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Writer Wednesday: Sarah Vincent

Sarah was born and grew up in north London, and spent most of her childhood scribbling stories. A wayward teenager, she ran out on A Levels to become an au pair in Rome. Back in London she worked for a spell at the London Library, before having a family. For the next twenty years or she wrote a novel a year, most of which went in the famous drawer.

Writing under her real name Susan Davis, her Y/A trilogy ‘The Henry Game’ was published by Random House back in the noughties. 

Around that time she began working as an editorial adviser with Cornerstones Consultancy. She is now an editor with The Writers Workshop, having also devised and tutored their Creative Writing Course for three years.

Writing under the pseudonym Sarah Vincent, she published ‘The Testament of Vida Tremayne’ with Three Hares Publishing in 2014. Last year also saw the publication of one of her short story collections, ‘The Gingerbread Wife.’

1. Why did you want to become a writer?
I never thought of becoming a writer, I just sort of was one. I loved reading, so whenever I ran out of the weekly haul of library books, I wrote a story. Also, as an only child growing up in a tiny flat with no other kids around, the characters in my stories took the place of playmates.

I wrote my first little book aged seven. It was called Curious Connie and Fanny Fanakapan. I still have it on my shelf, lovingly bound with red knitting wool. After that I got the bug and couldn’t stop writing. When I hit adolescence I realised that hang on – if you want to write for readers and not just for yourself, you need to get published. This came as a crushing blow. It seemed to me that you had to be brilliant, well connected and grow up in a posh, bookish family.

The problem was, I didn’t want a ‘proper’ career. I only wanted to write. So I ditched my A Levels, ran off to Rome to be an au pair, and a year later I was back in London expecting my first child. As a young mum in my twenties I bashed out novels on my old Remington typewriter. Getting published at this point seemed an impossible dream. The manuscripts all went in the drawer and this continued into my thirties. I didn’t start sending out stories until my forties, and was greatly surprised when they won some prizes and were published in magazines. That was a turning point, and a real confidence boost.

2. What’s the toughest part of the writing process for you? 
Deciding which of my ideas I should commit to. Often I’ll have two or three works in progress on the go. I’ll play around with one, get bored and go back to the other until I’m thoroughly confused. There’s a lot of fear and anxiety attached to a first draft. The novelist Anne Tyler put it so well when she talked about ‘marching her characters like foot soldiers through the plot.’ You can only pray that at some point the magic will happen and they’ll all spring to life. I used to love first drafts, that feeling of being totally absorbed and carried away by your characters. Nowadays I prefer the editing process. 

3. What’s the most enjoyable part of writing?
When something happens you weren’t expecting and you just run with it. Then you read it back and wonder where the heck it came from. The fun bit for me is reading aloud those final drafts. I love doing the voices, although it’s best to make sure you’re alone in the house.

4. Which book do you wish you had written and why?
Can I be greedy and have two? I was going to say Sarah Water’s wonderfully eerie ‘The Little Stranger.’ However, I’m opting for a more recent read, which I stumbled upon last year: The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood. I’ve chosen it because the actual process of writing this book must have been sheer joy! There is a strong sense of place, and Alison creates a spell-binding atmosphere which made me feel I was right there in this sinister village where summer never ends. There is no faking such magic. I don’t know Alison, but suspect that the story and characters just took hold of her and the outside world disappeared. She was in the zone. There’s nothing quite like that feeling for a writer. That’s all about the art of writing, not the industry.

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why?
I’d save Annie in my short story ‘The Centipede’ from my collection, ‘The Gingerbread Wife.’ I can’t tell you what happens to her but it isn’t pretty! A lot of the characters in my short fiction come to a sticky end one way or another. 

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character who would you spend it with and why? 
I’d spend it with Mrs. Palfrey from the impeccable Elizabeth Taylor’s ‘Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont.’ Mrs. Palfrey is a heartbreakingly lonely character. Virtually estranged from her only daughter, she spends her final years in a hotel, where the other elderly residents bitch and boast about their families. When she takes a fall in the street one day, the young man who comes to her aid becomes a friend. Mrs. P, to save her growing humiliation introduces him as her grandson.

Despite her frailty Mrs. P is spirited, funny and has a kind heart so she’d make a great companion. I’d take her out to buy a pretty new scarf she could show off to the residents. We’d go back to her hotel, where I’d pretend to be her ever-loving niece and make a huge fuss of her in front of everyone.

7. What can we expect next from you? 
I’m working on another psychological thriller – working title is ‘The Good Listener’.

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out?
To look after my back, and not sit scribbling for hours until my joints froze! After decades of sitting hunched at a computer I now have to write standing up. I’d warn new writers to remember they also have a body, not just a brain. Be aware of your posture, take long walks, and do frequent back stretches. Pilates is good.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you.
I’m not one of those people who staggers straight from bed to the computer. A bit of mundane activity, housework, walking the dog and so on is good for waking the brain up and planning. I tend to smile when I hear writers say they never do housework. Fine if you have an army of staff to take care of the motley. At some point you have to roll up your sleeves and scrub the loo! The mid-morning coffee break is an essential part of my routine though. Two cups, probably a bit of my homemade cake, then guilt will drive me to my desk where I’ll probably answer emails, check Twitter etc, before getting stuck in.

I’m also a Book Doctor for the Writers Workshop. If I’m working on a report for a client, I’m a lot more disciplined and stick to more usual office hours. I never work in the evenings, unless you count reading work.

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment?

I’ve just finished Eileen by Ottessa Mottfegh. It’s not a comfortable read, but I romped through it in just three sittings. It’s a brilliant warts n’all character study of a damaged young woman drawn into a strange friendship which will affect the rest of her life.

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A lonely novelist
A devoted fan
A journal that speaks of unspeakable things

 Author Vida Tremayne lies silent in a hospital bed. The forces which brought about her terrifying decline are shrouded in mystery. Meanwhile, her estranged daughter Dory is forced to abandon her fast paced city life to be by her mother’s bedside. Dory is resentful. She hates the country and she and her mother were never exactly close. Luckily Vida already has a carer, the enigmatic Rhiannon Townsend. A long- standing fan of Vida’s, Rhiannon is happy to take care of the bedside vigil. Dory is free to resume her life. Or is she? Then she discovers her mother’s journal. Vida’s chilling testament reveals the trigger for her spiralling into madness. It also reveals the danger that still lurks close by. A danger that will call on Dory’s every reserve of courage if she’s to free her mother, and maybe in doing so, to free herself.

Follow Sarah on Twitter | Buy The Testament of Vida Tremayne on Amazon |
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