Welcome to the two hundred and forty-second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with short story author and novelist Sarah England. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello Sarah. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Sarah: Hi, I’m Sarah England and I live in Dorset. I started telling stories when I was about 5 but only came to write them down after I became an old crone living in the roots of a tree swigging gin and calling out obscenities to passing builders. I like comedy and I like psychological horror – probably because I used to be a nurse before morphing into a sales rep and slowly losing my mind.
Morgen: I love your humour – we’re going to get on well. 🙂 What genre do you generally write?
Sarah: I mostly write short stories for magazines, newspapers and various anthologies. I’ve tried all sorts from twists in the tale, to spine-chillers to romance, but best of all I like to make people laugh or at least smile. Or scream…. Tee hee…
Morgen: 🙂 What have you had published to-date?
Sarah: I have had over 100 short stories published to date – mostly in magazines like Woman’s Weekly and My Weekly, Take a Break and Yours. But also That’s Life in Australia and a few newspapers like the Sunday Telegraph and The Sunday Post. I’ve had several stories included in anthologies too – Mosaic by Bridge House Publishing, which is available as a paperback or on Kindle, and Global Shorts which includes one of my comedies – She Wanted to Complain. I have finished my first novel – a comedy – ‘Expected’, for which I’m looking for an agent.
Morgen: Yay. One of your short stories is actually in the latest (yesterday’s) Weekly News – how timely is that? 🙂 What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Sarah: My first acceptance was from a lovely man called Dan McDaid on the My Weekly team. I’d sent in an emotional story of 2000 words and he loved it. I smiled all day. That smile had to last a long time…
Morgen: Oh dear… that sounds like my next question is very apt: whether you have had any rejections and if so, how do you deal with them?
Sarah: Loads. I could wallpaper the downstairs loo with them. I used to screw up the rejection letter and throw it at the wall but I’m grown up now.
Morgen: 🙂 If you’d put glue on the back you could have wallpapered the wall as you threw it. 🙂 Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Sarah: I think competition success boosts the writer’s confidence but can also crush it so don’t enter until you are able to be realistic about your writing and can take a critique. Ouch!
Morgen: Ouch indeed. I still like to win (and be shortlisted) but am resigned to the fact that if I’m not placed then I still have the story (often written especially) to send somewhere else. Do you have an agent?
Sarah: No but I want one!!
Morgen: Let’s hope one (or more) is reading this. Do you read eBooks?
Sarah: I personally like to hold a paperback and hope that ‘Expected’ will be available in both formats.
Morgen: That would be lovely. 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Sarah: I’ve had to climb a steep learning curve in the tail end of 2011. Everything is changing for writers and with the success of Kindle we are doing the writing, the formatting, the editing and the marketing. It detracts from writing though and I would love someone to do it for me – hence the need for an agent and an editor. I’m rubbish at self-promotion and the brand of Sarah England is taking some pushing from the rear end. However, I now have a website – http://www.sarahengland.yolasite.com and I have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a Google profile and an author profile on Amazon. I’m also doing blogs like this and a blog tour. Phew!
Morgen: Tiring but rewarding (even if only more mentally than financially). If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Sarah: Oh what an amazing thought. Sam Sweet would have to be a buxom, spirited red head – no not a horse – an unknown actress who would make her name! I’d like to do that for someone. Any leading actors would have to be on the casting couch I’m afraid – Brad Pitt, Rob Lowe, Colin Firth – mmm – they’d all have to be on it!
Morgen: Definitely Colin out of those but then I’ve not read your book (yet) so maybe I’d pick someone completely different (as Brad, Rob and Colin are really). What are you working on at the moment / next? Do you manage to write every day?
Sarah: I write something every day. I’m currently torn between another book and more stories for magazines ie between the brand of Sarah England and actually getting paid…..
Morgen: I have that dilemma to look forward to. 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it?
Sarah: I walk away from writer’s block and go shopping.
Morgen: Retail therapy, I like it. 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Sarah: The characters come into my head and take on a life. I cannot plot because I’m not that clever.
