Meet the Author: Sandra Danby ** Author Interview & Book Spotlight **
Today I am delighted to welcome Sandra Danby to Books, Life and Everything, to talk about her life as a writer. Sandra has written two books in her Identity Detective series: Ignoring Gravity and Connectedness, her latest, which was published on May 10th.
|c Sandra Danby|
Hello Sandra, it's great to hear from you today. Firstly, can you tell us three surprising things about yourself?
I cannot add or subtract for toffee. Mental arithmetic terrifies me.
At the age of 16 I crewed a Fireball racing dinghy in races at my local sailing club in East Yorkshire. Not on a lake, that’s for wimps. The North Sea. The freezing cold North Sea.
I grew up on a farm and had a Shetland pony called Sixpence. I spent a lot of time outdoors and my face was covered in freckles.
How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?
Given my background as a journalist, it seems natural to me that research is central to the genesis of a new book. I start with a basic idea and, though unsure about the characters involved or landmarks in the plot, I take up residence in the library and read history and non-fiction. I start with one subject, take notes on my iPad of anything interesting. Gradually, plot and character ideas emerge. I ask myself ‘what if’ frequently. I write lots of notes to myself along the lines of ‘a character could do this’ or ‘remember they ate that in 1940’ and ‘use this’. I watch relevant films and television documentaries, I cut articles from newspapers and magazines. I start collecting pictures of people’s faces in newspapers, searching for those that feel a fit for my characters. For my second novel Connectedness I read a lot about art and artists; for my third, Sweet Joy, I am reading about Britain in World War Two, textile designers and bomber pilots. Although I am always reading a novel, when I am in the middle of researching/writing I never read anything from the same period or subject as my own project. At the moment I am working on the marketing of Connectedness and research for Sweet Joy; so I’m re-reading The Skull Beneath the Skin by PD James, the plot of which is totally unrelated to my own writing. But I always learn something from PD James.
How difficult was writing your second book- did having one published change how you went about it?
I felt more assured writing my second novel. The idea had been bubbling away in my head for a long time so it was good to get it down onto paper. This time I knew that my style is to write too long. My first draft of Connectedness was 140,000 words; the first draft of Ignoring Gravity was about the same length. This time I knew it was best to get the story down onto paper, then re-draft and tighten and polish every word. Both novels finished up around 100,000 words although I had no target word count. No first draft is perfect. I lost count of the number of drafts that Connectedness went through, but the knowledge that each version felt better is what makes this process worthwhile. That’s my journalism training, I think, where every precious instinct is knocked out of you in the early days as your copy is changed and cut and re-written. I developed a thick skin in 1982.
Were there any scenes which you had to edit out of your book which you still hanker after?
Yes, three in particular were surplus to requirements and were cut from Connectedness. ‘A Desert Island’ is Justine Tree’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ interview on Radio 4, giving insight into her career as an artist and some hints about her mysterious past. ‘The Biscuit Tin’, told by Justine’s mother Lorna, takes place on the day she dies. ‘Fairy Godmother’ is an experimental first person viewpoint written when I didn’t know the identity of Justine’s lost daughter. All three stories are combined in a short ebook that I send free to anyone who signs up for my newsletter.
Do you have any other writers as friends and how do they influence your writing?
I met my closest writing friends at creative writing classes in London more than fifteen years ago. We have been meeting, once a fortnight, informally, since then. Coffee and cake is always involved. Between us we have written innumerable novels, short stories, poems and plays, and taught a variety of writing and journalism classes. We are each other’s cheerleaders, readers, drill sergeants, copy editors, critics and, most important of all, friends. We say what we think with the intention of being helpful. We never fall out though there may be intense discussion. Some sessions are about giving feedback on chapters we have read in advance, others may be arranged to brainstorm a plot problem or character development. Our styles are so different, our experience varied, which means we bring our individual strengths to the table. The detailed proofreader who spots when someone picks up a cup of coffee and puts down a mug of tea. The actor specializing in creating realistic characters, who asks ‘what’s her motivation?’ The poet with a beautiful turn of phrase who says ‘tell me more about this.’ The journalist who plans and plots, uses Excel sheets and sets deadlines. Which am I? The last.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
|Sandra Danby aged 10 c. Sanfra Danby|
Read all types of novels and make a note of what works and what doesn’t, what keeps you reading and what stops you. Read outside your comfort zone. Talk to people about the books you read and listen to their opinions. Understand that each person takes something different from a book; there is no blueprint, we each bring our own life and baggage to our interpretation of a story. All of this applies also to your own books, when you write them. Do not expect universal approval, it doesn’t exist.
