This week’s interviewee is Sara Bailey, whose debut novel, Dark Water, has recently been published by Nightingale Editions to great reviews (and it is in my pile for reading soon!). Based on Orkney, Sara’s work is influenced by the island’s rich history and geography, and she has a wonderfully down-to-earth take on dealing with the ups and downs of the writing life and very good sense of humour – I think you’ll like this one!
Welcome to the Book Diner! Can we take your order – coffee, tea or soda? Eggs sunny side up or over easy? Home fries, French toast or biscuit?
Hot tea, please. Eggs poached, toast – lovely – thank you!
When did you realise you were a writer?
Still struggling with that one, I think. I am not really sure what a ‘writer’ is. Sometimes I think it is a mythical beast that we are all trying to emulate, but we’re not quite sure what it looks like. I wanted to be read since I could write and I wanted to tell stories since I was first read stories as a child.
I am not really sure what a ‘writer’ is. Sometimes I think it is a mythical beast that we are all trying to emulate, but we’re not quite sure what it looks like. I wanted to be read since I could write and I wanted to tell stories since I was first read stories as a child.
Are there particular symptoms you think people should look out for if they suspect they may be coming down with Writer Syndrome and do you think there is any cure?
It is very serious. A desire to hide in rooms with a pen and paper is one thing to look out for. Gazing out of windows for long periods of time (often accompanied by chewing a pencil), daydreaming, talking to yourself, going for long walks and talking to the dog.
No, there is no cure. Give the patient time, space and a lot of sympathy. Because if they feel they are getting over it they are going to feel even worse.
Can you tell us about your latest project?
Writing my second novel, chewing pencils, daydreaming, talking to the dog on long walks – see above – there’s a pattern emerging here.
Last year two men went missing on a local loch while fishing and while one was found quite quickly it took a while to find the other body. It made me think, what if they found someone completely different, someone unexpected? Then I changed the loch and the initial incident and I had the opening of this book.
It was the wrong body, they found. Washed ashore after seven days but still identifiable. A woman’s body. Not the man they were looking for.
I am constantly inspired by where I live. Orkney is wild and beautiful and unexpected and full of history. Because it is an island, it has its own quirks too.
Can you talk to us about one or two of the characters from your latest work? How do your characters emerge?
My main character is an incomer – I think that it helps to have an outsider’s point of view when writing about Orkney and, as an outsider myself, I guess that it is as close as I get to an authorial voice.
There’s a character in the book called Dougie who I love because he is everything I dislike about certain types of men – misogynistic, grumpy and always right. But he has a softer side to him as well, he is fiercely loyal and, as it turns out, brave.
Characters appear pretty much fully formed when I write them. I have no idea where they come from. The voices in my head?
Is there a particular theme or message you’d like readers to take away from this book?
I guess that actions always have consequences. However far you think you’ve run from them or however much time has passed.
What kind of writing process do you have? Are you very disciplined in terms of having a set work routine and doing a lot of planning, or are you more of a pantster? (You fly by the seat of them – Zinkologism.)
I am an out and proud pantser. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t and that I could plan it all out meticulously. But I’m worried that if I did that I’d get bored quickly and not want to write the book.
I am not disciplined until I get to a certain point in the book, then it is a case of all bets are off and nothing else gets done – I’m in and I’m not sure when I’m coming out.
Do you write longhand or on a computer or both? Do you believe that writing method makes a difference to style?
I write straight onto the computer. I have terrible handwriting and can never read notes I leave for myself. So I do everything on the computer. However, I write the first draft on a laptop and then print out and edit on the desktop.
How do you approach research?
I sidle up to it with a fresh piece of mackerel. [Hee, hee.]
I tend to put XXX in place in the manuscript while I am writing if I need to look something up. [Me too!] Then I go and find an expert or visit the place and make unintelligible notes and take bad photographs.
How do you deal with autobiographical elements in your work? Do you worry about offending people or baring your soul too much?
It is inevitable that there will be autobiographical elements in my work. I wrote it, so I am in it to an extent. I used to worry about it a lot, but less so now.
I hope I don’t offend anyone, but at the end of the day I am writing fiction – so it is all lies anyway.
