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I started writing A Fine Profession earlier this year (back around January time) with the thought that it would standalone. It was simply called The Chambermaid until a little while before publication when I decided that the title was shit. I knew there would be a man who came into this woman’s life and it wouldn’t end all happy-go-lightly. I don’t know if it was just a challenge to myself, really, to write something with an unconventional ending for a change. I guess, what it was now I look back, was that I was in the zone of living and breathing that female character’s voice and words. In her frame of mind at that point in time, there was no happy ending. There couldn’t be.
As a writer, you don’t always set out to do things on purpose. Sometimes in the creative process, things just pop into your head and that takes you off on a number of tangents or brings you back to square one if it just doesn’t quite fit with what you wanted to do with the book as a whole. I am very much an instinctual writer and I go with what I feel works. Whatever feels natural. I guess as a self-published author, you have so much more freedom than you do as a traditionally published one.
So, how do we judge how good a book is? What marks a good book? One we relish diving into to get out of our minds for those few, precious hours? One that we have to really traipse through but with big rewards at the end? There are few books that make you go back and re-read them because they made such an impact. I think the only books I have re-read cover-to-cover are The Color Purple, Story of O, Jane Eyre and The Da Vinci Code. Strange combination eh? Each offer something different. One book that massively affected me was Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I remember purchasing it around this time last year and thinking it would be a lovely, typically breezy read. It wasn’t. It was just the way she made this story seem so commonplace and then gave it such a thwack at the end. I guess I didn’t anticipate what she had in store and that made the effect more powerful. I think that goes for films too. I remember my dad always saying to me when I was young, “watch this… it’s really good”. I would moan and groan, “oh, not an old, boring flick of yours”. Two films he told me to watch were Thelma and Louise, and American Graffiti. Both affected me profoundly, maybe because I never anticipated they would be any good.
I was watching a programme about Shakespeare the other day and it always baffles me when some say they are frightened of going anywhere near the bard because it’s just a very difficult language to get to grips with. I had to remind myself that I am very, very lucky to be at grips with it and I am very, very lucky to have studied his work. It was on BBC4, Muse of Fire, and these two fellas went to meet Baz Luhrman in LA to ask him about what influenced his decision to create Romeo and Juliet for the big screen. I remember going to see that film with a friend when I was 14 and coming out of the theatre absolutely traumatised! We both were. Teenage hormones and… then some! It was powerful. I also remember the grade I got for my SATs in that same year. I was in a school where people like me got lost but I got a mark in the top 2% of the country for the stuff I wrote about Romeo and Juliet in those SATs. Silly educators quickly bumped me into the high sets instead. My mum said I could hold an adult conversation at two. Language ingrained? I guess I understand Shakespeare because I can switch off my mind and use my ear and hear the rhythms and the nuances of the poetry that make sense when you don’t think of it as words, but as pictures. So you could say my way of working is individual (bizarre more like), uncontained and erratic, or maybe just a mind figuring out puzzles. I cannot be defined. Will everyone get me? No. Some won’t. Just like many people don’t get Shakespeare. Not because they’re stupid, just because maybe it’s not for them or they haven’t ever come across that archaic language before.
We all experience books differently and sometimes you evoke some powerful reactions in some people and not in others. It all pivots on so many factors. Like I said, the few books I have re-read in my life are very varied! Don’t slap me around for liking Dan Brown either, please!
I guess I judge books for their quality on whether they actually move me. (Dan Brown doesn’t move me but he engages my puzzle loving brain.) So when I was faced with a decision at the end of writing A Fine Profession, I just knew what lay ahead. There was this man who did love Charlotte, the Chambermaid, yet she just couldn’t be with him! Pretty mean and nasty, aren’t I? I put them through the mill.
