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 – I think because there were so many of them and I just kept finding more! 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, back in the days, it did mean that I before I went to sleep, I was able to escape into a magical world.
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.
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, look at lakes from a great height, see the moon tracing a silvery path across the water from a great height in the middle of the night and to see lights twinkling in houses below. Can you imagine how cool it would be to zoom from one country to another under darkness and see what is going on down below? I think that would be amazing.
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. Ugh! Imagine that! Anyway, the people who bought our 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 all 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. So we had already spent a lot of time thinking and planning. I work very visually. I draw lots of mind maps. I had a sheet of A4 in front of me when I was writing Snail Trail, stuck it to the side of my computer so I could follow it. On that sheet there was a rough outline of the story, the days, the times, where the cliffhangers would be – and so on. 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 do like to write in long hand and imagine I am Charlotte Bronte writing by candlelight in a cold parsonage that’s been weathered by 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. Easy if you don’t do that to be inconsistent.
But I write every day. I am very regimented about my work and have to be because I run a house and a home and get involved in lots of things to do with writing and nature, so my days are busy. Because they are busy I see lots of interesting things. I keep several 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 is as a writer to notice things, to watch people, to see what makes them stand out and to write those things down. I like to write about the funny things people say, or the stories that people tell me. The more you observe, the more you see, if that makes sense. So keep a notebook or two. They don’t have to be big or pretty. You just need paper and a pen.
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, they are both as important as each 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. I’ve tried re-writing it though I am revisiting it some time after it was first written. Although there are some gorgeous illustrations from Amy,not b&w but in colour, I’ve since had a rethink. The stories I have written belong to a certain time in my life. To go back and recreate or revisit those stories doesn’t actually work. As a writer I am constantly developing my work though it is good to know that in schools children are often asked to ‘write in the style of …’ so maybe I can go back and write in a previous style? I’d be interested to know what others think of that topic.
What do you think of portals?
Portals have always been around in the book world. Think of the wardrobe in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and children’s television has many examples, not least of which is Dr. Who and his Tardis. This whole idea that you can go into a wardrobe or a Police Box and find yourself in a different world, opens up so many opportunities to children’s imaginations.
Do I use portals? Not often. Most of my books are set in the real world but the book with the annoying snail in it has a portal. I didn’t realise that until I began to re-visit it, though. Funny that! Maybe I am not so grounded as I thought?
Do you have any pets?
Err …. are you serious? We used to have hundreds of baby giant African land snails, a few tropical fish, some tiny pygmy shrews that seem to run around our garden in the middle of the night (have you ever seen one? They are soooo cute!) – oh – and a dog called Lola. She’s completely bonkers. And of course we used to have loads of rabbits and guinea pigs. I’d quite like another guinea pig: they can be such characters with their tiny eyes and broad, squidgy bottoms. If we got another guinea pig I’d worry that Lola might not be too happy. But maybe a dog can befriend a guinea pig? What do you think? We did have a black guinea pig that came to a rather sad end; we try not to talk about him. Perhaps I will put him in a book.
What’s your perfect Sunday?
A fun bike ride with friends then home to wait for the boys coming back from rugby covered in mud; Amy – who’s now at Falmouth Uni studying Animation and Visual Effects but when she’s home, – I like to know she is sitting on her bed working hard on her latest animation project, Lola lying on her feet … the snails tucking into cucumber. Then Sunday lunch followed by a film and a snooze by the fire afterwards – altogether of course.