#MusicTherapyThursday #JessieWare #WildestMoments

 

I’m just starting what I hope will become my next novel, and one of the first steps for me is to build a soundtrack that creates the right emotions for the story.

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I go back to this soundtrack over and over as I write, as I find it helps me to keep the emotional feel of the story consistent.

I wrote about the playlist for my first novel, ‘Not Thomas’, in the post ‘Music to Make Me Cry’

My next playlist is quite different. This is one of the songs on the soundtrack for my latest writing project:

#JessieWare #WildestMoments #musiciwriteto

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

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Getting Started on a New Writing Project #WritingTips

Getting started on a new writing project

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Well, I can procrastinate no longer – the time has come for me to sit down and begin writing what will hopefully become my second novel.

I think I can hear my editor muttering “about time too” 70 miles away in Aberystwyth, and I don’t blame her. I’m a very slow writer. I need to have the story straight in my head before I’ll consider typing even one word, and percolating a story isn’t a quick process, well, not for me anyway. 

My first novel, Not Thomas, lived in my head for ten years or more, and it was fully formed before I began typing it up. My next story has been growing for around two years – so not very long, relatively speaking. It feels a little soon to begin typing, if I’m honest. 

And it’s a long, long time since I began writing a new novel – 16 years, to be precise.

I started Not Thomas in 2001 and wrote it incredibly slowly (my About Sara page explains why it took me so excruciatingly long) so I’m just a little bit out of practise. To help remind myself of all the things that are good to think about right at the start of the creative process, I thought I’d make this the theme of my blog for the next month or two.

So, to ease me gently into writing novel #2, here’s my first tip to myself for starting a new project:

Get a new notebook or two.

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I write very little long-hand, preferring to type straight onto my laptop, but I couldn’t be without a large A4 notebook. For me, it’s the very first thing needed for a new writing project – after getting the story all sorted in my head and ready to go, that is. And honestly, it’s not just an excuse to buy beautiful stationery – although buying beautiful stationery is one of my favourite pastimes. It’s a starting point, somewhere to commit ideas to paper, and get them out of my head.

I write my synopsis in one notebook, chosen especially for the project, usually spring-bound, so it’ll stay open all by itself on my kitchen table. I also use this notebook to jot down sentences that come to me in random fashion, character sketches and anything else that occurs to me when I’m cooking, washing up or writing something else. As I don’t tend to type up in order, I can just flick through the notebook to find inspiration and a section of the story to write about. 

And the little notebook stays in my handbag, so when I’m out and about I always have somewhere to jot down my thoughts.  

So that’s my starting point. I’d be really interested to hear what preparations you have for starting to write a new novel. What are your must-haves? Are you a procrastinator like me, or do you just dive right in? Drop me a line and let me know.

Diolch yn fawr and thanks for reading,

Sara x

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

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A Trio of Book Launches

 

It’s been an exciting summer and early autumn for Honno, the Welsh women’s press.

I’ve been to three Honno book launches – four, if I count my own launch for Not Thomas back in June.

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Helen with Judith Barrow

The first was in July for Helen Lewis’s The House with Old Furniture

It’s a contemporary ghost story set in Pembrokeshire, where Helen and her family live. As well as being a very atmospheric otherworldly story, it’s also a very perceptive novel about grief and what it can do to families, especially children. It’s Helen’s debut novel and I thoroughly recommend it.

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Judith with Christoph Fischer of Llandeilo – and me too

The second book launch, the following month, was for Judith Barrow’s fourth in her family saga series. It’s called A Hundred Tiny Threads .

The novel tells the background to some of the characters in Judith’s other books, so is an ideal introduction to the series, as well as a revelationary read for those who have read the first three. I’m reading A Hundred Tiny Threads at the moment, and I’m thoroughly enjoying losing myself in Judith’s wonderful storytelling. I just know I’ll have to re-read Pattern of Shadows when I’ve finished to remind myself what happened next; and then Changing Patterns and Living in the Shadows

So many books, so little time!

