Sarah Lawton is a fellow member of the 2021 Debut Group, a group of authors publishing their debut novels this year. Sarah’s bio there tells us, “After leaving a career in the charity sector she spent several years blogging and raising a small person to school age, at which point she decided enough was enough and it was time to finally try some real writing.” It’s a good thing she did, because that real writing turned into her debut novel, All the Little Things, which has been described as “a tense and gripping thriller with an unforgettable ending.” Thrillers seem to be all the rage now, and so I’m confident will find an eager and willing audience for her writing. In addition to writing (she’s at work on more novels!), she blogs and edits. And since I know just how busy she is (which parent isn’t?), I’m thankful she took some time to answer a few questions.
Christina: Your debut, All the Little Things, released on March 25. Tell us a little bit about your inspiration for the novel, the title, and the lines, “Never trust anyone. Never trust yourself.”
Sarah: My inspiration initially for the novel was someone seeing a happy family unit and wanting to break it for their own kicks, but then it developed—I mean, why would anyone want to do something like that? Which was when one of my characters started to change in an unexpected way. The lines “Never trust anyone. Never trust yourself” come from my prologue which sets up the book, and they are from a mother who was always desperate to believe that everything was okay, that all problems were her fault, that she could fix things by, essentially, ignoring them. Which obviously goes very wrong . . . My lovely publishers actually came up with the title, for various publisher-y reasons and I really like it; it’s much better than mine was!
Christina: The book involves Rachel and her daughter Vivian. How do you go about choosing character names? Do these names have any particular importance to the story?
Sarah: I actually changed Rachel’s name at editors request. Originally it was a French name, but it did sound a bit off, and it definitely made more sense to have a more average sounding name. I used a name generator! Vivian however was always Vivian—I love the name, though Vivian doesn’t. Sorry Vivian.
Christina: What have you learned along the way about book publishing? Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Sarah: I’ve learnt that everything takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r, and I’m with a quick turn around publisher and got an agent unusually quickly. But it still feels like forever to wait for things to happen. So my advice is, if you can manage it, patience. And perseverance—get that draft done because all the magic comes in the editing. You can fix everything except an empty page, so get those keys clattering. My favourite quote—”Anything you wish or dream to do; begin it.”
Christina: Many authors have multiple manuscripts collecting dust on a hard drive or shelf somewhere. Do you have any novels that haven’t seen the light of day? Will you go back to any of them in the future?
Sarah: I have two 20k projects malingering on my hard drive, and, heartbreakingly, my whole “difficult second novel” which was unfortunately so difficult as to possibly never go anywhere but straight in the bin. But I think the ideas at the heart of all of those projects could be resuscitated with a bit of TLC, and it’s always reassuring to have something on the back burner.
Christina: You blog over at Mumzilla. How did that name come about, and what do you enjoy about blogging?
Sarah: The name of the blog was meant to be because I’m a terrible bumbler and general idiot/destructive clutz so the zilla was in homage to Godzilla, but I think most people probably think I’m some sort of terrible bossy-pants like a bridezilla, which is not the case at all . . . I loved blogging for years and it got me lots of nice little writing gigs and social media jobs, but then it became a schlep to try and get up the charts (I think I peaked at about 115th in the UK out of thousands of other parenting blogs, but then I got bored of self-promoting. I’m a terrible self-promoter).
Christina: On your blog you mention that you’re “muddling through the transition from working mum to stay at home.” What did you do in your former life? Do you think your experiences there have made you a better writer? Have those experiences made you a better mother?
Sarah: In my former life I was a lot of things admin. I was an Operations Manager for a children’s disability charity before moving up to one of the national charities to work on a huge online project where hurrah—I got to do lots of writing, which I loved. But then I had to cut my hours to fit in with school runs, and it cut all the enjoyable bits of my job out, so I quit and created the blog to earn pin money for my secret things. Mainly books and handbags to hide books in. That last part of my career certainly confirmed to me that I wanted to write, but it took applying to a selective writing course and actually being accepted to make me realise that maybe I could write fiction too (much to the delight of five year old me, who told me thirty-five years ago that we wanted to be an author). Regarding being a mother, I try my very very best and always apologise if I’ve been crap, which does happen now and again . . . my kid seems to like me though, so I guess I’m doing all right. He’s ridiculously proud that mummy has got a book on Amazon!
Christina: How do you define literary success?
Sarah: For me, literary success was always book smell. The day I get to smell my own book, with my name on it, that I haven’t paid anyone to print, will be success. I never actually thought that other people might actually, you know, read it. Latterly, having come to know more about everything writerly, I’ve realised that success lays everywhere, from finishing the draft, to submitting, to dusting off and trying again, to getting a deal big or small—they’re all successes. Every single person who keeps writing—you’re already a success. It’s hard, so if you haven’t given up then in my book, you’re a success.
Thanks to Sarah for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.