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Sarah Salway Interview

Posted on 27 December 2010. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to novelist and short story writer, Sarah Salway

What are you writing now?

I am currently co-writing my first detective novel. Itís the first novel Iíve co-written too, although Iíve written three by myself! Itís been an interesting process because normally at a certain stage, I can start to see the shape of the plot, the characters, the world Iím creating etc. This time has been more like edging forward an inch at a time. Weíve just finished the first draft, and are now editing to make sure all the clues are there at the beginning. Nothing worse than a detective novel where itís all revealed in the last chapter and this has nothing to do with the rest of the book.

I used to teach at MA level in universities and loved it, but I did find that worked against my own writing Ė too much critical reading. However, I am now the Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the LSE and this, together with teaching private creative writing groups and mentoring individual writers is the perfect mix.

How, when and why did you first start writing?

My parents were both writers, so I had a head start in that I never thought that writing a book was something you couldnít do. However, I think I first started really writing when I fell in love with words as a child. I can remember the exact moment Ė I saw a sign for a BBQ and worked out for myself that this meant barbecue. It was like several hundred shotguns going off in my head, a real coup de foudre.

Who are your favourite writers and why?

Who are your favourite writers/influences and why?

Iíll tell you about my two American Alices Ė Alice Duer Miller, who was writing both political satire and cheesy Hollywood scripts in the 20s and 30s, and who showed me I could experiment with genre and style. Secondly, Alice Elliott Dark, who is very much a writer for today, and who, because she is my friend now, keeps challenging me to concentrate less on craft and more on writing about what I believe in. Without her, I might have gone down the path of beautifully arranged pieces with little authenticity. Better to have it raw, if a little clumsy.

How did you get your first agent/ commission/publication? Can you tell us about the process/journey?

At the time my journey seemed almost too easy and I was probably right. A short story I put on the internet attracted the interest of agents and publishers, and three months later I had two-book deals in both America and the UK. But then I had a period of bad luck Ė my second agent died, editors left etc etc Ė and for a time I thought my writing career might be over. However, going through that and coming back, has made me much more aware that what I love is the writing process, not the books, nice as they might be (and I do know itís easy for a published writer to say that). However it gives me strength now to know that I kept on writing even when I wasnít sure I was ever going to get published again. Iím sure it makes me braver in what I write too.

What's the worst thing about writing?

When people who are not writers tell me how they would write too, if only they had the time.

And the best?

Those moments when I have to keep writing so I can find out how my own story ends.

Tell us what kind of response you get from audiences/readers and if/how this affects/influences your writing

My first novel was published in 2004 and Iíve seen a huge difference even since then in how readers respond to authors. Now I can actually speak Ė through twitter, facebook, blogs, emails Ė with people who have read my books, and whose books I have read. Although it can be a bit daunting, how exciting is it to have readers tell you what they think? A real privilege. I heard someone say you had to Ďhand sellí books these days, I rather like that idea.

What was your breakthrough moment?

I have been beyond lucky in the people who picked up my first book Ė Something Beginning With Ė and have continued to support me. Many of these have been writing heroes: William Gibson, Neil Gaiman, Scott Pack, Alice Elliott Dark, Kate Long, and I donít take any of it for granted. Their public support is amazing, but I value their private encouragement even more if possible. Itís something I hope I pass on to other writers too. The writing world is surprisingly generous.

What inspires you to write?

I use writing to sort out what I think about things. I have lots of knots going on in my head at any one time, so although thatís a pain for living, it makes for lots of writing inspiration.

If you have a useful writing exercise thatís helped you, as a writer or a teacher, pass it on?

I think freewriting rules. The writer Meg Pokrass recently taught me my current favourite freewriting exercise which is to take a list of, say, ten words and turn them into a story. Donít take too long. Just see what comes out. Here are some to start with Ė deer, ice, sleep, appeal, bridge, steam, pasta, brown, shoelace, bag, chocolate cigar.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

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