Splattering Richard over my Laptop. – the secrets of award-winning author, Sarah Stuart.
So who is Sarah Stuart? I mean, who is she really? Who is the very private woman behind the pen – no, make that keyboard, please make that keyboard: Sarah’s writing is totally illegible to everyone except me, and I struggle. Is this why I have her comments in bold?
‘Getting to know you, getting to know all about you…’
‘Getting to like you, getting to hope you like me.’
‘Quiet, Sarah. One, you can’t sing, and two, you get your fifteen minutes of fame in a minute.’ As Sarah is a lover of musical theatre, and the theatrical world is the backdrop to Sarah’s amazing Royal Command series of novels, that song seems like a suitable place to begin and, as I’ve known Sarah for more years than either of us will admit to, who better to ask her those difficult, probing, embarrassing questions? (Cue evil laughter from stage right.)
‘I’m leaving right now! You’ve invited the Wicked Witch of the West.’
‘I am the Wicked Witch of the West. Sarah, you’ve been writing since you were a child. What and who would you say were your greatest childhood influences and why?’
‘My father worked appallingly long hours, and when he was home he was gardening or building excessively heavy furniture. My mother was never in good health. So, the short answer is loneliness. My make-believe world was more real than reality. It wasn’t as black as that. My father loved opera, and he could sing, and my mother thought of chapters from Charles Dickens as suitable bedtime stories. She also had touching faith in my ability to write. On day, my prince… my bestseller would come.’
‘Your books have enough awards for that to become a reality. All you need is exposure.’
‘Can’t I get arrested for exposing myself to the Wicked Witch of the West and all the people who happen by?’
‘Only if you have a raincoat.’
‘Of course, I have a raincoat. I live in England!’
‘You should try living in Wales! I’ve always admired your courage and determination through adversity, Sarah. Would you like to tell us about some of the things in life you’ve had to overcome? Those you can tell us about, that is.
‘Him Indoors made one of his many career moves some years ago, dragging me, and my dog, away from our new interest, dog obedience training. My Border Collie, Sweep, was gleeful. He was a good boy. Yes, after two years hard work, he was so much improved I had my eye on entering obedience competitions. Not to worry, Him Indoors declared, there’s an obedience club right here. Sweep and I joined, and I got co-opted onto the committee. At the second monthly meeting, the trainer announced she was moving, like now, so who would take over? I could write a book about the excuses why nobody was able… they weren’t able, and their dogs proved it… their work was seasonal, so they had no time from January to May… I volunteered; only fifteen people turned up on a good night, and Sweep needed to practice working with other dogs around. Fifteen people? There were forty members, all with more than one dog, and they’d all turned out to watch their new trainer make a fool of herself.
‘Children brought up alone tend to be self-contained almost to the point of shyness, and very self-reliant. I was no exception, and all I knew about teaching other people to train dogs was what I’d learned from watching at my first club where the trainer worked her own dogs at Crufts level. Helpppppppp… run… No way! I pretended to be that trainer, and six months later I realised I was no longer acting; I’d learned a lot from her, and I had a talent for teaching.’
‘Do you think these experiences, and the way you dealt with them, have translated into your writing? Can you give us an example?’
‘I hadn’t thought about it until now, but a lot of my characters’ problems stem from their determination not to ask for help, or a lack of communication. Take Dangerous Liaisons… if you haven’t read it, do take it while it’s free. If Lizzie and Michael had talked, she’d have known he wanted children… He’d have known she valued his company over wealth, and not set out to prove he could succeed without help… The root of the whole series is a failure to interconnect. I could give dozens more examples from book one alone, but I’d spoil the story for new readers and have existing ones commenting that they could have told me that!’
‘Are you sure you’re the Wicked Witch of the West or a guide who demonstrates instruments of torture like the Iron Maiden and the Rack to visitors at the Tower of London?’
‘My secret is out! I love torturing the truth out of people and finding out what makes them thick… I mean tick. (Freudian fingers) The Royal Command series has been through many drafts and rewrites over the years to reach its present polished state. It takes determination and commitment to stick to a project long term. What, or who, kept you going throughout all the changes?’
‘Michael. He was never intended to be the lead character. Lizzie was my heroine, the story was hers and it was to be pure romance with a happy ending, not the start of Michael’s life story, but he gets inside my head and starts talking, and they say only women nag!’
