I have updated my review and giveaway policies page (now just titled Policies above). If you are entering a giveaway, please read and abide by the applicable policy.

Attention Authors! If you arrived here looking for information on the Two Sides to Every Story guest post series, see the tab at the top of the page for more info!

Search This Blog

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Interview with Suzy Henderson

Good morning everyone!  Today I have the opportunity to welcome Suzy Henderson, author of The Beauty Shop, back to The Maiden’s Court!  Before she was a recipient of the BRAG Medallion I grabbed up this book based on comment from friends who loved it, and so did I! You can find my review here.  I love the subject matter for this novel and hope you will pick it up too!


Heather: Hi Suzy! Welcome to The Maiden’s Court.  Can we get started today by first telling me how you discovered indieBRAG?

Suzy Henderson: Hi, Heather. Thank you so much for the lovely welcome – it’s a pleasure to be here. I recall googling indieBRAG after reading about it on an author’s website, and I remember thinking how fantastic it was to have such an award specifically for indie authors.

H: I am pleased to have had the chance to read your book, The Beauty Shop, and I loved it!! The title, The Beauty Shop, is extremely relevant to the events that transpire within its pages, but it might give off the wrong vibe. For those that have not read your book yet, because they definitely should, could you give our readers an idea of what your book is about and give context to the title?

SH: Of course. When I first came across the real story of plastic surgeon, Archibald McIndoe and the Guinea Pig Club, I was compelled to write about it. Archie, as he was known, was a pioneer and innovator of plastic surgery. WW2 was very different to WW1 because it was a bomber’s war. Aerial warfare had progressed tremendously, and the injuries the airmen presented with had never been encountered before. Surgeons had a difficult job ahead of them, and very few were skilled enough to deal with the most severe cases. Archie was one of a few who was, and the truth is he was one of the leading plastic surgeons of the day. However, what drew me to him was not his surgical expertise, but his model of care. He believed in holistic care, and in the value of life.

What he saw unfolding before him was hordes of young men lying in ruins, robbed of their youth, and quite possibly of any future. He reared up against it all and fought battles with the Air Ministry for fair rights for those who were to be pensioned off. He fought the Royal College of Surgeons as he battled to have outdated and unsafe treatments banished once and for all. He did whatever he had to for his ‘boys’ as he often called them. He was determined they were to have futures with work, spouses, children – all the trimmings. It was his vision, and he achieved this with the aid of his team at the hospital in East Grinstead and with the support of the entire town. Then there was the club which became a charity, attracting many donations. The funds helped some members over the years, and the men themselves bonded to form a dedicated support group. The club and everything the men achieved, became Archibald McIndoe’s legacy.

The Beauty Shop unfolds via three perspectives and begins late 1942. First, we have the real person, Archibald McIndoe, a maverick New Zealand plastic surgeon on a mission. He’s in charge of the burns unit at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, England, and cares for airmen and pilots with severe burns and injuries. Some of his patients are so badly burned they are unrecognizable. They fear that life is over, but Archie has some very interesting and unorthodox methods to help ease them back into living. Archie considers their social and psychological health as he recognizes he must heal souls as well as bodies. The war presents many challenges, and he faces battles of a different kind, but help is far closer than he initially realizes.

Next, we have Mac, an American B-17 pilot serving with the 8th Air Force. He struggles with the morals of war and is torn between his duty and his conscience. He meets Stella, an English WAAF at a dance and falls in love. However, just as nothing is certain in war, nor is it in love and his life is about to take a major turn.

Stella is the stereotypical young English woman. When she meets Mac she falls in love, but there is a problem – she already has a boyfriend. After a brief time, Stella does what she believes to be morally right and decides not to see Mac anymore. But when he survives a serious crash, she rushes to see him in hospital, quickly realizing her own battle has only just begun.

The title was a source of contention for months until I came across a real account in one of the biographies. It was some time in 1942 when a fighter pilot who had lain unconscious for a short while came around and asked the first man he saw where he was. The airman, an Australian replied, “This is the beauty shop, mate. The place where they make you up again.” Well, that was it – a lightning bolt moment.

The title encapsulates the entire story for me and beauty is a recurring theme in the book. When faced with losing their entire faces, those men feared they had lost their identity; they feared that their lives were over. It was through the work and support of McIndoe and his team that 649 airmen lived on and thrived after the war. Archie insisted on beautiful nurses for his ward. He had the ward re-decorated to make it appear more homey. There were fresh flowers daily. Volunteers were often pretty girls, drafted in to take the men out to a dance or the pub. There were handsome pilots, airmen, GI’s, dances, love, and not forgetting the motto of beauty itself which was used as propaganda to an extent with posters and write-ups in the press and magazines. ‘Beauty is your duty’ became a well-known slogan. Beauty surrounded all of the men in one form or another. Learning to accept and love yourself is difficult for some, but it’s even more so once you’re dealing with disfigurement. This issue is as relevant today as it was then and just as it was during the war, the attitudes of others are critical. Almost 78 years have passed since the beginning of WW2 and yet there is still so much discrimination and prejudice simmering within communities, sometimes escalating into hate crimes. Beauty really is more than skin deep.

