Lucy talks to Sarah Purdue, our Writer Of The Week. Sarah has written several stories and Pocket Novels for “The People’s Friend” over the years.
Welcome, Sarah! As you are our Writer Of The Week, it would be great to hear a little about your writing career to date.
I was a voracious reader at school, but I was more focused on science — and never very good at English.
It seemed my life was set on science being a career and reading being a hobby, so I went to university to study biology, then trained to be a nurse. Fast forward eight years, and I was desperate for a change.
One day, a leaflet for Higher Education at The University of Winchester came through my letterbox. I saw the ad for their MA in Writing For Children, and with the encouragement of my parents, took that leap!
I studied the MA part-time while still nursing, and two years later actually had a qualification in writing. A lot of the learning came from my fellow writers on the course – they taught me to be brave enough to let others read my work, and to listen to their critique.
On reflection, I made lots of rookie mistakes when I started sending stories off. For starters, not reading the guidelines for each publication! I can still remember the excitement of opening the letter when I had my first story accepted by “The People’s Friend”. I still have that letter, actually!
My previous jobs involved commuting, and had fairly high levels of stress, which is not particularly conducive to creativity. I now write in the mornings and work part-time in the afternoons – for me, it’s the perfect balance. The regular income helps balance the uncertainty of a writer’s income.
Have you experienced rejection as a writer and if so, how have you handled it?
I wrote more short stories than I can count before I finally had one accepted! Rejection is part of the writing life — only writers who are sending things off are rejected, therefore I felt that I was a “real” writer even if I was being rejected. It can be disheartening, but it’s very much part of the process.
Rejection tells you whether you are in this for the long haul. Are you willing to learn and develop as a writer? Are you ready to take feedback on board, even when you don’t necessarily agree with it?
If someone reads my work (my mum, in the first instance, bless her!) and tells me it could be better, I listen and use the feedback to make my writing better.
I’ve learned more from being rejected than I ever did being successful. But being Writer Of The Week is nice, though!
Your pocket novel, “Summer of Weddings” is on sale this Thursday, July 25. Tell us a little bit about it.
“Summer of Weddings” is about a teacher called Claire, who is happily single whilst all her friends are getting married. In fact, she has a wedding every weekend of her six-week summer holiday. The summer is usually the time that Claire goes abroad for adventures, but this year she will be travelling around the country attending weddings and meeting up with old friends. At the airport on the way to her first wedding, she meets a handsome American called Gabriel who is also travelling.
When Claire, who is a bridesmaid for her best friend, Lorna, arrives at the church, she couldn’t be more surprised to see that Gabriel is there, too. He is over from America for six weeks to spend time with his best friend, Jack, Lorna’s soon-to-be husband. Claire finds herself drawn to Gabe, but he seems to have a secret. And besides all that, at the end of the summer he will be going home to America. Claire has to decide if it is worth risking her heart for something that might only be a summer romance.
When Gabriel’s secret is revealed, it seems yet another thing that could stand in their way. And the question becomes whether or not they can both find a way to be together!
How do you plan each pocket novel?
I start with my main character – who is she, and what does she want? Then I need to find the right name. I have a baby name book, and I also research on the internet until I find the right one. It needs to suit the character, and say something about them. Then I come up with a brief idea of the situation my main character finds herself in right at the start of the novel.
My writing is organic, and often I don’t know where it’s going to take me. Sometimes I have an idea of what happens next, and scribble a few notes in an A4 diary that I always keep beside my computer. But mostly I just sit down and see what happens next!
I’m only really thinking about the first chapter when I first start typing. Once I reach the second half, I have one eye on how the novel will end. Writing this way is quite “freeing”, because I can come up with characters and get writing. I am also frequently surprised with what happens next!
I tend to bounce ideas around with my mum, who usually makes the best suggestions!
How long does each pocket novel take to write?
I have written a pocket novel in a month, but on average it tends to take six to eight weeks.
Any tips for dealing with writer’s block?
Get a diary and make a plan. Every day I set writing goals of what I need to achieve. Set realistic goals; make them achievable. If time is a factor, aim for 250 words a day. You’ll be surprised at how quickly this adds up.
I find writing in the dark winter months quite tough, as inspiration and motivation is harder to find. I set smaller goals then.
If writer’s block strikes, it helps to go and do something else. Housework, gardening, or going for a walk are all great ways to let your brain think, with no pressure.
Notebook and pencil, or laptop? Kitchen table or study? Blank wall, or inspiring view?
I write on my laptop at my desk. My spare bedroom acts as my office, and I have a long desk made out of a kitchen workshop under the window. The view is very familiar, so not too distracting – the comings and goings of my neighbours and their cats makes me feel like I am still connected to the world, even if I am lost in writing.
And a P.S. – what’s your one top tip for aspiring pocket novel authors?
Create a heroine who has flaws, but is likeable. She needs to want something – it could be romance, a job, a cause she is passionate about, or an escape from a broken heart. Then think about your hero – both characters need to have hearts, and flaws. Find the right names, bring them together in an exciting or action-packed way, and you’re off! You might even be Writer Of The Week one day!
Could you write a Pocket Novel for “The People’s Friend”? Click here to take your first step . . .
Read more of our Writer Of The Week series here.