Questions and Answers
When did you start writing?
How do you come up with an idea for a book?
How do you get started on a new manuscript?
Do you outline or free write?
How long does it take you to write a book?
Do you suffer from writer’s block?
Describe your typical day
What do you do when you’re not writing?
If you had to give an unpublished writer one piece of advice, what would it be?
How did you start writing for Harlequin Presents?
What do you enjoy about writing for Harlequin Presents?
As well as Harlequin Presents, you’re now writing novels for HQN in the US. What will those books be like?
When will your first full length novel be available to buy?
Can you tell us anything about Sleigbells in the Snow?
Here are some of the most common questions Sarah is asked. If your question does not appear here, please feel free to send an email.
I scribbled stories as a child and carried on scribbling – different things, children’s books, thrillers, anything that came into my head and excited me enough to want to write it down. I trained as a nurse, then moved into a marketing job and became a Mum, but I still scribbled. It was only when I was at home with my first baby that I actually finished something. It was rejected, but the comments were positive so I tried again, and tried again. On the third attempt my first Medical Romance was accepted. That was an exciting day!
Ideas are everywhere! The skill is turning those ideas into a compelling story with strong conflict that keeps readers hooked. I read newspapers, magazines, I talk to people – observe human behaviour and always I ask myself ‘what it’ – what if they’d made this decision instead of that one? It’s a fascinating exercise. We all make mistakes in life. We all face difficult decisions. Create that for your character and you have the basis for a book.
A story comes to me in different ways. Sometimes I will suddenly think of a line of dialogue, and that might be enough to tell me a great deal about the heroine’s character and the way she’s going to respond to situations. I might imagine a single scene and build the book from there. Sometimes I start with the hero. Once I have that first idea, I let
the story flow. I play with the idea, make sure the conflict is strong, that the motivation is solid. Most of all I think about the characters – I work hard to show the characters as
real people, with flaws and qualities, doubts and fears, and most of all with a problem! If
there’s no problem, there’s no story. I look for trouble.
A bit of both. I need to know my characters and the central conflict before I start. I usually
have a few scenes in my head. I don’t need to know the detail at that stage. Ideas always come as I write (that’s the scary part of writing – it’s impossible not to think ‘what if they don’t come??). By the time I reach the end of my first draft I know the characters really well and that’s when the book really starts to take shape. I go back through, deepen the conflict, tighten the motivation, make the characters as ‘real’ as possible on the page.
It depends on the book. I have a schedule and deadlines but each book does vary and I make sure I build in time to get it right. Some books flow more easily than others.
Writing is my job so I can’t afford to suffer from writer’s block! I write every day and if the story doesn’t seem to be flowing then there’s usually a reason. Either the character isn’t right, the motivation isn’t right, or the conflict isn’t strong enough – If I’m struggling then the first thing I do is read through what I’ve written and identify the point where it was going well. Then I try and work out why it suddenly doesn’t feel right. Sometimes I’ll call my editor and we’ll brainstorm some ideas, or I’ll call an author friend. It helps to have an
outside perspective. Sometimes it’s good to have time away from the manuscript to give yourself some distance – I’ll work on something else for a few days and then return to it. Occasionally I’ll jump forward in the book and write a scene I’m confident with, but generally I write in chronological order as the story happens because that’s how I picture it in my head.
If my husband can drop the kids at school then I start work around 7.30 – 8am, otherwise
I do the school run and start a bit later. I’ll concentrate on my current manuscript until lunchtime, when I check emails, read news headlines and return phone calls. Sometimes I go for a quick walk to clear my head. Once a week I meet friends for lunch –
I try not to do it more often than that. The temptations are there in this job and you have to be disciplined. I work all afternoon until I pick the children up from school. Sometimes I
do more in the evening after they’re in bed. It depends on how the book is going and whether I feel I’ve done enough. There are always other things to fit in – revisions on another manuscript, proofs to check – sometimes that’s frustrating, but sometimes things seem clearer when you have a break.
I love spending time with my family and friends. I love cooking, eating out, going for long walks in the country, watching movies, reading, going to concerts – more reading - lots of
Write. How many times have you heard that? Probably as many times as I have heard people say they are going to write a book ‘one day’ or ‘when they find time’. Writers write.
Not tomorrow, not next week – now, today. And read. Writing and reading go together.
I was already writing for Medical Romance and my heroes were becoming more and more alpha and my plots more emotional and intense. My editor thought my voice would fit well in that line so I wrote a straight Presents and I loved the experience. I've been writing them ever since.
I love the escapist, glamorous quality of Presents. It's pure fantasy and, of course, it's home to the alpha male. A Presents hero is never afraid to say what he thinks. That's very refreshing and can be great fun to write. But the Presents man does have a sensitive
side and a sense of humour and watching the heroine uncover that is part of the entertainment. I love matching a strong hero with an equally strong, independent heroine who is going to give him a few surprises. The fact that she is the only woman who can tame him makes for a powerful love story. But with two equally strong characters there are going to be explosions along the way. There are always sparks flying in a Presents and the book has a very distinct flavour - to continue with the food analogy, its chilli rather than vanilla. You either love it or hate it but you certainly know you've eaten it. And yes, like chilli, it can be quite hot!
I’ve wanted to write a longer story for a while so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to do that. I love writing Harlequin Presents the shorter length means the focus is very much on the central relationship between the hero and heroine, leaving no room to explore any other part of their lives. Readers who have enjoyed my medical romances will know I’ve always enjoyed dealing with a wider cast of characters and with my novels I now have the opportunity to do so. My single titles will still be romances – readers who enjoy my stories for Medical Romance and Harlequin Presents should also enjoy these, but the advantage is that they’re longer!
The first book is called Sleighbells in the Snow and will be out on October 29th in both the US and the UK. It’s the first in a series of three stories about the O’Neil brothers (they are gorgeous!) set in beautiful Vermont.
I’ll be posting more information on my site closer to the time, but for now this is from the back cover:
Once upon a time, Christmas was Kayla Green's favorite time of year. Now all the workaholic wants for Christmas is for it to be over-as fast as possible! So when duty calls her to snowy Vermont to close a deal with a new client, Kayla is grateful for an excuse to avoid the holidays for another year.
Jackson O'Neil left a thriving business behind to return home and salvage his family's resort-it's in his blood, and he can't let it fail. Now that he's got marketing whiz Kayla Green working with him to put Snow Crystal on the map, success is on the horizon. The fact they strike enough sparks off each other to power all the Christmas lights in Vermont is just an added bonus.
Kayla might be an expert at her job, but she's out of her depth with Jackson-he makes her crave the happy-ever-after she once dreamed of, and it's terrifying. As the snowflakes continue to swirl, will the woman who doesn't believe in the magic of Christmas finally fall under its spell?