Author Sarah Stuart has been a writer since first being able to pick up a pen. With her skill-set in hand, she had articles published about horses, dogs, and wildlife in general; just one of the many loves in her life. A new direction came when she became a literacy tutor and found herself creating short stories to aid the growth of her mature students. However, on a personal level she always looked for something that might stretch her that much more. The end result of those wants led to her debut novel, Dangerous Liaisons, the first in a series that was well received by her audience and became a book awards finalist. The second book, Illicit Passion is also being enjoyed in print while book three, Dynasty of Deceit, is in the making.
So, on with the interview. Welcome, Sarah, and thank you for breaking from your work schedule to chat with us here today. Before we talk about where you are now, would you like to tell us if there was any one thing that motivated you to write in the first place?
My mother using classics as “bedtime stories”. Dickens, Shakespeare… The closest she came to what most children expect was The Railway Children. She was a good reader so she made writing stories sound like a fun thing to do.
That’s a nice memory. What about now? Tell us a little about your work. How much have your experiences filtered into your stories?
A lot: life experiences are a gift to any author. Research is vital but it’s your own knowledge that makes stories unique.
So true. Is there any element of the writing process you would like to share that might bring light to an aspiring writer?
I’ve never understood the passion for dialogue tags that result in endless “he said”, “she said”, or overuse of a thesaurus to find alternatives. Each of my chapters is divided into sections, two or three usually. I use a character’s name once at the beginning and the rest of that section is shown from his or her point of view; there’s no need to repeat the name. When other characters speak I include an action before or part way through the dialogue, so I can use their names without a tag. Those actions, or reactions, drive the story forward.
Do you consider yourself multi-genre or are you completely immersed in a particular theme?
That’s a difficult question. Short stories for students are intended for men and women so thrillers appeal. My books cross genres; they are romance but there’s a strong element of suspense in Dangerous Liaisons that develops into a thriller in the second, and even more so in the third. I wonder sometimes if that’s why so many of my readers are men.
Independent publishing is a difficult road. Have you ever tried to go down the traditional route?
This may come as a surprise but I was advised against it by Mary Stewart (This Rough Magic, The Crystal Cave, etc. etc.). She was born in the East of England where I now live, and I met her a few years before her death. Her writing career was long over, but she was still very much in touch with the book world. She said her publisher “did as he was told”, which I believe; she submitted everything handwritten! I followed her advice and opted for the independence of self-publishing. I’ve never regretted it.
Whether traditional or independent, every writer knows the difficulties of marketing. Yet, there are many avenues open to them; newspaper reviews, interviews, TV, radio, reader reviews, social media, the award system. Which, if any, of these mediums do you use, and has your success been attributed to them?
Social media? Twitter is where I “met” you among many other friends. It’s fun, but I can’t say I’ve noticed sales spikes after a particular tweet has been shown a lot of interest. Facebook is much the same, though it does have the advantage of being able to use more words. Goodreads is a marvelous way to connect with existing fans, and I gain a lot more than certain sales of the next book because of it. Illicit Passion was Book of the Month in April and I found out which characters people liked best, whom they wanted to see featured again… they even cast a film version with Nicola Kidman and Hugh Jackson playing Lisette and Michael, and that was because I’d left them to chat until the evening without answering the latest questions! Blog spots on American radio definitely work, and they’re fun to do. Any award draws attention to a book, and 5 stars from Readers’ Favorite for both books is great. I think the biggest thrill comes from Amazon reviews: people not only enjoying a book but taking the time to say so, and they do help sales. The best publicity sites can demand a minimum of fifty reviews, and even those that are less picky expect a good rating, and I find using those sites is the best way of all for an Indie author to sell books. In my experience, if you advertise one book at least half of the new customers buy the other too.
Most writers have been influenced by other, past or present, writers. Who has been most influential to you?
Mary Stewart, who created the Romanic Suspense/Thriller genre virtually single-handed, and Dick Francis because all his characters lived so vividly. My work has been compared to that of Jackie Collins, Jaqueline Susann, Nickolas Sparks and Harold Robbins. I have no idea if those suggestions are accurate: if they are, it’s flattering but unintentional. I’ve never attempted to copy anyone’s style: both Mary Stuart and Dick Francis wrote in the first person and I never do. I prefer the freedom to explore three or four characters in depth.
Do you have a writing regime or is it ‘as and when’? However you work, how do you keep focused?
‘As and when’, but I’m ruthless about ‘as and when’ being often. I don’t have a problem with staying focused, other than people saying “you didn’t hear a word I said”.
Yes, I get told that a lot. Many writers work several projects during the same period, are you such a person? Tell us your latest news about your current work.
I did try writing two totally different books at the same time. It didn’t work for me so the outline of one of them is on a memory stick. The only certain thing is the title, Catch A Falling Star. My current work is the final book in the Royal Command trilogy, Dynasty of Deceit. At present, I have 45,000 words of the first draft complete. I know the end, but I have no idea how my characters propose to reach it.
How long did it take before you considered your writing style became your own?
It never occurred to me that it wasn’t until I had a critique done that complimented me on my UPS. It took me a while to work out that the acronym meant unique personal style.
Does your work carry a message?
Subtly, I hope, it carries several. A few reviewers have been shocked that adult consensual incest is the central theme of a love story, even though the father and daughter regret it and the wife/mother forgives them both. The message is not to be so quick to condemn.
