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Allan Emerson's Blog

Author Sara Jayne Townsend visits...

Sara Jayne Townsend, author of the Shara Summers mysteries, is my guest today. She’ll be talking about her books, of course, but about other things as well. And naturally, there’s a giveaway! Leave a comment before midnight (PST) August 27 and win a digital copy (Kindle, Kobo, or Nook) of your choice of Death Scene or Dead Cool!

Sara lives and writes in London, England, but spent a large part of her formative years in Canada. In our interview, she talks about the adjustments she had to make each time she relocated, the words she hates to hear most, and her favorite saying. Oh, and don’t forget to extinguish all smoking materials before reading—you’ll see why later.

You spent eight years in Canada. What did you notice most when you arrived in Canada? What was it like returning to England after the years in Canada?

I always felt like Canada wasn’t ‘home’, and when I was there I felt like an outsider (the kids at school used to say I had a ‘funny accent’), but when I came back I felt like I’d changed enough that I no longer belonged in England, either. For a couple of years after I came back, I had people asking me what part of the States I was from. Initially there were a few things I missed, like Canadian muffins and big soft cookies. The world’s got smaller now, though, and there aren’t too many things from Canada you can’t find in England now.

I did come back from Canada knowing how to ice skate, though. I’d never been on ice skates before we moved over there, but you can’t really get through Canadian winters without learning. I don’t miss those winters, by the way. Damp though it may be at times, England is significantly warmer in the winter than Canada is.

Shara Summers, your sleuth, is an actress. What made you choose that profession for her?

When I was at school I dreamed of being an actress myself, but I was never really all that good at acting. I have an inherently bossy nature and was much better at directing, or stage managing. And the acting is an uncertain profession, much like writing. By the time I entered the working world it had become clear to me that if I wanted to be able to pay the bills I was going to have to heed the words of all the adults who had told me I would have to get a ‘proper job’ when I told them I wanted to be a writer. I decided I would have time to pursue only one creative dream around the salary-paying day job, and between acting and writing, my strongest passion was undoubtedly writing.

So I made Shara an actress as a way of living the acting life vicariously through her. I also thought that for an amateur sleuth, the ability to disguise oneself and play a role might come in handy for her investigations. In every book, Shara plays a role at some point.

I think Shara gets by as an actress, and only because she sings and dances as well. Acting is a tough profession to make a go of. Only a small minority get to be rich and famous. It’s a bit like writing in that sense. And I didn’t want Shara to be too successful, or she wouldn’t have time to solve crimes.

Did you have to do any research for your books?

For the first book, I had to research poisons. There’s a book called The Writer’s Guide to Poisons sitting on my shelf. It lists various natural and synthetic poisons, how they are administered, the symptoms that occur when they are ingested, how much needs to be taken for a fatal dose and whether or not there is an antidote. I find it a useful reference guide but I suppose it might look a bit scary to anyone visiting my house!

I always try to get the opinion of ‘experts’ on whatever I’m writing about, and I’m collecting a list of people who I can turn to for useful advice. For DEAD COOL this included a retired policeman who used to work for the Metropolitan Murder Squad, and the keyboard player for the touring rock band, Uriah Heep, who gave me a lot of useful information about life on the road for an up and coming rock band.

If Shara wrote to an advice columnist for help, what would she be asking about?

I can see Shara writing for advice on her love life, because she seems to make remarkably poor choices when it comes to men. She’s got an ‘on-again, off-again’ relationship in the books with a fellow actor called Richard, who’s an exceptionally nice guy but she seems to be afraid of commitment. I’d like her to have a ‘happy ever after’ ending with Richard, but when I write about her she seems to have other ideas.

Do you believe:

a) in astrology

I don’t, but that doesn’t stop me from reading my horoscope every time I encounter it in the paper. I’m a Scorpio. So I think maybe I’m a closet believer.

b) in good luck charms (lucky shoes, clothing, dates, etc.)