The truth is, I guess, A Fine Profession fulfilled its purpose within its own potential (or the parameters I set around it inside my mind). I did what I needed to within that book. A Fine Pursuit therefore is separate, though attached. Yet, it stands on its own if it needs to. It is the book I didn’t want to write… and I shall tell you why. I finished the plot and the major pieces of Book One, say, around May time. My mind started picking at what might be wrong with Noah. What is wrong with him? As soon as I sat down and forced myself to contemplate that, I knew exactly what was wrong with him, but I didn’t want to face it. In real life, I am a bubbly, happy-go-lucky type person who enjoys hot chocolate, beach walks and onesies. I didn’t want to take myself inside this man’s head but I had to. Because Charlotte deserved better. Because I needed to take her story onwards. I had such a clear vision of this book but I actually sat at the laptop sometimes, hating the scenarios I was having to thrash out. Literally, hating it. I just somehow lumbered myself with this gigantic responsibility and I had to see it out. I really had to. The challenge gnawed at me so much so, I was frantic with the need to type. The story was begging me to write it because I could see that end goal and that was what beckoned.
But why do we fall…? So we can pick ourselves up again…
All the writers who assume they are pantsers, or that inspiration comes from the heavens, think again. It comes from some ability to instinctively know what you want to do with a story and ultimately, ploughing on until you achieve it. Some subliminal, subconscious skill. Few books I’ve read have left me feeling wrecked afterward but A Fine Pursuit pretty much has. That’s easy for me to say because I wrote it, but I was controlled throughout the writing of it and I researched like hell. There are one or two books a year that have that effect on me (ones I read – and I read a lot) so if I even get one or two people feeling that way about my book(s), I did what I set out to. I set out to move people. Make them uncomfortable. Make them squirm. Take them out of their comfort zones. Job done. I am so lucky to be able to flex my creative muscles. I am lucky to be able to write. It is a privilege.
Thanks go to Koobug.com for the opportunity to be interviewed in such an in-depth manner. The questions were tailored to me and enabled me to explore and explain away a lot about my life, writing and interests. I really enjoyed this experience and felt that it was nothing of a chore, and plenty of a joy.
I hope you really get a sense of why I write, what I feel I need to achieve through my writing and me the person as opposed to me the writer. Scroll down to read the interview in its entirety…. happy reading!!!
Sarah, congratulations on your release of A Fine Pursuit. Are you excited, exhausted or just relieved?
Thank you. I am a little bit exhausted to be honest. Whenever I have released books in the past, it has only been about a week or two at the most between finishing editing and publishing. This time I made sure I finished more than a month in advance. I totally cut myself off from the book to ensure I really was done and dusted with it. The waiting around has been a little bit torturous to say the least. You have to have so much faith in what you’ve done to leave it there and not rewrite bits and pieces. It is hard leaving a book behind and that is the exhausting thing.
Well, I have written one trilogy and The Chambermaid’s Tales is a duo. I wrote Lottie’s short stories as a bit of relief in between. These books have been hard on me so I needed that! The Ravage Trilogy – was nearly four books! I just had four very special characters and I wanted to do a book for each but a trilogy seemed a better idea. That trilogy was such fun to write. It was pure, escapist fun for me and for my readers and I loved every minute. I never wanted it to end but it had to.
You have been a novelist for two years, and a mother for two and a half. Your output is prodigious: where do you find the time?
Being a former journalist, I am used to writing copy to deadlines and working in a disciplined manner. That level of concentration is a skill learnt over many years and I can snap in and out. It was virtually as soon as my daughter stopped breastfeeding that I started typing Beneath the Veil. It was an idea I had been musing over for some time. It was a dream, actually, that had stayed with me for a while. A vision of a future world where love is lost for some reason. Motherhood inspired me to embark on this huge period of creativity. The two go hand-in-hand. I wrote notes on post-its or in blank word docs whenever an idea came to me. I was unable to stop the flow of words. It was such a strong impulse of mine to write and I wrote in the evenings, whenever my daughter slept during the day or at weekends when my husband was home. Deep down I always knew I could write, and anyone I have worked with could tell you that, but it was having a child that empowered me. I held up a bit of mental block to creative writing prior to that. I found motherhood such a positive experience and a lot of mothers may disagree with me over this, but after giving birth I felt so energised and have done ever since! I am really lucky. She’s very well-behaved.
Why do you serve us the sequel so quickly? Is it creativity uncontained or a desire to feed demand & maintain momentum?
