Writing for Love or Money – Sara Sheridan Guest Post

In this recent series of posts – ‘Writing for Love or Money’ I wanted to explore what motivates writers to write, how money can be made from writing even without a traditional publishing contract – and to discover if money is ever the main motive. As part of the series I have invited several authors to contribute a guest post on what motivates them. The contributors write very different  things and for different reasons. I hope you enjoy discovering more about all of these talented writers.

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This is the second of the guest posts and it’s by author, Sara Sheridan. I really enjoy Sara’s novels and I first ‘met’ her on Twitter. And then last year I met her in person when I attended a talk given by her at Edinburgh’s Central Library. She was kind enough to invite me to meet her for a coffee before the talk. I reviewed Sara’s book, ‘The Secret Mandarin’ here on the blog.

THANK YOU SARA!

Love or Money by Sara Sheridan

It’s an interesting distinction. I’m a full-time professional writer and I don’t see why I can’t have both these things. Being a writer is a more difficult job than people imagine. Everyone assumes writers spend their time lounging around, writing and occasionally striking a pose while having a think (fair play, I do my share of lounging). These activities however, are far too small a proportion of my job. I spend my days researching in dusty old archives, travelling across the country to speak at book festivals, libraries and independent bookshops and dodging the pile of administration tasks on my desk (an estimated quarter of my time goes on administration including social media.) On top of that most years I write two books (a total of around 200,000 words because historical fiction is, well, longer). All in, I work harder than many of my friends who are in safe 9-5 jobs and I probably earn slightly less than I would if I was putting in those kind of hours on a ‘real’ job. That said, I love what I do. Unexpectedly so.

I started writing about 18 years ago. I had never considered becoming a writer – it wasn’t a long held ambition. I had just got divorced and was struggling to hold down my 9-5 job as a senior administrator in the charitable arm of a major university. I needed to find something with more flexible hours so I could look after my daughter (only a toddler at the time) and retain my sanity (or near enough). One night I made a list of all the jobs I could do from home and decided to try one at a time until I found something that worked. At the top of my list was Write A Book. This story drives people nuts and I feel guilty about how easy I found it once I got going. I knew nothing and nobody but someone told me a novel was 70,000 words (that’s a minimum) so I figured that if I wrote 1000 words a day for 14 weeks (weekends off, naturally) then I’d have a novel. So I did. Then I researched publishers. There were 96 publishers of fiction in the UK in those days. I printed 96 manuscript copies and sent them off. Within three weeks I had my first offer – and only then set about finding myself an agent. It’s a jammy story, I know. I was incredibly lucky. I make a point of telling people that from those 96 manuscripts I ended up receiving 4 offers (it’s approximately a 4% hit rate – so mostly I failed, of course. But it only takes one offer, no matter how long the odds).  The book went on to become a Top 50 UK bestseller and I haven’t looked back.

If you’re lucky enough to have found something you love doing (inadvertently) then I have always believed you can’t be greedy for much more. I reckon as long as I’m earning the national average wage, then I can’t really complain. Most years since that book came out, I’ve achieved that. Sometimes I earn more. So yeah, I’m jammy (but I work hard for it) and I get to have love and money. Why not?

 

Some Sara facts:

Sara Sheridan is an historical novelist. The latest book in her Mirabelle Bevan Mystery series, London Calling, is out now.

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“Intelligent, accessible writing”www.sarasheridan.comTweet me @sarasheridan http://www.facebook.com/sarasheridanwriter
Order Sara’s latest book, London Calling, the second 1950s Mirabelle Bevan Mystery  here. The hardback is on special!
In the last few weeks..  taking part in the 26 Treasures of Childhood exhibition at the V&A’s Museum of Childhood, receiving a professional development award from Creative Scotland, writing an article about 1830s Rio for BBC History magazine, filming a talent taster for BBC television, appearing at Bath Literary Festival, publication of London Calling, becoming a guest blogger on the Huffington Post and talking about historical ladies on Woman’s Hour.

Coming up…  writing a first draft of The Melting Point set in 1820s Brazil and London, going to Colonsay Book Festival, interviewing Maggie O’Farrell, a Mirabelle Bevan short story going into ever Best Western hotel room in the country and taking part in a writing celebration of Norwich’s UNESCO City of Literature award.

A Brace of Braw Books

It’s the third Tuesday of the month so it’s book review time. This month I have two books from the same publisher – more in a minute.

Before the book crits however, I thought now might be a good time to state exactly what the Write Enough book review policy is.

Mostly I review books that I’ve bought because I wanted to read them for pleasure, enlightenment, or entertainment. But I also review books that I’ve been specifically asked to review by the author or publisher.

I’m keen to review other ‘indie’ authors (like myself) as well as traditionally published ones. I have eclectic tastes – ranging across the genres and including non-fiction, but literary fiction does tend to get my pretentiousness radar going into overdrive. Whatever the category, I always aim to be honest, constructive and never nasty. I will say if I disliked a book, but always with the proviso that in the end reviews come down to personal taste.