‘I find the historical thread that runs through this series really interesting. Why did you choose this period in history to explore?’
‘The Tudors are popular and reasonably well known, but very little fiction has been written about Henry VIII’s elder sister, Margaret. Princesses were pawns in the political marriage game, so she was married young to James IV of Scotland. It is commonly regarded as a happy marriage, but why when the only evidence is the births of six children? The king had mistresses, but he needed an heir. What interested me was the gap between their firstborn boy, who died, and the second. The truth is very likely a miscarriage, but…’
‘Quite. An illegitimate child, a treason punishable by death when you’re the wife of a reigning monarch, makes a better story. You’ve dealt very cleverly with some pretty taboo subjects in The Diamond Superstar, Michael Marsh’s, ‘unconventional’ showbiz family. Did you intend to write about incest, sexual perversions, and child sex-trafficking or did the characters behave recklessly, as usual, and take you by surprise?’
‘Incest took me by surprise, though it shouldn’t have given the way Lisette was brought up, rarely seeing the superstar father she adored, combined with the dangerous romantic command in the Book of Hours to “find love where ye may”. The result, Harriet, caused problems with the end of my “one book”, Dangerous Liaisons, and led directly to Illicit Passion; there was no way there could be a long-term happy ending for either of The Diamond Superstar or Lisette, though they appear to achieve it in the sequel when the evil, perverted, “bodyguard” drowns. I did have a hand in book three by planting the grounding. Bodyguards working for that company worked in pairs, which left one of them, cheated of his money to “turn-a-blind-eye”, on the loose and, apparently, intent of revenge. Nothing so simple, as I discovered when Brian left his wife, pregnant Lisette, and flew to New York.
‘Sex-trafficking was added deliberately. I investigated it while I was recovering from researching Evie’s troubles, and the ease with which such men could trap youngsters had to be revealed, and Michael’s youngest daughter, Greta, was a prime target.’
‘I love all the books in the Royal Command series but I found the latest, Sweet Temptation, particularly fascinating. The courage you show in reliving the nightmare of your weeks in a coma and the subsequent recovery astounds me. You have given us a rare glimpse of what it must have been like and it’s terrifying. Do you think you took research for Evie’s character a step too far? Or was it just a ploy to get out of cooking Christmas dinner?’
‘I detest cooking, and Christmas dinner is definitely one of the most demanding meals of the year. (The others are dinner parties where I know at least one of the guests is a superb cook.) Now, let’s be clear on this: I didn’t catch pneumonia, and a very fancy sort at that, on purpose. The puzzle is from whom I caught it. I didn’t date a strange man as per Evie! I have a perfectly good chap at home. I enjoyed writing a lot of Sweet Temptation, but I found Evie’s hospital POVs extremely tough to write. My nightmares were adapted to her life but thinking about them made me feel ill, and I started suffering nightmares again for a while. The worst aren’t in the book, and they were truly horrible.’
‘I did say I’ve always admired your courage in adversity and this illustrates it. Tell, me, Sarah, when writing, are you a plotter, or a pantster: do you have a plot chart or do you dive in and see where your characters take you?’
‘I used to have plots, but what’s the point when none of the characters stick to them? Michael was in a coma in Illicit Passion, since edited now I know what it’s like, and I cried buckets because I was afraid he was going to die.’
‘So was I! But you are giving away your plots. Now, what next? Um, what is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you? The truth now, Sarah.’
‘According to Him Indoors, I should have been embarrassed by a neighbour who asked if I minded her husband stepping over the fence to clear weeds that were seeding over their garden. Until he explained, I took her at her word and said he was very welcome.’
Excuse me while I choke with laughter. ‘That is so typical of you!’
‘True, and he ignored my generous permission!’
‘How very annoying of him. Since gardening obviously isn’t a passion of yours, what are your passions? What gives you the greatest joy and what really makes you spit?’
‘I have spent my life writing, one way or another, and I thought the greatest joy was knowing somebody was reading what I’d written. I ran a dog-training club and submitted articles to the members’ magazine. Ditto, a glossy called Wildlife with a worldwide circulation and they were published. I wrote stories with adult content in simple words for my literacy students. I published my first novel, and sales, and especially reviews, showed people had read and enjoyed it, and the same happened with subsequent books. The biggest thrill of all was when Dangerous Liaisons won the Romance/Sizzle bronze medal in the Readers’ Favorite Contest and made me an award-winning author.
