Susan Elderkin was born in 1968, the daughter of an architect and a concert pianist, and grew up on the outskirts of London. She started writing at a young age. She studied English Literature at Cambridge University and after graduating worked in a variety of jobs including as an ice-cream seller, an English teacher in a small town in Slovakia, and as an assistant to a Literary Scout in London. She also lived in Los Angeles for six months where she started to write more seriously. Soon after she took an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia (with tutors Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain) for which she was awarded that year’s Curtis Brown Literary Agency scholarship. Keen to return to the American south-west, she won a Wingate scholarship to fund the research of her first novel in Arizona, where she spent three months living alone in the middle of the Sonoran desert.
The result, Sunset over Chocolate Mountains, tells the story of a corpulent Englishman, Theobald Moon, who sets up a mobile home in the desert and brings up his little daughter Josie on a diet of fairytales and ice-cream – while keeping from her his terrible secret. The novel was bought at auction by 4th Estate in the UK (now part of HarperCollins), Grove Atlantic in the US, and seven other overseas publishers (Germany, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and Japan). It was published in 2000 and won a Betty Trask Award for first novels. The following year she was listed as one of 21 Orange Futures young female writers to watch out for in the 21st century.
Susan found herself drawn to another remote, arid corner of the world for her second novel – this time the Kimberley, North-West Australia. She spent several months there as an assitant ‘sparky’, or electrician, travelling to far-flung Aboriginal schools to service air-conditioning units (she trained on the job). The Voices, which tells the story of Billy Saint, a white boy who is “sung up” by an Aboriginal spirit child and forced to love her for ever, was written over the next two years, partly funded by a grant from London Arts and by a residency at The MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. It was published by 4th Estate in the UK in June 2003. Explaining her predilection for deserts, Susan has said: “I seem to be drawn to harsh, difficult landscapes that breed prickly, idiosyncratic people as well as prickly, idiosyncratic plants.” The Voices will be published in the States by Grove Atlantic in October 2003 and so far has been sold to Spain, France and Japan.
In January 2003, Susan was listed by Granta Magazine as one of the 20 Best Young British Writers of the decade. Since last year, she has also been writing the screenplay of Sunset over Chocolate Mountains with the BAFTA-nominated writer/director Alicia Duffy. She currently lives in London where she works as a freelance journalist and teaches on the MA in Creative Writing at Manchester University.