Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Sandra Danby to Chat About Books 🙂
Author Interview – Sandra Danby
Sandra Danby is a proud Yorkshire woman, tennis nut and tea drinker. She believes a walk on the beach will cure most ills. Unlike Rose Haldane, the identity detective in her two novels, Ignoring Gravity and Connectedness, Sandra is not adopted. Connectedness was published in May 2018.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Ideas come from everywhere, at any time, without warning. My problem is probably too many ideas. I dread forgetting one and always have a notebook and pen to hand; in my handbag for ideas on the move, and by my bedside for middle-of-the-night inspiration. I collect everything, particularly magazine cuttings, and take photographs of things I see [anything from an inscription on a gravestone to a road sign or an advertising hoarding]. My husband despairs of ever having space on our Sky box because I fill it with documentaries: over the last three years while I was writing Connectedness, the programmes were about art; now they’re about World War Two as I focus on my next novel Sweet Joy.
Are any of your characters based (however loosely) on anyone you know?
Not directly, no. But every writer steals stories and personality traits, sometimes on purpose, sometimes sub-consciously, that may be jumbled together to create a character. As I write twin timelines, I find it helpful when writing the historical strand to remember people I know and stories from those times; it helps to get a handle on attitudes, dress, activities. From that starting point, I write exercises in which I put my character into different situations and see how they react; in this way the character becomes their own person.
How do you pick your characters’ names?
I don’t have a conscious process. Somehow in the early stages of a novel’s creation, when I’m thinking ‘what if’, a name will attach itself. I am also conscious of the changing trends in names that shift from decade to decade, and try to avoid anything jarring.
Can you share your writing process with us, in a nutshell?
I’m currently writing Sweet Joy, third in the ‘Identity Detective’ series, and have had the premise clear in my mind for the last couple of years. After a phase of intense research – The Blitz, bomber planes and pilots, textile design in the Sixties, and country house museums – the plot and characters are becoming clearer. The next stage is to work through any undecided areas by writing exercises, trying out a few things. Once I’m happy that I have my characters nailed down, I start to write. My novels are dual timeline so I tend to write one timeline from start to finish, without touching the other; that helps keep the tone authentic. I have a master plot plan so I can control pace and tension and know when to drop in hints and confide secrets.
Who are your favourite top 5 authors?
Elizabeth Jane Howard
If you could meet any author, who would it be and what would you ask them?
PD James. What was your system of plotting, laying clues and red herrings, and how did you keep track of it all? I have read the whole Adam Dalgliesh series and picked up many tricks on handling tension, keeping secrets, and gently misleading the reader to increase the tension. Did you use index cards?
Were you a big reader as a child?
Enormous! I was a proud member of the Puffin Club and was given my own bookshelf in the bedroom I shared with my sister so I could sort my books in alphabetical order. Perhaps I should have become a librarian! I gulped down all the classics plus Enid Blyton, Arthur Ransome, Henry Williamson, the Joy Adamson books about Elsa the lioness, and authors suggested by my mother including Mary Stewart.
When did you start to write?
I always wanted to write. I loved reading stories and wanted to write my own. As a child, I wrote stories and compiled my own magazines. Not surprisingly, I went on to study English, became a journalist then magazine editor.
If you could re-write the ending to any book what would it be and what would you change?
I was a romantic as a child and was so upset when Jo didn’t accept Laurie’s proposal in Little Women. So I would re-write the ending so they married and Amy went to live with Aunt March.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, such a heart-rending and personal account of a mother/daughter relationship. Economically and beautifully written, I read it in one sitting on a winter’s afternoon, drawn into the life of Lucy. She looks back, ostensibly telling the story of her nine-week stay in hospital and an unexpected visit by her mother, when in fact she tells the story of her life. Mothers and daughters, no two relationships are alike and no woman can make assumptions about another’s experience as either mother or daughter. Stranded in her hospital bed, Lucy remembers her childhood and tries to make sense of it.
If you wrote an autobiography, what would your title be?
I never would, as I enjoy making things up too much.
If you could invite any fictional character for coffee who would it be and where would you take them?
Mikel Blomqvist from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He drinks pints of coffee each day in the Millennium Trilogy, so he would definitely need nice cake to dilute the caffeine. Perhaps afternoon tea at The Wolseley in London, one of my favourite treats.
Tell us a random fact about yourself.
I can swear in Spanish.
What are you working on right now?
Climbing into a Lancaster bomber at IWM Duxford and researching RAF slang during World War Two. It’s research for Sweet Joy, to make my bomber pilot authentic.
TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD, ARTIST JUSTINE TREE HAS IT ALL… BUT SHE ALSO HAS A SECRET THAT THREATENS TO DESTROY EVERYTHING
Justine’s art sells around the world, but does anyone truly know her? When her mother dies, she returns to her childhood home in Yorkshire where she decides to confront her past. She asks journalist Rose Haldane to find the baby she gave away when she was an art student, but only when Rose starts to ask difficult questions does Justine truly understand what she must face.
