Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sara Jayne Townsend, Death Scene

AUTHOR:  Sara Jayne Townsend
GENRE:   Mystery
PUBLISHER:  MuseItUp Publishing
BUY LINK:  Coming soon

Are you a full-time writer or part-time, and how do you organize your writing time?

Part time writer with full time day job.  And I spend three hours a day commuting to and from London to get to the day job.  It can be difficult to fit writing time in.  I have learned to be disciplined.  And sacrifice sleep.  I get up at 5:30am a couple of mornings a week to go into London early and I sit in a coffee shop near the office to get an hour of writing in before I go to work.  This seems to work well for me, and I get a lot done in that hour.  I think I’m tapping into my creative energy before the ‘internal editor’ wakes up, and I am able to write uncensored.

When and why did you begin writing?

A difficult question because I didn’t consciously start writing – it seems that it was always there.  As a young child I was always making up stories.  All of my dolls and toys had names, family histories and personalities and I would make up stories about them to tell myself at night when I went to bed.  From the age of six or seven, when I first learned how to write, I started writing them down.

What inspired you to write your first book?

I wrote many books (the first aged 11) before I got one published, and I am choosing to answer this question as it relates to my first published book. 

In the early 1990s I had a job in an office close to my home, and I used to walk to work.  My route took me past a ramshackle old house on a street called Nightingale Road.  The house looked empty and neglected, with dusty windows and overgrown plants in the garden.  It likely belonged to an old person, perhaps someone who’d gone into a care home or who’d died and there was no one left to care about the house.  But my imagination went into overdrive.  Who did live in the house?  I was inspired to write a story called ‘Kiddiwinks’, about a creature who lured children into her house by taking on the persona of a kindly old woman, and then she’d eat them – a sort of take on Hansel and Gretel.  I put the story to my writing group and they told me I should turn it into a novel.  So I did.  Eventually that novel became SUFFER THE CHILDREN (now available as an e-book).  Many of the details changed, but the old house on Nightingale Road still features.  As far as I know, its real-life inspiration is still there, too.

What are your thoughts about promotion?

Once upon a time writers could hole up in their garrets and never talk to anyone.  There’d be marketing people to sell their books for them.  Before the Internet you could go a lifetime without ever knowing what your favourite author looked like, unless you bought the hardback with the author photo on.  Now writers are expected to be much more proactive with the promotion.  The Internet can be a good place for promotion, especially for e-book authors, with Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads all providing platforms to promote your work and interact with readers.  Guest blogging can help you reach a new audience, as well.  I offer guest spots to other writers on my blog on Mondays, and most writers are more than happy to reciprocate.  Some writers argue that online promotion takes up writing time, but I would say that it’s just as important, and you have to make time for it as you make time for writing.

What are your current projects?

I’ve got a horror novel that is almost at final draft stage, and I hope to have that ready to submit later this year.  I’m also working on a collaboration with my husband.  He has an interest in 1960s music and thirty years of running table-top roleplaying games has made him quite good at plotting.  We are working on a crime thriller set in 1967, about a young woman who goes to London with dreams of playing bass guitar in a rock band, and who bites off a lot more than she can chew when she starts to investigate a friend’s disappearance.  We worked together on the plot, and I am writing the first draft.  It’s the first time we’ve worked together on a writing project.  So far it’s going quite well, but there’s a long way to go before it’s finished.

How can we find you? Website, Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc.?

What genre do you write in and why?

Crime and horror.  I’ve never been a ‘happy ever after’ sort of girl.  I like exploring the darker side of human nature, and people generally die horrible deaths in my work.  I often use writing as a way of exorcising negative or difficult feelings – loss, insecurity, death, fear, isolation.  So generally happy feelings do not make their way into my writing because I want to hold onto them.

So saying, I am a fan of satisfactory endings, if not necessarily happy ones.  In my novels, the main characters reach the end of the story have generally moved on from where they were at the beginning, having learned something or resolved some issue.  Though I can’t say the same about my short stories.  If you like happy endings, you probably shouldn’t read SOUL SCREAMS.

Do you outline before you write?  If not, what’s your initial process?

I do outline, and this is something I have learned over time. I have too many half-finished manuscripts languishing in drawers because I got stuck halfway through.

Now, before I start writing chapter one I will start by writing a plot summary that usually ends up about three pages long.  I will then take that summary and expand on it a bit and plan a chapter-by-chapter breakdown.  Only then will I start writing draft 1.  Quite often I stray a bit from the plan, as I discover that an event in chapter 5 will actually take three or four chapters to play out, or some character gets distracted for a while by a side issue that I wasn’t expecting.  But as long as I have that chapter plan to come back to I know where my characters have to end up, and it means that whenever I sit down to write I know what’s going to happen next.  I know not everyone likes to be that organized with their writing, but it works for me.

