An interview with Sarah Collie about writing, location, language, and Not Stalking

I met Sarah online through a friend who brought me chocolate when I was feeling blue at Uni, and since she’s so much fun to PM it seemed the obvious next step to get her on here for an interview.  So, without further ado, guys … meet Sarah Collie!

the stunning Sarah Collie

the stunning Sarah Collie

You grew up in Oban, on the Scottish coast, and now live  in Yorkshire and about as far from the sea as you can get in the north  of England!  Has this shaped your writing in any way?  Do you notice a  difference between then and now linked to the change in culture,  scenery, and location?

I miss the sea enormously, it’s a strange thing to try to explain to anyone who hasn’t had that presence in their life.  You miss the smell, even on the ripe days of summer when it didn’t smell particularly pleasant… I think you don’t realise until it’s gone how there’s a sound, not loud but just there, a constant thing that I noticed was missing once I’d moved.

I lived in Australia for four years but I was near the ocean then as well, this is the first place I’ve ever lived where I can’t just walk there, it’s a 2 hour drive away.  I think moving around is good for writers, you experience new things and new cultures.  Even within the UK there is such a vast difference even down to how people talk.  I have to sometimes rethink how I ask questions or the words I use because people have no idea what I’m talking about, or how ideas of what is polite to ask or to say differ depending on where you are.

Making (what I thought was) polite conversation, I asked a person here recently if she lived in Huddersfield and she gave me a look that implied I was obviously considering stalking her, we worked it out but it was funny at the time.  I love that, because I notice that other people find it fascinating as well, try asking a person from Yorkshire why they’re looking “scunnered” and you’ll see what I mean.  I’m sure half the time they think I’m making them up.

Yep, same here.  The food differences are what tickle me the most – fruit cake and cheese in Yorkshire seems just as much an acquired taste as deep fried pizza with salt and vinegar in Scotland.  Anyway, before I soak my lap with drool, back to the writing!  You’re part of Holmfirth Writers’  Group.  Tell me a bit about how that came about, how you got involved,  what you gain from it as a writer, and if you’ve anything exciting lined up in the coming months.

Holmfirth Writers Group has been a fantastic experience for me, it’s very democratic although there is a committee who do a great job dealing with everything from meetings, to organising a spot on the local radio for us to do readings once a month. (I’ve included this link, the first story is mine read by a lovely fellow writer called Christina Longden http://www.twovalleysradio.co.uk/listenagain/holmfirth-writers-group-relationships/  )  we all take turns to volunteer to run workshops which works really well because there’s such a broad range of writers there.

The rule is constructive criticism only which I love.  They’re a really nice group anyway but it means that you feel comfortable sharing what you’ve written because you know that anything that they say is only to help you improve your writing.  I personally have come on a lot as a writer since I joined about two years ago and I’ve published a horror anthology ebook called “Souls of Darkness” with two of the other writers under a pen name.  I’d written for years but joining the group gave me the confidence to start putting my work out there and I’ve been really touched by the feedback I’ve received, which in turn has given me even more confidence!  I started actually telling people that I’m a writer and as a result that has led to more introductions and more opportunities, like this piece.

That’s great!  Have you had any key moments as a writer, times when everything has come together and helped you progress to the next stage?

A few years ago my writing started to get neglected because I had so much else going on in my life, I’d just moved house, got married and started a business very close together and I was working a lot of hours and sleeping whenever I wasn’t working.  Things happened in my life that changed absolutely everything and I suddenly had time when I couldn’t leave the house but I had time when I could write again, so I did.  It wasn’t exactly a fun time but it brought me back to my passion instead of focusing so much on running a business which I enjoyed for the ability to meet and talk to people but if I’m honest I didn’t love as a job anymore.  Circumstances made moving to England a necessity and without that I wouldn’t have found my writing group or progressed so quickly.  I feel much more confident sending off my stories now than I ever would have if I’d stayed in Oban, much as I loved it there.

Likewise – it’s freeing to start again, don’t you think?  Especially far from wherever you made the usual teenage mistakes (I know I made more than a few).  Have you been given any bad advice about writing?  Anything you think people should perhaps avoid, or only pay heed to in very limited situations?

