LP: Tell us a little about yourself. Where you live now, and where you grew up?
SB: I currently live in Derbyshire in the middle of England with my two children and four chickens. It’s a beautiful part of the country, full of trees and gorgeous landscapes. I moved here before I had my kids and I feel more at home here than anywhere else I’ve lived.
I grew up all over the place. My Dad was first in the Navy and then the Police force so we moved about a lot. I was born on Scotland but spent most of my childhood in various different parts of South West England, mainly Wiltshire, which is a place of rolling, open downs and grassland.
LP: Sounds gorgeous. Do you feel that the environment you were raised in has any effect on your choice of genre?
SB: I suppose it must have done in some way but I’m not sure how. As a family we watched crime drama and real life stuff on the TV and historical fiction as long as it was reasonably accurate. That’s mostly my parent’s choice and is still what they prefer now.
But somehow I still got hooked by the lure of What if, and fantasy pulled me in and I played those made up games with my friends from an early age. The freedom to explore and there being no limits on my imagination was wonderful.
LP: When and why did you begin writing?
SB: There are so many different starting points for my writing really. I learned to read at age 3 or 4 and haven’t looked back since. I’ve always got at least one book that I’m reading and always have had. I’ve always loved making up stories, even before I could write them down, so you could say it started there. But, although I wrote scenes and pages of fiction, I never finished anything, never got anything to novel length and I hadn’t ever produced anything that I really wanted to share.
But really, my novel writing started in earnest when a good friend dared me to take part in the annual NaNoWriMo challenge. The challenge is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That was in 2005 and The Portal Between is that book, the first one I finished. I haven’t looked back since.
LP: Those challenges are tough, but I’ve read other authors who found the discipline kept them focused and helped to finish their novel. I may have to try that sometime. So what inspired your first book?
SB: Oh, so many things. The 400 year old oak tree that stood in the corner of a field near a friend’s house and the conversations we had about what that tree must have seen over the centuries and how it was so rooted in history and time. The way another friend’s hair caught the sun in the garden, so it just picked out the hints of red in amongst the brown and made it shine like conkers (horse chestnuts). There were so many little things that inspired parts of The Portal Between. I fed that book my depression, my anxiety and my pain as I emerged from the end of a long-term relationship. It was wonderfully cathartic to write.
LP: Your novel is Fantasy. Why did you choose that genre?
SB: The cliché answer to that is that I didn’t, the genre chose me, or the book just insisted it was that way.
When I began writing The Portal Between I didn’t have a plan, or a genre, or a plot, or even more than 2 characters and a single scene to start with. I had the whole challenge pushed at me with no chance to plan or think about it. Which was probably the best way, if I’d had time to think I would never have done it. So, I just let it evolve and it became a fantasy with magic and other realms.
But, in my heart, fantasy is my first love, whether it’s proper fantasy with magic, swords, bows and arrows, or whether it’s science fantasy with space ships. So I guess it was almost inevitable it was going to go that way.
LP: My youngest son introduced me to fantasy, and I have to admit I love it too. Is there a specific message in your novels that you’d like the reader to grasp?
SB: I don’t think so, although I’d like it if people could see the central women characters as strong and capable and draw on that for themselves in some way.
LP: How much of your book is realistic or based on real life issues?
SB: There’s a fair amount of real life in The Portal Between, it’s set as a single mother coping with 4 children while she struggles to balance all that involves with the magic that’s happening too. The issues Kate faces are real, they’re the same day-to-day issues that face as a single mother.
LP: I’m certain I can relate to that, as I’m sure many women around the world will be able to. When did you first consider yourself a writer?
SB: For years I’ve refused to accept that label. Writing was a hobby, a bit of fun, I wasn’t a “proper” writer, not yet. Then about a year ago, I started frequenting the Kindle boards on Amazon and found people who were like me, and they were calling themselves writers, not hobby-writers, but proper Writers. It still doesn’t feel quite right, but it sits a little more comfortably now.
LP: Do you have a specific writing style?
SB: My style is organic, unplanned, by the seat of my pants, and it usually works for me. I prefer to write in the third person as if I (and the reader) are watching the events from somewhere nearby. But I do have the odd foray into other styles and methods. I’m always willing to try something new and see how it feels. But I don’t do “fluffy”.
LP: I understand that. I have a lot of people requesting “cozy” mysteries, but for some reason I just can’t do cozy.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
SB: Hmm, a “mentor”? That implies a bit of a more personal relationship, and there isn’t really anyone like that for me. If there were a writer I admire and who inspires me and I would love to sit and talk about writing with, then it would be Robin Hobb, or Sherilyn Kenyon, or Laurell K Hamilton. However, the chances of that happening are slim to zero.
LP: What book are you reading now?
SB: Blood Noir – Laurell K Hamilton. And Impeding Justice – Mel Comley. (I never have just one book on the go and 2 is an unusually short list.)