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Carol and me

And the final launch in this Honno trio was one I attended just last week. It was for Carol Lovekin’s second novel, Snow Sisters.

It was held in Lampeter, at the Old Hall of the university. Carol read a spellbinding chapter from her new novel, which has all the hallmarks of being as brillaint as her debut, Ghostbird. I’m really looking forward to reading the magically beautiful Snow Sisters –  preferably in front of a log fire on a snowy evening, although I very much doubt I’ll be able to hold out until the weather turns that cold!

So that’s my Honno book launch round-up.

To all authors everywhere about to launch a new book, may your launch be full of friends, family and smiling faces (and maybe some cupcakes – I’m thinking of you, Dyane Harwood!).

Most of all, relax and enjoy!

Sara x

 

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from all good bookshops.

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An Unusual Book Signing Memento

Just last weekend I held my very first book signing event with early copies of ‘Not Thomas’ at the Waterstones bookstore in Carmarthen. It was my first signing for this book, but wasn’t my first signing ever – I’m used to doing these events with my children’s books and they’re something I really enjoy. As a book lover, why wouldn’t I want an excuse to stand around a bookshop discussing books with other book lovers? It’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

 

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But I’d been warned that this signing would be different. The managers of the shops I’d booked events at told me that children’s books and adults’ books are two very different beasts. Children’s books (at least mine) tend to retail for around £5, a good impulse-spend price. You can sell to parents, to grandparents, aunties and uncles. They’ll come in for a browse and go home with a little present for a beloved youngster.

But books for adults are entirely different. They cost more, for a start, and they have a much more limited and specific audience. And sometimes they give the impression that they’re aimed at one sex more than the other – and that halves your potential customers at a stroke.

So, the managers said, be prepared to talk to lots of people on the day, but don’t expect to sell many books – that’s just the way it goes with books for adults. I’d taken all this on board and was thoroughly prepared to sell one book, if I was lucky. And I decided not to be disappointed if I sold no more than that.

But the word fairies must have been on my side because my day went far better than expected. The weather was drizzly – not great for heading to the beach or the countryside – and the shop was very busy, with plenty of people browsing the tables of special offers. I had lots of opportunities to give out ‘Not Thomas’ flyers and to chat to potential customers, telling them what the novel was about. And most people were very happy to stop and talk, particularly when they saw my banner – placed right in the middle of the shop with a huge picture of the book cover on it.

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Two good friends from my writing group arrived near the end of my session, and by this time I was down to my last three copies. As we started to chat, I suddenly had a little rush of customers. All three books went in two minutes. It was surreal to see three people standing at the checkout, each with a copy of my book. My writing friends had obviously brought me extra luck! No copy left for them – well, not until our next writing circle meeting, anyway.

So, feeling extremely fortunate, I very happily packed up my banner and set off to the nearest coffee house for a long awaited cup of chai latte – my reward of choice. To off-set the amount of sugar in a mug of that guilty pleasure, I forwent the cake and had a toasted teacake instead.

As I sat relaxing, waiting for my drink to cool and the butter to melt on the bun, the smoke detectors in the café went off. Someone had burned the toast and the whole place was evacuated. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough hands to take my toasted teacake, so I had to stuff one half into my mouth and leave the other half on the table. All the customers ended up finishing drinks out on the street – haphazard alfresco style.

The staff locked up and waited for the obligatory visit from the fire brigade. As we drained our cups, they handed out tokens for free drinks and told us not to worry about returning their china. It wasn’t exactly practical to leave mugs on the pavement.

So I now have a lovely big Café Nero mug as a memento of my first ‘Not Thomas’ signing. It’s a cheerful and bizarre reminder of the day I spent a few very happy hours in Waterstones – not that I’m ever likely to forget that day in a hurry!

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Sara’s debut novel Not Thomas is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an ebook and is available to buy on Amazon.

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Sending a new novel out into the World

Being a writer is the perfect occupation for a person like me.

I’m someone who likes their own space and enjoys their own company, someone who lives more in their head than in the outside world. Sitting at a desk – or more often than not, before my laptop at the kitchen table – is my natural environment.