What’s your editing process?
Torturous with red pen all over the place, gnashing of teeth, rending of garments – a horrible painful process. Well, that’s not actually true. I used to hate it, but now I have grown to enjoy the honing and crafting of a book. It is really just a case of rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
Name one book you wish you had written and explain why it’s fabulous.
The book I am reading at the moment is one of many I wish I had written. It is called Wolf Border and Sarah Hall is such an amazingly descriptive writer that I feel as if I’m becoming a better writer just by reading her.
What advice would you offer to writers just starting out?
Do not drink while writing – bit like driving, it is dangerous to yourself and others.
Also, get a pet. You need an appreciative and unbiased audience and something to keep your feet warm. I recommend a dog.
What would you say are the toughest things and the best things about being a writer?
Getting the words down of a first draft. Some days it is like pulling teeth and others it’s the easiest thing in the world. Trouble is, the days it is easy are the days you probably have to edit the most.
Best things – doing interviews like this and talking to people who have read your book. I get ridiculously excited if someone comes up to me and tells me they liked my book – I want to take them home with me and keep them. Apparently, this is a bad idea (the woman at the hairdressers is still in recovery). [I’m similar – watch out, readers!]
How do you handle the rejections and bad reviews all writers experience?
Rejection is horrible. Chocolate, duvet, dog. I cry very easily, so a big box of tissues is helpful.
Bad reviews – I try to see it from their point of view. Sometimes, it is because they had different expectations. Sometimes, they just didn’t like it. There’s nothing you can do. I don’t like liquorice. It doesn’t mean it is a bad thing.
How do you deal with the Inner Critic who likes to tell us our work is worthless.
I beat her daily, bribe her with chocolate and biscuits and promise to do better.
There is nothing you can do about the bitch inside you, except accept that she’s there and get on with it. It is like that disapproving relative or mother who asks you if you really think red is your colour or why have you done that with your hair? You have to keep the faith that what you are doing is going to be OK and, even if it isn’t, it is still yours and you will do your best by it.
There is nothing you can do about the bitch inside you, except accept that she’s there and get on with it. It is like that disapproving relative or mother who asks you if you really think red is your colour or ‘Why have you done that with your hair?’ You have to keep the faith that what you are doing is going to be OK and, even if it isn’t, it is still yours and you will do your best by it.
What are your feelings about the growth in self-publishing? Would you advise emerging writers to self-publish or pursue a traditional book deal?
I like the growth of self-publishing and I think it is a good thing if you can do it and that’s what you want to do. There’s a whole heap of work involved that isn’t writing, which is what put me off going in that direction myself. But it works for lots of people. I would not advise one thing or the other, only the individual knows what works for them.
Who has offered you the most encouragement and support in terms of your writing career?
Can I say my dog, Molly? Apart from her, my husband, Les – who has a very matter of fact approach. Write it, publish it. He used to build houses, so I see his point – you don’t build something and then just leave it empty.
Jacqui Lofthouse is my other massive support – she published me and has been wonderful in her encouragement and support and all round amazingness. [Jacqui is also one of my mentors!]
If you could fly off to any era on The Book Diner Magic Time Travel Banquette, where would you go and why?
Now – so many brilliant books being written right now.
If you could write anywhere in the world for a while, where would you head?
I am sorry to disappoint, but I would stay right here in Orkney. I love it here. This is my home and my inspiration. I am incredibly lucky.
Complete the following sentences. Life is like … I am like … Writing is like …
Life is like … wow, man, so unexpected.
I am like the little engine that could – constantly puffing up the hill.
Writing is like shedding a skin – painful, beautiful and just a weird thing to do.
If you could choose to have a different creative gift, what would it be?
Dance. In another life (and a different body,) I would have been a ballet dancer.
What plans have you got for future projects and events?
Finish this book then write the next. Hope to do some festivals and meet more writers and readers.
Where can people find out more about you and your work?
Nightingale Editions and my website Scribblingwoman.com
Is there anything else we can get you?
Some very crispy bacon would be lovely, thanks.
Do you have any questions for The Book Diner?
What time do you close? [Like my fave show, CSI:Miami, we never close!]