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Sunday, 29 August 2010

Interview with Author, Sarah Barnard

Sarah Barnard is a single mother living, working and writing in Middle England. She describes the place as a bit like Middle Earth in its beauty but without the walking trees. She tries to live a green life, growing some of her own crops, keeping chickens for eggs and doing as much reducing, reusing and recycling as she can. A Pisces and a rooster, depending on the preferred zodiac system, her favourite colours are green and purple. She’s been writing since a very good friend dared her to take part in the National Novel Writing Month challenge - 50,000 words in 30 days; an experience she describes as so intense it's unreal. That was in November 2005 and The Portal Between resulted. She’s completed the same challenge every year since.

Tell us about “The Map and The Stone” in a few sentences.
My latest book to be released is “The Map and The Stone” an urban fantasy written for my own children.
It tells the story of Rhys, a ten year old boy, who sees things moving from the corner of his eye and when he looks closer he often finds things too. We find out that he’s being watched by a goblin like creature that calls itself a Darkling. The creature is trapped in a brightly lit space between Rhys’ world and its own and it needs to get home, and so do its friends. Rhys is the only person they’ve found who can see them properly and they ask him for help.
Rhys lives with his Mum after his Dad left them and they struggle from day to day, emotionally as well as financially but with the Darkling’s help Rhys makes new friends and so does his Mum.
The Map and The Stone is a spin off from my main Portal Series.
How did you come to write this particular book?
I’d already written and released two books and my son complained that I won’t let him read them. So I promised him a book that he could read.
How long does it normally take you to write a novel?
Normally? How long is a piece of string? There is no normal when writing, it takes as long as it takes.
The Map and The Stone, however, was written in 28 days.
Yes, really, 28 days of very little sleep and being so hyper focused that even my friends despaired and longed for the end of the month.
I started writing it on November 1st 2009 and finished the first rough draft on November 28th 2009, with a few minutes to spare before I was due to leave the house for a hospital appointment. It was written as part of the NaNoWriMo challenge which I try to do every year.
Where and when is your novel set and why did you make these specific choices?
It’s set now and here because the main Portal series it came from is set here and now. I wanted the book to be easily read by my son and his class mates and for them to be able to relate to Rhys as if he was one of them. I wanted that “this could be me!” feeling.
What is your working method?
I write organically. I’ve tried planning it out, I’ve tried making rudimentary notes, character maps and nothing else works for me. When I write by the seat of my pants it just flows and the stories tell themselves.
Is that what you mean by “method”? If not, I have no idea.
Tell me about your writing habits, Sarah.
Obsessive. I write every day if I can and have a notebook and pen in my bag if there’s the remotest chance of five minutes writing time.
Is there any aspect of writing that you really enjoy?
The creation, the raw power that comes with inventing people, places, relationships. That rush when it works and I’m actually telling myself to write faster because I need to know what happens next. Those moments when a character really comes to life from the keyboard and becomes real in my head. I love all of that.
Then I also love that moment when it’s done, edited, cover sorted and finally finished and ready to release to the world. I love the feeling that I’ve succeeded and that is just spiced by that uncertainty that people won’t like this one.
If there’s a single aspect to writing that really frustrates you, what is it?
I hate editing. I hate having to re-read the same thing over and over. I hate that part. That’s the worst part of writing. Writers block I can get round, distractions too, but I so wish I could avoid the editing.
How do you know where to begin any given story?
I begin at the beginning and then write until I find the end. It’s how I work.
Sometimes I give myself a finishing line. With The Map and The Stone I set myself a target of finishing the whole story within 50,000 words and I did. With my other two books I’ve just kept going until I reached a natural stopping point.
To what extent are grammar and spelling important to a writer?
To the writer, not vitally important. To the reader? That’s a slightly different question. Also, how important in the written word?  Best selling books have been written in dialects and with intentionally odd grammar or punctuation. I read a book once that had no capital letters in, at all. It wasn’t easy to read.
So, I’d say that although they’re not that vital to the writer they are vital to the finished product so the writer needs someone to polish that raw gem they’ve created with the grammar, spelling and punctuation so that the reader can enjoy it without difficulties jolting them from the story.
Where do you actually write, Sarah?
Usually, right here. Sitting here in the corner of my living room at the computer, with a fresh mug of hot Earl Grey tea at my elbow which often goes stone cold before I remember it’s there.
I have written on beaches, in woodland, in the local park while my kids play on the swings and kick a football about. I have written in libraries, coffee shops, motorway service stations. But mainly I write at home, on the computer.
What sort of displacement activities keep you from actually writing?
Hang on while I wash up, make a fresh mug of tea, mow the grass, hoover the floor, wander round Facebook …. Ooh is that something shiny….
You were saying? We all do it don’t we?
Do you think writing is a natural gift or an acquired skill?
I’m serious. Some writers have that natural talent with words and that can be honed and polished. Some people are capable of learning how to write and develop those skills. So I think both.
If you have a favourite character in your novel, why that particular one?
My favourite character in the whole series, and she does turn up in The Map and The Stone, is Lily. She just wanders in and saves the day, makes tea and cake when it’s needed and is the best friend anyone would want. The best thing is she wasn’t going to be a main character, she was a very flat description who was there to baby sit the kids while my planned main character went off to discover magical things. But Lily wandered in with more depth than I’d planned and hiding secrets and mystery and she opened up aspects to the story that made it what it is now.
What are you writing now?
This interview.
Oh, in terms of books? I knew that…
I’m currently working on the third Portal book first draft and I’m about 75% done I think. It’s turning into a very different feeling book than the other two and I hope people won’t be disappointed. The first two Portal books are full of fast paced action and blistering magical battles. Not so much with the third one.
How much revision of your MS do you do before you send it off?
Probably not as much as I should and more than I want to.
Given unlimited resources, what would be your ideal writing environment?
A better computer and a more comfy chair, and a bigger mug. All in a large house, set in it’s own grounds with a view of trees and lots of chickens scratching about outside, beside the greenhouse that stands next to the veg garden and near the small apple orchard.
Hmm, I can dream, one day maybe.
So, Sarah, how can people buy your books?
All three of my books are available through Amazon as Kindle books and two are also available as paperback through Amazon. Go to my Author page and all the books are on there.
Other ebook formats are available through Smashwords
All my books are available as paperbacks through my own website too.
You have a website: do you also have a blog that readers can visit?
My website is and my blog is on there too. I also have a Facebook page
Thanks for this opportunity Stuart, I think I’ve waffled on for quite long enough. But if anyone wants to ask anything else they can always post on my Facebook or leave a comment on my blog
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