I don’t think I’ve been given any bad advice to be honest, not yet anyway!  I’ve found that people are usually happy to see someone else succeed, I think it gives them hope, that’s how I feel when I hear about someone’s good news anyway.  I’ve found that the writers who I’ve met or talked to online are very supportive and encouraging, I hope that one day I can inspire and help someone else the way the people I’ve met have with me.

You’ve certainly been a wonderful sounding board and source of support (and chocolate) for me!  And definitely an inspiration.  What about good advice?  Do you have any suggestions to writers or those interested in writing?

“Be brave” I was so nervous about people sending me messages back saying ‘are you serious? Do you honestly think that you can write?’ but having a folder full of beautiful, imaginative and creative stories is no good unless you have the faith in yourself to send them out into the world to be read and enjoyed.  My grandmother wrote lovely poetry, a skill I did not inherit, but they stayed on scraps of paper or in notebooks and will never be read by anyone now which is sad.

Aw, that’s so sad!  Yes, definitely be brave.  It makes such a difference!  Do you have any favourite sites – for submissions, reading, inspiration, craft tips, etc?

I love reading the work at Pure Slush, and I was recently recommended a site called Literary Orphans which has some amazing writers.  I’m writing a piece just now that I’m hoping to submit, although it’s my first time so I’ll be happy just to have the confidence to send it off.  That in itself will be progress, if they like it then that’s even better!

I’m a big fan of both of them, too.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.  What have you achieved this year with your writing that you’re particularly  proud of or satisfied with, and how did this come about?

I started my first proper novel!  Everything I’d written before was a short story or a not so short story in some cases but I never had something that I felt strongly enough about to be able to see it as a full novel.  It started out of one of the writers workshops actually, the piece I wrote is now the opening scene but my mind couldn’t let it go.  I dreamt about it, I would have ideas for how to develop it at the most inappropriate times, like when I was driving or when I was in a meeting or doctors appointment.  I have a stationery fetish, I believe it’s common among writers, and I devoted a beautiful red leather notebook that my dad had given me a year before to notes for it.  I buy gorgeous notebooks but I won’t use them until I have something worthwhile to put in them.  Luckily I also have some lovely family and friends who feed my habit!

What did you do to celebrate?

Nothing… yet.  Once it’s finished, and I’ve sent it off to see if anyone else loves it as much as I do, I’ll probably return to Oban for a girls’ weekend with my friends.

Sounds fab!  What are your aims for 2013?  How do you propose reaching your goals?

Finish my novel is the main one.  Hmm, write, write and write some more?  To get some of my short stories published online.  Not getting distracted and to trust in myself more, I feel happiest when I write so to spend more time being happy.

Very best of luck for 2013, Sarah – hope to see your name up in links if not lights in the near future! 

Sarah writes a range of genres depending on her mood.  She contributed five stories to a ebook anthology of short stories along with two other authors under the pen name Louise Hunt called “Souls Of Darkness”. Sarah is working in her first full length novel under the working title of “The Beach In Winter”. She is currently studying for a degree in English Literature with the Open University.

You can find her blog and ask her about the potato connection here http://spud09.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1 and check out “Souls Of Darkness” here http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/B0088DCG4Y/ref=mp_s_a_1?qid=1356047239&sr=1-1

‘The Next Big Thing’ (and no, I don’t mean my belly)

Victoria Watson, author of the short story collection ‘Letting Go’, has kindly tagged me as one of the next writers in a blogging experience called The Next Big Thing – you can find out more about her here http://elementaryvwatson.wordpress.com/
Each featured author is sent ten questions about what full length projects they’re working on at the moment. Here are my answers – if you’ve any questions yourself, stick ’em in the comments section below and I’ll get right back to you.

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing

What is the working title of your book?

Well, I’m writing two at the moment as well as one with another writer which will be revealed in due course. ‘Fairer Prospects: the true story of the Victorian Titanic is a nonfiction book, and ‘An Unusual Darkness’ is a novel.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The nonfiction one presented itself to me a few years ago. I saw a small brass porthole in a museum, talked to an attendant, and was haunted by the tale of how it got there. Writing is the best way I can think of to exorcize this little known tragedy from my head. The fiction idea came from a heady mix of sleep deprivation as a new mum, a National Geographic advert on the TV, and reading lots of Roald Dahl as a kid (well, and as a big kid, too).