But two weeks ago, I was dragged out of my comfort zone, forced to make myself reasonably presentable and put centre stage in front of a room full of people.

Why?

Because I had a new book to send out into the big, wide world.

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I needed a pre-publication book launch for Not Thomas – pre-publication because it’s not officially out until the middle of July.

And who exactly was forcing me? Well – me, myself, I, if I’m honest. My bossy self.  I knew I had to get my new book out into the world, and there was only one sure way to do it. (I’m good at pushing myself to do things I’d rather not. As an essentially shy person, I’ve had a lot of practice.)

So how did it feel, being out of my comfort zone?

Well, I knew having the centre of attention focused on me for a whole afternoon would be a tall order. And so when an organiser of another event offered to include me in theirs, I jumped at the chance. It was the perfect solution for me.

Early copies of Not Thomas were launched as part of Spoken Word Saturday, a fabulous event that happens in Llanelli’s Ffwrnes Theatre every second Sat. And I was so grateful to Eleanor Shaw, the organiser, for suggesting it and bringing it all together.

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Eleanor was on holiday that weekend, so her friend & colleague, David Pitt, hosted the event. He was brilliant and I felt I could relax knowing everything was well organised and running to plan. (This photo captures the moment we heard that the last of our participants was about to walk through the door!)

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We had music from the wonderful Liz Crippin, poems and stories from Richard Foreman and Rhoda Thomas, plus readings from my writing circle friends, Mari Dafis and David Wallington.

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Then it was time for cake – yay! – and more cake, and tea all round.

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After refreshments, Jon Gower, well-loved Welsh author and broadcaster who’d written a cover endorsement for Not Thomas, introduced my novel. He did the book proud – he even mentioned Dickens’ Little Nell and my Tomos in the same sentence! (My parents are already treasuring that gem.)

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Caroline Oakley, my editor, gave an overview of the work Honno does, and most interestingly for the writers in the room, what she was hoping someone would submit in the future.

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And then it was my turn.

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I was pretty nervous but by that time, everything had gone so well that I had relaxed quite a bit. Still, I was glad I’d written down what I wanted to say – my brain had totally deserted me.

I thanked people, then read a section of Not Thomas (the part about the Christmas concert where Tomos is singing the solo and trying to find his mum in the crowd). I was delighted with how the extract was received – when you’re reading the words of a five-year-old boy, you don’t know if it sounds right or just weird. But the audience’s reaction was lovely.

To look out and see the sixty or so faces watching and listening intently, and to see all those early copies of Not Thomas sitting on people’s tables was just amazing. The audience was full of friends too, which was so lovely to see.

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So would I do it all again? Absolutely!

But for now, it’s back to the kitchen table to work away at what will hopefully become the next book…

A very big THANK YOU / DIOLCH YN FAWR to Eleanor Shaw, David Pitt, Spoken Word Saturday, Ffwrnes Theatre Llanelli & the staff there, Rhoda Thomas, Mari Dafis, Richard Foreman, David Wallington, Jon Gower and Caroline Oakley. And to everyone who came along and supported me – you are all wonderful!

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Sara’s debut novel Not Thomas is published by Honno Press in paperback and on Kindle and is available now on Amazon.

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Separation Anxiety

Recently I’ve been waking up in the night, heart pounding, mouth dry, with a searing flash of worry in my brain.

My first thought is that I’ve misplaced something important, forgotten something vital. It’s that ‘I’ve left the baby on the bus’ feeling.

It takes me only a few seconds to realise that both my babies grew up long ago. Then I remember, thankfully, that they’re fine – they’re old enough to look after themselves and, mercifully, they’re safe.

Finally the problem dawns on me. I’m a writer. The baby I think I’ve left on the bus is one I’ve created. Not real, not flesh and blood. He’s fictitious. But somehow that fact doesn’t make me feel any better.

I’ve had this feeling before.

When my newest book was a manuscript, waiting on my editor’s desk to have its fate decided, I spent night after night waking up in a cold sweat.