H:  I agree that the title is SO perfect for the events that unfold, thanks for sharing that deeper meaning with us!

Did you do a lot of research before writing The Beauty Shop?  Could you share any excellent resources that we might enjoy checking out for further reading?

SH: Oh, mountains of research! My desk at times had towers of books leaning precariously close to the edge, looking like they’d topple at any moment, but I needed them all. There were medical books, medical articles, biographies, history books, personal accounts of veterans, fiction, movies and youtube clips. Youtube is an excellent resource, and it’s also where I found the only clip of Archibald McIndoe where he speaks – it’s very short, but it was an amazing discovery and helped me so much.

I can recommend all the biographies on McIndoe and the Guinea Pig Club, but for me, the best by far was Faces From The Fire by Leonard Mosely. It was an invaluable resource and a far more personal account than any of the others. For other books check out:

The Last Enemy by fighter pilot Richard Hillary

The Reconstruction of Warriors by E. R. Mayhew

McIndoe’s Army by Edward Bishop

The Blond McIndoe Research Foundation is excellent and has much information about Archie’s work and the Guinea Pig Club.

H: That is incredible about the YouTube video of McIndoe!  Thank you for the additional resources, I will have to check them out!

One of the parts of the book that I found the most compelling were the dog fighting flight scenes. These scenes were super realistic. How did you craft those scenes?

SH: Well, these were difficult to get right, and at the time of publication, I confess I still wasn’t fully certain that they were good enough, but so many readers have graciously told me how much they enjoyed them and how graphic they were, so perhaps I did okay. In the beginning, I wrote the scenes out simply, so I had a very rough draft. Initial research had given me what I needed at that stage, but the finer detail, the imagery was missing.

Then it was back to the research stage before I could paint the scenes. I read many graphic personal accounts from bomber & fighter pilots and aircrew and watched movies such as the Memphis Belle, Twelve O'Clock High and even the trailer for the new Mighty Eighth series. The tv adaptation of fighter pilot, Geoffrey Wellum’s book First Light was also a great resource. I studied how aircraft fly, whether alone or in formation. I studied the positions of the crew and how they did their job while on a mission. I also found old film reels from WW2 of aerial combat where I could see the gunners firing at German fighters, see how the line of tracer fire shoots across the sky, see how it looks when a bomber explodes mid-air, men baling out etc. Having a visual representation along with personal accounts of aerial warfare helped me to craft those scenes, and I can’t stress enough just how important and relevant movies are to the craft of writing. I was quite literally studying graphic scenes and attempting to repaint in words.

H: That research was well worth it in my opinion – those scenes were so realistic to me.

Plastic surgery was only in its infancy during WWI, how did you come across such a topic originally.

SH: I was researching another story when I came across a clip about fighter pilot Geoffrey Page who was a member of the Guinea Pig Club, and it was one of those classic cases of a writer going off on a tangent during research (perhaps procrastinating when I ought to have been writing). However, it turned out to be a fabulous discovery because that led me to Archie McIndoe and the entire real story. I knew that no matter what it took, I simply had to write the book and try to spread the word about this amazing piece of history.

H:  I love how little things that weren’t even on the radar before take over and become the thing you HAVE to write about. 

There is always something fun that you spend time researching but for whatever reason doesn’t make the cut into the book. Do you have such an example you would like to share with us?

SH: It seems so long ago since I researched this book that I can barely remember. There was a funny story of a tall, strong Scot who went out one evening with some of the men, became very drunk and returned to the ward in the early hours, singing at the top of his voice. Of course, he woke everyone up and the nurse gave him a sharp dressing down and ordered him to bed. Within minutes she heard him yell out and found him in the bathroom. He’d tripped over something and ended up sitting in a bucket of Lysol, which resulted in a first-degree burn on his buttock! He was a lieutenant with the Highland Light Infantry and his reason for being one of Archie’s patients was because he’d broken his jaw while out in the blackout in Glasgow. So he ended up suffering a burn anyway!

H:  That is ironic right?!

Can you tell us what led to the choice to independently publish? Have you found anything challenging or surprising easy in terms of independent publishing? Any tips for aspiring authors?

SH: The truth is, when my manuscript was finally complete and ready for the professional edit in mid-2016, I suddenly discovered that it was also the 75th anniversary of the Guinea Pig Club and there were to be certain events in honor of this. I realized that the time was right to publish and I didn’t have time to find an agent, publisher or both, and that’s how I entered the indie publishing world.

