I’m delighted to welcome today Sarah Stephenson, newly published author of Dougal’s Diary (Crooked Cat).
Sarah lives in South East London with two dogs, the occasional grandchild and a lot of clutter.
“I’ve had a chequered career as ballet dancer, chef, cleaning lady, salesgirl of outsize underwear in Littlewoods, and actor,” Sarah says.
“As an actor I worked mostly in the theatre, in plays ranging from Shakespeare to improvised, both comedy and tragedy. And throughout those years, I wrote – occasionally short stories but mainly letters and diaries documenting events and people I didn’t want to forget.”
Sarah managed to fill thirty or more exercise books with practically illegible scribble. The books sat in drawers and suitcases, for years.
“Then three years ago I found The Write Place, a class in Dartford run by writer Elaine Everest. Under her terrific guidance I began Dougal’s Diary. She gave me the name of a publisher to contact, and that was it.”
I asked Sarah to tell me a bit about Dougal’s Diary.
“It follows Dougal from innocent puppy to mature hound, as he deals with Greenwich life, his chaotic owner and her eccentric friends, his own hypochondria and jealousy over a foster puppy. Then there’s the excitement of parties, his dreams of stardom and travelling to a paradise island on Virgin Atlantic, will they ever come true?
“A living version of Dougal does exist. And when I first got him I felt he had the kind of personality that was begging to be put into a story. ”
And did Sarah edit it herself or did she hire someone to look over it?
“Being dyslexic I thought it best to get it looked at, so sent an early version to Hilary Johnson’s Author’s Advisory Service. Foolishly I didn’t return the much changed copy for a final check. Crooked Cat gave me an editor, Andy Angel. He was lovely but not nearly tough enough on me.”
“Elaine insists everything we write goes somewhere”
How did Sarah go about getting it published?
“Elaine Everest, who runs The Write Place, insists everything we write goes somewhere – a competition, magazine, or publisher. It must never sit in a drawer. Elaine told me Crooked Cat were accepting submissions and to send Dougal in.
“The Crooked Cat family (Laurence and Steph Patterson who started the company and their authors) have all been fantastically helpful. And without Elaine Everest and The Write Place group, I would have been totally lost.”
Sarah’s book was launched last week amid a flurry of parties and events. How did Sarah find that?
“It was both hectic and fun with two launch parties on Facebook on Thursday, one arranged by Crooked Cat, the other a ‘bring your pet along party’ hosted by me. And I’ve filled in many questionnaires for people’s blogs. Sometimes I’ve been interviewed; at other times, Dougal.
“Now I’ve got some good reviews, I’m contacting the local press and masses of dog magazines.”
What has Sarah learned so far from the experience?
“I had no idea how much there was to do. Marketing an ebook isn’t easy. No one can see it, so if you don’t tell them it’s there, no one will buy it. And, of course, I’m an unknown writer, so have no followers and no track record.”
So, where does Sarah go from here?
“We’re encouraged to write what we know. So, having spent the last twenty years cooking in the homes of the very wealthy, witnessing behaviour I couldn’t possibly write about without being done for libel, I’m putting my experiences into a cosy crime story. The characters will be just as outrageous, only fictional.”
Does Sarah have any advice, for readers and for those hoping to have their books published?
“You may be lucky enough to pick up one of the big publishers, even get an agent. But if you don’t, I suggest starting small with maybe an ebook publisher. At least it’s a start. You’ll have writing history.
“There are many young publishers out there. And join a group or get onto the RNA’s (Romantic Novelist Association) new writers’ scheme. Writing is a lonely occupation. There’s help and advice out there.
“And never give up.”
The Write Place creative writing school is based at The Mick Jagger Centre, Dartford, Kent, and is run by author, journalist and creative writing teacher, Elaine Everest. For information on classes and workshops please visit the website.
If you have any questions for Sarah, or if there’s anything you’d like to say to her, please do so in the comments section. Thanks for dropping by.