An interview with Sue Borgersen, poetry category judge for Hysteria 2017

Sue Borgersen is one our fab poetry category judges for the Hysteria Writing Competition 2017. She writes and makes art on the south shore of Nova Scotia, Canada, surrounded by boisterous dogs and a vast collection of odd musical instruments.

Among her published poetry is Sister of No Mercy, one of 75 poems from poets around the world in Leonard Cohen: You’re Our Man, from the Foundation for Public Poetry, to celebrate Mr Cohen’s 75th birthday in 2009. Other published works include Mail Order Bride in Foreign Encounters, a Writers Abroad anthology, 20 Winners at the Game of Life, essays by successful women, and shortlisted by the CBC for The Song that Changed Your Life. Sue’s flash fictions: Emergence, The Sequence Dance, The Feel of Dark, and The Green Dress feature in the Arts and Lit journal ArtAscent.  Knickers, a creative non-fiction essay, was published in the October 2013 anthology Foreign and Far Away. A short story set in the Canadian Maritimes, Stiff as Boards, was published by Centum Press in 2016. Tonight’s the Night is her latest published flash in To Carry Her Home – Bath Flash Fiction Volume 1. She is also a steady contributor to Ad Hoc, and has been shortlisted by Writing magazine.

With an abundance of additional poetry, short, and flash fiction independently published, Sue is re-working her ten NaNo novels into novellas-in-flash. She is a long standing member of The Nova Scotia Writers’ Federation, a keen member of the international writers’ group Writers Abroad (where she is currently hosting a poetry project), and a founding member of The Liverpool Literary Society. Sue was a judge for the Atlantic Writing Competition (Poetry Category) 2016 and you can meet her on her website at: You can also catch up with her on and Twitter @sueborgersen.

Who would you invite to a literary dinner party?

I can imagine the scene now: Poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen (RIP) is at the head of the table, with his words of subtle sensuousness and deep wisdom. Then maybe I can be cheeky and read my poem Sister of No Mercy that was published in response to his To a Young Nun, in an anthology to celebrate his 75th birthday in 2009. Mavis Cheek is at the other end, with a twinkle in her eye ready to break ice – as if it would be needed. She’s probably got her eye on Leonard Cohen anyway! Sylvia Plath must come. I am new to her work, shame on me, but in love with her lyrical prose already. I’d love to know more about her. I’d also like to see Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and ask him for please, please please, just a few and only a few, lines from Hiawatha – we could all join in:

By the shore of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
At the doorway of his wigwam,
In the pleasant Summer morning,
Hiawatha stood and waited.

How many is that? – 4 – Oh goody – we’ve got room for John Betjeman with his  friendly bombs to drop on Slough where I actually lived for a couple of years. And we’d better let Susan Musgrave squeeze in too – she’s a Canadian poet and children’s author – married to a famous bank robber. Maggie O’Farrell completes the list – she will no doubt be making notes for a future novel on dysfunction all round. And that leaves me – if they will allow – I will give them a few lines from my very, very short works… while LC pours the Cabernet Sauvignon.

What a swell literary dinner party we will have.

Do you have a ‘must read’ list?

I most certainly do. Living miles away from a bookshop and being far too impatient for the mail, I load my kindle up with ebooks. If they turn out to be keepers – I will order a print copy.  My ‘to-read list’ includes:

  • Margaret Drabble’s Pure Gold Baby,
  • The Blackhouse (Lewis Trilogy) by Peter May,
  • Short Stories, The Ultimate Ernest Hemingway,
  • The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty,
  • Homer’s Odyssey (yes, really – it was free!),
  • Deborah Moggach’s Short Stories,
  • Collected Poems of Hugo Williams (print copy – really nice guy – I did a workshop with him at the Cheltenham Lit Fest years ago)

– there’s more on the list – that’s the trouble with kindle – they just keep adding up!

I am currently reading All Will Be Well – an indie-published book by Louise Charles. Set in WWII – the book is very character driven – and that – I really like. The standard of writing is superb. The dialogue authentic. And not at all predictable.

Have you every been pleasantly inspired by a self published writer?

Indeed I have, see above. I know what hard work it is to create a book from the first draft to the finished published hard copy (or even e-copy) – I try and include at least one self published book per month in my reading list. I have found, at times, the professionalism of indie published authors and poets, is as good, if not better than traditionally published works. I self published a poetry book on behalf of the 6 authors/poets who attended my 6 week online poetry course a few years ago – in all formats, from e-book to expensive hardback. It is a beauty. Distant voices, talking drums

What advice would you give your younger writing self?

Be true to yourself. Be inspired but not over-influenced by others. Read just as much as you write. Go to as many book launches and readings as you can. Join a writing group. Read your work aloud – to yourself and to others. Try writing in the 2nd person sometimes – it can resonate with your readers even more.

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