‘A lot of things make me angry: injustice; mismanagement, self-seeking and stupidity by people elected to govern, political correctness – I almost fell down a manhole without a cover this afternoon, only to be informed it was now an inspection chamber – greed, theft… the list is endless and very non-PC. What really makes me spit with fury is mans’ inhumanity to animals. They ruin their habitats, throw them out because they’re no longer fashionable, and worst of all, they kill them for fun. It’s called sport, but terrified, exhausted animals don’t see it that way. 100% of my royalties go to animal charities, and a good many of the dogs I’ve owned, and do own, are rescues.’
‘I’m with you there, Sarah. Some of my royalties from ‘Touching the Wire’ go to support holocaust education. It seems the least I can do after the research I did opened my eyes to what happened. And I think rescue dogs are so rewarding. Our little mongrel is such a happy little soul and makes us smile every day. Dogs don’t deserve bad homes any more than children do. I know you’ve fostered children in the past, amongst the many selfless things you’ve done, but tell us one thing about yourself no-one else knows, not even me.
‘Films that feature the evacuation of Dunkirk make me cry inside, and so does the ferryboat across the Mersey from Liverpool to Birkenhead that has a plaque let into the deck saying she took part. Maybe it’s the reason my characters “sniff back tears”; I know it’s possible.’
‘Having written about World War II, I understand the terrible hardships and tragedy that led to Dunkirk, so I know what you mean. My present work-in-progress, working title, The Dandelion Clock’, is about The Great War. Can you tell us a bit about the next novel waiting to explode from beneath your fevered brow and splatter all over your laptop?’
‘Did you have to say splatter and remind me I killed my last laptop with tea? Chapter one is entitled Monday, Monday, and as you know “you can’t trust that day.” Richard has a Jack Russell terrier called Ben, and he believes ill-fortune comes in threes. One of the women in his life is about to prove him wrong.’
‘We’ll see a bit of the first draft of ‘Monday, Monday’ in a minute. (That’s the working title, by the way, until Sarah knows what Richard will get up to aided and abetted by his scribe.)
‘Oye! This is too much! I’ve been Michael’s ’umble scribe for years. Richard will do as he’s told… or he might if I had a plot. How do I know where his rebellion will end?’
‘Indeed. Thank you, Sarah, for ‘A Conversation with, dare I say, Richard’s scribe.’ (Ducks for cover.) – Now to a special offer, your book links, a bonus gift, and lastly, a splattering of Richard…’ It’s an interesting beginning to a new story , and I’m looking forward toreading more.
And NOW is your chance to grab the whole series while it’s on offer!
Book 1 is FREE for a limited period from today.
Books 2, 3, and 4 are 99p/99c from today until November 1st
Dangerous Liaisons: The Backstreet Boy and the Royal Heiress
Illicit Passion: The Consequences of Seduction
Dynasty of Deceit: Margaret Tudor’s Legacy of Forbidden Love
Sweet Temptation: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Passion
As an extra, Sarah has published this short story, Greta Comes of Age, absolutely FREE for you to download here: http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/sarah-stuart.html
Monday, Monday. (You definitely can’t trust that day, Richard. Be warned, Sarah has awful things lined up for you. Are you going to let her get away with it?)
Richard Carpenter threw a punch at the figure silhouetted against the faint light from his open front door and heard the satisfying crunch of breaking bone. His new eighty-five-inch Sony television landed on his foot, and he bit back a howl of pain. He was entitled to protect his property if he used reasonable force… Sensible respected bank managers didn’t make headlines in the local rag by using rusty boxing skills on burglars. They “stayed asleep” and telephoned the police in the morning.
Undeterred, the thief dodged around him and started dropping Royal Doulton figurines into something. Sack, rucksack… it made no difference; the dogs would have chipped ears at the very least. His dog, Ben, was hurling his weight impotently at the kitchen door. He grabbed the man by the back of his collar, bundled him onto the pavement, and bolted the front door. If he’d shot the bolts like he usually did at night, picking the lock would have done the scum no good.
Lights on, he surveyed the mess. One television with a cracked screen and an empty mantelshelf where his china collection had overflowed the cabinet. Ten thousand pounds should cover it and he could claim on his insurance… and risk prosecution for injuries a magistrate might not regard as reasonable force? He and Ben retired upstairs with a large brandy and a chew designed for a St Bernard that the Jack Russell was, in his dreams.
