I'm peeling back the curtain again today to give you all a glimpse inside the mind of UK horror and crime author Sara Jayne Townsend. She was nice enough to sit down with me to discuss her process as a writer and the many unique challenges new authors face in breaking in.
Griffin: Tell us about your forthcoming release.
Sara-Jayne: I’ve got a collection of short stories coming soon, tentatively scheduled for February 2012, with Stumar Press. Entitled SOUL SCREAMS, this is a collection of 13 short horror stories. Some of them are supernatural horror, some are more psychological, but they are fairly dark and gloomy.
Griffin: Describe your journey as a writer.
Sara-Jayne: I’ve been telling stories all of my life. Even as a child, I was making up stories about my dolls and toys, who all had names, personalities and family histories. I decided I wanted to be a published writer when I was 10, and tried writing a novel not long after. It was awful, of course. I knew I liked telling stories, but I didn’t know what made a good story.
Over the years I’ve learned many lessons about how to write a story that will keep the reader interested. My first publishing contract, for my horror novel SUFFER THE CHILDREN, arrived shortly before my 40th birthday, thus fulfilling a 30-year-old dream.
I’m still learning how to tell a good story. I don’t think a writer ever stops learning how to write. There are always ways in which one can hone the craft. It’s a lifelong learning process.
Griffin: Do you have a daily writing schedule and if so what is it?
Sara-Jayne: I have a day job which involves commuting into London, and it’s often hard to find time to fit the writing and everything else in around it. I try to catch the early train twice a week, and sit in Starbucks with my NetBook for an hour before work, to get some writing time in. This means getting up at 5:30am, and if someone had have told me a few years ago I would voluntarily be getting up at this time in the morning, I would not have believed them. But it seems to be working for me, as it means I definitely get some words written, even in the weeks when I don’t do any writing in the evenings.
Griffin: How much planning, outlining and research goes into each of your books?
Sara-Jayne: I’m a bit anal when it comes to planning, but I’ve learned the hard way this is the way I have to work. I have too many half-finished manuscripts that were abandoned before the end of draft 1 because I couldn’t work out what happens next. So now I start with a plot outline, which usually runs to about three pages, detailing all the main plot details. From there I’ll do a chapter plan, deciding what is going to happen in each chapter. Once I have that done, I’ll start writing chapter 1. I will deviate from the chapter plan – either a particular event will need to cover more than one chapter, or I’ll write a chapter and work out that something else needs to happen I hadn’t originally anticipated, but that’s OK.
I’m a bit lazier when it comes to research. I tend to start writing without doing much research. As I’m working on draft 1 I’ll write margin notes for myself – “find out more about x” or whatever. Then I will try and find out what I need to know, and amend future drafts accordingly. The most important thing for me is to get the first draft laid down. If I’m enthused about an idea, I need to start writing it. I know myself well enough to know that if I went off to do the research before starting, I’d turn it into an excuse to never get started. Draft 1 is the scaffolding. Once I’ve got the first draft, I can then build the rest of the novel.
Griffin: How do you deal with writer's block?
Sara-Jayne: I find it best to go away for a while and do something other than write. Blasting zombies on the Playstation sometimes helps. Eventually I feel ready to go back to the computer and try again.
Griffin: Any thoughts on the current state of the publishing industry?
Sara-Jayne: I think the e-book issue is becoming a quiet revolution. There seems to be fear in the industry that e-books will destroy print books, but that doesn’t have to be the case. There is room for both, and most people with e-readers still buy print books as well as e-books. But it’s not the case that e-books are a passing phase – they are here to stay, and sales of e-books climb ever higher, while more and more bricks-and-mortar book shops are closing down. The publishing industry has to accept that e-books are not going away, and adapt to that. I’d like to see e-book versions of all books available, and I’d also like to see all e-readers using the same format.
Griffin: What authors inspire you?
Sara-Jayne: I discovered Stephen King when I was 14 and he remains a huge inspiration, especially in my horror stories. I like the way he portrays ordinary, flawed people in extraordinary situations.
My crime fiction has been inspired by Sara Paretsky, whose character VI Warshawski remains a shining example of a strong, independent-minded female protagonist.
Griffin: What's the best thing about being a writer?
Sara-Jayne: Writers have an outlet for their fears and frustrations. I’ve never written ‘happy’ stories, and I think it’s mostly because I use the writing as a way of trying to exorcise negative emotions. Happy feelings I want to hold on too; I don’t feel the same need to write about them.
As a horror and crime writer, I have an outlet for any feelings of hostility. I can subject my characters to extremely unpleasant things, and it stops me from going nuts and lashing out at my co-workers or my fellow commuters. Having that outlet keeps me sane.
Griffin: What's the worst thing about being a writer?
Sara-Jayne: Not being able to earn enough from it to make a living. I often feel like I’m working two jobs – the day job is the one that pays the bills; the writing job is the one I’d rather be doing. And that’s before considering the time required to work on promotion.
Lack of time is an issue. Sometimes I envy all those people that finish the day job and go home and relax for the evening. But only sometimes…
Griffin: If you weren't doing this interview right now, what would you be doing?
Sara-Jayne: Probably blasting zombies in Resident Evil…
Griffin: Thanks so much for stopping by! Any last words?
Sara Jayne Townsend is a UK-based writer of crime and horror fiction. She has two novels available as e-books from Lyrical Press, Inc: SUFFER THE CHILDREN, a horror novel and DEATH SCENE, first in a series featuring amateur sleuth Shara Summers. Her forthcoming collection of short horror stories, SOUL SCREAMS, will be available soon from Stumar Press. Her web site can be found at http://sarajaynetownsend.weebly.com and her blog at http://sayssara.wordpress.com.