Hope and Diversity in YA Literature: Author Interview with Susan J. Bruce

Today it’s my pleasure to welcome Scottish-Australian author Susan J. Bruce to the blog. Be sure to read to the end, because Susan is offering a fabulous giveaway.

Author. Artist. Animal Addict.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Susan. Your website has the intriguing tagline ‘Author. Artist. Animal Addict.’ What’s that about?

I write stuff and have lots of short stories and poems in anthologies, plus one published young adult (YA) novel so far, so that means I’m an author.

The artist? A few years ago, my husband gave me some acrylic paints for Christmas. I always liked drawing but I didn’t think I could paint. It took me six months to join a local art group and I discovered to my amazement that I could paint, but mainly animals. I now do animal portraits on commission, although that hasn’t happened much recently due to work and writing commitments.

And I’ve always been an animal person. I was a veterinarian for over 30 years, so animals are part of my psyche. They invade my writing as well as my art. My writing group once challenged me to write a story that didn’t contain any animals—I failed!

Running Scared

Writing and art is certainly a great combination of creative pursuits.

Congratulations on the release of your debut novel ‘Running Scared’. Can you tell us a little about the story?

Running Scared is a contemporary YA novel that’s part coming of age and part romantic thriller. It’s a story of fear, first love, friendship, forgiveness, broken hearts, betrayal and bravery!

It’s been Melinda Green’s worst year ever. Her family had to leave their farm, her mum is in hospital, her dad is losing it and her freak-out-and-run arachnophobia is getting worse.

The one good thing in Melinda’s world is Rory. Maybe he sees things differently because he’s been in a wheelchair for the past eight years, but Rory always knows how to make her laugh. 

Problem is, her dad doesn’t want Melinda anywhere near Rory. He doesn’t trust Rory or his family, especially as Rory’s brother is wanted by the police. And now even Melinda is scared about what Rory might be hiding.

And then there is Cade Sartell who is out to get both Melinda and Rory…

You’ll have to read the book to find out how that works out!

Beating Your Dragons

I’ve read the book, so I know! Eek!

Your main character, Melinda, is dealing with some pretty big issues. Why was it important for you to delve into some of those?

It’s true that Melinda has to deal with some big issues. Sometimes life happens like that. You’re cruising along when, whammo, everything falls apart at once. This is hard to deal with at any time of life, but when you’re in the angst-ridden teenage years, it’s doubly difficult.

For me, the key word behind Running Scared is hope. There’s a fair bit of nihilism out there in YA literature land. I wanted to write a book that accepts darkness is a reality but brings the characters—and readers—back to a place of hope. No matter how much bad stuff happens, there’s always a way forward.

I love that famous quote by GK Chesterton:

‘Fairy tales are more than true— not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.’

 I want to show teenagers (and adults too) that their dragons can be beaten.

Diversity in Literature

That’s a great aim. I think all of us have some dragons to defeat.

I particularly liked the fact that Melinda’s special friend, and potential love interest, was a boy in a wheelchair. Where did you get the idea for Rory’s character? Do you have any thoughts on the importance of showing diverse characters in fiction?

Even though Running Scared is written from Melinda’s point of view, Rory is my favourite character. I always had a smile on my face when I was writing him.

He was inspired by a boy I saw on the train one day.

The lad was sitting in a heavy-duty wheelchair with two girls, one on either side, focused on his every word. Not only did he tell jokes and make the girls laugh, but he had a presence—a strong sense of self and positive attitude—that impressed me. He may have been living with a disability, but he came across as someone who was extremely courageous and able. I’m pretty sure those girls thought this too.

That sense of self, that heart, became the starting point for Rory’s character.

The Rory you see in Running Scared is different from that boy on the train. He’s older and more physically able. But that boy still inspires me. I’m pretty sure he’s already his own version of a romantic hero (like Rory).

We definitely need more diverse characters in fiction, but I think they need to be people first and not included to make a token point about diversity. I tried hard to paint Rory as a courageous 16-year-old, who happened to use a wheelchair, rather than define him by any disability he may live with. The fact that Rory uses a wheelchair may limit some of the things he can do, but it doesn’t limit him. I think that’s the key.

And I hope people will experience a hope-filled, page-turning, heart-pounding, read—and, like Melinda and Rory, be inspired to be brave.

Upcoming Projects

That’s a a great sentiment. I think in the past there may have been some tokenism regarding diversity in literature, and the arts in general for that matter. I love the way you showed Rory as a regular guy who just happened to be in a wheelchair.