It is absolutely creativity uncontained. Sometimes I have been unable to think about anything but finishing this book. For many years I wrote to produce a product, to feed an audience with certain demands, but then the opportunity to actually write for me just took over. I have been running with that flame ever since – that desire to take my ideas and just run with them. You have no idea how refreshing it is to write freely after working in the media. It is something you can become addicted to, and I think I have. With regards to A Fine Pursuit in particular, I wrote it right after its predecessor because I desperately needed to round off a certain person’s tale. This second book is from Noah’s POV but it still comes under The Chambermaid’s Tales and it is all about Charlotte. It is all about giving her the conclusion she deserves. I was so aware of keeping my mind fixed on marrying the two books neatly together so I had to write this one straight after the other. I suppose a part of me didn’t want people to be waiting around between books either.
Death in war is a random event; do you think there is a random quality to a writer’s success?
Success is sometimes as much about luck and timing as it is about talent and craft. I decided long ago that I will never be able to please everyone. I wrote the trilogy for me and I enjoyed every second. But afterward, it came to a point where it all hit me. I realised I have the power here to write not just for escapism and escapism’s sake. I really, honestly and truthfully, believe writers are powerful tools that can help and inform others.
You went to University in Hull, and A Fine Profession is set in Nottingham, so glamour holds no appeal then!?
Ha ha. I loved all my time at Hull University. It was once voted the friendliest university and I can vouch for that. I set A Fine Profession in Nottingham because it was the nearest big city to where Charlotte grew up. Also because, I have spent a lot of time there, know the city very well and perhaps a little as a tribute to the place where my dad was born. A Fine Pursuit has more glamour and I do like me a bit of glamour. But sometimes there can be romance in the bleakest of places. I love Brontë and the symbolism of the wilds. The Ravage Trilogy had a million and one locations whereas these books are more me – I am a northerner and I do love the north. If only the weather were a little better.
You have a strong Christian ethic; do you think A Fine Profession has a moral compass?
A moral compass? Some might interpret the book as me saying to Charlotte, “You survived cancer so do a few crazy things and live a little”. I love Charlotte. She’s all the women I know who I’d love to see gain a little more confidence in themselves… I am so reluctant to ever voice personal opinions in my books. It’s something I hate doing. I veer from it. I am shy of it. In real life I do have very strong beliefs and religion has played a big part in my life. I want my writing to challenge and provoke and get people thinking. There is never any black and white, in real life or fiction or otherwise. Good or evil do not really exist. The lines are blurred. I hope perhaps, I provide subtle warnings about living on the edge. I am no stranger to making mistakes and learning from them. How could I write the scenes I have done and be able to convey experience if I had none myself? I would never have written five novels without my faith but at the same time, I understand that it is about being at one with yourself. Respectful love with another human being can enrich and enlighten just as much.
Is it an erotic novel, or a novel containing erotic themes?
It is a good question. Charlotte would tell you that it is a novel containing erotic themes. She would tell you that because she wrote it to force Noah into realising what it is that really turns women on…
How would you differentiate erotica from pornography?
Erotica appreciates the breadth of human sexuality. It is about the quirks and kinks of every individual becoming acceptable between them and their lovers. Pornography is “beautiful people have perfect sex”. Pornography is visual and graphic whereas erotica is an insight into the emotions that drive us.
There is nothing new in the concept of erotic novels, and for the past decade they had been consigned to niche publishers selling in airport bookshops. Then along came Fifty Shades, and suddenly it was mainstream. A shrewd man once said the time to get out of a market is when everyone else is getting in. Do you think the mass appeal of erotic novels has already peaked?
Firstly, Fifty Shades is not erotica. I have never read the books in their entirety but from what I can tell, they are escapist fantasy. That’s fine for people who want that but I have read a lot of articles about the books and I find some of them very disturbing. It is almost why I decided to write these books because I have personally known abused people, and not just women, men too. Perhaps an equal share of both. The market may have peaked but there is still an audience of men and women out there that want more complex storylines matched to good erotica.
If erotic novels had not enjoyed a flush of commercial success, would you have altered the balance of sexual content in A Fine Profession?