It’s not that the novel feels like my baby (I wouldn’t usually feel this anxious about a new book). No, it’s because I’ve been writing about Tomos, the main character, for almost 14 years now. He’s been my pet project – tucked away in a file on my laptop and scribblings in notebooks – and he’s seen me out of my forties and into my fifties, while I get on with my other, more cheerful writing.

My real-life children have grown up in that time. Tomos has not. He’s still five. He’s still scared, hungry and alone.

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And now my novel’s been published. It’s out of the safety of my laptop and in the hands of other people. Some of them will be people I know, but most of them will be people I’ve never met.

And that’s the whole point of writing and publishing a book. As authors, we want our books to be read by as many people as possible. But Tomos, he’s five. He’s like my child. And I’ve just abandoned him.

If you can remember the first time you left your child at nursery, or the first time they walked through the gates of that huge comp, or when you drove off and left them at their college hall of res, you’ll understand how I’m feeling.

Tomos. He’s out there. He’s at the mercy of others. I can’t tell him it’ll be OK anymore.

I want to pull him back. I want to hold him to me and never let him go.

But it’s too late. He’s off into the big wide world and there’s no reversing that.

All I can do is ask – if you find Tomos, scared and alone, somewhere out there on your travels, please take care of him for me.

 

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Thank you,

Sara x

P.S. I wrote this after very little sleep and a large glass of wine – I think it shows! Not feeling quite so worried about my little boy now that I’ve had lovely feedback from some wonderful people who, it turns out, care about Tomos almost as much as I do.  

Sara’s debut novel for adults ‘Not Thomas’ is published by Honno Press in paperback and on Kindle and is available to pre-order now at £8.99 on Amazon.

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Music to Make Me Cry – My Not Thomas Playlist

I love listening to music when I write.

I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and I’ve met quite a few authors who prefer to write with no distractions, but music works for me. I find it creates a background emotion.

There are some songs I return to, time & time again, when my creativity needs a boost. These are songs I play to remind myself that ordinary people can transform themselves into songwriters and create something fantastically beautiful out of thin air –and lots musical talent, of course. When those songs come on the radio, they make me want to drop everything and write.

Songs like Hozier’s ‘Take Me to Church’ and Stereophonics’ ‘Graffiti on a Train’ make me turn up the radio to full volume and surrender to their inspiring brilliance.

There are other songs, though, that remind me of something I’m already working on. They help ease me back into that piece of writing, and keep me in the mood I’m trying to create. They’re the ones I play quietly in the background while I tap away on my laptop.

I had a playlist when I was writing ‘Not Thomas’.

The most-played song on that list was Kate Bush’s ‘Moments of Pleasure’. In a previous post, What Wuthering Heights did for me – the confessions of a Kate Bush fan, I wrote about how playing that song helped me evoke the feelings of Tomos, the little boy who’s the central character in my book. I’d hear the music and feel the emotion, even if I hadn’t written about Tomos for months. But there were other songs that helped too. Here’s a few of them, thanks to YouTube.

Calon Lân, a well-loved Welsh hymn, was one of my starting points for ‘Not Thomas’.

In fact, for quite some time the working title of ‘Not Thomas’ was ‘A Pure Heart’ – the English meaning of ‘calon lân’. The title eventually (and thankfully) got changed, after I listened to the advice of my writing group. (More about the failure of ‘A Pure Heart’ as a title in What’s in a Name?)

Tomos sings Calon Lân near the start of the book. He’s been taught the words by Nanno – his beloved ‘foster gran’. This version, by Cerys Matthews, is my favourite on YouTube.

It’s the childlike quality of her voice that gets me every time.

In the case of Calon Lân, the lyrics loosely suited the theme of the book, particularly – and rather sadly – the opening line ‘I don’t ask for a life of luxury’, as Tomos is living in terrible poverty.

But most of the songs I listened to didn’t have lyrics that connected to the subject matter. Instead I chose them for the way the music or the tone of the singer’s voice affected me.

