An interview with Sue Guiney about her new Cambodian novel, Out Of The Ruins


My friend and fellow Ward Wood writer, the American but London-based Sue Guiney has just published a new novel, Out Of The Ruins. We meet pretty regularly these days at either Ward Wood events or at the monthly poetry readings held in London by Camden-Lumen Poetry. There’s a real sense of family between all of us writers published by Ward Wood Publishing and, delightfully, whenever we meet we also manage to laugh a lot as well as discuss the wonderful world of writing so it was great meeting up with Sue again in London on Friday for the launch of the new novel.



Sue Guiney

We are fellow bloggers too. Sue writes regularly about her writing and her work in Cambodia where her previous novel, and now this new one, is based one her website:

She was kind enough to suggest doing a blog interview with me when my novel, Stephen Dearsley’s Summer Of Love was published last year and now I’m returning the favour.

Out of the Ruins begins with one Cambodian doctor’s frustration over how the poor women in his country are dying needlessly. He reaches out to friends to help him create a new clinic for the local villages around Siem Reap’s world famous temples, and they answer his call. Tradition collides with science as East meets West, and though the doctors are all too eager to help, they have much to learn about their own personal demons in this desperate and seductive society.

Me: I loved your first Cambodian novel, A Clash Of Innocence and I’m really looking forward to reading the new one, Out Of The Ruins. I’m happy to see that at least one of the characters, Srey, from the first book has made into the second and I’m wondering if this is a sequel or maybe part of a planned sequence of related Cambodian novels with shared themes.

Sue: Thanks so much, Colin! I must admit, I’m really excited about this new book’s arrival, too. Your question about sequels is interesting. This has all happened organically. When I wrote A Clash of Innocents I assumed it would be a one off. But people responded well to it, and I realized I had much more to say about Cambodia, so I decided to write a second novel. Actually, I was trying to work out the plot of a completely different book at the time,, set in Ireland actually, but the plot just wasn’t happening. I mentioned that to our editor, Adele Ward, and she suggested writing another book set in Cambodia. And once she did, its plot popped right into my head. But it was a story set in a different part of the country, and so I knew it had to have different characters as well as some from the first. All this is a long way of saying that Out of the Ruins became a “companion” piece, a book that can stand on its own, but which shares some characters with the previous novel. So if you happen to have read that one as well, then the experience is even richer, I suppose. And now that Ruins is complete, I realize that there is at least one more in the series that needs to be written. I’ve already started planning that, but I won’t talk about it now. First things first.

Me: I know that you are a regular visitor to Cambodia. When you first went there did you imagine that you would become so involved with that country or even that you would write so extensively about it? How much do your novels reflect not just your experience of living and working in Cambodia but also your life as an American living in London and spending so much of your time between three continents?

Sue: My connection with Cambodia is one of the great surprises of my life. I first went there on a family volunteering holiday, with the notion that this “would be good for the teenage son.” It was, of course, good for him. But it actually changed my life. I was writing my first novel, Tangled Roots, at the time, and that one is actually set in Moscow and Boston, so I wasn’t thinking about writing anything else but that. But being in Cambodia opened my eyes and heart to so much, and then the story of A Clash of Innocents just came to me, complete with characters and themes. It is clear to me, though, that my own expat experience underlies much of what I write. I seem to be endlessly fascinated by why some people choose to live their lives outside their native country, and why others don’t. How does that decision change you? Are we running away from something or towards something? These questions are still there in the new book, and probably always will be. Growing up in suburban New York, I lived a rather sheltered and protected life. I never knew that it was even possible for someone to decide to live outside their own country. Me spending my adult life in London? Impossible. And yet, here I am, both an outsider and an insider on both sides of the Atlantic, and now also in a country on the other side of the planet.

Me: I’m intrigued that you and I both write fiction and poetry and have a background in classical music. Do all these elements come together in your writing and do they influence each other or do you manage to keep them separate?

Sue: Excellent question. The more I write, the more I realize the way my musical background influences my writing. It is certainly key to my ear for cadence and rhythm, which is important to me not only in poetry, as would be expected, but also in prose. Being a violinist who has spent her life playing in orchestras, I have also been intrigued by the fact that so many physicians play musical instruments, and especially string instruments. What is that all about? I’m still noodling that one, but you’ll see it is addressed to a certain extent in the new novel, which is the first time I’ve really written about the experience of playing music. I loved doing that, and I’m sure I’ll write about it more. A funny thing, though, is that the more I write, the more important playing my violin is to me – it’s the only time when I don’t have words in my head, and believe me, the constant words can be exhausting.

Thanks so much for asking me onto your blog, Colin. I do hope you enjoy this book, as much as you did the last!
I’m sure I will Sue, I have it on order and can’t wait to read it.

Sue Guiney’s Out Of The Ruins can be ordered online from the publishers, Ward Wood Publishing, from bookshops and from Amazon and The Book Depository:

If you’d like to read Sue’s interview with me then here’s the link:


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