Something special today. An interview with a terrific British mystery writer, Sara Jayne Townsend. When you read the following, please do so with a British accent in your head. It's like gravy.
*Welcome, Sara. At first, I was under the (mis)impression Death Scene was going to be a horror tale as I knew you enjoyed writing and reading horror. To my surprise, it was a cozy mystery. My first! And a very good read. Is this your usual genre?
*Your heroine, Shari, was born in England then moved to Canada. Yet she seems to hate Canadian weather. I’m wondering…why is she living there?
SJT: I describe myself as a crime and horror writer, but I was a horror writer first – from age 14, when I wrote my first horror novel. I started to discover women crime writers such as Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton in the early 1990s, and by the end of the 90s, horror seemed to have dropped out of favour, in the UK, at least. I loved reading crime so much I thought I should start writing in this genre, since it was selling better than horror was at that time. I didn’t have the confidence to write a police procedural, so I decided to create an amateur sleuth. Thus Shara Summers was born. SJT: There’s a lot of personal experience from me in Shari, including my dislike of Canadian winters. I went to Canada as a child when my family emigrated there and I came back to the UK when I finished high school, while they stayed in Canada. And the winters had a lot to do with it. I wanted to give Shari an affinity to Canada, so I had her stay there. But my dislike of the cold is so overpowering I can’t imagine how anyone could love it, and so she shares that trait with me.
*I, too, hate the brutal midwest winters. What am I doing here again? There’s an awful lot of background color about the world of acting, all of it ringing true. Do you have personal experience in that field?
SJT: I spent a lot of time in the 80s, 90s and 2000s doing amateur dramatics, and loved it. That’s one of the reasons I decided to make Shari an actress. I toyed with the idea briefly of going into theatre professionally when I left school, but I was never really good enough to make a success of it. Once I decided I only had time to pursue one creative vocation that wasn’t going to pay around the day job that would be necessary to pay the bills, I decided it had to be writing, not acting. So instead I’m sort of living the actor’s life vicariously through Shari. I do have a number of friends who have done acting professionally for at least some part of their lives, and I collected anecdotes from them all when I was doing research for the book. Many of those anecdotes are blatantly stolen and stuck almost verbatim into the story. But I have given credit to said actors in the acknowledgements.
*One thing I’d like to warn your readers about? Don’t read the acknowledgments until after you’ve finished reading the book! Major spoiler alert!
SJT: I guess that’s true and I never really thought about it, I was just giving credit to a person who had a major influence on how the plot worked out. The book has now been published twice, with the same acknowledgements both times. I guess I assumed they would end up at the back of the book. But it’s probably good advice – read them last!
*I enjoyed the relationships in the book. The way Shari and her mother interact, prickly conversations and battling personalities struggling to be dominant over one another; how people react toward the rapidly deteriorating health of Aunt Ruthie--part empathy, part sympathy, all bother. Very universal. I’ve lived through very similar family situations. Good job. How much is true for you, Sara?
SJT: I have two younger sisters, so sibling rivalry was familiar to me as I was growing up, as I suppose it probably is to everyone with siblings. A major theme of the novel was family ties and the fact that you can’t escape your family’s love no matter how far away you run. I would like to emphasise that I did not base any of Shara’s family members on any of my own. But I think family tensions are familiar to most people.
*Shari is a strong, independent woman. But sometimes it seems she puts her needs before others. She doesn’t appear to have a very good relationship with her family, having rarely seen them. Now I know there’s a geographical barrier, but how do you see her? Well-adjusted, self-centered…maybe a little of both?
SJT: I don’t think she’s very well adjusted. She has a lot of emotional baggage. And she is a tad self-centred. But I think a lot of actors are – you have to be acutely aware of yourself to be able to act, and that can come across as being rather narcissistic. I wanted Shari to have flaws. Perfect characters are boring. She’s far too nosy for her own good, but what amateur sleuth isn’t? She has commitment issues, because I decided that relationships with problems are far more interesting than ‘happy ever after’ kind of relationships (but as is evident I’m not a romance writer). But she also stands up for what she believes in, and will fight for a cause she’s passionate about, and I hope this makes her sympathetic to readers, despite her flaws.
*I agree. Perfect is boring, flawed is fascinating. But here's something that's been bothering me...please tell this clueless Midwesterner what in the world Marmite toast is!
SJT: Marmite is a yeast-based spread that you have on toast for breakfast. It’s got a meaty kind of taste, but it’s vegetarian friendly. Brits are firmly entrenched into one of two camps – Marmite lovers and Marmite haters. There’s no middle ground with Marmite. Australians have a similar product, called Vegemite. But it’s not something available generally in North America. I decided it would be a way of showing Shari’s British roots, by having her miss Marmite and getting her mother to send it to her when she’s in Canada. And by the way, I’m in the ‘Marmite lover’ camp.
*In the chapter where the romantic interest is seducing Shari, she remarks many, MANY times about his lovely, long eyelashes. Is this a subtle way of showing she’s getting sloshed? Or do you, um, just like guys’ eyelashes?
SJT: What can I say? Romantic scenes are not my strength. I wanted a subtle way of showing her attraction, and that she was getting slowly sloshed, without having say it. So I decided to have her keep noticing his eyelashes. I think it’s fair to say that Shari likes long eyelashes on guys (without giving away spoilers, she sort of does it again in the second book). I don’t think the same thing can be said for me. Though I do share Shari’s fondness of hunky blonds. Especially Chris Hemsworth. Now he can throw his hammer in my direction any time. Uh, sorry, where were we??
*By Odin's nostril hairs, Sara has thusly spoken! Thor is the man to beat!
Alright. Done, now. Here's a cool sneak-peak at the sequel's cover:
The first book in her amateur sleuth series about Canadian actress Shara Summers, DEATH SCENE, is now available, with the sequel, DEAD COOL, released on 25 November and available for pre-order. Visit the MuseItUp Publishing book store to buy both: http://museituppublishing.com/bookstore/index.php/our-authors/70-our-authors/authors-t/420-sara-jayne-townsend
You can learn more about Sara and her writing at her website at http://sarajaynetownsend.weebly.com or her blog at http://sayssara.wordpress.com.