So what’s next on the horizon for you, Susan?

My next book, and current work in progress, is a change of pace. Dead Again (working title) is a funny-with-feeling amateur sleuth mystery about a woman who has a reputation for ‘death’. Here’s the blurb:

Ruth wants to know ‘why’.

  • Why, when she was young, did people she loved die when she was near?
  • Why does she keep colliding (literally) with the enigmatic Dan Rivers when she doesn’t want a relationship?
  • And why, oh why, is there a dead private investigator in her shed, with a knife sticking out of his back?

When the town finds out about Ruth’s childhood reputation for death, the ‘why’ doesn’t matter so much. Unless she can find out ‘who’ and clear her name, along with the names of her friends, she’ll either be arrested, or run out of the small seaside town she’s grown to love.

Dead Again is the first book in the Ruthless-the-Killer series— a poignant, funny and romantic mystery series set in a small Australian seaside town.


Wow, that sounds amazing, Susan. I’ll be queueing up for that one! Thanks so much for joining us today and sharing about yourself and your writing.

Susan has kindly offered a copy of her book Running Scared for one lucky reader. It will be a signed print copy for those with an Australian postal address or an eBook for those with an overseas address.

In order to be in the running for the book, you just have to leave a comment on this blog post before midnight on Sunday 26 February (AEST). The winner will be chosen at random from the eligible comments, and the winner will be contacted by email and also announced on this blog post, on the Nola Lorraine Facebook page, and in my next newsletter. Full terms and conditions can be found here.

Author Bio

Susan J Bruce is an author, artist and animal addict who writes mystery and suspense books—with heart. Susan is a former veterinarian and animals often run, jump, fly or crawl through her tales. Her writing group once challenged her to write a story without mentioning any animals—she failed!


Susan lives in sunny South Australia with her husband, Marc, and their furred and feathered family. This currently includes a fat tortoiseshell cat, a rescue cockatiel, and an irrepressible ShiChi (Shih Tzu x Chihuahua) who thinks her mission in life is to stop Susan writing. 

Running Scared is Susan’s first novel and was awarded the 2018 Caleb Prize for an unpublished manuscript.

Web Links

Visit Susan at www.susanjbruce.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/suethebruce/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/suethebruce/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/suethebruce

Susan occasionally lurks on TikTok #booktok, but it’s been a while. Where possible, she tries to push her dog into the limelight—Nikita is better at dancing! https://www.tiktok.com/@susanjbruceauthor

You can check out Susan’s artwork on her website or on Facebook ‘art’ page. 

Buy Links

You can buy a copy of Running Scared at the outlets listed on books2read and Amazon.

Photo Credits

Featured Photo shows Susan (3rd from left) at a joint book launch with fellow authors Mark Worthington, Claire Belberg and Rosanne Hawke. The cat painting is a commission that Sue completed for the lady in the photograph. Dragon pic is by Willgard Krause on Pixabay. Wheelchair pic is by Steve Buissinne on Pixabay.


19 Responses

  1. Your novel sounds like a good read. I like that you’ve made it a message of hope and have included a strong character with a disability. Congrats on your book Susan.

  2. Running scared sounds great. But I am intrigued by the new Ruthless the killer series… I’m not keen on death, but the build up for ‘Dead Again’ mystified and drew me in. My sense of dread built up then burst, as the humour took over and I just had to laugh out loud at this line: “And why, oh why, is there a dead private investigator in her shed, with a knife sticking out of his back?”
    Thanks for a fascinating interview, highlighting excellent thoughts and themes.

    1. Hi Wayne, Thanks for your encouraging words. I’m having a lot of fun writing Dead Again. I may have to change the title as there is a TV series called that but I want to capture a mix of poignance and humour. I love stories that make you feel dread one moment and make you laugh out loud the next. Hopefully I can accomplish that with this novel

  3. I’m captivated. When I read in the above interview that you always smile when writing about Rory- it was a certainty. I’m going to love being ‘in’ this book.

    1. I hope you enjoy it, Philippa. Rory means a lot to me as a character. The book is from Melinda’s POV, so you see Rory through her eyes. I felt more comfortable writing from a teen girl POV than writing a boy living with a disability, but Melinda sees him, not his chair 😊, and they need each other if they are to overcome the bad stuff 😊

  4. Thank you for your comments, everyone. I am pleased to announce that the winner of the random giveaway is Rosanne Hawke. We’ll be in touch about your prize, Rosanne. And thanks again, Susan, for a great interview and giveaway.

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