Listen to the advice you are given but do not blindly accept it or reject it without consideration. Evaluate it, then adopt or discard it. There is no ultimate template of how you should write, what you should write, the rules you should obey or break. But, and it is a big but, you must listen to the advice and consider it before rejecting it. You must know the rules, before breaking them. You will be a better writer for it. We are bombarded these days with writing advice, never have novelists been so vocal about how they write, when they write, at what time of day. There is no right way and wrong way; there is your way. Be true to yourself. Listen to feedback and suggestions, be polite, be prepared to offer positive feedback and suggestions in return, always give the person giving the advice the respect of considering it. I have participated in many writing classes – as student and teacher – and watched as some students, whose minds were closed to advice, simply did not hear suggestions that could help them. I’ve also watched other students writing copious notes about how their work should be changed and I worry they would subsequently make changes without analysing why. Knowing who you are as a writer, having confidence in what you write, has to be earned. There is no easy way.
Do you have any unfinished or unpublished books hidden away?
Yes, I do, and so does every author I know. Tiara is unfinished because life got in the way, rather than because I ran out of steam. One day I will return to it. It is a story of decisions and consequences, and how you can change the direction of your life if you want to. Magazine editor Tara is rushing to a business dinner. Distracted by the thought of wearing the beautiful vintage necklace she has bought for the evening, she loses control of her car and runs over a child. She runs away. Meanwhile an exhibition curator in London is gathering material for a show about 1920s jewellery, some of it precious and never seen before in public. In 1929, as the Wall Street Crash is happening, tiara designer Eliza Tavernier suspects fraud at Atelier Tavernier. And a man dies at the docks. Can an object be unlucky, or do people create their own fortune?
Thanks so much for those fascinating answers. Now to hear a little more about your books...
Book Spotlight on ‘Connectedness’
|c. Sandra Danby|
TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD, ARTIST JUSTINE TREE HAS IT ALL… BUT SHE ALWAYS HAS A SECRET THAT THREATENS TO DESTROY EVERYTHING
Justine’s art sells around the world, but does anyone truly know her? When her mother dies, she returns to her childhood home in Yorkshire where she decides to confront her past. She asks journalist Rose Haldane to find the baby she gave away when she was an art student, but only when Rose starts to ask difficult questions does Justine truly understand what she must face.
Is Justine strong enough to admit the secrets and lies of her past? To speak aloud the deeds she has hidden for 27 years, the real inspiration for her work that sells for millions of pounds. Could the truth trash her artistic reputation? Does Justine care more about her daughter, or her art? And what will she do if her daughter hates her?
This tale of art, adoption, romance and loss moves between now and the Eighties, from London’s art world to the bleak isolated cliffs of East Yorkshire and the hot orange blossom streets of Málaga, Spain.
A family mystery for fans of Maggie O’Farrell, Lucinda Riley, Tracy Rees and Rachel Hore.
About the ‘Identity Detective’ series
Rose Haldane reunites the people lost through adoption. The stories
you don’t see on television shows. The difficult cases. The people who
cannot be found, who are thought lost forever. Each book in the ‘Identity
Detective’ series considers the viewpoint of one person trapped in this
horrible dilemma. In the first book of the series, Ignoring Gravity, it is
Rose’s experience we follow as an adult discovering she was adopted as a baby.
Connectedness is the story of a birth mother and her longing to see her baby
again. Sweet Joy, the third novel, will tell the story of a baby abandoned
during The Blitz.
|c. Sandra Danby|
About the Author
Sandra Danby is a proud Yorkshire woman, tennis nut and tea drinker. She believes a walk on the beach will cure most ills. Unlike Rose Haldane, the identity detective in her two novels, Ignoring Gravity and Connectedness, Sandra is not adopted.
Book links: Ignoring Gravity available at Amazon
Connectedness now available for pre-order