How did you decide how your characters should look?

I generally try and think of a famous person my character resembles, and I keep that person’s image in mind when I write about them.  Sometimes I’ll even print off a brief ‘fact sheet’ containing relevant facts about the character’s appearance and personality, and include a photo of their famous look-alike which I will print off and keep by the PC when I write.

My amateur sleuth Shara Summers looks like the actress Jennifer Gardner.  Now, whenever I write about this character, this is how I picture her in my head.

Did your book require a lot of research? If so, what kind?

I had to do a lot of research into poisons to write DEATH SCENE – what sort of substance will poison someone slowly, and remain undetected?  I initially wanted to fall back on the old standards arsenic and cyanide, but a doctor friend of mine advised me that these substances are practically impossible to get hold of nowadays, and if I was writing a contemporary crime novel I couldn’t really use them.  She suggested to me a viable alternative, which is what I ended up using (though to avoid spoilers I will not reveal any more!).

I do have a book on poisons sitting on my bookshelf, which always worries people when they visit the house and notice it.

What are your current books out right now, and what are the books coming up for release?

I’ve got a supernatural horror novel, SUFFER THE CHILDREN, currently available as an e-book, and a collection of short stories (also horror), SOUL SCREAMS, which is available as print and e-book.

The first book in my amateur sleuth series, DEATH SCENE, is not currently available but it will be re-released by MuseItUp Publishing in the Summer, and the sequel, DEAD COOL is scheduled for release in Autumn.

What advice would you give a new writer starting out?

Write often, even if it’s initially rubbish. Anyone can form a sentence, but it takes practice to become good at writing.  Join a writing group – an online one if you can’t find a physical one that’s suitable – and put your work out for critique.  Listen to the comments you get back, even if you find them harsh.  It’s not easy to hear that your baby is ugly, but if you want to increase your chances of publication you have to learn where you’re going wrong.  Go to genre conventions as often as you can and start talking to other writers and industry professionals (starting conversations is much easier than you might think – they’ll all be in the bar, and offering to buy someone a drink is always a good place to start).  And then, when you’ve polished your manuscript as much as you can, submit it.  Rejection is painful, but it happens to us all.  You need to develop a thick skin.  Every time a standard rejection email drops into your inbox, you promptly send it out somewhere else.  And never give up.  No writer becomes an overnight success, and you have to keep picking yourself up and throwing yourself out there again.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I play bass guitar (rather badly – I’m still a beginner) and my husband plays electric and acoustic guitar so we do a lot of open mic nights together at local pubs.  I am also very fond of playing video games.  Currently my favourite series are Resident Evil, Silent Hill and Dragon Age.

What do you look for in a book when you sit down to read for fun?

Most of my reading is done on my commute to and from work. I have a couple of hours’ reading time every day and I am a fast reader, so I get through at least one book a week. I like action-driven crime novels and horror stories, with strong plots and courageous female characters. I get on the train at 7:20am and my brain isn’t fully awake then, so I like stories I can leap straight into, without having to think too hard – ambiguity and obscurity are turn-offs in books.  I also like short chapters.  I hate leaving a book in the middle of a chapter, and since most of my reading is done in half-hour bursts before I have to change trains, I don’t like starting a chapter if I know I won’t get to the end of it before I get to my stop.


DEATH SCENE (Shara Summers #1)

Poking around in family closets produces skeletons…

British-born, Toronto-based, actress Shara Summers turns amateur sleuth when her sister is stricken with a mysterious illness. Summoned back to England to be with her family during a time of crisis, Shara discovers doctors are at a loss as to what's causing Astrid’s debilitating sickness.

After her aunt is found dead at the bottom of the stairs the death is deemed an accident. Shara suspects otherwise. Her investigation unearths shocking family secrets and a chilling realization that could have far-reaching and tragic consequences that affect not only her own future, but Astrid’s as well.

DEAD COOL (Shara Summers #2)

Actress Shara Summers has settled in London and is “between jobs” when her Canadian ex-boyfriend David sails back into her life, begging to her to fill the backing singer vacancy in the up and coming band he’s about to go on a European tour with.

Short on funds and auditions Shara reluctantly agrees, but tragedy strikes at the opening night party when the band’s charismatic front man Dallas Cleary Anderson falls to his death from a hotel window.  It soon becomes clear that Dallas did not fall, but was pushed.  His arrogant and confrontational manner means there are no shortage of people who wanted him out of the band permanently – but who would resort to murder?


Sara-Jayne Townsend is a UK-based writer of crime and horror.  She was born in Cheshire in 1969, but spent most of the 1980s living in Canada after her family emigrated there.  She now lives in Surrey with two cats and her guitarist husband Chris.  She co-founded the T Party Writers’ Group in 1994, and remains Chair Person.

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