The second Monday in October dawned three hours later. He let himself out of the back door, drove cautiously into the centre of town, acutely aware he was over the alcohol limit, and met his undermanager as usual. Andy went to make coffee, and he switched on the fax machine. The first sheet of paper it spat at him caused him to step back on Ben’s tail.
It is with regret that we inform you that the Hackmoor Bridge branch of this bank is closed as of today. Redundancy notices for all members of staff will follow together with information on payments due to each.
He tucked indignant Ben under his arm and read it a second time. He’d known for months that this branch was on the list of two hundred possible closures, but he hadn’t expected it to happen. Hackmoor Bridge was a large, thriving, town, and his was the only branch anywhere within a thirty-mile radius. Andy, married with a young family, would be distraught. All the staff would be. None of them would be relocated to another branch; short of somebody dropping dead, there were no vacancies. Applications for jobs at other banks were unlikely to be successful. If they were it would very likely mean a move, and his three female cashiers were married with husbands still in work locally.
All members of staff. Ben licked his ear, reminding him that he too was jobless. The pair of them could end homeless. The plus was having no mortgage and a new BMW he’d paid for outright thanks to money left to him by his mother, and he’d been spending ever since. He had some savings, and severance pay to come… and it would go on utility bills and food. How could he tell Bridget the wedding was indefinitely postponed? Her parents were dead too, so the expense of the grand affair she had planned were down to him. As if she’d picked up his gloomy thoughts, his mobile vibrated: Bridget. ‘Hi, love, I need to talk to you.’
Bridget didn’t ask about what. ‘Richard, remember that London modelling agency I applied to?’
He did, but Bridget had been for an interview weeks ago and come back depressed. ‘What about it?’
‘I’ve been accepted.’ Her voice sounded muffled. ‘They want me today, so I’m packing and going straight to the station.’
‘Ouch, broke a nail, damn it. Richard, the wedding’s off… for good. Models don’t get work living in the wilds, or pregnant. Bye.’
They hadn’t even discussed having a family… He called Bridget back and got her answering service. A burglar, no job, and no wife-to-be.
‘Things happen in threes, Ben. Basket.’
The Jack Russell hated to be still and ignored, but after today he’d get extra walks because renewing his golf-club membership was a no. His whole lifestyle would change; he’d have to cook from scratch, not live on ready-to-microwave luxury dinners, and Ben must be satisfied with own-brand chews from the supermarket, not the big ones he ordered online for the stray he’d adopted and promised the world.
Richard envied Ben. He’d picked up the gloom at the bank, information and instructions faxed by faceless men in secure jobs at head office, but it didn’t stop him gobbling his dinner and looking for more. For once, the dog could have more; he couldn’t face his food. Memo to self: check how quickly he could cancel monthly deliveries, and not just of meals for him and dog chews. He could save on boxes of a dozen choice wines, financial magazines, golfing glossies, and he could live without tempting offers on china figurines dropping into his email inbox too.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow he would do all that, and check the insurance covered the deposit he’d paid to secure the wedding venue, the caterers, the drinks supplier, and the florist booked to provide out-of-season flowers. Christmas weddings, he’d discovered, were popular, and everything had to be reserved months in advance. Should he consider himself lucky Bridget had ditched him? She had expensive tastes her handmade lace products didn’t support… and some nights she’d warmed his bed with her beautiful body. Would she have moved in if he hadn’t paid the rent on her flat? Had she loved him? She’d dumped him without a second thought when fame and fortune beckoned. Second memo to self: cancel the direct debit for Bridget’s rent.
He grabbed a bottle of brandy and one of the remaining St Bernhard-sized chews. ‘Come on, Ben. You’re sleeping with me. The central heating is off until I get another job.’
Ben bounced up the stairs ahead of him. Dogs didn’t worry about the future, and they didn’t stop loving you either.
Two glasses of brandy later, he decided getting drunk wasn’t the answer; all it would do was give him a hangover, but it had numbed the edge of misery a bit. He lay down with Ben curled behind his bent knees and closed his eyes. Tomorrow… tomorrow… Maybe the sun would come out tomorrow and maybe it wouldn’t, but a man who was no longer a respectable bank manager could strum his guitar in the town square if he felt like it…
The ringing of his front door bell set Ben yapping and triggered a thumping headache. Who the dickens wanted Richard Carpenter at… He squinted at the luminous dial on his alarm clock: twenty minutes to midnight. He got out of bed and found his slippers by the light of the brilliant harvest moon. It was late for Mrs Stokes who lived next door to arrive home, but it must be her; he held her spare door key.
