We caught up with Sara to find out more about the inspiration behind her debut, how she met her writing group on our course and her advice for aspiring authors…
You were a student on our Writing Your Novel course in 2014. How did your time studying with us impact your approach to writing?
I was a student on the third six-month novel writing course in 2014. Unlike the MA I’d already completed, the CBC course gave a clear insight into the world of publishing. Christopher Wakling was a great teacher, and the writers were very supportive of each other. Learning to read critically would shape my future career. We covered the technical side of writing and I learned even more about the craft working as an editor at bluepencilagency. I think that CBC’s best lesson was teaching us to read as a writer, getting us to understand how fiction works and understanding your audience. Anna was very approachable and I have fond memories of my time there.
What is one piece of advice from your tutor that has stuck with you?
Whatever you read will inspire you but it won’t change your voice, your voice is your own.
Many of our students find a real community on our courses – are you still in touch with any of your coursemates?
Yes, there are eight of us who have remained in touch. Before lockdown, we saw each other roughly every two weeks in Waterstones, Piccadilly. This group has been the best thing that’s happened to me as a writer. Even in lockdown we continue to workshop and support each other.
Your debut novel Mothering Sunday is out now from Orion. Could you tell us a bit more about your novel and the inspiration behind it?
Based in the ’60s, the novel tells the story of Kitty Campbell who escapes a mother and baby home with her daughter, Alexandra, moments before she would have been forced to give her up. After a chance meeting with Bet, a mother who has recently lost her child and now runs a tea shop, Kitty leaves Alexandra on her doorstep. The novel covers the repercussions of that decision.
I was inspired by my own family history. My mother temporarily abandoned my sister and brother when they were young, and I didn’t know the true emotional repercussions of that abandonment until many years later. My mother was haunted by her mistake and although she tried to make amends, the initial wounds never quite healed.
I believe the effects of abandonment ripple through generations and I hadn’t realised how this affected me until I started writing. As a mother, I can’t imagine having to give up a child, but it happened to many women in the ‘50s and ’60 and still does.
Do you have any words of wisdom you’d like to share with aspiring authors?
Yes, learn technique such as POV, narrative distance, character arcs. These are all rules that should be used as tools. Also, learn to read as a writer and remember that the publishing world is a business. Find good, critical readers and be prepared to kill your darlings. It is true that writing is rewriting. (Ernest Hemingway)
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
I do an hour in bed before breakfast, either revising or writing down thoughts I’ve noted in the night. After breakfast, I walk the dog and then come back to a long day in my study. When working on my first draft I tend to write a thousand words or more a day. I try to read from five onwards and over the weekend. Reading is as much a part of a writer’s work as writing.
Finally, what is next for you and your writing journey?
I enjoy writing commercial women’s fiction and have another novel coming out with Orion in November, but I’ve also been working on something a little more literary and I’m co-writing a television script. Basically, I’m addicted to storytelling.
Get your hands on a copy of Mothering Sunday, the perfect read for Mother’s Day.
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