Sara Jayne Townsend is a UK-based writer of crime and horror, and someone tends to die a horrible death in all of her stories. 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. She decided she was going to be a published novelist when she was 10 years old and finished her first novel a year later. It took 30 years of submitting, however, to fulfil that dream.
Sarah, Tell us a little about yourself and your writing.
I am a UK-based crime and horror writer that spent some time in Canada. That’s the short version. Longer version: I grew up in Lancashire in the 1970s, and spent the 1980s in Canada when my family emigrated there. Then when I finished high school I moved back to England. I consider myself sort of ‘bi-lingual’ – part English, part Canadian. I took that experience and used it to create my amateur sleuth Shara Summers, who is a Canadian living in London. There are differences in the way people think in both places, and this is something she notices.
How long have you been writing and how did you get started?
I always say the answer to this question is: since always. I was making up stories before I even know how to write. I had an array of soft toys and dolls as a child and to me they were characters. Each one had a name, a personality, a family history. I would make up my own bedtime stories using one of my toys as the main character every night. As soon as I knew how to write, I started writing those stories down. And it’s gone on from there. I can’t imagine my life without the storytelling.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing, and does it come in useful for your stories?
Throughout my twenties and thirties, I was heavily involved in amateur dramatics – not just on stage, but helping out with props, set building, stage management and on occasion even directing. It’s something I don’t seem to have the time or energy for these days – it’s exhausting enough trying to fit the writing and all of its related activities (such as marketing) around the day job, let alone anything else. But it’s why I made my amateur sleuth an actress. I decided to live the theatre life vicariously through her. And my familiarity with the world of theatre comes in handy when I’m writing about her.
I am also learning to play bass and do open mic nights on occasion with my guitarist husband. Which is one reason I decided to give my amateur sleuth a job as backing singer in the latest novel DEAD COOL. I’ve always hankered after being a rock chick, so I wanted to make Shara one.
Ebooks or Traditional?
I think they both have a place, but I find myself buying more ebooks these days than print books. I like keeping books when I’ve read them, in case I want to read them again, and I have a house stuffed full of books. So much so that there’s not much room for many more. Ebooks are much more convenient for travelling, and for my daily commute to and from the day job, and I don’t have to find space on my book shelves for them.
What’s the most important thing you have learned about writing?
There are two points that I think are equally important. One: seek feedback from people whose opinions you trust and make sure you heed what they tell you when they give you honest and constructive feedback. Writing is a lifetime learning process, and the only way you improve is by understanding where your weaknesses are, and how you can improve on them.
Two: never give up. Success in writing is invariably preceded by multiple rejections, and even if after you get an acceptance that doesn’t mean the rejections will cease. We all experience moments of self doubt, and that feeling that we’re only pretending to be writers. You have to squash those feelings, and keep on submitting. A thick skin is essential.
Crime: Poirot or Dragon Tattoo?
I like both, but for different reasons. Poirot is more reflective of my own writing style: logical, linear, with a murder, a series of clues, and a clear ending in which the killer is caught and justice is dispensed. Dragon Tattoo is more like a thriller. The character of Lisbeth Salander is really not a very nice person, but she was fascinating enough for me to want to keep reading about her. That’s very hard to pull off. I don’t think I could write like that.
Have you ever included people you know (disguised or not) in your fiction?
I had a sexist, bullying boss once who I turned into a character in one of my novels. And then I killed him off. It was most cathartic.
Who are some of your favourite authors and what is it about their work that appeals?
Stephen King has always been a big inspiration to me for the horror writing. I love the way he is able to take completely realistic, ordinary, flawed people and put them into an extraordinary situation.
On the crime writing side of things I love Sara Paretsky and her kick-ass female private eye V.I. Warshawski. I love the way she stands up against the men, even when she is being threatened, and refuses to stop until she’s got the answer she seeks. I think she’s a marvellous role model for women, and she inspired me to create a female sleuth.
Conventions: when and where.
I love conventions and try to go to as many as I can afford. Every year I look at EasterCon, FantasyCon, Nineworlds Geekfest at Heathrow and the Sci Fi Weekender in Wales and try to get to at least two of them. This year I’ve done the Sci fi Weekender and EasterCon already, and I’m aiming to get to the others!
My favourite crime conference is the Harrogate crime festival which always takes place in July. Internationally I’d like to go to Bouchercon, but I haven’t got there yet. I’ve got my eyes on the 2017 con, which will be in Toronto. That’s a place I have cause to go to fairly regularly anyway, to visit friends and family, so I’m hoping I can combine attending BoucherCon with my regular visit to Canada.
The first two books in Sarah’s amateur sleuth series about Canadian actress Shara Summers, DEATH SCENE and DEAD COOL, are available as e-books from the Museit Up book store: http://museituppublishing.com/bookstore/index.php/our-authors/70-our-authors/authors-t/420-sara-jayne-townsend and from all good e-book retailers.
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?