Sarah, where did you grow up?
I grew up in Dalkey, a small village by the sea in south county Dublin. I still spend a lot of time in Dalkey as my parents and many friends still live there. And I adored The Exchange Bookshop on the main street, a second hand bookshop which kept me reading as a broke teenager. Sadly it is now closed but Dalkey now has another bookshop, the wonderful Gutter Books. Dalkey also boasts one of the best bakeries around, County Bake, run by the lovely Margaret and her daughters.
Where do you live now?
I live in Dún Laoghaire with my partner and my children. Again, it’s on the sea (spot a theme here?) and near the yacht club, handy as we all sail a lot. Our house is over two hundred years old, which has its good and bad points.
Good: high ceilings, spacious rooms, heaps of character.
Bad: dodgy roof, leaky walls, rattling windows.
Have you always written?
Yes and no. I’ve always been a huge reader and in school (St Andrew’s College in Blackrock) I wrote articles and reviews for the school newspaper, Out of the Blue. However I didn’t write much in college apart from essays but I did keep a diary every day and I still do. I studied History of Art and Modern English at Trinity College, Dublin. I spent far too much of my time sailing for the college and not enough time studying!
After having my first son, Sam, I started to write children’s book reviews for Southside News, my first official published pieces. That led to other pieces in magazines and newspapers and then my first book which was called Kids Can Cook, published in 1997.
What was your first job?
My first ‘proper’ job was in Hodges Figgis bookshop on Dawson Street, Dublin. Before that I worked as a waitress, screen printer, house cleaner and sailing instructor - during my holidays and part time while I was in college. After Hodges Figgis I went on to work for Hughes and Hughes, Waterstones (again on Dawson Street, a shop that is sadly now closed), and Eason, mainly in the children’s departments. I do love my bookshops. I still do some work as a children’s book consultant. And of course, I write for young readers and visit bookshops a lot, which keeps me in touch with the children's book world.
Was Three Times a Lady your first book?
No, my very first book was called Kids Can Cook. Three Times a Lady was my first adult novel. I was so thrilled when Gaye Shortland, the editor at Poolbeg Press rang to tell me they wanted to publish it. It was a dream come true. They signed me up for three books, and then I moved to Pan Macmillan for my next three books.
But my heart has always been in children’s books and lately I’ve mostly been writing for young readers.
When and where do you write?
I’m very lucky to have a study at home and I write there most of the time. But if it’s cold or I need a little extra comfort, I write in bed.
I write mainly in the morning. I write in my diary (‘morning pages’), do my daily yoga practice and try to take a good walk with the dog before I sit down at my desk. I think about my characters and the situation they are currently in while I'm plodding along. Dialogue often comes to me while I’m walking too and as soon as I get home I sit down and start typing. Sometimes, if the humour takes me, I write longhand in a large A4 size notebook with yellow pages – a legal pad I think it’s called.
I write non-stop until two o’clock when my son gets home from school. In the afternoon I like to hang out with my children and help them with their homework if I can. And then in the evening I’ll sit back down at my desk, answer emails and write up any articles or blogs I’m working on. I write on Monday and Tuesday and teach or do other work on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (and often Saturday).
I’m very lucky - I have a job I love, and one I can fit around family life. I worked full time when my eldest son was small (I was a single parent for many years) so I really appreciate my life now. I have no idea how I used to squeeze everything in. I have huge admiration for single parents and full time working mothers.
And finally, do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes, read! Read until your eyes fall out of your head. It’s the best way to learn the craft. Soak it all in and learn.
There is one book on writing that I have found most the most interesting and useful: On Writing by Stephen King. It’s very practical and accessible and a must if you are interested in writing any sort of fiction.
And if you really want to write - write! Just grab a pen and paper and do it. Give it a go, you have nothing to lose.
For lots more information on writing see the Teaching and Mentoring section of the website.