Morgen: I don’t either. I’d say more of my interviewees have said they don’t plot so you don’t need to be so hard on yourself. 🙂 You mentioned characters, do you have a method for creating them, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Sarah: I take my characters from people I have known, stories heard, articles read, news items etc. In essence they are always real. I see them and know them. I then pass them over to you.
Morgen: And for that, we’re very grateful (I have over 20 of your magazine short stories – I hoard them (over 3,000 in all) for research). 🙂 Have you written any non-fiction or poetry?
Sarah: I have done a couple of articles but fiction is where the heart is.
Morgen: Me too, unless it’s writing non-fiction articles about fiction. 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Sarah: I do a lot of editing. Sometimes the typos are hilarious. Eg ‘She turned shite with fear.’ Instead of White of course…..
Morgen: Oops. I used to work for a chocolate company (a dream job for some) and dealt with some of the customer complaints (I was Sales Secretary) and remember almost sending out a letter to someone enclosing a ‘git’ (gift) box. 🙂 Do you have to do much research?
Sarah : I did a lot of research for my short horror story on ether books. ‘3am and Wide Awake’ is based on a true case history where the psychiatrist hypnotises a highly disturbed patient. After my best friend had read it I told her it was true and she freaked – didn’t sleep for 3 nights! Tee hee. Ether Books are on http://www.etherbooks.com. The ether app is free and the story is 69p. Basically you get a 15 minute story onto your iphone or pod/pad – a great concept for while you’re on the tube, bus, train or waiting in a queue. I’ve 4 stories on there at the moment and also an interview.
Morgen: I’ve heard Ether mentioned a few times recently (including by former interviewee Gary Dooley) and it sounds like a great idea. Do you listen to music when you write or do you need silence?
Sarah: Total quiet!
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Sarah: I tried 2nd person but it bombed. The catch with first person is repeating the word ‘I’ so you have to be inventive – that’s the beauty of editing of course. You don’t want to bore yourself to death – I, I, I……However, I like first person best because you are right in the person’s head and hopefully the reader is there with you.
Morgen: It is the most direct. It’s a shame about second person because I love it. Maybe you could try again? It’s my favourite point of view (although editors tend not to like it) and I’m putting a collection of it together (from which The Dark Side comes). Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Sarah: Oh God loads – I’ve got masses of crap stuff if anyone wants it.
Morgen: I’m sure there would be loads of (lazy) writers who’d jump at that. 🙂 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Sarah: My favourite thing is when a reader likes my story. My least favourite thing is self-promotion because it’s so embarrassing. How do celebs do it? Ego? I think mine got lost in the wash.
Morgen: Now there’s an image. 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Sarah: Edit ruthlessly and take critique!
Morgen: Absolutely. Put out the best writing that you can and always listen to (you can still disagree) with a second opinion, invariably they’re telling you what a reader will think but you get to change something before it gets to that stage. What do you like to read?
Sarah: I’m currently reading Susan Hill’s ghost story ‘The Small Hand’. I like anything that makes me freak, or makes me laugh, or makes me work at finding out who did it. I also love the classics – Jane Eyre, Far from the Madding Crowd, and Rebecca.
Morgen: I have a couple of Susan Hill’s novellas on my reading pile, I’m looking forward to getting to them. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Sarah: ‘Kindness is a universal language. The deaf can hear it. The blind can see it.’ Mother Teresa.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Sarah: I have a very lively spaniel who needs walking (running after) and a husband who needs cooking for, friends who need coffee and a penchant for wall to wall shopping.
Morgen: You’re lucky, my dog (a Jack Russell-cross) is a plodder (stop/sniff/stop…). Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
Sarah: I use http://writethismoment.com for a small fee – this lists all the publishers looking for stuff. I also use Facebook writing groups where we swap info and keep each other going!
Morgen: Isn’t it great. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Sarah: Oh it’s scary. I think a lot more online but how does a reader know what’s good or not? It needs sorting out.
Morgen: I think it’ll be down to reviews as authors can only have so many friends, and word of mouth (Twitter, Facebook etc). Interesting times indeed. Finally, where’s the best place to find out more about you and your writing?
Sarah: My website http://www.sarahengland.yolasite.com.
Morgen: Brilliant. Thank you so much Sarah, it’s been a joy chatting with a fellow short story writer. 🙂
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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