Charlotte was always going to be promiscuous. The level of it I suppose, was determined by the current climate. Months before finishing the trilogy, her book was brewing inside my mind. There was a mental queue of books I was being provoked to write by people I know and read my stuff. I read Story of O when I was 19 and I’ve studied DH Lawrence extensively. I’ve never shied from writing about sex. In these books, I wanted to explore what intimacy is and where trust comes from. People with low self-esteem have intimacy issues because sexuality is as much about feeling good about yourself as it is about finding someone you think is hot. I read that a lot of people recovering from childhood illnesses have their development stunted and so Charlotte probably wouldn’t lose her virginity until a later age. She has a certain hotel room encounter with a footballer who breaks her hymen but maybe he just breaks the seal on her closeted world. You have to look beyond the words and feel the emotions. I designed these books so that you are eventually forced to look beyond the sex and the explicit content and see something else that binds people together in sex and love much more than “I’ll try anything once. Let’s do it together”.
Have your parents read A Fine Profession, and at what age would you be happy for your daughter to read it?
My Dad had one of his friends read it so he could give him a summary! I don’t think my father will ever read it but my mum perhaps might. My dad does however tell everyone he knows to buy it! Like I said, I read Story of O when I was 19. I probably read Lady Chatterley when I was in Sixth Form. I would never be happy for my daughter to read it and accept that sex equates love, because it doesn’t. I hope that when she’s an adult, she will have the intelligence to realise these books are fiction. Nothing replaces real life experience and relationships built on trust and understanding. I hope by my example, she will see beyond the sex too. Otherwise she might just say, “Mum, you dirty old woman.”
Why do you think novels with extensive erotic content appeal to women so much? Is it as simple as men enjoying the visual and women the cerebral?
I think I speak for most women in saying that the thing that turns us on the most is seeing two people who really love each other; two people really into each other. There is something special about attending a wedding where you see two people very much in love and that will never change. When you’ve been with someone a few years, you might turn to a bit of naughty literature to spice up your sex lives. I know men do read erotica too! Why not!
(Actually, there are so many answers to the above question in the next book…!)
I have encountered people reluctant to read A Fine Profession because it takes them out of their comfort zone. There isn’t a happy ever after as such. I made it difficult to read. It’s a window into the complex mind of a woman who sometimes thinks and speaks in riddles. You must understand that what she survived meant she built all these coping mechanisms and… yes… Noah will shed so much light on the woman he loves in the next novel, but that does not mean to say I let him off lightly…
What was the inspiration for Charlotte’s childhood illness that so affected her life?
I know two people who have been affected by childhood illnesses and the aftermath carried on through into adulthood. I took bits and pieces of information from various sources. I chose leukeamia in particular because it is one of the nastiest, most aggressive cancers. Mental anguish is as bad, if not worse, than physical pain. There is such stigma attached to mental health problems. I know too many voices aren’t being heard or represented.
The themes of sexual power and self-esteem are interwoven, where do you see the connection?
Charlotte seems to think that she becomes a sexual creature through the experiences she has at the Lodge. I think she would later admit that those are quite unfulfilling however. When she actually meets someone she likes, the pairing makes for interesting results. Like I said, she was 25 when she lost her virginity and that was to a gay man. You could say that is a cliché or you could say that I’ve known people who have dabbled. It happens.
Charlotte didn’t have a real relationship before Noah so how was she meant to know how to conduct herself or how to balance her desire to make him happy with her impulse to still be herself? Low self-esteem is talked about so often in sitcoms like it is almost prevalent for us to be able to like the characters. We need to see people at their weakest in order to like and empathise with them. I know someone exactly like Charlotte and the truth is that low self-esteem affects individuality. It makes it more difficult for that person to express who they are inside. The realities of low self-esteem are much different to those expressed on TV or other books like mine… the truth is that low self-esteem makes it difficult for the sufferer to engage in a truthful partnership because they are afraid of asserting themselves. Because I am me, it was so hard to put myself in Charlotte’s position. I had to change my whole way of thinking and like a method actor, I lived and breathed her voice in my head while I wrote her story. I thought it was a story worth telling. I walked down the street thinking like her and my daughter would look up from her buggy and say, “Babble mummy. Babble.” She puts up with a lot bless her! I zone out and talk to myself a lot these days.
