Friday, June 22, 2012

An Interview with Sarah Evans

I’m delighted to welcome Sarah Evans to the blog today. An English ex-pat, and RNA member, Sarah has been writing short stories and novels since leaving the world of journalism in the late eighties and taking up the ‘good life’ in rural WA to raise a brood, home-school and attempt self-sufficiency. In between home schooling, baking, gardening and harvesting produce, Sarah writes novels, novellas and short stories across several genres including crime and romance. Her short stories have been broadcast on ABC Radio and published in magazines and anthologies in Australia, England, America and New Zealand. 

Her sweet romance novellas are published by My Weekly Pocket Novels (UK) and her contemporary romance novels, under Sarah’s pseudonym Stephanie-Anne Street with The Wild Rose Press. 

Sarah teaches creative writing, is co-ordinator of Words in the Valley Writers Festival and edits for a children’s book publisher. As a former journalist what made you switch to novels, and what was your first success? Tell us of the excitement of getting that call.

I was a journalist for ten years and loved the whole kit and caboodle, but I’d always had a hankering for writing fiction. My first attempt was the Betty Trask Award. I heard on the radio that they only had one entry and there were two weeks to go to deadline. So I thought, I can do that and proceeded to write a very bad novella in between covering court, council and police rounds. A friend proof-read as I carried on composing and typing out the story. Another friend collected it and gave it to her husband who trained up to London and hand delivered it. All very exciting even if I didn’t get anywhere. At least I knew I could go the distance.

I didn’t actually get ‘The Call’ until another country and four children later. That book was written by candlelight in our shack (no water or electricity, with a baby) and took seventeen years to publish. But the most significant call was when I won a $5000 love story competition run by the Australian Family Circle. Such a buzz and it made family and friends realise I wasn’t just wasting time clattering away at my old typewriter...

What is it about your chosen genre that you most enjoy?

I’m a sucker for a love story - one with lots of humour as I’m not good with angst. I don’t see the point in spending hours wallowing in DMs. Every time I rework something, I like to get a laugh. I know, that’s really sad to laugh at your own stuff (my children tell me so too!) but if I do write a story that is too angst, I lose interest and put it on the back burner for another few months. I also like to throw in a bit of crime. My favourite genre is rom-com crime.

I believe you also write for women’s magazines, is that short stories, serials or articles? What is their particular challenge?

Occasionally I write short stories for the magazine market - again usually humorous ones. I have tried a couple of serials but they weren’t accepted. Both will probably be reworked as novels down the track as I hate wasting anything. Back in the mists of time I also wrote magazine feature articles. I do a lot of short stories for competitions but these don't usually fit magazine criteria. I think this is a good medium for trying out ideas and honing writing skills. There is a quick turn around and they are very do-able in a busy life. Also they can be good for the ego when you win competitions while being rejected on the novel front. Those wins also look good on your CV and covering letters to publishers.

You seem to be involved in many other writing related tasks including teaching creative writing and as co-ordinator of a writers’ festival, not forgetting homeschooling your kids. Tell us about your routine and how you manage to fit everything in. 

Aah, routine... As a journalist, I had no routine. As a new mum, no routine! But now, after 17 years of homeschooling my four children (just down to teaching the youngest one now), I do have a certain rhythm to life. Basically, up early (five in summer, later in winter) and walk the dogs and any pet lambs that think they’re dogs. Chores get done, which can be anything from bonfiring to picking copious quantities of fruit and veg (we try to be as self-sufficient as possible) and then school starts at nine. During school hours I do the washing, which usually means bucketing the water out to the garden (hence I don’t do gym or zumba) and any other jobs that can be done close to the kitchen where most activity seems to take place, including jamming, bottling, drying, chutney-making and baking.

In the afternoon, I try and do some writing related work. This can be anything from my own writing, to editing for a children’s publisher, organising workshops, preparing talks or doing emails. I do tend to keep scraps of paper and a pencil in my pocket to write down any ideas or lines of dialogue otherwise The Muse disperses into the ether for someone else to enjoy and exploit. Overall, my routine is seasonal. I have to fit in with the rhythms of farm, family and community, which means some weeks I hardly write a thing and other times I write up a storm.

