Sara Sheridan is Edinburgh born and bred (which may be why I felt an instant affinity with her as it is home to my much loved Scottish family and where my husband grew up). Her web site says she wrote her first book, Truth or Dare, on an impulse in 1998! She is now a very successful author and her 8th novel has just been published, Secret of the Sands.
(Update, new book alert, Brighton Belle is in the shops now!)
Jane: Sara, with your 8th novel currently hitting the streets, do tell us more about that impulsive first novel. Many of us have thoughts about writing and some of us even get as far as chapter one but you really went for it! Why then and where did your motivation come from?
Sara: Well it was a practical issue, really. I had separated from my husband and I had a 3 year old and I was working full time. I was exhausted! My best friend and I had a long chat and the best solution we could come up with was that I should start working at home so we made a long list of everything I might do. To be really honest, I thought that becoming a writer sounded easiest. That is, of course, completely mad.
Anyway, in the back of my mind, was that I could take a year and write a book (or say I was writing a book) and I’d just get some breathing space – even though I’d be broke. So, I quit my job (everyone thought it was nuts) and well, I started writing. And I discovered I loved it. I was incredibly lucky and sold that book (I often feel guilty when I meet people who had to try for ten years to sell something – for me it was a matter of months). I’ve been doing it ever since.
Jane: Going back just a few years, what was Sara the child like? Did you have a vivid imagination? Were there any early signs of the writer you were to become? What did you want to be when you ‘grew up’?
My mother tells this story of coming into my room one morning and drawing the curtains to get me up from school and I crawled across the covers moaning I couldn’t go in that day. I’d been reading Heidi and had decided I had the same disease as Clara and that it would be best if she sent me to Switzerland. Poor Mum, she knew she had trouble on her hands! I expect though she thought I’d be an actress rather than a writer.
To be honest, I wasn’t a happy child and what I really wanted to be when I grew up, was loved. I should clarify that my parents did love me, but we had communication issues. Anyway, I had no career or anything like that in mind. Being loved and feeling it was the thing.
Jane: You have had a love hate relationship with food, which many of us can identify with. In your case, it became quite serious for a time. Why do you think that was, and how did you overcome that?
Sarah: God yes! I was a teenage bulimic. That ties in with what I’ve just said because the one thing I did that made my parents happy was eat, so I ate a lot and then felt ill and ended up becoming bulimic. Lots of the women in my family have food issues of one kind or another. It’s just there in our family. I got out of it by growing up, I suppose. I was lucky. My boyfriend (who I later married) noticed I was making myself sick. He was the first person ever to notice or to really care. He took care of me and empowered me to get better, really. I’m still very grateful to him for that.
You have a daughter of your own now. In the light of your experiences how have you helped her cope with expectations of women in society?
I am so proud of my daughter, Molly. She’s 19 now and just left home to study last year. We are very close. I think having a child is one of the most difficult, awful and most healing and wonderful things I ever did. The whole focus of my parenting (and I would never claim to be the ideal parent – I’m cookie, let’s face it) is to keep the communication as good as it can possibly be. Just to be honest, I suppose. It’s worked for us – we get on very well.
You went to Trinity, Dublin to study English literature. When you left full time education did you have a plan in mind? What were your early aspirations?
When I left full time education I was already married! My ex-husband loved the west coast of Ireland and we moved there. On an impulse we found this great property and set up an art gallery and bistro. We had no idea what we were doing! It worked (for him anyway) as he still works in the food industry. I learnt I like big cities and words…
Who has been the most influential person in your life and why?
That’s a difficult question because there is more than one hero in my life. I love my godmother, Sarah. She’s just amazing – open-minded and radical and genuine. My partner, Alan, who is a rock through good times and bad – I appreciate him a lot (especially having had some not so great boyfriends over the years). Professionally, there are lots of people who have had an influence – Sandy McCall Smith whose career is simply inspirational for example. Or TC Boyle – he’s an American writer – whose novel ‘Water Music’ made me decide to write historical fiction.
What is your favourite place in the world to chill out, and to write?
Home! I work at home. I have a desk these days but I used to lie in bed with my laptop to write or sit at the kitchen table.
How easy was it to get that first book published?
Far too easy! Honestly, I feel guilty about it. I knew nothing about publishing and I knew nobody in publishing. I blundered my way in – just sent off the book to everybody who looked relevant in the Writers and Artists Yearbook. Lucky it was a good manuscript and I got an offer early on (I’d probably have moved onto something else, if it hadn’t worked relatively easily). Then I got an agent off the back of that and I was on my way.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of embarking on a writing career?
It is a massively competitive and difficult field and right now it’s in a state of flux. You need to be pragmatic, work hard and be open-minded in your career choices. It’s also a great job!
What has been the best piece of advice ever given to you?
Hmmm. The advice was: Don’t over-react. I’m prone to that. When my daughter was a mid-teenager she rebelled in a big way and my best friend said ‘don’t over-react. If you can keep your perspective she’ll be over this by the time she’s 20. If you over-react she won’t forgive you for ten years.’ She was right.
Your do a lot of historical research for your novels; if you could choose one time to live in, other than now, which would it be, and why?
Well, as long as I could be rich – because poor people had it very rough – and healthy (you didn’t want to get sick) I’d choose the late 1700s. Pre-industrial and at the tail end of the Scottish Enlightenment. The Empire was just starting. That was a really interesting time to be around – stimulating and exciting. And (oh my) – the frocks!
Sara, thank you so much. I am reading Secret of the Sands and it’s a corker. You’re a brilliant story teller. Good career choice!
Posted on February 24th, 2011 by Jane