I am so grateful that Sara Bailey took the time to answer my interview questions. I’m sure you’ll agree her answers are a delight!
- Like your protagonist, Helena Chambers, you have also returned to Orkney after years away. Do you consider yourself to be living proof that “you CAN go home again”?
Funnily enough, it was a bit like life imitating art. Like Helena I had no intention of returning to Orkney and it was because of my father that I came back. I was visiting to organize a memorial bench for him the year after he died and met an old boyfriend. The next thing I know I’ve moved up here and we got married last August. I’d already written the book before I came back to Orkney and it was my husband who encouraged me to send it out.
- The setting for “Dark Water” is one in which you are familiar. Do you think an author can do justice to a setting of a novel if they have never been to the place about which they write?
That’s a difficult one to answer and I couldn’t say for anyone else, but I don’t think I could. I have to get a feel for a place – not just the information you can get from travel brochures and the internet but the way it smells, the air, what the people are like.
- How long did the writing process take?
For this book? It felt like forever. I wrote the first draft very quickly as I did it using the Nanowrimo method. The book, or at least an earlier version of it, was for my Ph.D. and I wrote 80,000 words in six weeks. They weren’t good words, but I did have the first draft down and a rough idea of the story. After that it was a couple of years of rewriting. Then once I had my doctorate it went in a drawer.
- Helena Chambers was by her own admission a “Hell Cat” in her youth. Did you take any of that part of her personality from personal experience?
Ummm…how to answer that? Well, I wasn’t an easy teenager and I look back now and wonder how my parents didn’t just disown me sometimes. I don’t think I was a ‘Hell Cat’, but I had my moments let’s say.
- Although “Dark Water” is your debut novel, it is not your first book. Do you feel your previous writing experience aided you in the writing of “Dark Water”?
All writing experience helps. I have a few unpublished/unpublishable novels stashed away and each one of those taught me something new about how I write. Writing the Horror Movie (Bloomsbury 2013) was written in collaboration and again was written very quickly as we only had the summer break from teaching in which to get it done. I learnt a lot from that experience, mainly that panic and a deadline can work wonders for your inspiration.
- Do you feel that your previous writing experience helped to get your novel published?
Yes. All writing experience helps. It also helps to network and to read as much as you can.
- Memory is a predominant theme in “Dark Water”. The vagaries of what we remember as opposed to what other people remember has always fascinated me. How much ‘truth’ do you think is contained in personal memories?
Good question. I find it fascinating how we all have different versions of ‘truth’ and it is one of the themes that drives the novel. I’m not convinced there ever is an actual ‘truth’. There are the facts of an event, but everyone present will have a variation on how those facts presented themselves.
- If someone reviews your book unfavorably (perhaps this has never happened yet?) do you feel personally insulted, or do you just take the bad with the good and consider it part of the writing experience?
I will require chocolate, a duvet and a bit of a cry if it’s really bad. After that I’ll try to pull it together and figure out a way to learn from it. There will always be people who don’t ‘get’ it, but there will also be people who point out areas you can improve or develop and that’s an opportunity not to be wasted. All those rejection letters really do help toughen you up. Obviously there will be people who don’t like the book, or it is just not for them, and that has to be OK. You can’t please everyone. You can only do the best you can at the time.
- Writers are also avid readers. What type of book do you like to read for pleasure?
I have such a wide reading range. I will read almost anything. I love having books recommended to me. I read crime, historical fiction, women’s fiction, chick lit, classics. On my bedside table at the moment I have a new crime novel “The Turning Tide” by Brooke Magnanti, “Something Fishy” by P.G Wodehouse and Amy Liptrot’s “Outrun” (which I’m re-reading).
- What are some other of your personal leisure activities?
Walking my cocker spaniel puppy, Molly, on the beach. Watching films and baking.
- If you could sit and enjoy a chat and a glass of wine with another crime novelist – who would it be?