Sometimes I will also submit a review to Words with Jam, the bi-monthly writers’ magazine that I contribute to.

And so to this month’s brace of books. Both sent to me by the publishers – Polygon. The first one is Brighton Belle by Sara Sheridan – a writer I’ve reviewed here before. And the second is Time & Tide by Shirley McKay.

Brighton Belle

By Sara Sheridan

I have previously reviewed ‘The Secret Mandarin’ and ‘Secret of the Sands’ by bestselling author, Sara Sheridan. I very much enjoyed both novels so I was delighted to receive a review copy of Sheridan’s latest. ‘Brighton Belle’ is designated as The First Mirabelle Bevan Mystery and is published this month by Polygon in hardback and e-book. It will be available in paperback in July.

There’s always a slight worry when coming to read the latest book by an author you love. What if it doesn’t live up to expectations? There was no need to worry in this case. ‘Brighton Belle’ is another very engaging read from this talented author.

Sara Sheridan can be relied on to be original in character, setting and plot. Her books push at the genre boundaries. ‘Brighton Belle’ is part (recent) historical, part crime and part thriller. I was hooked from the start.

Set in post-war Brighton, the story’s heroine, Mirabelle Bevan, works as a secretary in a debt collection agency. She wants a quiet life after her role in the Secret Service during the war and following the death of her lover. However, she’s soon overtaken by scary and mysterious events. She and her sidekick, the marvellous Vesta, have to turn detective to solve various possibly linked crimes of fraud, murder and kidnap. They are involved in an illegal exhumation, breaking and entering, and helping a killer flee the country – all in ultimately good cause. There’s darkness, suspense and surprises throughout. It’s gripping.

I love the originality – Mirabelle, a 1950s independent white woman and Vesta, a 1950s independent black woman – ‘doing it for themselves’ long before it was fashionable – and feminism wasn’t even a gleam in her mother’s eye.  The descriptions of Brighton and of the post-war era are charming and hugely atmospheric and the pace is brisk.

And, at the end, the scene is well and truly set for further adventures for Mirabelle and Vesta.  I also hope there’s more to come of DS MacGregor. There was a definite frisson between him and Mirabelle. I can’t wait for this trios next outing.

Time & Tide

by

Shirley McKay

                       

As I don’t read much historical fiction, this probably isn’t a book I would have chosen for myself. But the nice people at Polygon sent me an unsolicited copy so the choice was made for me. I hadn’t heard of Shirley Mackay, the book’s author, before – but I saw from the book’s cover that ‘Time & Tide’ is – the third Hew Cullan mystery – so she’s obviously an established author. And speaking of the cover – it’s a Bruegelesque beauty. I judged by the cover and decided to give the tale a go.

As it turned out, the cover sets up the novel perfectly in its time and place.

It’s set in sixteenth century St Andrews. This further endeared it to me – as I got my MA at the university there – and I still love the place thirty-five years later –returning to visit whenever I can. So I was well set up for this ‘Morse of the sixteenth century’ crime-solving story

The hero is Hew Cullan, a lawyer, in the town who, somewhat reluctantly, teaches at the university. Following a shipwreck, the town’s bakers and millers are keen to get their hands on the windmill that was lashed to the deck of the stricken ship and survived the boat’s demise. The sole human survivor from the wreck dies before he can confirm who owns this technological innovation.

All sorts of intrigue, trickery and, even, murder ensue as vested interests seek to establish their right to the windmill. Hew is dispatched to Ghent, the survivors home town to try to sort out matters once and for all. This sort of mission is much more appealing to him than the life of an academic.

The resolution of the mystery is certainly surprising and that, along with the hint of a love interest for Hew at the close, all made for a thoroughly satisfying read.

Mackay’s period detail and her descriptions of the town of St Andrews are spot on. The plot is clever and the writing sharp. But it’s the characters that really stand out. All are vivid and credible. And for me it was the female characters that made the most impression. Hew’s sister, Meg, a healer, psychologist and therapist, despite not being eligible to study at her brother’s  college due to being female, is a wonderful creation. She causes her brother to wonder at ‘the secret art of women’ on more than one occasion with what she knows or works out. As well as Meg, Maude the landlady of the inn, Beatrix the widow of the shipwrecked sailor and the nuns at the closed community of women in Ghent are all impressive and rounded characters.

So if you like a historical novel, a crime thriller and a mystery and you’re looking for something original and rather different within those genres then I can highly recommend ‘Time & Tide’.

The book is available in paperback and e-book format.

 

Rants, Raves, Reads and Writers

“Have a heart that never hardens, a temper that never tires, a touch that never hurts.” Charles Dickens

I like the above quote and although I’m nowhere near saintly enough to stick to it, it’s worth aspiring to. And I do try to remember that everyone faces a bit of a struggle –  to a greater or lesser extent  – and nobody has a perfect life, no matter what kind of face they present to the world. So I try to not to waste energy feeling resentment, envy, disappointment or annoyance with my fellow travellers through daily life.

