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The Memory Box: Sarah Webb

Writing.ie | Magazine | Interviews | Women’s Fiction
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By Vanessa O'Loughlin

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Sarah Webb is the best selling author of over 20 books – for both children and adults. Her latest adult novel The Memory Box is out now, bringing her adult fiction to a total of eleven novels that have been published in a host of different countries including the US, Australia and Indonesia. Sarah worked in the book trade for many years as a children’s bookseller and buyer, and now juggles writing for both children and adults with schools visits, readings and giving workshops at festivals and reviewing children’s books for the Irish Independent. She also programmes literary events and is on the board of Children’s Books Ireland. She’s a very busy lady! So how does she fit it all in?

 

I’m always interested in how writers, particularly busy ones, structure their writing day, so sitting down with Sarah over coffee in her sunny breakfast room in Dun Laogahire, I asked her how she structures her time. She explained, “I write mainly in the morning and again in the evening if I have the energy. I try to take a short walk before I sit down at my desk and I think about my characters and the situation/s they are currently in while I’m plodding along. Dialogue often comes to me while I’m walking too and as soon as I get home I sit down and start typing. Sometimes, if the humour takes me, I write longhand in a large A4 size notebook with yellow pages – a legal pad I think it’s called.I write non-stop until two o’clock when my daughter gets home from school. In the afternoon I like to play with my children and help them with their homework if I can. And then in the evening I’ll sit back down at my desk, answer emails and letters, write up any articles I’m working on and look over my day’s work.sarah-webb-imgI’m very lucky – I have a job I love, and one I can fit around family life. I worked full time when my eldest son was small (I was a single parent for many years) so I really appreciate my life now. I have no idea how I used to squeeze everything in. I have huge admiration for single parents and full time working mothers.”

 

Deadlines are stressful for all writers; trying to fit creativity into a schedule is something of an oxymoron. Writing as much as Sarah does, in different genres for different publishers, means that her deadlines can collide, I wondered how she coped with this? “I work on one book at a time where possible. I like to immerse myself in a story, especially for the first draft. But I sometimes end up writing one book in the morning and then editing or copy editing another book in the afternoon or evening.  At the moment I’m writing the second book in a new children’s series, working on a proposal for a new adult novel, and waiting on copy edits of the last Ask Amy Green (book 6, Wedding Belles)”. She laughed, “One year I worked on four different books – but two of them were very short. An adult novel, an Amy Green book, an early reader (Emma the Penguin) and a nursery rhyme collection. It sounds busy, but it was all fun!”

 

Finding your voice as a writer can take time and patience, and with so many projects on,  I wanted to find out from Sarah if writing for different genres effected her writing voice – does she have different voices for different audiences? She shook her head,  “No, not intentionally anyway. The vocab changes for each different age group and children of seven have different hopes, fears and interests than young teens, but I just try to create and write interesting, realistic characters of every age.”
So where did the inspiration for The Memory Box come from? Sarah told me, “Pandora Schuster, the main character came first. She drove the plot. I knew her mum had died of cancer and I knew that she was struggling with her life – a single mother to Iris, 9 and about to turn 30. So to make things even more difficult for her I added a cancer gene.  Everything else came after that. For me, a general idea (a single mum struggling with turning 30) and a character come first – that tends to kick start the rest of the book.”

The Memory Box features some of the characters who appeared in Sarah’s previous adult novel, The Shoestring Club, and like it, has a wonderful graphic cover. Indeed, the box on the cover is very like the suitcases Sarah brings to the talks she gives on writing – a hoarder and keeper of memories herself, Sarah has an incredible collection of notebooks that she uses to gather ideas for her books, and she highly recommends gathering material that inspires you. In The Memory Box, Pandora is determined for  nine year old Iris to know who her father is and creates a memory box for her filled with photos, letters and mementoes. Pandora’s box conjures up magical memories of the time she spent with Iris’s father Olivier, in Paris and suddenly Pandora finds herself having to choose between her head and her heart, her past and her present.

 

Discussing her notebooks, her own Pandora’s box of ideas, Sarah says, “Ideas come from all sorts of places: from magazines and newspapers; in shops and on buses; from people chatting; from travelling. The core idea for a book could stem from something that has happened to you or to someone that you know. Many of my books are based on personal experiences, changed to fit the plot and suit the characters. I always suggest that you start to keep a writing notebook right now and to jot down ideas as they pop into your head. Carry it with you at all times, you never know when inspiration might strike!”

 

And her best advise for new writers? “Read until your eyes fall out of your head. It’s the best way to learn the craft. Soak it all in and learn.  And you learn how to write by writing. By putting in the hours. At night after work, early in the morning before the kids get up, at weekends, on holidays, when you’re on top of the world, when your heart is breaking – you have to keep at it. You have to put in the hours. It’s as simple or as difficult as that.”
The Memory Box is out now in all good bookshops, and available online.
To find out more about Sarah, check out her Author Page on writing.ie, or visit her website that is crammed full of tips for writers.

 

About The Memory Box

Pandora Schuster is about to turn thirty but that’s the least of her worries. She’s just been tested for a hereditary family illness and, expecting the worst, she’s desperate for her ex-boyfriend and father of nine-year-old Iris to be a part of her daughter’s life. But there are two major problems: Olivier Huppert lives in Paris and he has no idea that Iris even exists.

Pick up your copy of The Memory Box in bookshops or online here!

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