The Who, What, Where, When and Why with Sarah Haywood

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By Jade Craddock

Like many aspiring authors, Sarah Haywood’s route to publication wasn’t immediate. After working as a lawyer for many years, she eventually decided to follow her dream of being a writer and quite her day job to study creative writing. And now, with her debut novel, The Cactus, having hit the shelves last week, her journey to becoming an author has been fulfilled. Here, she kindly stops by to share her story in our who, what, when, where and why series. ♥

1. Who has been the most important person in your writing journey?

As a writer, it’s very easy to doubt your abilities, particularly when starting out, so anyone who persuades you that you’re not totally deluded is a godsend. I’m fortunate that there have been many such people on the journey to completing The Cactus, which was written as part of my MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. If I had to choose one individual as being most important, though, it would have to be my dear friend Beth, who convinced me to take the initial leap of faith. We worked alongside each other – she on her PhD and me on my novel – until she was diagnosed with an illness when I was half way through. I stopped writing for six months, deciding that my ambition to be an author was inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but witnessing her ongoing courage and determination inspired me to get back on track and finish what I’d set out to do.

2. What motivates you to write?

I enjoy the thrill of creating something from nothing, of building a world out of words. I often feel that, rather than directing the story myself, I’m standing back and watching my characters do what they need to do. I’m still amazed, when reading reviews, to find that something that’s come from my head can give other people enjoyment. I’m a naturally shy person; in a group I’m usually the one sitting back and listening to the conversation. Writing gives me a way of expressing myself. And it helps to make sense of things; every experience I’ve had – whether wonderful or terrible – has made me the writer I am.

3. When did you first start writing?

I’ve had an ambition to write ever since I first started reading novels about characters who themselves wanted to be, or became, writers: Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I’ve always written diaries and scribbled short stories, although I’d never finished anything to a professional standard or shown my writing to anyone. It was only when my younger son started school that I decided it was ‘now or never’. I began by applying for an Open University creative writing course, and for the first time received feedback. To my surprise and delight, it was very encouraging.

4. Where do you write?

The first half of my novel was written in Hope University library, conveniently situated between my house and my son’s primary school. After my mid-novel hiatus, I felt I needed total isolation to power through to the end, so converted our spare bedroom into a study. I have a desk by the window, so can watch the world go by as I’m writing. I still work in the University library from time to time, mostly because I enjoy catching up with Beth in our coffee and lunch breaks. I can’t write in complete silence. The low hum of the library is perfect, but at home I use an app that plays coffee shop noise.

5. Why did you write this book?

I like reading about characters who are flawed; it’s our quirks, eccentricities and failings that make us interesting (and often give rise to comedy). Susan is a prickly woman who buries her emotions, and who is obsessively self-controlled. I wanted to explore how she came to be the way she is, and how she might change. The idea of writing about a will dispute arose from my job investigating complaints about lawyers. I found that, in such cases, the complainant was often looking to the legal system to resolve deep-seated personal issues; the grievance was not with the lawyer’s behaviour, but with the complainant’s parents, opposing family member, or simply the hand that life had dealt them. That’s very much the case with Susan Green.

Sarah Haywood was born in Birmingham. She studied Law at Kent University and Chester College of Law, then worked as a trainee solicitor in London. After qualification, she moved to Liverpool, working first as a solicitor, then as an advice worker with Citizens Advice. She subsequently joined the Office of the Legal Services Ombudsman, where she investigated complaints about lawyers. Sarah completed an Open University Creative Writing Course, followed by an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. She lives in Liverpool with her husband and two sons. Sarah is currently working on her second novel.

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