Having gone through the process of physically publishing an e-book and a paperback I can say that it’s straightforward. Unfortunately, I was rather hopeless at formatting my manuscript, so I had assistance with that. Being an indie author is challenging work because the only person you can rely on is yourself. You must do everything including marketing your book and all while writing the next story, so time management is crucial.

There are many positives, such as being able to write what I love, as opposed to what the publisher would like, keeping all royalties and setting your own deadlines.

For new authors who are considering self-publishing, I’d say do your research and once you’re clear about the work involved and providing you feel it’s right for you, then go for it. You can always go agent hunting later with the next book. It seems that more traditionally published authors are self-publishing today – termed hybrid authors as they publish via both routes.

H: Thank you for that insight.  That makes sense considering the time line of how long it can take to publish a book and then it wouldn’t have had the timeliness appeal of the anniversary.

When you are not reading for research, what type of books or what authors do you enjoy reading?

SH: I’m a fan of Hillary Mantel and love her writing so much. Then there’s Pat Barker who has written many books, but I love the Regeneration Trilogy, set during WW1. The third book in the trilogy, Ghost Road, won the Booker Prize in 1995 and it’s incredible. Daphne du Maurier is another whose writing I greatly admire, and I also happen to be a Jane Austen fan.

One book that left a lasting impression was Sunset Song written by Lewis Grassic Gibbon in 1932. It’s a fascinating story and regarded to be one of the most important Scottish novels of the 20th century.

There are too many to mention, but these five are among my favorites. And, as you can probably guess, I devour anything WW2 related. Right now, I’m reading my first Maggie Hope MysteryThe Paris Spy by Susan Elia Macneal.

H:  I’ve had by eye on the Maggie Hope Mystery series, but haven’t had the chance to read any of them yet.  I hope you enjoy it!

What type of things do you like to do for leisure?

SH: Living on the edge of the Lake District is amazing as I’m very close to the Scottish borders, so I love exploring Hadrian’s Wall and the old Roman Forts as well as hiking in the lakes. There are also a few literary connections to my home region which makes exploring even more interesting – Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter for example.

Being a writer means sitting a lot which is great for the muse but not the physique! So, I recently took up yoga which I enjoy. Aside from that, I walk my dogs daily, sometimes go cycling, but I love nothing more than curling up with an enjoyable book, especially in winter.

H: That sounds beautiful! I would love to see Hadrian’s Wall!  Thank you so much for stopping by today Suzy!

suzy henderson

Suzy Henderson lives with her husband and two sons in Cumbria, England, on the edge of the Lake District, a beautiful and inspiring landscape of mountains, fells, and lakes. She never set out to be a writer, although she has always loved reading and experiencing the joy of being swept away to different times and places.

In a previous life she was a Midwife but now works from home as a freelance writer and novelist. While researching her family history, Suzy became fascinated with both World War periods and developed an obsession with military and aviation history. Following the completion of her Open University Degree in English Literature and Creative Writing, she began to write and write until one day she had a novel.

Other interests include music, old movies, and photography – especially if WW2 aircraft are on the radar. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society. Her debut novel, The Beauty Shop, was released in November 2016 and Suzy is now busy writing her second book which she hopes to release later in 2017.

Find Suzy Henderson: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

goodreads button

Book Blurb:

England, 1942. After three years of WWII, Britain is showing the scars. But in this darkest of days, three lives intertwine, changing their destinies and those of many more.

Dr Archibald McIndoe, a New Zealand plastic surgeon with unorthodox methods, is on a mission to treat and rehabilitate badly burned airmen – their bodies and souls. With the camaraderie and support of the Guinea Pig Club, his boys battle to overcome disfigurement, pain, and prejudice to learn to live again.

John ‘Mac’ Mackenzie of the US Air Force is aware of the odds. He has one chance in five of surviving the war. Flying bombing missions through hell and back, he’s fighting more than the Luftwaffe. Fear and doubt stalk him on the ground and in the air, and he’s torn between his duty and his conscience.

Shy, decent and sensible Stella Charlton’s future seems certain until war breaks out. As a new recruit to the WAAF, she meets an American pilot on New Year’s Eve. After just one dance, she falls head over heels for the handsome airman. But when he survives a crash, she realizes her own battle has only just begun.

Based on a true story, "The Beauty Shop" is a moving tale of love, compassion, and determination against a backdrop of wartime tragedy.

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

A Message from IndieBRAG:

We are delighted that Heather has chosen to interview Suzy Henderson. who is the author of, The Beauty Shop, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, The Beauty Shop, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

brag interview team

Copyright © 2017 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. Thank you so much for hosting me, Heather. Fantastic interview and I enjoyed it so much. All best wishes to you.

  2. Thank you for a very interesting interview and post.

  3. I'm so glad you enjoyed reading. Thank you so much. Have a wonderful weekend.


Thanks for leaving your comments! I love reading them and try to reply to all!