Sarah Bower came by for a visit today. I hope you will enjoy meeting her as much as I have.
When did you first start writing?
I started writing quite literally when I began to write. I have a very early memory, from being about four, of being in the classroom, learning my letters and saying to myself, ‘Oh, so that’s how to organise the stories in my head!’
What did you do with your earliest efforts? Did anyone read them? Did you still have them?
One of my earlier efforts won a national short story prize when I was nine. I didn’t think I still had it, but, when my dad died and my sister and I were clearing out his study, we found a typed copy, which I think his secretary must have done for him. The original handwritten version was pinned up on my primary school wall for a while, but the building was knocked down and turned into an hotel years ago. I do still have my teenage attempts at novels, which are very purple! I tried to burn them once but my husband rescued them, so now they’re stacked up in a cupboard where I try to ignore them.
What made you choose to write in the genres/time periods you write in?
I’ve written in very different historical periods and am now writing contemporary fiction. I’m attracted by characters and situations, conflicts really. THE NEEDLE IN THE BLOOD, for example, was inspired by thinking about the conflict between the male, Norman patron of the Bayeux Tapestry and the predominantly female (we think, though no-one knows), Anglo-Saxon embroiderers who made it. My recently completed contemporary novel, EROSION, began with thinking about how people who commit serious crimes as children learn to live with what they’ve done.
What do you enjoy most in the writing process? What parts of it do you really dislike?
I have to say, getting the first draft down is the worst bit for me. Like most writers, I think, I have a complete terror of the empty page, or screen. I enjoy, not so much research as the preliminary reading that feeds into my ideas – other fiction, philosophy, perhaps. I also enjoy editing once I have a draft to work with.
If you write in multiple genres how do you make the switch from one to the other? Do you find it a welcome change, crazy-making or a little of both?
As I said above, it’s always the same thing that triggers my ideas for novels – characters and conflict. Human beings remain the same at heart, even though their knowledge and social customs may change, so I don’t really see any difference between one type of fiction and another from a writerly point of view. I think concepts of genre are more to do with marketing books than writing them.
Historical fiction takes a lot of research. What is the most memorable or interesting thing you’ve learned along the way?
Heavens, that’s a big question! One accumulates so much information. I think novelists make great pub quiz team members because their brains are stuffed with useless facts! I suppose what I enjoy most about historical research is finding direct links between the way people were hundreds of years ago and how they are now. In the field of medicine, for example, it’s interesting that poppy seed and willow bark have been recognised as painkillers way back into the mists of time, and are still in use today as morphine and aspirin. Renaissance women wore hair extensions, just as some do today, though I’m not sure how many of us would go in for boiled leather corsets as an aid to improving our figures nowadays! Even the Atkins diet seems preferable!
How do you get your ideas? Where do you look for ideas?
After so many years as a writer, I wouldn’t say I actively look for ideas any more, but that I’m attuned to the fictional possibilities of everything I encounter, whether it be overheard conversations in supermarket queues, newspaper stories, family histories and so forth. I often tell my students that writers are great recyclers. We can take any old rubbish and turn it into fiction, I think.
Tell us a little about your current project.
I’m just embarking on a companion piece to EROSION, which centres on a woman who is left a house in mysterious circumstances. This leads to a great love affair and some revealing discoveries about her past. It’s set largely in and around Whitby, on the North Yorkshire coast, scene, of course, of much of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I see it as a companion piece to EROSION as both books deal with people whose identities have been changed for one reason or another.
What’s up next for you?
Well, I hope EROSION will be published next year. In the meantime, I have to complete the dreaded first draft of the new book, entitled LOVE CAN KILL PEOPLE CAN’T IT?
Readers can follow me on Facebook and @SarahBower on Twitter.