Today I’m thrilled to welcome one of MuseItUp’s newest writers, Sarah Jane Townsend. Please give her a big welcome and let’s learn all about this fascinating lady.
Sara-Jayne Townsend is a UK-based writer of crime and horror. She was born in Cheshire in 1969, but spent most of the 1980s living in Canada after her family emigrated there. She now lives in Surrey with two cats and her guitarist husband Chris.
She decided she was going to be a published novelist when she was 10 years old and finished her first novel a year later. It took 30 years of submitting, however, to fulfill that dream.
The two books in her amateur sleuth series, about Canadian actress Shara Summers, will be available from MuseItUp Publishing in 2014. The first book, DEATH SCENE, will be released in early Summer, with the sequel DEAD COOL following in Autumn.
Here’s an excerpt from her book, DEATH SCENE, and once you read it, you’ll be hooked as well:
Ruth sat in her rocking chair watching the television–which was probably about ten years old, and appeared to be the most modern thing in the room. She was wearing a blue floral dress, with a patchwork blanket over her knees. I had seen that dress before. Her hairstyle hadn’t changed, either–her white hair was thinning, and she wore it short and curly, in the style of old ladies everywhere. When we came in she looked up, a toothless smile breaking out over her face. She had dentures that she never wore–something else she only saved for special occasions. As a child, Ruth had appeared very scary to me on the occasions she wore her dentures because we just weren’t used to seeing her with them.
My mother went up to Ruth and leaned in to give her a kiss on her soft wrinkled cheek. “How are you, Auntie Ruth?” she said loudly. Ruth’s hearing had been going even back then. She must be virtually deaf by now.
The house was freezing. The only source of heat was a three-bar electric fire on the floor by Ruth’s feet.
“I’m doing all right, dear,” Ruth said. Her voice was husky, ravaged by age and lack of use. “Mustn’t complain.”
Summer, still in my mother’s arms, began to cry and squirm, no doubt intimidated by the presence of this ancient lady. “Who’s this?” Ruth said, stroking one of Summer’s chubby legs.
“This is Summer,” Mum said. “This is my granddaughter. You’ve met Summer. Astrid’s daughter.”
Ruth frowned. “Astrid? Your little one?”
“Not a little girl any more, Auntie Ruth. She’s all grown up now.” Mum pointed in my direction. “This is my other daughter, Shara. Do you remember? Shara lives in Canada.”
Ruth was staring at me, frowning. There was no indication that she recognised me. “It’s been a long time,” she said eventually.
“Hello Auntie Ruth,” I said.
“Have you taken your pills, Auntie Ruth?” my mother asked.
Ruth frowned in concentration. “Pills? Think so. Can’t remember, you know. My memory’s not what it was.”
My mother thrust the crying child into my arms. “Watch Summer for a moment, Shara. I’m going to make Auntie Ruth some lunch.” And off she went into the kitchen.
I sat down in the faded armchair and bounced Summer on my knee. She kept crying. Ruth stared fixedly at the television. There seemed to be an Australian soap opera on. I couldn’t tell which one. I wasn’t a fan, and they all looked the same to me. “So what are you watching, Auntie Ruth?”
“Eh?” She swivelled round to stare at me.
I raised my voice. “The television. What are you watching?”
“Oh, I don’t know, dear. I watch everything. Keeps me company, you know.” And she lapsed back into silence, staring at the television. A couple of minutes went by and then she said suddenly, “they’re stealing from me, you know.”
“They’re stealing from me.” Ruth continued to stare at the television. I wasn’t at all sure she was even aware of anyone else in the room. I stood up with Summer in my arms and hurriedly went to find my mother in the kitchen.
Sarah Jayne was also kind enough to answer a few questions about herself.
1. How long have you been writing?
There hasn’t been a time when I haven’t been. I was writing stories when I was about six – when I first learned to write. Even before that I was making up stories. I had an array of dolls and soft toys as a child, and every night when I went to bed I would select one of them, and tell myself a story using that toy as the main character before going to sleep. They all had names, family histories, and life stories.
2. What made you finally decide to get serious about writing?
All I ever wanted to do when I left school was be a writer, but the grownups all told me I had to get a real job. When I was seventeen I started submitting my first novel. The rejection slips piled up. I found that quite depressing, but started to realize that perhaps the grownups were right. Throughout my working life I’ve organized the writing around the day job, finding time to write, edit and submit around the job that does actually pay the mortgage. When I finished school I started writing short stories, thinking there might be more of a market for those as an unknown writer than a novel.