It was the emotion the singer conveyed that was important.

Like this one:

I only have to hear the opening chords of ‘Talk to Me of Mendocino’ by Kate & Anna McGarrigle for my eyes to fill with tears. The music and their voices manage to convey, so beautifully, that sense of longing to be somewhere else.

It’s perfect for Tomos, as he constantly longs to be back in the love and safety of his foster parents’ home.

And since I’ve already blogged about how important ‘Moments of Pleasure’ by Kate Bush was to me when I was writing ‘Not Thomas’, I ought to include another song of Kate’s which I played a lot too.

‘This Woman’s Work’ is an obvious choice, I suppose, when you think of songs that conjure up vulnerability – it was used by the NSPCC in one of their TV adverts.

Again, the opening notes get me every time.

And finally:

This last song, ‘Lost Boy’ by Ruth B, is a cheat.

It came out in 2016 and I’d long finished writing ‘Not Thomas’ by then. I was in a dress shop in lovely Llandeilo when I first heard it playing on the shop’s radio. It stopped me in my tracks.

I knew by this time that my book would be published and that Tomos’s story would see the light of day, something I’d thought for so many years would never happen. And the realisation that my novel was actually going to be published hit me.

I grabbed the nearest frock and hid in the changing room until the moment of realisation – and the tears – had passed.

Had Ruth B’s ‘Lost Boy’ come out ten years before, I’d have been playing it as I wrote. It’s Tomos to a tee. I think it’s beautiful.

All these songs have something in common – lots of emotion. One comment from an early reader of ‘Not Thomas’ said it should be printed on plastic to save the paper from tears.

Maybe my playlist explains why.

Thanks for reading.

Love,

Sara x

If you’re a writer, do you ever listen to music while you’re working or do you prefer silence?

If you’ve read Not Thomas, can you see any influence from the songs above in the novel? 

Do you have a single piece of music or a song which you always find inspirational?

Sara’s debut novel Not Thomas –  a story of child neglect and hope – is published by Honno Press and is available in paperback and on Kindle directly through the publisher and also from Amazon.

The lady’s here. The lady with the big bag. She’s knocking on the front door. She’s knocking and knocking. I’m not opening the door. I’m not letting her in. I’m behind the black chair. I’m waiting for her to go away.

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One Scary Interview & The Law of Three

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I had a scary experience recently – one that had me quaking; one that had me doubting if I was capable of stringing a sentence together and left me wanting to hide under the duvet for an entire week. My terrifying experience? I was interviewed.

To be fair, it wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill kind of interview. No. It was an interview in which I had to speak in Welsh.

I do speak a bit of Welsh. I grew up in west Wales and I went to Welsh classes for…well, let’s just say ‘a number of years’. An embarrassing number of years, it turns out, because I obviously didn’t learn enough.

This interview was with S4C, a Welsh-language programme maker. They were making a film about my home town and a wonderful group of people I’m proud to support – the Kidwelly Book Hunters. During the interview I discovered two things – that my command of the Welsh language isn’t nearly as good as I thought it was, and being interviewed isn’t quite the exciting experience I was hoping it would be.

To be honest, I was in a huge rush – I had a book signing event I had to dash off to. And there was a camera and bright light near my face, and a sound boom dangling over my head. My vocabulary just deserted me. So I switched to English – but by then I couldn’t speak that properly either. Oh, the shame…I turned as red as the cardigan I was wearing for St David’s Day!

The very friendly team doing the filming reassured me that the end result would be fine. And, thanks to their skilful editing, my interview was included in their programme. It was ‘blink & you’ll miss it’ though. But at least they used my Welsh attempt, so hopefully I had made some sense after all.

Whether I’d said what I actually wanted to say, who knows? Not me. The interview had gone past in a blur. And even when I watched it back (through my fingers) I couldn’t understand what I was saying because I was nervous all over again. One thing was blatantly obvious – I needed to improve my interview technique.

So when I saw the Society of Authors was running a course on exactly that, I couldn’t resist. I signed up, packed a bag with chocolate bars, Quavers and the latest edition of Mslexia (my favourite reading on long journeys) and headed off on the train to London for the day.

