Welcome to the second instalment of How to Become a Writer, my new series on the many and varied steps (and missteps) people take on the way to having their first book published. My first post in the series featured Robyn Mundy who came to writing through graphic design, a neurological disorder and a trip to Antarctica.
My next guest is the very lovely Sara Foster, an English rose who’s now been a sandgroper (that means a West Australian, for those who don’t know) for a long time, and is a member of my writing critique group. She is the author of four bestselling psychological suspense novels which focus on family relationships, and of course, lurve. They also reflect Sara’s love of nature and interest in animal welfare and the environment. Sara has been kind enough to share with me her own journey to writing, via bad poetry, inspiring teachers and typing rejection letters to other would-be writers:
From those earliest hazy memories of reading I was also busy writing – and I still have a folder full of my efforts, including one epic poem called ‘Suzy and her green washing machine’. That said, I do feel there have been a few key moments in my life that have kept me on this particular path.
An Inspirational Teacher
I met Paul Binney, an inspirational English teacher, when I arrived at secondary school. Mr Binney didn’t just read stories or dictate words and comprehension to us, he went to great lengths to bring alive everything we read – whether it was The Merchant of Venice or The Waves. I still feel all of the books, plays and poetry we studied with him are favourites of mine, because he helped us drill down into the core and complexity of every word, phrase, symbol or idea without making it an onerous task – and it wasn’t just his knowledge or his teaching style, it was his own passion and enthusiasm that made all of his classes so special. Everyone who was lucky enough to get him as their teacher seemed to feel the same way. I can’t thank him enough, although I did try a few years ago by sending him a copy of my first novel with his name in the acknowledgements. He then sent me a book of his poetry, and it was – unsurprisingly – wonderful.
Every day I was watching others do what I longed to do, seeing amazing success stories and also realizing just how hard it was to get published, because I was in charge of typing many of the rejection letters.
A Stalled Publishing Career
Another circumstance that spurred on my writing was, rather ironically, when my publishing career stalled. I worked at HarperCollins London in the early 2000s. I knew I wanted to write books back then, but I was full of self-doubt, and so I chose an occupation that would keep me close to my great love, not realizing that it would result in agony!I worked with an amazing group of people, but I had never felt less like myself. Eventually it took its toll – mentally, and physically too, because I was commuting 4 hours every day just to get to and from work. I handed in my notice, took any freelance editing work going, got myself better, gritted my teeth and began writing in every spare moment I had. However, there was lots of test material before I really began to try to construct a novel. Meanwhile, my editing career went from strength to strength, and proved invaluable in helping me to understand how good books are put together.
These are just two highlights, but there are many other experiences, big and small, that have kept me on this path. Today I’m still unable to imagine doing anything else, and always scribbling away in every spare moment I can find. When it comes to writing, I think I’m a lifer.
Sara’s latest novel is All That Is Lost Between Us.