Born and raised in the UK, Sarah lived in London, Dallas, Toronto, New York and Sydney before moving to Bundanoon, an Australian village in NSW’s beautiful Southern Highlands. Her career, which evolved from actress to journalist and then publicist before becoming a fulltime novelist, gives her plenty of inspiration. A Voice In The Night, her debut novel, was published July 2021.
Sarah and I met during a Curtis Brown Creative Novel Writing Course in 2015. We’ve remained friends and writing buddies ever since.
Tell us a bit about the concept for A Voice In The Night?
About three months after 9/11, I visited the devastated World Trade Centre site, an incredibly confronting, raw experience, never forgotten. On a trip to New York many years later, I returned to a vastly transformed site to pay my respects at the permanent memorial. Walking around the vast footprints of the twin towers, reading the names carved into the stone of all those who had died, was deeply moving.
Afterwards, it occurred to me that 9/11 would have made a really good cover to escape one’s life – crimes or a miserable existence. Such stories circulated at the time. It lingered in my mind as a great idea for a book – what if someone used 9/11 to disappear?
The novel takes place over three cities – New York, London and Sydney. Why did you choose those places?
I’d lived in New York as a young woman, so I’d smelt it and felt it and knew the beat of the city. I’d grown up in England and later lived in London, where the main action takes place, before moving to Sydney in my late 20s. I felt more confident using locations I was familiar with, even though I still had to do research to get the details right.
What took you to those cities in real life?
Back then, when you went overseas, everyone assumed you were following a bloke! But no, after three years in drama school, then based in London and working in theatre – more often out of work than in it – I was restless. I saved up and went on holiday for two months in the US. I spent time in Dallas and then went to New York for a week. I knew straightaway this amazing, vibrant city was a place I wanted to live, but I couldn’t afford it.
So I visited a cousin in Toronto, Canada, where I extended my visa and worked three jobs – an office manager for my cousin’s building company, typing theses for university students and waiting tables. After six months, I’d earned enough money to go back to New York, where I naively thought I could get work as an actor or in an ad agency, but my visa status didn’t allow it. By working for an overseas government, I could stay, so I got a secretarial job at the Australian consulate.
After three years, with itchy feet and keen to return to acting (but not in England or the US), I was persuaded to try Australia. In Sydney, I found a theatrical agent and a few gigs. I also had a two-year stint in New Zealand, where I got a lot of theatre and radio work. Back in Australia, I felt that I’d done the acting thing. I was tired of constantly knocking on doors looking for the next job, so I decided to go to university and study Communications with the aim of pursuing radio production. Radio, as it turned out, wasn’t for me, but I really connected with my writing subjects – journalism and creative writing.
By the time I graduated four years later, I’d had two children and a big mortgage. I couldn’t afford to be a writer, so went into journalism. Freelance journalism kickstarted my writing career before I moved into business publishing. My next career change was launching my own public relations company. Five years ago, I sold the business to become a full-time novelist.
Can you please share the blurb for A Voice In The Night?
Following a bitter separation, Lucie moves to London to take up a position with a prestigious law firm. It seems an optimistic new beginning, until one day she receives a hand-delivered note with the strange words: At last I’ve found you. A shock I’m sure. But in time I’ll explain. Martin.
Lucie hasn’t forgotten a man called Martin who was tragically killed twenty years ago in the 9/11 attacks. When she was working in New York as a young intern Lucie had fallen in love with him and he vowed to leave his wife to be with her permanently.
As an inexplicable series of events occurs Lucie wonders if her long-dead lover could have staged his own disappearance under the cover of that fateful day. Or could it be that someone else is stalking her, or that her vivid imagination is playing tricks?
This is your first published novel, but it’s not the first book you wrote. What came before it?
During the Curtis Brown Creative course where you and I met, I worked on a commercial women’s fiction manuscript. I thought it was okay, and I got a lot of positive feedback, but it wasn’t picked up. Obviously, it wasn’t as good as I thought it was!
Then I wrote a romantic comedy while undertaking a UCLA (University of California) masterclass with Lynn Hightower. Although that might seem quite a genre switch, as a freelance journalist, I’d had a column in the Daily Telegraph that poked fun at daily domestic life, so it was a natural transition. Despite a few near misses, it wasn’t picked up, but I still have high hopes that it will see the light of day once I give it an overhaul and strengthen the narrative.
How did you get your break?
Fed up with my lack of success, I did what writers are told never to do, ie. I followed the market. I went to a bookshop and studied all the new releases lined up at the checkout. They were all either romances or thrillers. Not keen to try my hand at romance, and as I’d always enjoyed reading crime and mystery, I picked up half a dozen thrillers and studied them as a writer not a reader. I already had my 9/11 concept, and it all played out from there.
Was it difficult to shift genres?
No. I’d already shifted once from women’s fiction to romcom. Mainly, I had to get my head around the conventions – the rules, or the things readers expect from that genre. Perhaps it’s my performance background but I find I can get into the heads of my characters and hear them think and speak, so the writing element wasn’t too hard. My greater difficulty was mapping the plot points and making the story compelling.
Do you have any tips for new authors?
Don’t give up. It’s a numbers game. I think back to my years in acting, and you do get weary of having doors slammed in your face. It’s hard to sustain self-belief (ironic that I moved into writing where I’ve faced even more rejections!). But if you keep working at your craft, you will get better and eventually you’ll land somewhere, even if it’s not where you expect.
Often, tips for authors seem contradictory, or counterintuitive. For example, some people say, ‘Don’t edit as you write’, but that doesn’t work for me. Try everything and reject the bits that don’t work for you.
Most of all, enjoy it.
Have there been any surprises for you in this writing life?
When I left business to write fulltime, I thought it would be a lonely profession, but it’s the reverse. Through writing courses and workshops, I’ve met so many authors who’ve become my friends and mentors. This is a nurturing, supportive group, who all know how hard it is to create a work of fiction; it’s very different from the cut and thrust of corporate life.
During the tortuous two-year process of getting A Voice In The Night contracted, edited, produced and out there, I wrote my next book. This one is historical fiction, a wartime mystery set between 1913-1958. I’m currently halfway through a historical thriller, and I have another thriller in the early planning stages.
You can follow Sarah on:
You can buy A Voice in the Night at your favorite bookstore, or on Booktopia or Amazon.