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18 February 2021

Sarah Lawton: ‘Find your tribe – writing can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be’

Sarah Lawton, author
by Katie Smart Author Interviews, From Our Students, Writing Tips

Sarah Lawton has taken several online writing courses with us, including the full How to Write Your Novel series, Writing a Psychological Thriller and our selective-entry three-month Writing Your Novel course. She is now represented by Curtis Brown literary agent Felicity Blunt. Her debut psychological thriller All the Little Things is to be published by Canelo in March 2021.

We caught up with Sarah to find out more about the inspiration behind her debut, how she got an agent and her time studying with us…

You’ve taken a variety of our six-week online courses including our How to Write Your Novel courses. What did you enjoy most about studying on these courses?

As a self-confessed procrastinator (it took me more than twenty years to even *try* writing fiction) I found that the best thing about doing the courses for me was the sense of obligation they gave me – I’ve paid for these, I have to do them, I have to write. And I did – I mean, the materials, feedback and teaching are top class, but for me the kick up the bum and holding myself to account, that was priceless.

You also joined us for a three-month online Writing Your Novel course in 2020. What were the biggest lessons that you took away from your tutor Cathi Unsworth?

That anything can be fixed. I’d written myself into a complete hole by thinking I needed to kill off a character, and while I loved the scenes, I didn’t realise that it had been the wrong thing to do and the reason that I was stuck was because the book needed her to be alive. So I un-killed her, and she became like Schrodinger’s cat – alive in one draft and dead in another. Cathi was easily the best tutor I’ve had on any of the courses I’ve done – incredibly generous with her time and feedback, and completely brilliant at devising us little writing exercises every week.

Many of our students find their writing community on our courses – are you still in touch with any of your course mates?

Yes, lots! I’ve collected people like precious gems as I’ve gone along, at least a couple from each course. I’m still in a Teams group with all of the people from the three-month course, and it’s lovely hearing about where they are and offering support and cheerleading. Writing is an entirely solitary endeavour – it all comes from within yourself, so for me it’s vital to have friends who know what it’s like, and who are, handily, also excellent readers and clever commentators. They’re treasure, they really are.

After studying with us you gained representation from Curtis Brown’s Felicity Blunt. Now your debut All the Little Things is to be published by Canelo. How did you feel when Felicity delivered the news that you were going to be published?

It’s funny, really. It had been a long submission, and I thought it wasn’t going to happen at all, so when we had the offer from Canelo it didn’t really seem real – it still doesn’t! Originally the book was set to be digital first, which is Canelo’s usual business model, but then Felicity forwarded me an email from them saying that they were pushing their print model, and did I want to be printed straight away as well as getting the e-book. Er, yes! I cried. All I wanted was an actual, real book in my hands, and that’s happening. I received some advance reading copies the other day and I can’t stop looking at them. I can’t wait to see the finished articles with the amazing cover design.

All the Little Things is a gripping psychological thriller with a mother-daughter relationship at its heart. What first inspired you to write this story?

Not my own relationship with my mother, I promise! I think the family unit has endless potential for intrigue – I love domestic noir with a passion. My inspiration was just a question that developed. At first, I wondered what it would take to break up a seemingly tight familial relationship, how an outsider might set about it. Then I thought, why would anyone want to do something like that to a family? What might they have done to deserve it? Which led to one of my characters leading me down a dark path – I blame her entirely for all of it.

Do you have any words of wisdom for the aspiring authors reading this?

Find your tribe – writing can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. Oh, and do the CBC Edit & Pitch course – you might think you’ve finished your novel ready to send to agents or to self-publish, but believe me, you probably haven’t! I’m convinced Felicity signed me because of the additional work I did on All The Little Things on that course before I submitted, it’s brilliant, and I still use the same techniques with all my writing today.

What does a typical writing day look like for you?

Depends what’s going on the wider world, but usually, once everyone else is sorted out, I find somewhere to curl up with my laptop and I read through a couple of already written chapters, and then I try and get out at least a thousand new words. These are fuelled by a lot of tea and some surreptitious biscuits. I usually get the best writing done between 10-12, but if I’m on a roll I can go all day. I always make time for reading too, because there’s endless inspiration and lessons to be found in other people’s words. I’m currently binging on Jane Harper’s novels; her sense of place is second to none.

Finally, what’s next for your writing journey?

Trying to figure out the best project to work on… not an easy one, but hopefully once a decent idea takes root, the next book will come. I have a few floating around, but I haven’t quite managed to catch one… yet.

Pre-order All the Little Things by Sarah Lawton, out 25 March 2021.

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