What genre does your book fall under?

‘Fairer Prospects’ could be classed as maritime nonfiction, history, and a tragic thriller. ‘An Unusual Darkness’ is a thriller set in the 1930s, so depending on the shop, site, or library it might be under historical fiction or thrillers or be cross-merchandised under both. But having said that, I don’t usually write with a specific genre in mind, I prefer to write the books I want to read.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’m tempted to say ones I’d like to get to know because they sound or look like interesting people (or they’re terribly attractive) so that’s exactly what I’ll do.
‘Fairer Prospects’ would suit, in my mind, Alan Rickman, Sean Hughes and Ed Byrne, and maybe Stephen Rea. I think Neve Mackintosh is fab and would be perfect, with Shalto Copley (‘District 9’), Sam Rockwell (‘Moon’), and Tim Robbins, too. Paul O’Grady would be fantastic in it – especially with his strong Liverpuddlian accent.

In ‘An Unusual Darkness’ I’d say Sean Penn or somebody like that for the lead adult role, but I’m stumped for the kids. To be honest, I get more into a movie – especially those based on books I like – if the actors are unknown or so good at getting into character that you see them as the character rather than going ‘ooh, doesn’t so-and-so do the 1930s outfits well!’

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

‘Fairer Prospects’ – Heroism and villainy, treasure and tragedy; the true story of the Victorian Titanic on land and at sea.

‘An Unusual Darkness’‘Lord Of The Flies’ meets ‘Jonah And The Whale’, with a liberal dash of ‘Jaws’.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

With the nonfiction one, I’m hoping to go with an established publisher I love the sound of who has a great track record and good attitude to new work and new authors. I gather it’s more acceptable to do this with NF publishers than it is with fiction publishers; if anybody has thoughts on this I’d love to read them in the comments below.

As for the novel, I’ve had some interest from an agent I like and respect, and an invitation to send the full MS once it’s finished and I fully intend doing so.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’m still in the process of working on them and sending the chapters to beta testers. ‘Fairer Prospects’ should be complete by the beginning of November, and I’m hoping ‘An Unusual Darkness’ will be done for spring. We’re moving house in a fortnight or I’d be happily thinking Hallowe’en and Christmas as endtimes. I’m really enjoying writing them, but there are boxes to pack and keep my 5 year old from emptying, and that’s temporarily getting in the way.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Oh, this is a tricky one – how to answer without sounding big-headed?  Please bear with me on this one!  In terms of structure, I’d say ‘Fairer Prospects’ – hmm, possibly ‘In The Heart Of The Sea’ by the amazing Nathaniel Philbrick (one of my favourite books). I’d be interested to hear what my beta-reader would compare it to as she’s coming to the story as reader, not writer. As for ‘An Unusual Darkness’ I’d refer you back to my pitch above. My literary mentor suggested ‘Life Of Pi’ by Yann Martel but I’ve not read it and don’t think I want to until I’ve completed at least the first draft, though my sister gave me a copy as she knows I love to read and write about the sea.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

An otherwise uneventful trip to a museum sparked the need to write ‘Fairer Prospects’. My favourite author, Jeremy Scott, read one of my first short stories from way back in 2010 and encouraged me to develop ‘An Unusual Darkness’ into a novel. I was already thinking about doing so, but to have my literary hero echo that desire was wonderful.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I think with ‘Fairer Prospects’ there’s something for everyone – adventure, romance, treasure, skulduggery, tragedy, miraculous escapes and falls from grace. There’s also the distinct possibility that a member of their family was affected by the key events in some way.

With ‘An Unusual Darkness’ there’s something for people who like to read about the sea, shipwrecks, tough decisions, survival, and treasure. It’s full of adventure and if you like strange but realistic fiction that will lurk in your head and distract you in meetings then this is for you.

This is probably the most difficult question to answer. Who knows what key event or tiny detail might be the tipping point that allows the reader to lose themselves in your book?

The five authors I’m passing the questions to are:

Joanna Delooze – http://bumblefingers.blogspot.com

Len Kuntz – http://lenkuntz.blogspot.com/

Matt Potter – http://sweetscrippen.blogspot.com.au/

Sarah Collie – http://spud09.blogspot.co.uk/

…and one more writer who’ll be announced shortly.