The course was held at the SoA’s offices in a large, old town house in the rather well-to-do area of Kensington. There were just four of us that afternoon, all writers as you’d expect, and we gelled straight away. I won’t name-check the other attendees as we had a pact that the course was confidential, but they all had exciting projects on the go. It was an all-woman group. Our tutor told us it’s rare for a man to sign up for this course. (It’s good to know that so many of them have such complete confidence in their abilities.)

Claire Walding, a TV producer of many years, was our tutor. She was very relaxed and put us all at ease immediately. She would talk us through interview technique, she explained, then interview us individually while filming on her iPad.

You’d have thought it would have been nerve-racking, being filmed in front of three total strangers, but actually it was fun. Claire had already explained the principles of getting a message across in a short interview. She told us there were three things to remember –

identify three main points you want to make (there’s that three again);

keep them in mind constantly;

& mention them early in the interview.

If you have a longer interview, she said, like at a literary festival (‘Chance would be a fine thing,’ we all commented) just go into more depth about your three main points.

Simple!

pexels-photo-266688But do you think we could actually manage it? We were all reasonably relaxed as Claire interviewed us (a bonus for me after my S4C experience) and we all really enjoyed watching each other’s interviews. Once we were being filmed, though, our three main points went right out of our heads. Even worse, we forgot to mention –

the title of our books (essential, obviously!)

the names of our main characters (also essential, Claire told us, to make people feel connected to the book)

& generally everything else we were hoping to promote.

We analysed the films, pin-pointed where we went wrong, made notes and determined to do better. Then Claire filmed us again.

This time she dropped in interesting facts she’d sneakily found out beforehand on our websites. She asked me about my children’s book, ‘Welsh Cakes & Custard’, and sent me off on a complete tangent about St David’s Day and school projects. I had managed to remember to mention my new novel for adults, ‘Not Thomas’, right at the start of the interview, but she quickly and successfully led me away from my other main points.

Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one she derailed. None of us managed to get more than one of our three main points across. Claire said that was fine – it had been her intention to throw us all off track. We learn by our mistakes. We’d got it wrong when it didn’t matter so we would remember to get it right when it did.

Fingers crossed!

And what did I learn from my afternoon with Claire and my fellow authors at the SoA?

Well, the number one thing I learnt was that it’s all too easy to get distracted in an interview and not mention the really important points (like the title of my novel!). Concentration and determination is key.

I also learned that laughing isn’t so bad after all. I was worried that if I came across as too cheerful it would be at odds with the content of my novel, which could (most definitely) be classed as ‘dark’. Laughter lightens the mood, Claire reassured me, and reminds the audience that, along with the difficult subjects of child neglect and drugs, ‘Not Thomas’ also has a lot of hope. (I’m secretly very relieved about the laughing bit. It’s something I do a lot of.)

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And lastly, I learnt the power of three – I must have my three main points about ‘Not Thomas’ all ready and uppermost in my mind. So here goes –

#1: it’s a novel about drug addiction, child neglect and murder;

#2: it’s told from the view-point of five-year-old Tomos;

#3: Tomos is an amalgamation of children I taught / heard about when I was teaching.

And I must actually mention the three points. Yes, actually mention them. See, I’ve mentioned them! OK, so I didn’t mention them at the start, or all the way through. But next time I will.

Anyway, I really enjoyed my afternoon at the Society of Authors, and I’m all prepared to be interviewed. Chances are I won’t get a sniff at another interview now.

Where’s S4C when I need them?

What are your experiences of being interviewed?

Is it something you’d actively seek out, or do you shy away from the limelight?

Do you have any tips to share on how to survive being interviewed (pretty please!)?

Thank you so much for reading this blog post – double the length of my usual posts. I wrote it on the ferry home from Ireland so had three whole hours to devote to it!

Sara’s debut novel Not Thomas is published by Honno Press on 19th July 2017 and is available to pre-order now on Amazon.

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