“Whatever I write, I often find that it takes on a darker life of its own.”
Coffin Bell Journal: Introduce yourself.
Sarah L. King: I’m a writer of contemporary and historical fiction who is originally from northwest England but now lives in central Scotland. At home I have a husband, two kids, and a selection of colorful fish. To date I’ve written and published three novels: The Gisburn Witch (2015), A Woman Named Sellers (2016), and Ethersay (2017).
CB: What got you started writing?
SLK: I’ve written poetry and short fiction for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until my thirtieth birthday was looming that I decided to make a serious attempt at a novel. It was something I had always wanted to do but until then I’d never managed to keep the momentum going–after a while the story had always faded away and been put despairingly to one side. So, I made writing a novel my ‘before I turn thirty’ goal which turned out to be an effective way of keeping me focused! After growing up in Lancashire and spending many years fascinated by local folk tales about the Pendle Witch Trials, a story about witches seemed the right place to start.
CB: What is the most rewarding aspect of writing?
SLK: Without a doubt, it’s that moment when a reader tells you that they enjoyed your book, either face to face or by leaving a review. It makes all the hard work, all the long hours, and moments of frustration worthwhile.
CB: Do you have a designated space for writing? Tell us about it.
SLK: I tend to write either in my study, my kitchen or my bedroom but I can pretty much write anywhere. Like most people I have a busy life and two young children to look after so I learned early on that I would have to get good at grabbing time to write, wherever I might happen to be! I have been known to take my laptop to the park or a busy soft play and carve out an hour or so to write while my children let off steam.
CB: Are you a planner or a pantser? Tell us a bit about your writing practices.
SLK: Definitely a planner. Before I start to write I have to work out the structure of the story, analyse my characters, and write up a thorough plot. That’s not to say that once I start writing I won’t deviate from my plans as new ideas come to me, but I find that doing this preparation beforehand makes my writing process more efficient and the time I spend writing more focussed.
CB: What advice to new and emerging writers could you give?
SLK: I’m not sure I’ve been doing this for long enough to start giving advice! I’d probably say that in my experience there are two things that a writer needs more than anything else if they want to succeed: determination and a thick skin. Oh, and a good marketing strategy – make that three things. But in all seriousness, putting your creative heart and soul out there to potential global scrutiny is a tough thing to do. You have to get good at handling criticism and rejection, and persevering through it. Even the most successful writers had their fair share of rejection to start off with.
CB: Who are your influences?
SLK: Philippa Gregory, Tracy Chevalier, Sebastian Faulks and Paolo Coelho. Their work is just beautiful.
CB: Physical books or e-readers?
SLK: Both! I am really not fussy. And I have to say, the advent of the e-reader has certainly made my suitcase much lighter when I travel. Being able to take potentially hundreds of books away on holiday with me without exceeding the bag weight limit is a wonderful thing.
CB: If you could give a PSA to journal editors, what would it be?
SLK: I’m going to be honest, I had to google PSA and I’m still not very sure what it stands for. The internet says ‘public service announcement’ but I was thinking maybe ‘piece of sound advice’? Anyway, assuming it’s something to do with giving advice, mine would be this: when sending out rejection letters, please don’t give general feedback. Time and again I see rejection letters which list some of the reasons submissions were rejected. If you can’t give individual feedback to writers (and that’s understandable) then the less said the better. There’s nothing worse as a writer than reading a big long list of reasons for rejection and wondering which one applied to your piece…
CB: Taphophobia is the fear of being buried alive. Tell us about your fears.
SLK: I am scared of so many things. Mainly creatures: spiders, daddy long legs, wasps. Even fish (seriously, the ocean in general creeps me out). The concept of fear really interests me. Essentially it originates from our sense of powerlessness, often in the face of the unknown. That’s why people fear death, demons, or the dark – they’re mysteries, capable of evading human understanding. And before you ask, yes I’m scared of all those things too.
CB: What draws you to dark fiction?
SLK: Dark themes allow the writer the space to push characters to extremes, to force them to face their fears, to place them in the depths and make them swim back up for air. For me, these are the ingredients of a great, gripping story. Dark fiction can also be extremely atmospheric, which totally satisfies my inner goth.
CB: How does the darkness in your piece enhance the work?
SLK: Whatever I write, I often find that it takes on a darker life of its own. My short stories are probably my darkest pieces of work, exploring everything from apocalyptic disaster to haunting faeries and menacing spirits. In my novels there are glimpses of the darkness, sometimes in the setting – the gloomy gallows, the bare midwinter trees, the clifftop chapel ruins – and sometimes in the exploration of the human condition. As a writer I am obsessed with the shortcomings of humanity, with love lost, with guilt, with grief. I think it’s fair to say that my preoccupation with dark themes seems to come through whether I intend it to or not! But to answer the question, I think it enhances my work if it makes the reader shiver, then weep, then ultimately empathise with the protagonist whose journey they are sharing.
CB: Tell us about your book / publication / web site / promotion.
Read Sarah L. King’s “We Are the Fallout” in issue 1.2 of Coffin Bell!