LP: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
SB: Mel Comley, I met her on facebook recently and I do like the way she writes. Also, Joyce DeBacco’s Rubies is intriguing. There are so many new writers emerging through Independent publishing, it’s a wonderful explosion that we’re in the middle of.
LP: I totally agree. I’ve found some amazing books by Independent authors.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your first book?
SB: Is any book ever really and truly “finished”? Yes, I’d change things, I’d rewrite parts of it and I probably will at some point and release a whole new edition. But that is a long way into the future.
LP: Are you currently working on a new book, and if so, can you share some of it with us?
SB: I am, and of course I can. The Portal Between is the first book in a series, followed by The Portal Sundered. I’m currently working on the final book, Child of the Portal which ties up the story and draws a line under it while leaving just enough threads loose that I could pick the series up again if I really wanted to. Child of the Portal should be ready for release in time for Summer 2011.
A short excerpt:
She dropped to her knees and knelt in the grass and laid a hand flat on the earth. She took a breath and closed her eyes. Then she simply opened and let herself pour out. She felt herself spreading like water throughout the land, oozing through the soil, into every tree, every plant, touching every soul in the realm. Sam released the mantle of Mistress and the power that went with the title. The land would be its own ruler now. It wasn’t enough. Her knees were damp and starting to get stiff. Almost, she reconsidered her actions, her choice. Sam sank her own strength into the land and then followed it with her own life force. She felt her self become distant and calm as the last dregs of her self slowly seeped away. Her heartbeat slowed, faltered. A turning point was reached. Sam passed it without a second thought and carried on allowing herself to pour forth into the earth.
A vague awareness of cold and pain buzzed round her like flies. She ignored them, using a tendril of magic to still the pain she felt in her body. A body she no longer felt particularly attached to. A body that eventually slowly slumped to the earth and lay still.
She let herself flow outwards, seeking the still torn areas of land and allowing her essence to fill and heal them. With her last remaining breath Sam flung out a farewell to those she felt closest to and all the magic she had taken from others or imposed on anyone was returned or negated. She felt a moment of regret that Kate was almost deaf and blind to the magic and with the portals sealed she couldn’t reach her. She should have told Kate. Then she simply let go. She willingly let go of the pain, of the turmoil, of all uncertainty. She relinquished her hold on memories both good and bad. As part of the deal she also let go of her heartbeat, of breathing. She let go of living. That which had been Sam spread out across the realm like oil on water until it was so thin it was no longer anything. Her body rested quietly at the foot of the tree and the final breath sighed from her open lips into the grass.
LP: What is the most challenging part of writing your current work in progress?
SB: The current one is so hard, because I’m saying goodbye to some old friends. I know they’re characters and I made them up but they’ve been with me and part of me for so many years now, and feels like forever. But I’ve let some of them die, and others have moved on, the Portal children have grown up, and it’s like letting go of a close friend. It’s an important part of the process, but it’s been a huge challenge and it’s also the main reason it’s taken so long to have this book finished.
LP: Who are your favorite authors and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
SB: I like so many authors, I read voraciously, but there are a small handful whose books I buy to reread over and over. Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series is one, and Robin Hobb’s Farseer books. Both are incredibly detailed and intricate, I get lost in them and that’s what really strikes me. It’s that feeling if pulling your head out of the page and blinking in the reality that actually I wasn’t in a wood, or flying a dragon, I’m tucked up in bed and my backside is numb… They have the gift of making me forget that I’m reading, I get so drawn in to their words.
LP: Did you design your own cover, and if so, what inspired you to use that image?
SB: Yes, I designed all the covers for my Portal series books, but not for the spin-off book, The Map and The Stone. For The Portal Between I had the image in mind from the beginning. The old oak tree features in several key areas of the book, and in subsequent books, but in The Portal Between it’s at night and therefore in the dark. The image is a photoshopped edit of a photograph of a tree I have actually met. It was around 400 years old at the time, although no-one is really sure.
LP: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
SB: Getting started. That, for me, is the hardest part of any book, that first blank page that is screaming for the words. Until that is filled there can be no story. Then I always have a stalling point at around 28-30,000 words. I’m not sure why, but it always comes around that point.
LP: Odd, I have that same stalling point myself right now. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
SB: I learned so many things… But the main, big lesson I learned is that, actually, yes, I can. I can write, and write well, and people like to read what I create. It’s a wonderful feeling.
LP: Do you have any advice for other writers?
SB: Just do it. Write every day. Write words, every single day. Write something, anything, form a sentence, construct a blog post, do an interview, make a scene, create a character.
Don’t give up. Never, ever give up.
LP: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
SB: I am so honoured and proud that you enjoy my world and my work, thank you.
Sarah, thank you so much for being with me today and sharing a small part of yourself with our readers and friends. Growing up in Kentucky, I loved reading about Scotland and New England, and perhaps one of these days I can stop by and say hello.
Everyone ready to download a sample or buy now? Like to know more about Sarah–follow the links below.
Amazon UK Author page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sarah-Barnard/e/B0034P9SZG/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1
Amazon US Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Sarah-Barnard/e/B0034P9SZG/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1