After a nomadic childhood, Susan Sellers ran away to Paris. Renting a chambre de bonne, she worked as a barmaid and tour guide, bluffed her way as a software translator and co-wrote a film script with a Hollywood screenwriter. She also became closely involved with leading French feminist writers and translated Hélène Cixous. From Paris she travelled to Swaziland, teaching English to tribal grandmothers, and to Peru, where she worked for a women’s aid agency.
A Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of St Andrews, Susan’s debut novel Vanessa and Virginia was an editor’s pick in The New York Times, translated into sixteen languages, and adapted for the stage. Her new novel Firebirdwas sold at auction to btb/Random House in Germany, Gallimard/Mercure de France and will appear in 2022.
Susan is currently working on a novel set in Paris about the feminist pioneer Simone de Beauvoir.
Books by Susan
EER Publishing, May 2022
This richly imagined novel tells the surprising story of two of Bloomsbury’s most unlikely lovers – John Maynard Keynes, the distinguished economist, and the extrovert Russian dancer Lydia Lopokova. Weaving biography and fiction, Firebird explores the tangle of Bloomsbury’s bohemian relationships as lifestyles are challenged and allegiances shift following Lydia’s explosive arrival.
It is the winter of 1921 and Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes launch a flamboyant new production at London’s Alhambra Theatre. Maynard Keynes is in the audience, though he expects little from the evening. Despite Lydia’s many triumphs, including the title role in Stravinsky’s Firebird, Maynard’s mind is made up – he considers her ‘a rotten dancer’. Besides, Lydia has at least one husband in tow and Maynard has only ever loved men. Tonight, however, he is moved by her performance, and when the ballet closes in financial disaster leaving its cast penniless, he invites Lydia to move into his Bloomsbury house.
No strangers to scandalously unconventional liaisons, Maynard’s Bloomsbury friends – Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Vanessa and Clive Bell, Duncan Grant and Lytton Strachey – are intrigued to find the resolutely homosexual Maynard falling for a woman. They assume it is a passing fad. After all, Lydia is a noisy, uneducated chatterbox, while Maynard is a brilliant intellectual whose encylopaedic knowledge and genius for strategy have already made him indispensable to the Treasury. But when Maynard pulls out of a Royal Commission tour to stay close to Lydia, his friends realise they must act. As Virginia writes to her sister Vanessa, everything they value risks ruin from this ‘parokeet’ whose conversation is limited to ‘one shriek, two dances’. Anything other than a brief affair would be ‘a fatal and irreparable mistake’. Maynard must be rescued from himself.
Vividly recreating Lydia’s life-changing journey from Tsarist St Petersburg to Jazz Age London via the Paris of Proust and Picasso, this compelling new novel celebrates a love story that is utterly unexpected, true, and stranger than fiction.
Given The Choice
Cillian Press, September 2014
Italy: Minimum Fax
At 39 Marian has a lot going for her. She’s talented, ambitious and married to a wealthy financier who adores her. She’s also capable of lying when the odds seem stacked up against her, but she’s a good deal more vulnerable than she lets on. Amidst the glamour and spin of the contemporary London art and classical music worlds, money rules and an artist’s skill is rarely enough. Marion’s top clients – a brilliant French painter and a virtuoso Estonian pianist – benefit from her entrepreneurial flair, but when her husband says it’s time they had a child, this contrary heroine faces a tough choice. Will Marion become ensnared in the web of deceit she has cast round herself? Or can she learn enough to save her business and her marriage? In this new novel by the award-winning author of Vanessa and Virginia, it is you, the reader, who is given the choice. Given the Choice is a book about growing older and growing up, about making choices and learning to live with them.
Vanessa and Virginia
Two Ravens Press (UK & Commonwealth), June 2008,
Russia : Atticus
Spain : Planeta
Sweden : Ordfront
Turkey : Sel
US & Canada : Harcourt (Spring 2009)
In a gloomy house in Hyde Park Gate two young girls are raised to be perfect ladies. But from the beginning Vanessa Bell and her sister Virginia Woolf pursue different dreams, and in their Bloomsbury household they create a ferment of free thinking and freer living. Devoted to each other, yet fiercely competitive, both sisters fight to realise their artistic vision amidst a chaos of desire, scandal, illness and war.
Traced with lyrical intensity, their entangled lives gradually reveal an underlying pattern. An expert on Woolf’s life and work, Susan Sellers is inspired by Woolf’s own brilliant narrative technique – a sensuous, impressionistic, interior voice – to inhabit the mind of an artist at work, and recreate the tale of two sisters as Vanessa might have told it. Vanessa and Virginia is a chronicle of love and revenge, madness, genius, and the compulsion to create beauty in the face of relentless difficulty and deep grief. Vanessa and Virginia is a beautiful, haunting novel about the love and the rivalry between two gifted sisters, and about the real purpose of ‘Art’ – not as superior diversion or intellectual entertainment, but as the means of healing and renewing the soul in the face of relentless difficulty and pain, and deep grief.
‘I can think of no other work that is as searching, or as revealing in its exploration of the family life, or of the complex dynamic of sibling and artistic rivalry of these two artists: the achievement here is not only a matter of research and imagination, but of an uncanny and utterly persuasive empathy for both sisters, and the world and times in which they lived and worked’ – John Burnside
‘Deftly, apparently effortlessly, Susan Sellers’s novel of love, art, and sexual jealousy gives us convincing and intimate access to the relationship between two remarkable sisters. At once pellucid and sophisticated, Vanessa and Virginia is quite simply a pleasure to read.’ – Robert Crawford