You read English Literature at University, wrote for your University Arts Paper, and then went on the Press Association, why didn’t you return to journalism after your child was born?
I had 14 months off work and then I went back for six months. So at some points, I was writing, working and caring for my child. I did return in a lesser capacity but my heart wasn’t in it anymore. My husband works in journalism and it was okay before we had Serena, but afterward we just couldn’t have the both of us working in the same sphere together. I had to change the dynamic so that work stays there. We used to talk shop far too much but 14 months off kind of showed me what is important and for me, that is my daughter. She has given this workaholic an incredible amount of redirection. For me, motherhood and the novels became the challenge I had always craved and my career no longer offered that same fulfilment. Charlotte would tell you how important it is to be challenged.
Do you need to have a literature degree to be a good journalist; do you need to be a good journalist to make a convincing writer?
When I started at PA, I may as well have been straight out of Sixth Form. I had to re-learn everything from the ground up. The hardest journalism is squashing masses of information into small boxes. The thing about it, too, is that you learn how to hook a reader. There is such little time in our lives and you have to know how to keep someone interested. Sometimes even the first line of a book can bore people and put them off continuing. I don’t have a lot of time so I always skim the first paragraph before I commit to anything more. That is the truth of how people read! Brutal, I know. I was a writer before I became a journalist and even before I studied for a degree. My stories impressed friends and family from as early as age eight. I entered competitions on a whim and won. The writer gene is built in me and I have always looked, listened and absorbed my surroundings. You don’t need a degree or my previous vocation to become a writer, anyone can write if they have a story to tell, but both these factors in my life have led me here. The people you meet are more valuable than any degree or professional experience.
Your husband has been a constant in your life for many years, and a great supporter of your work, has he been the inspiration for any character in any of your books? Do tell!
My husband is so supportive! He really is. He writes too; poetry, plays, fantasy, short stories. He is talented in his own right but he would be the first to admit that he’s not sure if he could knuckle down like I have done. I guess being the eldest of four has made me a determined kind of person. Some might say relentless. He and I work together well in the writer/editor dynamic and he plays devil’s advocate with me rather a lot. I hear a lot of writers use their spouses as editors because the relationship really is fundamental in the creative process. Andrew knows me better than anyone and will sometimes say, “You can do better.” Sometimes I just need to hear that, to have it confirmed. He and I are very much on the same wavelength. It would be telling which character he may or may not have inspired… but we may not have had Ryken Hardy without him.
Koobug wishes you every success in your career as a writer, and supports you on your journey, but do you fear that your latest books will overshadow your earlier ones?
I wrote The Ravage for me. I was very aware it was a multi-genre work that would be hard to market. I wrote it when I didn’t really know what I was doing. It has multiple voices and just dives between them intermittently. I wrote it like I was watching a movie! When people ask me about editing and re-packaging it, I honestly cannot think about it. My subsequent novels have been more emotive yet I am more distanced from those. I saw The Chambermaid as more of a job. A responsibility. I was calculated in its production. The trilogy is me becoming the writer I am meant to be. It is my journey and development. It is too difficult to think about going back to that. I had to move on from it. I know there is something very powerful there but I never expected anything to come from those books. I just loved writing them. If I were Charlotte Brontë, the trilogy would be what The Professor was to her.
The Ravage Trilogy has a spiritual and prophetic theme throughout, will this be the hallmark of future Sarah Lynch novels?
I think the trilogy was very much of that time and place in my life. I was a new mother considering the enormity of our existence and I was playing with what I can do as a writer. I may go back to sci-fi but it would be very different next time. I have my mind set on writing something light following A Fine Pursuit but the hallmark of my books will always be the relateable characters… always. But never say never to more futuristic adventures…
You are part of a large and close family, how has that influenced the way you write? Does it give you a sense of security and value that informs the subjects you choose?
