Monday, 4 April 2011

Interview with Sara Sheridan

Spring has arrived in my part of the world, and it's making me feel very energetic and blissful to see everything in bloom. And in the spirit of feeling blissful, I've brought you a delightful interview with a wonderful writer. Let's all welcome Sara Sheridan.

Hi, Sara. Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in Edinburgh in 1968 and went to an all-girl school with little to recommend it except great English and History teachers. I went on to read English at Trinity College in Dublin and after a short stint running an art gallery and restaurant in Galway I came back to Edinburgh in 1991. I now sit on the Society of Authors Committee for Scotland which is one of my more energetic activities!

Just as a sidenote, I absolutely love Scotland. I've been there twice and would definitely go back again. So, how long have you been writing?

I started to write about 15 years ago. I was getting divorced and was having difficulty looking after my daughter (who was very small at the time) and working in an office job and well, just coping. I wanted to work from home and came up with this crazy idea of being a novelist. Honestly, I am the luckiest girl out. Initially I thought of it as a career break. Anyway, I wrote my first book (Truth or Dare) in three or four months, sent it off and a few weeks later had my first offer. I've been writing ever since. I know. It's appalling! I feel guilty but I haven't looked back and I think it's the best job in the world (for me, anyway!)

I would love to hear about SECRET OF THE SANDS. What’s the story about?

It's set in the 1833 - the heyday of the British Empire and the year slavery was abolished. The story is based on three letters I found in the John Murray Archive in the National Library of Scotland that were from a young Lieutenant in the Bombay Marine (the Indian Navy) James Raymond Wellsted. He befriended the Sultan of Oman and was given permission to venture inland to the desert. He was the first European to do so and as he was a surveyor he realised there was oil there. I also used a character that Wellsted mentions only once (but in an intriguing fashion) - an Abyssinian slave girl who takes the trip with him. I wanted to evoke the souk, the desert, the harshness of life and also the clash of cultures - it's really my favourite thing! I had great fun with it too - I have an Irish woman who gets shipwrecked and sold into slavery but she falls in love and marries her master. I have a crazy Emir who kidnaps an English exploratory mission. Oh - stop me! If you don't I'll just keep going and I'll give it all away.

Sounds intriguing! How did the idea of the story come to you?

The letters I found sparked it and then I went on to do quite a bit of research into Wellsted, the Bombay Marine and the Middle East during the period. It grew.

What’s the hardest part of writing for you?

Honestly - I don't find writing difficult per se. I really enjoy it. If there is part of a writer's job that's tough it's handing it over to the publisher. That's when you lose control (and me, I'm a control freak). If there is a writing challenge, then finding the right voice in which to tell the story - that's probably it. You have to get that right from the start because it's very difficult to change once you're embarked. Secret of the Sands was a third person story with a slightly knowing tone. My last historical book was in the first person - that was just the way the story came across best.

Any tips you’ve learned about writing you’d like to share?

I'd say that you need to read a lot because that's where you spot how to best represent different voices and situations. I'd also say that you have to get on with it - it's hard work but doing the work is a lot more satisfying than, well, hanging about and talking about it. Also I can't stress enough the value of a professional editor - they're priceless. That is a huge learning curve - working with a professional editor really raises your game.

You really enjoy the community side of writing, don't you?

Definitely. I'm always getting involved in that! As I mentioned, I'm on the committee of the Society of Authors in Scotland (where I live). We also have some fabulous institutions that will stage writers events. Last year I spoke at the National Library of Scotland about the importance of reading and staged also took part in a project at the V&A in London which took 26 writers and used their responses to 26 objects to tell the story of British history. It was called 26Treasures and I wrote my first poem since school for it. When I arrived at the V&A to see the exhibition (which took the form of a treasure trail) my poem was two up from Andrew Motion's contribution. I almost died! This year I'll be taking part in an exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland and I'll also be on at the Edinburgh Book Festival. I love communicating about history and stories on all levels - not only through books. You should search me on YouTube - I'm always spouting forth!

Let’s get to know you on a deeper level. What do you absolutely have to have nearby when writing?

Well I can work almost anywhere so it's not associated with a particular place for me or having any particular books or anything like that. I prefer to type (I'm fast) so my laptop and preferably an internet connection. That's it. It's an occupation of the mind!

If you could have any super power, what would it be?

I do have a superpower! I can read really quickly. Not Google Scan quickly, but still, pretty fast. I'm also very organised (it's that control thing). In terms of Magical Superpower (cos that's what you mean) Hmmm... mind control! I'd love to be able to do mind control. Scary but true.

Yes! That's my choice too. It would come in so handy.

Quick writing test! Use the following words in a sentence: brandy, kaleidescope, and investigation.

Dr Stuart sighed and took a sip of brandy before he continued his investigation - it was a cold night and when Martha returned she would want to sit by the fire mesmerised by the movement of the kaleidescope, and if he wanted to please her he had to finish it in time.

Here’s the part where you thank the people who are supporting you. Let's hear your shout outs.

Oh thank you for letting me do that! I have, of course, a lot of people to thank. It doesn't take a village to publish a book - it takes an army. Firstly my family who are very patient (writers are quite, quite mad). My fiance, Alan, is tremendously kind - a real rock - and my daughter Molly is fabulous. Professionally my agent, Jenny, is a star. She's always available, absolutely on side and has a burning belief when I come up with crazy ideas that I'll pull them off. I also have a couple of undercover mentors - writers who are at a more advanced stage in their careers and kindly give me a bit of time now and then to share their experience. That's really important. Then there are the archivisits, librarians, specialists and geeks who help me when I want to find out something esoteric and eccentric (I spent a week finding out about Arabian horses for Secret of the Sands, for example, and how they were first imported to Europe). Other times it's about clothing or the kind of words that were fashionable in different periods. People are enormously generous and regularly point me in the right direction. And last of all there are the readers who write or tweet or whatever to tell me what they think. I love it when people come up after events for a chat. Recently I gave a library talk and a guy came up and said he didn't think he'd like my books (the covers, you see, are pink and have girls on the front) but hell, they were riproaring adventures. That cheered me up for days afterwards. How generous of him to bother to let me know.

That's awesome! Finally, where can people find you and your books online?

I love online. I've actually blogged about writers and technology recently and it got a great response: I'm on twitter @sarasheridan and have a website and of course you can buy my books on Amazon (please, do!).

Sara, thank you so much for letting us get to know you. Your book sounds great and I wish you the best of luck.


Gina said...

Oh all this talk of travel has me craving a vacation escape. Seriously! Definite travel envy. ^_^ Sound like writing came out of necessity at first but you took to it naturally. Nice recommendation for authors to be, reading is essentially research for techniques...and one I've heard echoed a few times. Wow, a speed reader...I could definitely use that "super" power....not so sure about the mind control though. O_O
Nice job on the writing test....and great post! Thanks for the share ladies...happy reading.

Dorothy Dreyer said...

Thanks, Gina! :)