You wrote SEASONS AND SEASONINGS IN A TEAPOT about life on your twenty acre farm in rural Western Australia. Can you tell us something about how that came about, and the difficulties of being a writer out in the sticks, as you call it.

SEASONS AND SEASONINGS IN A TEAPOT is a lifestyle/recipe book packed with anecdotes of our early ‘pioneering’ life from shack living without electricity and running water (with a baby) to moving an old wooden boarding house on to our derelict orchard, renovating, planting, playing the Good Life. It was written primarily for my children. I thought it would be a good book for them to have in later years. What I didn’t expect was for them to use it regularly as their own recipe book. And I also didn’t expect it to hit a chord with so many people. I get such lovely letters of appreciation from all over the world. I also get stopped by locals who tell me they’re cooking the pumpkin soup or flapjack. 

As for living in the sticks, Bridgetown is three hours from Perth, nestled in a river valley amid rolling hills. Though it is called a town, it’s more like a village. I’m from the Sussex weald and I found the Bridgetown landscape called to me. It is also a very creative place with lots of artists and musicians, writers and performers. There is a real buzz here. Australia is very city-centric but we are trying to reverse that trend. I have run or organised writing workshops for several years now and for the past three or four I have been asked to co-ordinate a writers festival, Words in the Valley, which means we can get some of the city-based writers down on the farm. Of course, the internet has helped in making us rural authors feel connected with the outside world. I’ve had publishers in the US, UK and New Zealand and my two sons are illustrators and have clients in the UK and Eastern States which would have been difficult a few years back.

How did you hear about the RNA, and in what way has it benefited your career?

I have been a member for years. I think I heard about it through Writing Magazine. It is great to be a member of such a vital organisation, though I do wish I could attend some of the events. So far I have only managed one conference.

SEASONS AND SEASONINGS IN A TEAPOT: A humorous account of the Evans Family’s adventures while establishing Teapot Farm, a 20 acre hobby farm in rural Western Australia. Published by Access Press in 2007. Reprinted in 2008.

Tell us about your latest book and what inspired you to write it.

OPERATION PARADISE is a rom-com crime romp featuring singleton cop DI Eve Rock, her daughter, Chastity, a teenage vigilante with high ideals, and Eve’s mum, a hooker turned nun who now runs a boarding school. For starters, there’s murder, kidnapping, bigamy and stalking, Then there’s dishy undercover cops, speed dating and speed kissing. 
Published by Clan Destine Press it is due out early next year.

Thank you for sparing time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today. We wish you continuing success with the books.
Best wishes, Freda 

Interviews on the RNA Blog are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact me:


live sports said...

nice work

Sheila Everett said...

Dear Sarah,
Second time of trying, so fingers crossed!! Enjoyed hearing about your writing, and you - your evocatively titled Teapot memoir recalled the pleasure I had in writing about bringing up my own large family on a run-down smallholding in very rural Kent in the 1960's entitled Knee Deep in Plums... We too lived the good life, complete with pets - and pests - but we learned the local lingo, rats were referred to as "artichokes!"
Your novels sound great fun - love the name for a teenager, Chastity - hmm...

Keep writing - plenty of good material where you live and work!
And good weather - looks like a wet Wimbledon here...
Sheila Newberry (who has nine children and 22 grandchildren - plus one great grandson so far!)

Susan Bergen said...

I laughed at your lambs coming for walks. It reminded me of a cat I once had that always accompanied me and the dog around the block last thing at night. It hid under cars if anyone else came by and then caught up when the coast was clear. Nice to meet you, Sarah.

Johanna said...

A very interesting interview with an author who has embraced 'the good life'. I met Sarah at one of her excellent 'Words in the Valley' writing festivals and can vouch for her verve and vivacity, not to mention her great writing skills. Seasons and Seasonings in a Teapot is a delightful book - part memoir, part lifestyle with recipes. Can thoroughly recommend it :)

Evonne Wareham said...

Fun to hear a bout writing on the other side of the world - good to have a change of scenery.

Sarah Evans said...

Thank you, all you lovely ladies, for posting such positive feedback. I so enjoyed writing Seasons and there's always plenty of inspiration at Teapot Farm. Sheila, I have heard of your plums book. What a great life you've led. Do you still live on a smallholding? And Susan, our new cat also comes on walks and hassle the dogs. Life is good.

Koncept Lamp said...

nice pics

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