I feel very strongly about animal cruelty, both in the wild and towards pets. Book one, Dangerous Liaisons, opens with the daughter of a laird who runs a shooting estate, She’s been brought up to that life and only questions it when she’s forced to kill an injured deer herself: her father takes a huge financial risk when he develops it into a wildlife reserve.
Pets don’t figure in this series but anyone interested in the showbiz background can find out from Amazon Com, or my Amazon Author Page, that I owe my insider knowledge to my dogs. It began when I was asked to provide dogs for musicals and plays. Many of the dogs I own, or have owned, are rescues, though only those who enjoy the limelight perform onstage. I donate my royalties to animal charities.
Would you describe your work as being realistic? If yes, did it grow from experience or imagination?
Very realistic, if you allow for the celebrity lifestyle. Michael’s problems, which run throughout the series, are based on a story told to me by an international star of stage and screen. In the real-life case, the inevitable long periods spent away from his wife and children caused the marriage to end in divorce; he said he wouldn’t remarry and, to date, he hasn’t. When I recounted that on Goodreads one person took me too literally and asked how far the family had gone to cover up the scandal, so I must make it clear that the only result of hearing the story was me thinking “what if partings led to trouble but not divorce”, and Dangerous Liaisons developed from that.
Would you care to share a short scene from your current work?
Finding one that doesn’t give away too much is difficult so it is short, and I’ve cut a sentence:
Harriet read the latest Prima Ballerina plot outline. Mr Whatever had become Sir Duncan Wilcox, patron of the arts. They’d scrapped the orphanage idea in favour of him providing free accommodation for youngsters who’d been accepted by a prestigious ballet school they couldn’t take up due to family poverty. Michael had pointed out the snag of including a village hall show; it didn’t allow them to use the professional dancers a West End audience would expect. Now, Miss Tupitsyna could choose the members of the corps de ballet and they would all be in the cast. Greta just had to be very obviously the best…
Greta, home from Tupitsyna Academy, bounced in dead on cue. ‘Harriet, guess what?’
‘I need a twirl or I’ll burst. Is Michael home?’
‘Not yet.’ He was back to working until midnight. ‘Why are you about to burst?’
‘Miss Tupitsyna watched our class today and she said I was outstanding.’
‘Well done, Greta, but you won’t stay top of her list unless you eat, and go to bed at a reasonable time.’
Putting the final touches to the meal she’d prepared, she worried. The ballet school stood to gain a lot of publicity from Prima Ballerina. Was that the principal’s honest opinion of Greta’s dancing or the one she knew would please Michael, the man with the money to back the production?
Delighted shrieks from the hall told her that Kit was obliging with the twirl. Should she suggest they found an independent ballet expert to assess Greta? And if he or she said Greta was no more than average for her age and needed poorer dancers with her to show her to advantage? Greta would be desperately hurt and disappointed. Younger children were the answer! That way, Greta’s height would make her stand out and any audience would see her as the obvious choice as the star of the ballet theme that ran through the passionate love affair between Sarina and Raymond. Kit had written a solo for Sarina to sing before she met Raymond, regretting that she’d never had the chance to train as a ballerina; her family had been too poor. Raymond, of course, was rich and showered her with gifts, until she saw through him.
How would you describe your writing style?
Fast-paced and character-driven, with every section left on a cliff-hanger, except the last. Both my novels can be read as standalone, and Dynasty of Deceit is being written so that will be a standalone novel too.
What is it you hope a reader will come away with after finishing one of your works?
A desire to read another because they’ve enjoyed escaping real-life problems into a world that I’ve created for them.
Do you consider your works different to others in your genre. If yes, how so?
I think the biggest difference is the number of threads running through mine. All of them are built round relationships between three 21st century couples, not one, plus those recounted in Queen Margaret’s 16th century diary. She, and her immediate female descendants have a huge influence on the present-day owners, hence “Royal Command” as the trilogy title.
How accurate is your work? Does it entail a lot of research?
It’s very accurate. I write from experience, my own and those told to me, but I’m fanatical about details. The last thing I do before I upload a book to Amazon is check everything I’ve already researched. Tudor history doesn’t change, though new interpretations are sometimes put forward, but fashion, in clothes and modern speech, makes of cars, and names of airports do. I’m waiting for somebody to rename Times Square or Piccadilly!
Which of your works do you feel most proud of?
Illicit Passion at the moment; every writer improves with practice. Hopefully, the answer to that question will soon be Dynasty of Deceit.
What do you consider is your main character strength with regard to writing?
There are many choices; fame, money, respect, or maybe just someone enjoying one of your books. What is your take on success?
Fame has drawbacks: being a celebrity must be like living in a goldfish bowl. (You are talking to someone who knows countless celebrities and I wouldn’t swap with any of them). Money only matters in that animal charities benefit more if I’m successful. Respect plays a part, but who doesn’t want to be able to point to an achievement and say “I did that”? Readers enjoying my books is my idea of success. I can’t think of a bigger thrill than when that results in a five star Amazon review.
Are there any final words of advice you would give to those looking to develop a writing career?
Don’t quit the day job. Write for pleasure, be persistent, and present your work professionally. Formatting eBooks is easy, including creating a working table of contents. When you’ve mastered that, format for print: eBooks can’t be gift-wrapped!