An interview with Sara Pascoe
I’m not going to be reviewing your newest novel, but from your other published novels, is there one that is your own personal favourite?
I wrote this and another novel at the same time, over a number of years, when I was still working as a psychologist. The other novel is coming out in May, 2016–‘Oswald, the Almost Famous Opossum’ is a middle-grade fantasy. But ‘Ratchet’ is my favourite so far, due to all the in depth historic research I did and the complex emotional journey Rachel takes.
I both love and hate novels that don’t leave a discrete ending for the reader. Have you ever felt the need to write sequels?
I agree in that you always want to give the reader a satisfying ending. I don’t feel a need to right sequels, I’d like to think, unless the story compels me to do so. For example, I gave, I believe a very satisfying ending to Ratchet’s first journey in this premiere book, but you do really wonder what happens next. I am very fond of these characters, and I too, want to know where the story goes!
There’s always another novel in the pipeline to write… Tell me about it! Does it have even a working title?
Oh, yes. I have too many! My next novel (after the upcoming publication of ‘Oswald, the Almost Famous Opossum’) will be ‘Space Boy’. This is an other middle-grade/young YA novel. IAN, an overweight, geeky teenager, substitutes his clone to escape the bullies at school (“Hey Space Boy – you’re as big as your own planet!”) and misery at home, so he can run away in peace. But The Clone’s ‘teething problems’ force him to stay, and then face how good his life could be… if only he could have it back.
I also have some novels for adults in the works. I’ve been plotting out ‘Sabrina Dastardly’s Blog from the Future’ (working title), an erotic sci-fi story set…obviously… in the future. Then, there is ‘Lucifer’s Librarian’…
Some advice other writers have given is that your first novel is best sitting in a drawer for a while, because then you feel stronger about chopping up ‘your baby’. Do you still have a copy of your first novel? Whether this was published or unpublished, I need to know!
Oh, don’t worry — this baby was chopped up and put in a blender a few times, and is all this better for it! It was a bit different for me, in that I had done quite a bit of academic writing, including editing a book for the National Academy of Sciences (http://bit.ly/1p0rdCY) in my former profession, as well as having written a self-help book for Need2Know books (http://bit.ly/1T69lkQ). So I approached novel writing, I believe, less naïvely than I might have, had I not had lots of red lines through my writing for many years! I’ve submitted my first two novels to many critiques and edits, both by other writers, and professional editors. I kept doing this until I was confident the books were in the best shape they could be. I plan to do this for all my books.
I highly recommend that new writers get a number of other people read their work. And these should be people that do not know or love them! There are websites where writers beta read for each other–give a non-professional, but honest critique of your work. You have to balance this with not bending with every breeze, and changing everything people don’t like. For me, if I hear the same criticism from more than one person, I always take it seriously.
Do you have a dedicated writing space? How does it meet your writing needs?
Yes, I have my computer on a desk raised up so I can use a draughtman’s chair – -much easier on the back! My desk is at a window at the front of our house, so I don’t feel too closed in, and can look out at the green hedges across the road and watch my cat stare up at the dense hedge, waiting for bird to fall out! Luckily he is a very poor hunter.
What is your writing process? Have you ever thought about changing it? Other authors I have interviewed talk about having an outline – post-it notes in an office, or writing in paper journals. Is there something like that in your writing technique? Or is it all digital for you?
I like using a combination of writing with a pencil, usually on large sketch pads, and using the computer. I make copious notes for research, such as all the historic research I did about 17th century England and Ottoman Empire. (And what a fascinating contrast that was! Istanbul was a sophisticated and amazing place in the 1600s, where women had lots of rights, for example, not to mention the running cold and hot water, and many other forward thinking things, compared to the squalid back-water England was during the civil war period). I also write detailed biographies for my fictional characters, character arcs, and I outline the novel in detail using the eight act screenplay structure to help me plot effectively.
How do you know when a novel or short story is finished? How do you know to step away and let the story speak for itself?
It’s a feeling, for me. In fact, one of the first editors I worked with for Ratchet thought the book was ready for publication, but something nagged me. I wasn’t convinced. So I pushed the boat out (doing this properly is not cheap) and found another editor who had worked for one of the major New York publishing houses in Young Adult books, before going freelance. She agreed that it needed more work (actually, more than I had even thought!). But working with her was terrific–like a personal writing tutor. And Ratchet is now the best it can be. I think, having written scientific research articles for dreary academic journals for some years, as well as my other work, all taught me a lot about when something really is at it’s best. I do remember getting research journal submission back from reviewers who just slashed them to pieces and feeling disheartened. But it taught me both how to be a better writer, and how to recognise when something is done. And finally–ask people, as I described above. Investing in professional critiques and edits is the single most important investment you can make in your writing career. If you’re serious-do it.
Do you have a preference for ebook or paperback format? This is for both your own reading and your novels.
I like both. The ebook format is so practical, easy to read at night while not bothering anyone else, and of course good for the planet. But I also love books in their physical form as beautiful objects. At the London Book Fair (12-14 Apr 2016) there was a talk by Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, and the sale of paper books went up in 2015, as did the number of independent bookstores!
Social media is becoming a big thing. How does managing media outlets come into marketing your brand and your books?
This is very important and critical to sales, so it would seem, and I am learning more about it, to do it more effectively.
You have answered other sets of interview questions, is there something you wish someone would have asked you? Or conversely, something you wish they hadn’t asked?
For once, I don’t have anything to say–unusual for me, eh?! 😉 I can’t think of any interesting questions that has generally gone unasked, except maybe this one, which I don’t know if I’d want to answer: ‘What, if anything would make you stop writing?’