His visitor was his thirteen-years-ex-wife, Naomi, and she looked spiteful, the way she had when his divorce lawyer had reminded her legal representative that she’d signed a prenuptial agreement and couldn’t claim half his worldly goods.
Waking Mrs Stokes with a row on the doorstep just before midnight was unfair. ‘Come in, Naomi.’
‘No chance, Richard. I only rang the bell to make sure you still lived here.’
She ran back to the sports coupé gleaming under a street lamp, lifted the boot lid, and dumped a suitcase on the pavement.
He raised his voice. ‘What the dickens are you doing?’
Naomi paid him no attention, and he wasn’t going outside in his pyjamas. She was wearing a fur coat and the suitcase very likely had wheels. What could she have put in a suitcase that she wanted him to have?
Next, Naomi opened the passenger door. ‘Out, Maria, and take that bloody basket with you.’
Cold or not, he wanted answers. It was still Monday, and he’d had his days-worth of problems. He marched towards Naomi. ‘Who is Maria?’
‘Your daughter, Richard Carpenter, and I’ve done my bit. It’s your turn.’
She swept around her car, slid behind the wheel, and gunned the engine. Brakes screeched at the end of the street and the coupé vanished.
He didn’t have a daughter. If he had, Naomi would have claimed child support… Maria was here, and he couldn’t leave a child alone on the street whoever she belonged to. He grasped the suitcase handle and waved her towards the dimly-lit hall. Ben, who’d obviously discovered how to push down the handle on his bedroom door, flew out, and stopped yapping and started sniffing when Maria placed her basket carefully on the carpet. Something in there was alive and Ben wanted it. Heaven preserve him if the child had a cat; it was one of Ben’s life ambitions to catch and kill a cat. Numerous claw scars testified to his failures.
Shivering, he went into the front room and switched on the electric fire destined to be removed and replaced by living flames created by twigs and dead branches littering the common. Maria followed and opened the basket. He grabbed Ben by the scruff of the neck and dropped him, shocked. Cuddled in a woollen blanket was a baby, and it looked very like one a member of staff on maternity leave had brought into the bank and proudly announced was only a week old.
The blanket was an uninformative yellow. ‘Whose is he, she… it, Maria?’
‘Mummy’s, like me, only she doesn’t want him. Can we call him, Tim?’
‘Timothy Carpenter.’ It had a ring to it… and no way could the boy be his.
‘Oh, great. Mummy said you had loads of bedrooms. We just need to go shopping for a cot and stuff. Tomorrow will do. There’s bottles, formula, and a heater in with my clothes.’
Tomorrow… tomorrow… It was tomorrow, but this was another Monday disaster. What he should do was call the police, who could contact the social services… But suppose Maria was his? She had his fair hair and blue eyes, and a nose that tilted at the tip like Naomi’s did. It wouldn’t be just the baby they’d take into care. He’d be condemning Maria to a children’s home or foster parents, and he’d never get her back. What the heck was he going to do?
Ben made up his mind for him. When Maria sat on the rug nursing the baby, the dog licked her cheek and looked at him with pleading eyes. The same pleading eyes that had made a fool of Richard Carpenter at the dog’s home. He hadn’t resisted them then, and he couldn’t now. He flopped on the sofa, put his aching head in his hands, and groaned.
Maria smelled faintly of Mr Burberry Black, ridiculously expensive perfume he’d bought Naomi as a wedding present, and it was Maria stroking his hair. ‘We’ll be okay, Pop, promise.’
Her body trembled. It could be cold, but it was more likely shock. How could Naomi care for a child for thirteen years and dump her on a stranger’s doorstep? She wasn’t fit to be a mother, of Maria or Timothy, but how could Mr Carpenter, ex-bank manager, soon-to-be ex-prestigious golf club member, explain the sudden acquisition of two children?
First things first. A warm bed, in a warm room, for Maria, and a well-padded drawer for Timothy, and show the girl the kitchen and make sure she really did know how to make up a bottle for a baby. He’d risk anything to keep these two, except the baby’s life.