Children’s story book author Sarah Lucas answers some of her readers’ questions.
How old were you when you began to write and what was the first thing you wrote?
I was 9. I wrote a poem at school and finished it off at home. My teacher loved it!
That success inspired me to carry on writing. I wrote more poems. I went on to write my first novel aged 11. I’ve written ever since.
Did you like reading when you were little?
I used to collect little boxed sets of fiction books and read them under my covers at night with a torch. The Peter Rabbit series was my favourite. The books were tiny and I loved the feel of them. Although I don’t think you should read under your covers at night because it’s not good for your eyes, but it did mean that before I went to sleep I could escape into a magical world and go to sleep with a happy smile on my face.
Who’s your favourite author and what’s your favourite book?
Roald Dahl and Matilda – in fact any of his books. They are funny and exciting. His language is incredibly imaginative and his characters are real and AWESOME – and yet so grounded.
My favourite adult author is a tricky one. I ADORE Charlotte Bronte – I know the bleak moor landscape of her youth and feel its presence in her writing. I LOVE John Fowles, Margaret Attwood, Tana French to name but a few.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
My son used to ask me this question! It would have to be to be able to fly: to swoop over houses, see forests from a great height and the moon tracing its silvery path across water.
When did you take the plunge and go it alone?
I’d spent a lovely time with my daughter when she was little drawing snails, talking about giant snails and making up stories – all because somebody gave us a baby giant African land snail when we moved into our village. ‘A strange welcoming present!’ you might think. Well, it was. We turned our first story into a book to raise money for the local church. People bought it for silly money – and it was home-produced on the computer, had a plain spine and no blurb even on the back. The people who bought that very first book came back. They wanted the next one which of course I was already writing in my head. That’s when I realised I had to try to get Snail Trail published.
Which is your favourite book from those you have written?
It has to be Snail Trail. Without it, the others might never have been written. But I love them all and for very different reasons.
How long does it take you to write a book?
Well, Snail Trail was written very quickly, only because Amy and I had been talking about the characters and the plot for quite some time. We’d already spent a lot of time thinking and planning. I work very visually, draw lots of mind maps. I had a rough outline in front of me when I was writing Snail Trail and stuck it to the side of my computer so I could follow the plan. Without that detail I would not have been able to focus on telling the story and get it to its timely resolution.
How do you write?
I use mind maps and sketches. I spend a lot of time on sequencing … and I have loads of bits of paper stuck to the edges of my computer when I write. They remind me of important words and themes… although I also like to write in long hand in the early stages. I sit at my desk and imagine I am Charlotte Bronte writing by candlelight in a cold parsonage that’s been weathered by the wind and rain.
Most of my characters are based on real people so I don’t need character sketches because they are already in my head. If your characters are made up, then you need to write down their profiles, even draw them if, like me, you work in a visual way. If you don’t do that your descriptions might be inconsistent.
I write every day. I am very passionate about my work and have to be because I also run a house and a home and get involved in lots of writery things and nature. So my days are busy and because they are, I see lots of interesting things.
I keep notebooks. I even have one in the boot of my car, hidden under a blanket, just in case I have this amazing idea when I am out and about and have no paper to hand.
The main thing as a writer is to notice things, to watch people, to see what makes them stand out and to write those things down. That way I build up a bank of character profiles. I like to write about the funny things people say, or the stories that people tell me.
What’s more important: a story setting or the characters?
Without the characters there would be no story, but story settings play an extremely and fundamentally important part of my books. For me you can’t have one without the other.
Have you got any stories you want to get published?
I’ve got a story that my daughter tells me is her favourite. I’d like to get it published. It’s nothing to do with Old McSlithers, but there is an annoying, (though important) snail in it. The funny thing is it was written some time ago. It’s lovely as it is. And Amy’s illustrations are child-like and cute. But I have tried to rewrite it since. That’s the problem. You write something and it belongs to that period in your development as a writer. In my experience you should never revisit an old story. Leave it and move on because you will already have in so many ways.
What do you think of portals?
Portals shmortals 🙂 They’ve been around forever. I LOVE portals because they fire up the imagination. Think of the wardrobe in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe or Dr. Who. We were walking in the snow on Selborne Common one day not too long ago. There’d been a heavy snowfall. Snow hung heavy from the branches. Everything looked fluffy and white. It was magical and literally like walking out of the back of that wardrobe.
Do you have any pets?
Apart from a tank of giant African Land Snails that sit in a tank on top of a stool in the kitchen we have a bonkers border collie called Lola. She barks a lot, is very protective of our family and loves playing keepy-uppy with balloons. Why can’t she understand that her nose will hit the balloon way before her teeth will? She keeps trying to bite the balloons and just ends up hitting them with her nose, so playing keepy-uppy. It’s the funniest thing ever!
What’s your perfect Sunday?
A fun bike ride with friends then to watch the rugby with the boys, Lola and daughter Amy (Amy’s moved on from drawing illustrations to animating. She’s doing amazing work, animating commissions for a range of businesses, loving every second of it). Then it would be on to Sunday lunch followed by a film and a snooze by the fire afterwards – that’s all of us of course, snails and dog included.