Yes. Your family make you a better person. They challenge you to be the best you can be. They ground you. Growing up, we were taught the value of things. We all had paper rounds and had to work for our luxuries. Family tell you how it is and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Even if I ever did hit the big time, my mum would still remind me of the time I pooed in a B&Q toilet as a toddler! Oops…
Does a writer need to suffer for their art? Can a happy, contented & secure individual ever write a literary glory? (Jilly Cooper excepted!)
I worry if I become contented I won’t be as good anymore. I worry if I let myself believe I am good, I will lose the desire to strive for more. You know, when there is no real financial impetus anymore, I fear you lose that edge or that rawness of who you are as a writer. There have actually been few times that I have cried while writing Charlotte’s story. I was very in control and knew where I wanted it to go. With the trilogy, I was taken on that journey. I was so much of a pantser back then, just writing whatever came to me. I cried a lot. I allowed myself to run riot. You’ll have to tell me how much difference that has made in my work.
Do you enjoy or despise chick-lit?
I love chick-lit. I don’t count it as my favourite genre but I have been known to enjoy a guilty pleasure or two, namely a Cecelia Ahern or a Jojo Moyes. I don’t really advocate trashy books, such as those ghost-written monstrosities lurking out there… I am not a pseudo feminist but I believe in female power, drawn correctly. I think we all need each other. Strong male and female figures should be the bedrock of our world.
If Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice in 2013 how do you think it would differ from the original?
Oh goodness. Miss Bennett and Mr Darcy would probably meet in a nightclub, have a good time back at her place and then part ways. She’d hate it that he has houses all over the world and a trust fund. He’d love it that she’s an art teacher with her own opinions and her independence. A series of coincidental encounters would somehow make them realise they’re made for one another. Their friends would worry their union would mess up their regular Friday nights out and they would try to break them up. Incidentally, one of my favourite film bits is in the Keira Knightley film version where her father (Donald Sutherland) says, “I am quite at my leisure.”
Do you ever catch yourself in the mirror and wonder if there is any of Charlotte in you?
Charlotte makes mistakes. We all do. I have. Maybe not as epic as hers, but you know. I remember partying at university and having one of those moments, like she does, where you don’t remember how you got home and you don’t like that feeling. I have never let myself get like that again. My husband was once with his dad and uncle in London and had his drink spiked. You have to ask what might have happened to him had he not had people with him? I draw from real-life experiences, and things I have heard or read about in essays or articles. All kinds of titbits amount to a full novel. Sometimes you live that novel so much you do look in the mirror and feel you’ve become the character to a certain extent. Where Charlotte and I cross over is that she actually, genuinely, just wants a husband and family. She also wants to maintain a sense of her self. She battles for it. Yes I consider myself a writer and artist but the reason I write, perhaps, is that I can do it alongside my family life. It works for me because it gives me that outlet. My family is more important.
Christian Loubatian, Jimmy Choo or Manolo Blahnik?
MB for sure. I am a child of Sex and the City. Love that series. Anyone who doesn’t is a misogynist. LOL.
Champagne or hand made Belgian chocolates?
Chocolates of course.
When you sell your one millionth book through Koobug.com, where will you rest your head?
Probably Northern France. Commutable to Paris and London, and, French stick on tap.
Your blogs on Koobug are popular, what does Koobug mean to you?
It’s free which is great! I have been part of communities before and some have had a negative impact on me. I found that it was hard to have a voice because everyone was scrambling for the next big book deal. I find that on Koobug, there are people who will nurture the writerly instinct to express ourselves. We’re not all simply out to make our millions by writing the same formulaic books. We’re all different and variety is embraced through Koobug. It’s the way it should be.
Readers and authors enjoy their dialogues with you on Koobug, if you could pick a theme for News, Reviews and Interviews, what would it be?
The responsibility of writers.
Returning to issues of faith, if you were to choose one piece of the scriptures, which would it be?
1 Corinthians 13, vv1-13.
So Sarah, you have been washed ashore on your desert island, you are alone & with no prospect of escape. Your one luxury?
Your one book?
Jane Eyre. Always reminds me of being a child and reading for the first time.
Your one piece of music?
Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Op. 11