Congratulations to the 2019 Impress Prize for New Writers winner: Susie Stead!
Susie has won a £500 cash prize and publication of Stephen, From the Inside Out with an Untold Publishing Imprint.
About Susie Stead
Susie is an award-winning writer who has been writing and creating drama in community settings for the last 20 years. She’s written and produced plays, drama sketches, street theatre, short films, short stories and a memoir. Two of her plays were theatrical biographies (on William Tyndale & C S Lewis) but “Stephen, From the Inside Out” is her first biography intended to be read not performed and unravels the life of a man whose story has never been told.
You can read more about Susie’s work on her website.
“On a Friday in May 2000, in an unremarkable town in the London Commuter belt, Stephen and I met.”
About Stephen, From the Inside Out
Stephen, From the Inside Out is a biography (but not a straightforward one) of a man diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and autism.
Stephen was born in 1955 and says that, at the age of 3, a psychiatrist told his mother that he was ‘the sickest child’ he’d ever met. This book is about his life, often with commentary from Stephen in his own wonderfully idiosyncratic style, but it is also a conversation with my life, as someone who has never been diagnosed with a mental illness.
I’m not related to Stephen and was never in a romantic relationship with him, nor did I decide to write a book about mental illness and then seek him out. I started out in the role of ‘Good Samaritan’ and over 18 years went on an eye-opening and bumpy journey getting to know him (and myself).
Stephen’s life was a patchwork of drama, difficulty, fairy godmothers, damnation religion, humour and moments of great tenderness. This book asks: What does it feel like never to fit in? What do we mean by mad, bad and god? What is it that gives our life valu
“He did NOT like the evangelicals. Was I evangelical? No. ‘The evangelicals’ had told him that if he smoked, he’d go to hell. He’d go to hell. He blew smoke over my shoulder. What did I think of that? Hmm? What did I think of that? Did I think he was going to hell?”
Susie on Winning, Her Book, and Writing
What was your first thought when you found out you’d won the 2019 Impress Prize?
My brain went into a fuzzy ‘I don’t believe this’ shock. The email first line showed the words: ‘As you know’ so as I opened the email, I was 90% certain it would say ‘As you know, the competition for this sort of prize is intense, so we’re sorry but’.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
That’s not a straightforward question for me. I used to think that I could only be ‘a real writer’ if I’d always wanted to be one and as I hadn’t always wanted to be writer, then I wasn’t one!
So the simple answer is ‘no’, although I was writing poetry and a diary from my early teens.
I think partly I didn’t have belief in myself and partly I grew up with an almost ferocious desire to change the world. I was brought up in Hong Kong in a wealthy ex-pat family but saw great poverty and that had a lasting effect on me. I wanted to use action rather than words to change the world, so as an adult I worked in communities and with people struggling with drug and drink addictions and homelessness.
I’ve always loved reading and read voraciously, mainly fiction and science fiction early on and then plays and now more non-fiction.
I’ve also read and written poetry since my early teens and that felt essential. Padraig O’Tuama said he wrote poetry ‘to survive’ and I understand that.
In my 20s I got hooked into drama and acting but it wasn’t until my late 30s that I began writing drama and then it was like all the lights turned on!
Why did you call it Stephen, from the Inside Out?
Firstly, I wanted to capture what it felt like being Stephen both from his perspective (inside) looking out on the world as someone labelled with paranoid schizophrenia and also from my point of view (outside) looking in.
Secondly, I was exploring what it was like for him to live both Inside psychiatric wards and then what it was like after 25 years, to live on the Outside.
How long have you been working on From the Inside Out?
Coming up to 8 years. I made the decision to write it in June 2012 and began recording conversations with Stephen after that. In May 2104 I began writing. As of now, 2020, I have one chapter left to write.
Any tips for future Impress Prize entrants?
If at all possible, get yourself a mentor. I was very fortunate that Kate Clanchy agreed to mentor me. She kept me going and gave me invaluable advice.
Proposals are painful, time-consuming things to write, especially if you’re crap at promoting yourself. Then there are all the voices in your head (even if you’re not psychotic) telling you not to bother. Remember why this story matters to you and don’t give up.