Is Justine strong enough to admit the secrets and lies of her past? To speak aloud the deeds she has hidden for 27 years, the real inspiration for her work that sells for millions of pounds. Could the truth trash her artistic reputation? Does Justine care more about her daughter, or her art? And what will she do if her daughter hates her?
This tale of art, adoption, romance and loss moves between now and the Eighties, from London’s art world to the bleak isolated cliffs of East Yorkshire and the hot orange blossom streets of Málaga, Spain.
A family mystery for fans of Maggie O’Farrell, Lucinda Riley, Tracy Rees and Rachel Hore.
About the ‘Identity Detective’ series
Rose Haldane reunites the people lost through adoption. The stories you don’t see on television shows. The difficult cases. The people who cannot be found, who are thought lost forever. Each book in the ‘Identity Detective’ series considers the viewpoint of one person trapped in this horrible dilemma. In the first book of the series, Ignoring Gravity, it is Rose’s experience we follow as an adult discovering she was adopted as a baby. Connectedness is the story of a birth mother and her longing to see her baby again. Sweet Joy, the third novel, will tell the story of a baby abandoned during The Blitz.
Do you have a new release due?
I’m aiming to publish Sweet Joy in 2020 or 2021, which seems a long time away. It takes me three to four years to write each novel. I wish I could write quicker!
What do you generally do to celebrate on publication day?
Publication day is a strange experience. After being a huge red date in the diary for at least two years, the day dawns and looks like any normal day. On Connectedness’s publication day I spent the morning answering emails and social media messages of congratulations. In the afternoon I went for a walk in the woods, to clear my head and to allow in thoughts of Sweet Joy.
How can readers keep in touch with you?
An extract from ‘Connectedness’
London, September 2009
The retired headmistress knew before she opened the front door that a posy of carnations would be lying on the doorstep beside the morning’s milk bottle. It happened on this day, every year. September 12. And every year she did the same thing: she untied the narrow ribbon, eased the stems loose and arranged the frilled red flowers in her unglazed biscuit-ware jug. Then she placed the jug on the front windowsill where they would be visible from the street. Her bones ached more now as she bent to pick them up off the step than the first year the flowers arrived. She had an idea why the carnations appeared and now regretted never asking about them. Next year, someone else would find the flowers on the doorstep. In a week’s time she would be living in a one-bedroom annexe at her son’s house in a Hampshire village. She walked slowly back to her armchair beside the electric fire intending to tackle The Times crossword but hesitated, wondering if the person who sent the flowers would ever be at peace.
Yorkshire, May 2010
The clouds hurried from left to right, moved by a distant wind that did not touch her cheek. It felt unusually still for May. As if the weather was waiting for the day to begin, just as she was. She had given up trying to sleep at three o’clock, pulled on some clothes and let herself out of the front door. Despite the dark, she knew exactly the location of the footpath, the edge of the cliffs; could walk it with her eyes closed. Justine lay on the ground and looked up, feeling like a piece of grit in the immensity of the world. Time seemed both still and marching on. The dark grey of night was fading as the damp began to seep through her jeans to her skin. A pale line of light appeared on the eastern horizon, across the flat of the sea. She shivered and sat up. It was time to go. She felt close to both her parents here, but today belonged to her mother.
Three hours later, she stood at the graveside and watched as the coffin was lowered into the dark damp hole. Her parents together again in the plot they had bought. It was a big plot, there was space remaining.
Will I be buried here?
It was a reassuring thought, child reunited with parents.
The vicar’s voice intoned in the background, his words whipped away by the wind. True to form, May was proving changeable. It was now a day requiring clothing intended for mid-winter, when windows were closed tight and the central heating turned on again. Or was it that funerals simply made you feel cold?
She repeated the vicar’s word, a whisper borne out of many childhood Sunday School classes squeezed into narrow hard pews. She was not paying attention to the service but, drawn by the deep baritone of the vicar who was now reciting the Lord’s Prayer, was remembering her first day at art college. The first class. Another baritone. Her tutor, speaking words she had never forgotten. Great art was always true, he warned, and lies would always be found out.
In her handbag was a letter, collected from the hall table ten days ago as she left the house for Heathrow and Tokyo. She had expected to return home to London but, answering the call from her mother’s doctor, had come straight to Yorkshire in the hope of seeing her mother one last time. The envelope, which was heavy vellum, and bore smidgens of gold and scarlet and the Royal Academy of Arts’ crest, was still sealed. She knew what the letter said, having been forewarned in a telephone call from the artist who nominated her. It was the official invitation. If she accepted, she was to be Justine Tree, RA.
Photos [all © Sandra Danby]:-
CN cover jpeg