I suppose I do, in the sense that I’m ruled by ritual I have a lot of little routines that I have to follow, or I get quite stressed. I have two early-morning writing sessions every week, where I get an early train and go sit in a coffee shop for an hour writing before work. I order the same breakfast, and I sit in the same chair. If I can’t sit in my chair (because someone else is already there, say), I feel quite disorientated and don’t get as much done. This could be a belief in good luck charms. It might equally mean I have a touch of OCD.

c) in ghosts?

I’m a bit on the fence about this one. Intellectually, no, and I’ve never seen one, but none of us knows what happens after we die, and maybe there’s more to the universe than the plane we exist on right now. I guess I won’t find out for sure until I’m dead, and by then it’s too late to do anything about it. I may end up as a disembodied soul after death, haunting my family and thinking, “huh, they were all right about this ghost thing after all.”

What words do you hate to hear?

“You have to come back for a filling.” I hate the dentist. When I go for a check up and tell me I have to come back for a filling I dread it, because generally that means needles and I really hate needles. I also hate the feeling of my tongue going numb, but that all pales in comparison to when the injection wears off and my gum throbs where the needle went in. Eek!

What wouldn't you be caught dead doing and why?

If anyone ever sees me with a cigarette in my hand I’ve either been possessed by an alien or it’s an evil doppelganger and not me. I’m a militant anti-smoker. I have been known to lecture people on this vile disgusting habit. I try to curb my opinions these days – everybody knows smoking is bad for you; no one wants to hear me lecture them. But sometimes – generally after a few drinks – I forget to be tactful.

Did anyone encourage you to write?

I’ve been quite fortunate in that, as quite a lot of people have encouraged me to write. My parents have always been very supportive. They think what I write is really good, but they’re probably biased!

In Grade 8 (in Canada) I had an English teacher called Mrs. Riepert, who was wonderfully eccentric and a lot of the kids didn’t know what to make of her, but I really liked her, and she could see in me a latent talent that she wanted to encourage. I found out from people who went through the class some years after me that she kept the stories I wrote in her class and read them out to her students in future years as an example of amazing writing.

What was the most useful piece of advice you received on writing, or on life?

The most useful piece of life advice I ever received was from my dad, and it was about always being yourself. After years of feeling I couldn’t ‘fit in’ – first in Canada and then again when I came back to England – I gave up trying, and now I’m just me. If you try to be someone you’re not you’ll always be unhappy. You have to be true to yourself, first. It took me a long time to learn to like myself, and to accept that it’s OK if not everyone else likes you.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I love video games especially Resident Evil, Dragon Age and Silent Hill. I’m also learning to play the bass guitar and often do local open mic nights with my husband, who plays guitar.

What’s your favourite saying/expression?

I rather like the phrase that describes an eccentric person as ‘mad as a box of frogs’. I have no idea where this phrase comes from, or why frogs (a boxful or even one) should be madder than any other kind of animal, but somehow it seems apt.

What makes you laugh?

A lot of people perceive me as quite a serious person who doesn’t laugh about much. It’s not true that I don’t have a sense of humour. I do, but a lot of people don’t get it. I don’t find the slapstick style humour very funny, though. I always end up feeling sorry for the poor person who’s being smacked across the head or whatever.

I laugh at sardonic observations about every day life. There were a lot of such observations in The Simpsons at one time (though not so much in later seasons). And I find The Big Bang Theory quite funny, but I’m part of the Geek Culture so I get most of references.


Sara Jayne Townsend is a UK-based writer of crime and horror, and someone tends to die a horrible death in all of her stories. She was born in Cheshire in 1969, but spent most of the 1980s living in Canada after her family emigrated there. She now lives in Surrey with two cats and her guitarist husband Chris. She co-founded the T Party Writers’ Group in 1994, and remains Chair Person.

She decided she was going to be a published novelist when she was 10 years old and finished her first novel a year later. It took 30 years of submitting, however, to fulfil that dream.

The first two books in her amateur sleuth series about Canadian actress Shara Summers, DEATH SCENE and DEAD COOL, are available as e-books from the MuseitUp book store and from all good e-book retailers.

Follow Sara on Amazon or Twitter, and learn more about her writing at her website and her blog. And don't forget to leave a comment for a chance to win one of the Shara Summers mysteries!

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