I’ve just finished Lin Anderson’s new novel, “None but the Dead“. I’ve not come across her before, even though she’s an Orkney writer, but I’d love to have a chat with her. Ian Rankin (although it would have to be whiskey with him, or a beer) is another – I think it would be fun just to sit in a pub with him and listen to him talk.
- Do you watch crime television? If so, what are some of your favourite shows?
I love crime television. I watch as many as I can – from Midsummer Murders to Shetland. I’ve not seen The Killing yet though and I know I must be about the last person alive not to have seen it. But I’m saving it up for the long winter evenings.
- I loved the ending of “Dark Water”. Did you know how you wanted the book to end when you began writing it, or did the idea for the ending develop over the course of writing the novel?
Thank you. I love it too! I knew what kind of ending I wanted and I knew the feeling I wanted to leave the reader with, but it took a while before I could get it right. I think I needed to feel confident in the book itself before it would come, if that makes sense.
- Have you ever been SO wrapped up in your characters that you dream about them at night?
All the time. But I figure if they aren’t haunting my dreams, then they won’t haunt anyone else’s either, so I see that as a good thing.
- I am a huge fan of cover art and have been working on a blog series called “Cover Love”. How much input did you have in choosing the dustjacket for “Dark Water”? I think it is striking!
I was very, very lucky with both the designer (MECOB) and my publisher. It was very much a team effort. The designer came up with choices of images and once we’d narrowed it down to a couple, he did some mock ups with the title etc. so we could see what it would look like. Funnily enough, the image I liked best initially looked all wrong when it had the title and tag line on it. I’m so happy with the one we finally chose; it’s perfect as far as I’m concerned.
- Have you ever ‘people-watched’ to gain inspiration for any of your characters? And, how did you pick your character’s names?
I am such a ‘sticky beak’ I people watch all the time. It is my favourite occupation.
Characters names can be interesting. I had the name Anastasia in my head for a long time but I kept rejecting it because it was just too ‘out there’, or so I thought. Then I overheard (people watching) someone talking about a girl who had changed her name… ‘she wants to be called Anastasia now, what’s wrong with Stacey, I’d like to know.’ And I immediately thought, that could be my character they’re talking about. So Anastasia was born. The nicknames were easier – all the men in Orkney seem to have nick names and where they come from can be really obscure. I had a friend check that I’d not used any real ones though.
- What crime thriller novelist writing today do you most admire? Why?
I admire anyone writing crime. There is so much research and procedural knowledge in crime books these days. I have to say though, I do admire Robert Galbraith (and I’m not just saying that because she came to Orkney) and I can’t wait for the next book. To be able to switch genres in the way that J.K Rowling has done and to do it so well, that’s truly admirable.
- What current novelist do you feel is underrated and/or deserves to be more well known?
There are so many new authors emerging daily. I think that the rise of the independent publisher is a great help for less well known authors. The big five (publishers) tend to flood the market with a handful of well-known names because they know they’ll make sales. It would be nice if they invested in developing new careers more.
But if you want to know who I think is one to watch out for then I’d have to say S.E Lynes (Valentina) is definitely one to watch.
- I’ve just retired from a library career and have known for some time that mysteries/crime thrillers are some of the most read genres of fiction. Why do you think crime fiction is so popular?
I think that crime fiction, like horror films, acts as a safety valve. We love to be scared in a safe environment, to get that rush of adrenaline all the time knowing that it is just a story (or a film) and as such will have a resolution. In an uncertain world that can be a huge comfort.
- How do you wish to be contacted by ‘fans’? Facebook? Twitter? Your own blog?
Fans? Gosh. If I have any fans I’d be thrilled. They can contact me via Twitter @baileysara or my blog http://www.scribblingwoman.co.uk and, of course, through Nightingale Editions http://www.nightingale-editions.com
Sara’s novel, “Dark Water” will be available for purchase in paperback October 3, 2016 at the following retailers:
Kindle editions are available now.