I got my first novel contract, for SUFFER THE CHILDREN, four years ago. That novel took me ten years to write. It was at that point I decided I didn’t have the luxury of spending ten years on every novel, and I decided I had to be more disciplined about making time for writing. From that point, I’ve been getting up at 5:30am twice a week in order to get an hours’ writing in before I go to the day job.
3. Describe what you consider your ideal writing conditions.
A quiet corner with my Netbook, a cup of caffeine and something sugary. My early-morning writing sessions take place in Starbucks where I can enjoy a soya latte and a muffin. In summer months, I take my Netbook down to the summer house at the end of our garden and I write with the sound of birds chirping in the background.
4. Describe your rituals for preparing to write.
If it’s an early morning session, I go to the Starbucks around the corner from work. I get there about 7:30am, and central London is only just starting to wake up. I boot up the Netbook, and I open up four documents – my chapter plan, my word count log, my notes document and the last chapter I wrote. I will eat my muffin and drink my latte as I re-read the chapter plan, the notes and the last chapter I wrote, so I can get my head back into where I left my characters and what has to happen to them next.
By the time I finish my breakfast, the caffeine and sugar are kicking in and I do an hour or so writing before I pack up and head to the office.
5. How often do you write?
I try to do two early-mornings a week, and if we’ve got a quiet weekend I’ll get another session in on Saturday or Sunday. That doesn’t happen very often, though. In a good early morning session I can get between 800 and 1200 words written in that hour. In a good week, I might get 3-5,000 words written.
6. Are you a plotter, a pantser or some combination of both?
I’m a meticulous plotter, and this is borne from years of bitter experience. I have too many half-finished manuscripts languishing in drawers because I got half way through and got stuck. Now before I get down to chapter 1 I will spend time plotting, and then write a 3-page plot summary. I will break that down further into another document, a chapter-by-chapter summary. Only then do I start writing chapter 1. The chapter-by-chapter breakdown I will use as a blueprint. I may find as I write that other stuff happens, or something else has to happen before my character can go from the events in chapter 3 to the events in chapter 4, for instance. But I like this level of planning because it means every time I sit down to write I can refer to my plans and I know what’s going to happen next.
7. Name one of your all-time favorite movies, the one you instantly recognize when it flashes across the screen, the one you stop and watch no matter how many times you’ve seen it, the one where you find yourself mouthing the dialogue along with the characters.
Star Wars. Specifically, episode 4 – A New Hope. There was a point I was such an obsessive Star Wars fan I could recite every word of dialogue all the way through the film, from beginning to end. I’m not quite that obsessive now, but if I’m channel flicking and it happens to be on, I have to watch, and I can still mouth most of the dialogue.
8. Name a book/author you can read again and again and always learn something new.
Stephen King. I am endlessly fascinated by his ability to write characters who seem to be believable, and flawed, human beings. Often his characters aren’t particularly likeable, but you can well believe that they could really exist.
9. What song makes you want to cry?
Abba’s ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’. The year it was released, my parents were going through their divorce. Every time I hear the song it takes me back to being a lost six-year-old.
10. Describe one of your favorite characters and tell us who you patterned them after and why.
My amateur sleuth Shara Summers is inspired by Sara Paretsky’s private eye V I Warshawski. I admire her books so much and wanted to create a similar kick-ass female character. I didn’t feel confident enough to write a police procedural, though, so I created an amateur sleuth instead.
11. Where do you go for inspiration?
Other people’s books. There’s never any such thing as an original idea – there are only seven basic plots out there. But the more books you read, the more you understand how creative it’s possible to be with the material. Somehow, when I read a book and really enjoy it, I get inspired to go back to my own writing, and work at creating a book that perhaps someone else will really enjoy.
12. Name an author or authors who never fail to inspire you.
Stephen King and Sara Paretsky, for reasons already mentioned.
13. Tell us about your current WIP.
I’m collaborating with my husband on a historical thriller, set in the 1960s about a young woman who comes to London with ambitions to be a bass guitar player and ends up biting off a bit more than she can chew when she starts searching for her missing friend. The book is set in 1967 and goes from California to London to Vietnam and has required a great deal of research. I’m coming to the end of the first draft, and then I’m going to pass it over to my husband for him to do some work on it. After that, I’m raring to get going on the next Shara Summers novel.
14. What is the thing you like best about being a published author?
It’s fulfilling a lifelong dream. What more is there to be said?
15. What is the one thing you like the least about being a published author?
It seems the work never stops. The cycle of writing, editing and promoting is never ending, and when you’re fitting it all in around the day job it can be a challenge. Sometimes I wonder what people who aren’t writers do with all that free time.
It’s been great having you visit, Sarah Jayne. Come back anytime! And guys, make sure you check my post on her blog today. http://sayssara.wordpress.com/