But it’s the faceless ones – commercial organisations and bureaucracies – that I find it very hard not to get worked up about and, when faced with inefficiency and indifference on their part, I’m afraid the ranting red mist descends.

Yes there’s a rant coming on. Normally Rant & Rave Tuesday is the second Tuesday of the month but I’m afraid I didn’t post last week as I was busy being a domestic goddess and taking up curtains and hanging pictures.

So this week’s blog is a combination of R&R and my normal third Tuesday content of book review and blog of the month.

The Rant – We moved house recently so we’ve been buying bits and bobs for the new place.

First problem was companies who can’t/ won’t deliver to the Scottish islands. One UK company told me that they don’t do international deliveries! That rendered me speechless – especially as our island is joined to the mainland by a toll free road bridge.

Then, two furniture items in succession arrived without the correct components for assembly. One – a home cinema system arrived with no screws. Neither manufacturer nor supplier was willing to send the missing items. My husband had to trawl the internet and managed to source a set of the necessary fixings from the USA. The other item – a stand for the TV – came with bolts that were too short to attach the TV to the stand. Again it was down to us as the customers to sort this out and find the right bolts from elsewhere.

Next – was the saga of trying to get our electricity supplier to set me up to pay online – what a palaver – days of emailing Gary in customer in customer services. He feels like one of the family now and I’m sure the poor guy has developed a twitch and the need for tranquilising medication.

It’s a sair fecht at times.

But on The Rave side – Plusnet – our broadband provider have proved efficient, communicative and reliable – and our satellite TV installer, Mario was also brilliant. And the local plumber also turned up trumps when our boiler sprung a leak. Hurrah for them.

And breathe…

Book Review – just a mini one this time – I’ve just finished ‘Sister’ by Rosamund Lupton (published by Piatkus and available on Amazon as paperback and ebook).

A friend lent it to me suspecting it was my sort of read. And she was right. This is a great suspenseful thriller. Beatrice goes in search of her missing sister. As she searches she finds out that there was a lot she didn’t know about her sister and Beatrice ends up in terrible danger. It’s scary, moving and will have you reading way past lights out time. My only reservation – not entirely satisfied by the ending – but I still felt it was worth it for the journey.

 

Next month I will review Sara Sheridan’s soon to be published new novel ‘Brighton Belle’ (to bepublished by Polygon in hardback in April and paperback in July) – sneak preview – it’s a good one.

Blog of the Month – Anne Mackle’s  ‘Is Anyone There?’ over at http://cassam-isanyonethere.blogspot.com I ‘met’ Anne on twitter (@cassam101). She’s a wife, mother, grandmother and Scot like me – yes we have a lot in common. I love her observations of life and her relaxed writing style. See her very moving post for Mothers’ Day – or go and read about her lottery win…

And finally – congratulations to another twitter writing buddy Mr Fletcher Moss (@FletcherMoss ). His children’s novel ‘Sleepwell and Fly’ (aka ‘The Poison Boys’) has just been announced as the winner of the 2012 Times/Chicken House Children’s Writing Competition. It will be published next year. He blogs beautifully at http://sleepwellandfly.blogspot.com  Nice one Mr M.

Tioraidh until next week.

 

Sara Sheridan’s The Secret Mandarin – Jane Austen with balls

As I said a few posts ago, I’ve been broadening my reading horizons recently. Reading ‘The Secret Mandarin’ by Sara Sheridan was a departure into yet another genre – that of the historical novel.

It’s been years since I read this kind of book and I must say it was a welcome return. It reminded me of the novels of M.M. Kaye that I read many, many years ago.

The story begins in nineteenth century London and soon moves to China. It’s China just after the Opium wars – a closed and secretive place. The book is partly based on fact. The main characters are Robert Fortune, who was a real-life botanist and plant collector and his (fictitious) sister-in-law Mary Penney. Fortune journeys to China in search of tea plants. He hopes to cultivate them in India and to make a lot of money. Through a series of events, and, at first, against her will, Mary accompanies him on this perilous smuggling expedition. They have to travel in disguise as a mandarin and his male secretary.

I don’t want to give too much away so that’s enough about the plot except to say the ending is – satisfying.

This is a big novel. It’s more than just historical fiction. It’s an adventure story, a thriller and a romance. It has got love, intrigue, suspense – even pirates. The pace is slow but it never drags – it perfectly matches the long trek through China’s interior.

The author has obviously done masses of meticulous research. The detail – historical, geographical, cultural and botanical is incredible.

The character of Mary is wonderful – a feisty, strong, passionate woman. The style is sort of Jane Austen with balls and without walls.

 It’s an absorbing and transporting read and I recommend it.

The book is available on Amazon http://www.amazon.uk   in paperback (£5.59) and e-book format (£3.99).

Sara has a new book ‘The Secret out of the Sands’ due out in February.