.
Furber said she also hopes aspiring writers will honestly tell their stories without fear.
“Don’t be afraid to just get on board and keep telling your story as authentically as possible and no longer worry about external criticism of [doing] this.“