As a book reviewer I have made contact with authors from all across the globe and feel immensely privileged to be able to share some amazing work. However, there is always something rather special when a book comes to my attention which has been written by an author in my part of the North of England. So with this in mind I have great pleasure in featuring some of those authors who are literally close to my home. Over the next few Saturdays, and hopefully beyond, I will be sharing the work of a very talented bunch of Northern authors and discovering just what being a Northerner means to them both in terms of inspiration and also in their writing.
Today I welcome North West Writer
|Credit : Marc Melander|
Hi and welcome to Jaffareadstoo, Sarah. Tell us a little about yourself and what got you started as an author?
I'm an imported Southerner, brought to the North West by marriage and staying by choice. I live on a boat on the Leeds/Liverpool canal, and didn't start writing properly until I was nearly 40. I'd always wanted to write, and scribbled odd bits and pieces all of the time, but it took a divorce and an MA in Creative Writing to make me buckle down and actually get on with it.
Your books are written in North West England – how do the people and its landscape shaped your stories?
The Summer of Secrets, my debut novel, is very much set in the area where I live. I found it immensely helpful to be able to go for a walk and see the places I was writing about. The landscape is a character, I think. And the word 'evocative' is often used to describe my writing style! I grew up around the Wiltshire Downs, amongst gentle, rolling hills holding neolithic remains. It took a while to become accustomed to the wide, almost fen-like nature of the part of West Lancashire where I live, but I've grown to love it. I'm hoping to start a PhD in Place Writing soon, working with creative non-fiction to explore the canal landscape around Manchester, which is really exciting...
As a writer based in the North West, does this present any problems in terms of marketing and promoting your books and if so, how do you overcome them?
Not so much marketing and promoting. The world of bloggers and reviewers is a wonderful place and happens almost exclusively online. In a wider sense, how much exposure your book gets is down to the publisher making a decision on how much they're going to do. How they come to that decision - to push this book and not that one - is an opaque and mysterious process! It may have something to do with being London-based, but I couldn't give you any evidence on that.
In your research for your books, do you visit any of the places you write about and which have made a lasting impression?
I've just finished the first draft of book #2, which opens on a beach in Thailand. I wish I could say that I'd been there for research, but sadly it was more of an online process, plus drawing on memories of travelling before my children came along. The action then moves back to England, and I did cruise down the Macclesfield canal on a friend's narrowboat (my own boat is too wide to fit on that particular stretch) and I have a trip planned for Bletchley Park and the nearby Blisworth Tunnel.
If you were pitching the North West as an ideal place to live, work and write – how would you sell it and what makes it so special?
There was a meme going round the other week, something like, 'Southerners urged not to travel unless absolutely necessary as blizzards approach. Northerners - you'll need your big coat.' I love the Northern attitude, the blunt friendliness, the lack of respect for status. And the cities, the hills, the canals; chips and gravy; the festivals, music and arts; Wales just round the corner. And London's only a couple of hours away if you really need to pop down. There's also an increasing amount of events for writers happening, for instance, the Northern Lights Writers' Conference and the Comma Press Graduate Writing Fair, both bringing industry professionals up here. Oh, and Booths, the NW supermarket chain. Their cafes are great for a morning of writing, and you get a free coffee if you have a Booth's card. Win!
Writing is a solitary business - how do you interact with other authors?
One day I'm going to try and draw a diagram of my writing connections. It'll be a bit like the map of the Tube, I reckon, with all of the interconnecting routes. I did an MA a few years ago, and I still meet up with the fellow students from that. I'm in two writing groups, one I meet with monthly to critique chapters, chat and eat cake, the other I go on two retreats a year with, for writing and all-round creative sharing. I'm also in a group with other writers who were first published after they turned forty. We have a Facebook group for chatting and sharing grumbles and ideas and opportunities plus we all meet up a couple of times a year. I also teach one morning a week at Manchester Metropolitan University. Oh, and my boyfriend is a writer. Sometimes the hard bit is deciding to stop interacting so that I can get some writing done...
How supportive are local communities to your writing, and are there ever any opportunities for book shops, local reading groups, or libraries to be involved in promoting your work?
The North West has some brilliant independent bookshops. Two that spring to mind are Ebb & Flo in Chorley and WriteBlend in Liverpool, both of which have a fabulous series of events going on all year round. Working with libraries is great wherever you are. I've had some lovely sessions with library-based book clubs, and getting to know your local librarians means that they are much more likely to put your book out on one of their promotional racks! Oh, and the local newspaper will always pop something in if you contact them, for instance around publication day. I did a lot of getting out there and talking with people when my first book came out, less so as I've settled into writing the next one. People I know are all interested though, they're always asking how the next book is coming along.
|Credit: Marc Melander|
Find out more about Sarah and her writing by visiting her website by clicking here
Follow on Twitter @sarahontheboat
Huge thanks to Sarah for answering my questions about living and writing in the North West
I hope that you've enjoyed reading this Close to Home feature
Coming next week : Caroline James